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Review: MSI GS30 Shadow with GamingDock

by Parm Mann on 13 January 2015, 17:00

Tags: MSI

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The second piece of the GS30 puzzle is what's most intriguing. The bundled desktop accessory, dubbed GamingDock, is tasked with a) justifying the £2,200 asking fee and b) making the laptop as powerful as a modern desktop gaming rig. No pressure, then.

Styled with a tilt reminiscent of MSI's Nightblade, the GamingDock measures 365mm x 209mm x 198mm and frankly isn't the most elegant box to look at. The build consists primarily of plastic, and save for the MSI logo and subtle dragon on the front, there isn't a great deal to note from an aesthetic point of view.

To our dismay, MSI appears to have rediscovered its passion for PC lighting. The GamingDock has a full row of LEDs across the front - a few of these turn on when the laptop is attached and charging, and the entire row illuminates when the system is powered on. A little OTT for our liking, though the target audience of gamers may appreciate the light show.

We're more interested in the tech and, in that regard, the GamingDock can be considered a success. The docking interface works well - it's as simple as placing the laptop on top and pushing back the side handle to lock - and though the union of hardware doesn't look pretty, it's effective and it works. The laptop is automatically locked into place when the connection is made, and a small toggle switch unlocks the mechanism allowing for the laptop to be removed.

A few key points. The laptop can't be used independently when docked - the display output is automatically re-routed away from the built-in screen. The laptop must also be off when the connection is made - the system isn't yet designed to be hot-swappable, so you'll need to ensure the laptop is off prior to docking, and you'll also need to shut down before removal. Failure to do so will result in audible warning beeps.

We're hoping MSI can overcome some of these minor limitations in future revisions. A hot-swappable docking mechanism would be a real bonus, as would be the ability to toggle between the laptop's internal screen and an external monitor.

There's room for improvement, but even as it stands, the GamingDock is a very handy addition. Undoing half-a-dozen screws provides access to the internal space and we can see that MSI has included a 450W FSP 80 Plus Bronze power supply (model FSP450-60GHS), a 3.5in drive-mount that can be used to expand the laptop's storage, 2.1 speakers that mark a clear improvement over the laptop's built-in audio, four more USB 3.0 ports, Killer Gigabit Ethernet, and last but not least, a full-size PCIe interface outfitted with a GeForce GTX 980.

MSI's card of choice for the £2,200 bundle is a GTX 980 Gaming 4G LE, though we imagine card-less models will also be available. There's roughly 320mm of space, so even the most extreme cards should fit, and cooling is provided by a single 120mm fan.

The GS30 Shadow with GamingDock isn't the sexiest union of laptop and docking station, however it might well be the most potent. What you have is an ultra-fast Core i7 laptop that provides high-end performance while on the go and, courtesy of the dock and a dedicated graphics card, doubles as a powerful gaming rig at home.

It's a unique and interesting combination, and it's helped by the fact that the coming-together is practically seamless. When attached, the graphics card and any additional storage appear as built-in components and, save for standard drivers, function without any additional software layer. It just works.

Question is, how quick is a GeForce GTX 980 when allied to a laptop, and is the resulting performance enough to make the GS30 a viable alternative to a proper gaming desktop? We'll find out in our benchmarks, starting first with standalone laptop performance.