MSI had been very busy in 2015 with a slew of PC gaming focused product releases, particularly in the premium laptop segment. As regular readers would have noticed, there MSI offerings provided some of the highest benchmark scores in the portable segment.
This month we have another gaming focused laptop from MSI in the form of the Phantom GS406QE. At first sight, everything about the laptop reeks quality. Even the outer packaging with the MSI Gaming Series logo is designed to turn heads. This is a laptop designed to proclaim yourself as a gamer. Smaller than in many other gaming laptops that we have seen, even the rear heat exhaust ports are equally attractive to see. MSI calls the overall design ‘diamond cut’ and it is immediately obvious why.
As is the favourite custom these days among laptop and smartphone manufacturers, the MSI Phantom GS406QE has a brushed metal finish. Despite boasting some serious gaming credentials, this laptop is rather thin, measuring just 345(W) x 245(D) x 22.8(H)mm.
Weighing just 1.6Kg, it is also a true ‘laptop’ which does not require a table for use. But keep in mind that the power supply unit is separate and it is a bit on the beefy side. That is understandable considering the unit’s performance and disposition as a true gaming vehicle.
The Phantom GS406QE sports a 14-inch full HD screen. Although the bezel is not the thinnest we have seen, the screen lid itself is extremely thin, making the total unit appear extremely small. The screen is also very bright and has excellent colour response.
PORT IN A STORM
It looks like after some initial market resistance, the Intel’s Thunderbolt 3 interface is finally getting some traction. The Phantom GS406QE is one of the newer series of laptops shipping with the interface. One of the key selling points of the interface is its ability to support dual 4K outputs. It is doubtful if anyone will use this laptop for dual 4K gaming when even single 4K gaming output is beyond its capabilities.
The MSI laptop also has a full-fledged HDMI port, a USB Type C port, two regular USB 3.0 ports, mini-display port, mic-in/headphone out, SD and LAN ports. The laptop comes with a keyboard from MSI’s famous SteelSeries lineup. The twin buttons of the mouse are invisible and is built into the lower half of the large touch pad. It is a nice touch as it provides more space for the touch pad without making the laptop bigger.
The Phantom GS406QE is powered by an Intel Core i7 6700, a quad core CPU from its Skylake family. The laptop also has a whopping 16GB of RAM and also 3GB of VRAM attached to the Nvidia GeForce 970M GPU. The system’s graphics is actually a hybrid setup with the Intel 530 integrated GPU powering the desktop while the Nvidia GPU kicks in only during gaming.
As befitting its gaming pedigree, the Phantom GS406QE is equipped with Killer LAN for low latency multiplayer. Overall, the laptop’s internals are beefy enough to run modern games at playable frame rates. High fidelity audio is also well catered for in the form of ESS Sabre HiFi. Its claims to fame includes the ability to enable high resolution audio with a 24bit/192kbps sampling rate that supports the Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) format. To be honest, in order to fully enjoy high definition audio, you need more than laptop speakers or a pair of high quality headphones.
Storage is in the form of a fast 128GB SSD for the main Windows 10 OS and a larger regular hard drive for the applications and data. The speedy SSD allows you to boot Windows in under a minute – a truly welcome feature.
THE SOFTWARE DIFFERENCE
Just like Razer, MSI seems to be very keen to differentiate itself via their proprietary software suite which comes with the laptop. The key to this attempt is the MSI Dragon Gaming Center software suite. It ties together all the disparate requirements of the avid gamer including system information, different performance modes, LAN, audio and graphics settings. This tool also allows you to setup instant launch shortcut keys for your favourite games.
The MSI’s Dragon Gaming Center design must be rather infectious. It reminds us a lot about AMD’s recently launched Radeon Software Crimson suite.
In a nice touch, MSI also includes xSplit Gamecaster for free, allowing you to stream your games to Twitch or YouTube. Along with the Dragon Gaming Center, the manufacturer includes the System Control Manager tool which allows you to tweak brightness, WiFi and Bluetooth settings via a single interface. The System Control Manager also controls the exotic sounding Nahimic audio tool which allows you to setup the correct mic levels and record HD audio during streaming sessions.
Overall, there is nothing to complain about the Phantom GS406QE. It is top notch in all regards and our testing proved it. In the Unigine Heaven and Unigine Valley benchmarks, it actually managed to beat some of MSI’s own desktop replacement and gaming PCs from last year. A truly impressive achievement for a laptop in such a small form factor.
It is also not very noisy. Even under extreme performance settings, the Phantom GS406QE does not get unbearably loud. You can certainly hear the fan if you turn down the speaker volume, but nothing that makes headphones mandatory. This is quite an achievement for such a sleek high performance laptop.
The only negative side is battery life. At its full performance mode, the battery might last a couple of hours. We recommend leaving it plugged in whenever possible during gaming sessions.
Verdict: Slim and powerful. Two very attractive combinations for an ardent gamer.