June 29, 2017 // 2:30 p.m.
While laptops, especially those aimed at gamers, can cost way in excess of £1,000, it's not an inconsiderable sum to drop on a new machine. It's also one of the hardest price points to get right, as there's so much to balance. One of MSI's latest attempts is the GE62 7RE Apache Pro, now available for £1,050, which is £150 lower than its initial MSRP.
The Core i7-7700HQ is a powerful mobile processor found in considerably more expensive laptops like the Gigabyte Aero 15. Using the latest Kaby Lake architecture is wise when it comes to efficiency and thus battery life. It's paired with a single 8GB DDR4 2,400MHz stick of memory, and we have to wonder whether single-channel memory will hamper performance. A pair of 4GB sticks might have been a better choice, although MSI's solution does allow you to easily add a second 8GB stick at a later date. Graphics crunching, meanwhile, is done by the GTX 1050 Ti 4GB, which will hopefully net us some decent 1080p performance.
MSI has used an M.2 SSD for the primary drive onto which Windows 10 is installed. However, the capacity is sadly limited to just 128GB, and that will feel pretty limited if you're playing modern AAA games; it's a shame not to see 256GB. Thankfully, a 2.5” 1TB hard drive is included as well for bulk storage. You also get a DVD-RW drive and an SD (XC/HC) card reader.
The chassis design will be familiar to anyone who's seen an MSI laptop prior. The bottom section has a thick, brushed aluminium alloy fascia that lends it plenty of strength, and a similar but thinner coating adorns the lid as well, although this part of the machine is nonetheless rather flimsy and flexible. The laptop's underside and somewhat large screen bezels, meanwhile, are made from plastic. The weight and thickness of 2.4kg and 29mm respectively also strike us as high for a laptop that only has a GTX 1050 Ti – hopefully the cooling performance is strong and noise output low as a result.
The 15.6” IPS display has a 1,920 x 1,080 resolution – suitable for the GPU it's fed by. According to MSI, each panel for this laptop is factory calibrated to ensure as accurate colours as possible and 100 percent sRGB coverage. A partnership with Portrait Displays has resulted in the True Color app, which is used to control display settings such as viewing mode, which includes sRGB, Gamer, and Anti-Blue for night-time use. You can switch modes in-game with a simple shortcut too.
You shouldn't be left wanting for connectivity by the GE62 7RE, as you get a total of four USB ports including a Type-C 3.1 connector and two 3.0 ports. Furthermore, the HDMI and mini-DisplayPort headers allow you to run up to two external 4K displays at once, although the HDMI one will be limited to 30Hz. A single LAN port and a pair of 3.5mm audio jacks complete the collection.
The LAN port is driven by the Killer E2500 controller, and the accompanying control software is installed, letting you manage traffic priority levels and monitor your network. We've never given much credence to it, but it's a feature often reserved for higher-end motherboards, so it might hold appeal to some.
The keyboard comes courtesy of a partnership with SteelSeries and promises 1.9mm key travel tactile feedback. In practice, the switches don't feel hugely different to other laptops, but they are nice nonetheless, and their response is consistent across the keypad too. SteelSeries claims up to 45-key anti-ghosting, but we triggered ghosting with less than 10 simultaneous presses. Still, we had to go looking for it, and normal use was fine for us. The chassis edges are not sharp, so resting your wrists when typing is comfortable enough. The trackpad, meanwhile, has an odd, slightly textured finish to it that we're not sure we like, but we are fans of the separated buttons.
The keyboard has full RGB backlighting, and you can control the brightness of this with the keyboard itself. It's divided into three zones – left, right, and middle – and you can control the effects and colour with the SteelSeries Engine 3 software. This also brings powerful macro and key customisation capabilities, as almost any key can be switched to a new function or user-made macro.
A small army of screws holds the bottom in place, but it's easy to pry off once they're out. Inside, the battery is fairly small compared to everything else, and indeed the 51Wh capacity of it seems low. The optical drive, RAM modules, M.2 stick, 2.5” drive, and networking card are all readily accessible for future upgrades – a nice touch, especially as MSI says that accessing the internals will not void your warranty (despite the warranty void sticker - apparently it had a change of heart).
The exposed underside also reveals the laptop's speakers, with four front-facing 2W speakers joined by a down-facing 3W woofer, all courtesy of Dynaudio. Generally, laptop audio is pants, but these actually have some kick. They won't power your next house party, but they're more than satisfactory for general use. MSI's Audio Boost 2 solution translates to three independent amps, gold-plated audio jacks, and an isolated audio board. MSI also include the Nahimic software, which offers EQ control and various effects, most notably virtual surround sound and an on-screen sound tracker, designed to give you a visual indicator of where the most prominent sounds in-game are coming from. In conjunction with the virtual surround sound, which actually works relatively well, it's a decent way of providing normal headphone users with information like where gunfire or explosions are coming from, for example.
Cooler Boost 4 is the name given to the cooling solution. As you can see, the GPU and its memory chips have three dedicated heat pipes, while two are given to the CPU, and one is shared between the chips. The CPU and GPU also have their own dedicated fans. There is plenty of ventilation on the bottom for intake, with rubber feet giving the unit some clearance too, and exhaust vents are located at the back – all ports are situated along the sides, out of the way.
MSI's Dragon Center software is used to control and monitor various aspects of the system, and it's neatly laid out and easy to use. It includes power management, which falls under the Shift moniker. Turbo mode allows you to set a GPU memory and core overclock, while Sport is the maximum default performance mode. Comfort takes a more balanced approach, and Eco limits CPU grunt considerably. The other notable option is fan control, especially as you can set independent fan curves for both fans. A mobile app is also available in case you want that for some reason.
With Dragon Center, SteelSeries Engine 3, Nahimic 2, True Color, and Killer Networking, you might be thinking there's a lot of software. Well, MSI doesn't stop there. Norton comes pre-installed as well, and it's as intrusive as ever, even interrupting gameplay at one point with unnecessary nonsense. Even the relic WinZip is there, and again it's just annoying, removing Windows' default 'Extract all' option from the right-click menu of zip files. Our toolbar was extremely crowded, which we weren't too pleased with. That said, there is a lot of extra functionality here, and it's not difficult to remove these apps if you find they're not for you. Included with this laptop is a two-month premium license for WTFast, claimed to reduce lag in games, and a one-year premium license for Xsplit Gamecaster, a broadcasting, sharing, and recording application.