The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is always a big platform for companies in the tech industry to show off what they’ve been working on, and few brands had as much new and interesting stuff to talk about as MSI did. The company revealed four new gaming notebooks, a stylish new gaming desktop, an all-in-one desktop PC with a discrete graphics card add-on, a new version of the Nightblade, and a new mini-PC to rival Gigabyte’s BRIX family.
MSI GS40 Phantom
I’m always interested in small-form-factor systems and for my Laptop Buyer’s Guide I’m pretty much always noting the lack of 14-inch or smaller notebooks with discrete graphics. There’s really not much choice out there. MSI decided to return to this segment with the GS40 Phantom, the successor to the GE40 Dragon Eyes. It’s slimmer and lighter than its older cousin, and also sports a full HD IPS display with a matte finish, a Skylake-based Core i7-6700HQ processor, up to 32GB of DDR4-2133 RAM, a NVIDIA Geforce GTX 970M with 3GB of GDDR5 memory, an optional M.2 NVME SSD, and a USB 3.1 Type C connector. Even with all of that hardware crammed inside, it only weighs 1.6 kilograms, so it’s almost ultrabook-like in that regard.
It’s available starting this week, and already there are units selling on Amazon for $1599 (approx. R25,600*), so they don’t really come cheap if you’re planning to import one yourself. That’s not too far off from the only local price I know of so far.
MSI GT72S Tobii
If you had told me a year ago that eye tracking for laptops was a thing, I would have laughed at you. And yet, here we are with the MSI GT72S Tobii, the world’s first laptop to feature working, built-in eye tracking. I’m not sure how it’ll work or whether it’s even going to be useful to gamers, but it is interesting. This tech was supposed to debut in laptops two years ago when Microsoft promised to figure out how to embed Kinect cameras into laptops, but it seems that no-one wanted to bite the bullet and step forward to integrate it first.
The GT72 Tobii will also feature the Tobii apps store, which is a storefront for the company that makes the eye tracking controller integrated into the GT72S Tobii. They have a selection of software extensions that plug into games such as Euro Truck Simulator 2, Assassin’s Creed Rogue, ARMA III, Microsoft Flight Simulator X, Elite: Dangerous, and DayZ Standalone, to name a few.
Tobii’s eye tracking technology is also compatible with Windows Hello, which is Microsoft’s new method of enabling biometric login for Windows through face recognition. MSI promises to also bundle Tom Clancy’s The Division when the notebook launches later in January 2016. No pricing for the GT72 Tobii was announced by MSI.
MSI GS72 Stealth Pro 4K
MSI’s much-loved Stealth series gets a new addition to the Stealth family with the new GS72 Stealth Pro 4K, updated with a thinner profile measuring 0.78 inches (1.98cm), and featuring an UltraHD 4K IPS display with a claimed 100% Adobe RGB coverage. As I’ve said before in my Laptop Buyer’s Guide though, I don’t see much use for a 4K display for notebooks that primarily play games at this point in time – it’s a drain on the battery and requires a lot more GPU horsepower to drive games at its native resolution.
Still, this looks like a really nice piece of kit, and MSI will offer a non-4K version of the GS72 in late January 2016. If you’re a photo or video editing professional looking for a portable powerhouse, this might be right up your alley. No pricing has been released for this model.
MSI WS72 Workstation
Available overseas this week starting at $2199 (approx. R35,000), MSI also decided to finally refit the GS72 into an actual workstation for professionals (because that’s what many people were doing with the GS70 anyway). The WS72 uses an identical chassis, but hides a Intel Xeon E3-1505M V5 quad-core processor, 32GB of DDR4-2133 ECC memory, a NVIDIA Quadro M2000M graphics card with 4GB of GDDR5 memory, and a storage options that includes two M.2 NVME-capable slots and an open 2.5-inch drive bay.
Display choices are either a IPS 1080p panel or a 4K panel taken from the GS72 Stealth Pro 4K, both with 100% Adobe RGB coverage. The WS72 has already been tested and certified by Autodesk, Adobe, Solidworks, Maya, and many others, so it should be ready for work out of the box.
MSI Vortex desktop gaming PC
When I heard about MSI’s Vortex from MSI, I had to find an actual picture of the PC to gauge how big, or small it actually was, because MSI wasn’t kidding when it called the Vortex a “compact” gaming PC. It’s roughly the same width as the Apple Mac Pro, but it’s also a little taller, with a total volume of about 6.5 liters. Inside there’s an Intel Skylake Core i7-6700K, up to 32GB of DDR4-2133 RAM, two MXM-sized Geforce GTX 980 4GB cards in SLI, and apparently two M.2 NVME drives, although MSI might be hiding more and will reveal the complete innards of the PC later on.
The modular setup raises questions as to the longevity of the system. If MSI allows, they could sell this under a different model name for professionals, swapping out the Core i7 chip for a Xeon processor, the DDR4 RAM for ECC memory, and the GPUs for either AMD FirePro cards or NVIDIA Quadro cards. You could even possibly purchase MXM cards intended for notebooks in the future and pop those in. There’s a real possibility that a lot of businesses could opt for the Vortex over the Apple Mac Pro because of standardised component selection.
MSI Gaming 27XT All-In-One
MSI also announced the Gaming 27XT, a 27-inch all-in-one PC with an optional component – an externally mounted rack for a desktop GPU that connects to the PCI-Express bus inside the PC through a riser card. This might be the most unusual PC ever made. The PC itself has a 27-inch IPS 1080p 144Hz display that dominates the front, and will include the latest sixth-generation Intel Skylake processors, support for DDR4 memory, and support for M.2 NVME SSDs and standard 2.5-inch hard drives. Not having the GPU inside the case means that heat output levels from the monitor will be much lower, though you now have to make sure to buy a GPU with a really quiet cooler.
MSI Cubi 2 Plus and Nightblade X2/MI2
MSI’s original Cubi looked cute, but the styling didn’t appeal to everyone. The Cubi 2 looks a lot more grownup and menacing, and the Plus version adds on more storage. There’s an Intel Skylake Core i7-S series processor inside, which means it’s made for office use and multimedia, not gaming. Being a barebones system, it’s up to you to populate the SO-DIMM DDR4 memory modules, the M.2 NVME slot, or the 2.5-inch hard drive bay that is housed in the very bottom of the case. Three USB 3.0 ports are found in the front as well as a USB 3.1 Type-C port, a card reader, and a combined front audio jack.
At the rear is a COM port, one Displayport 1.2a port, two HDMI 1.4a ports, one USB 2.0 port and two more USB 3.0 ports, as well as gigabit ethernet. MSI positions the Cubi 2 as a multimedia device that could be used in digital signage or point-of-sale roles as well. It might even make a great Steam Machine for streaming your games to your TV!
As for the Nightblade X2 and MI2, MSI hasn’t made any external changes to the chassis design, choosing to rather update the internal hardware to make the barebones systems ready for Intel’s Skylake processors.
Stay tuned to NAG for more CES 2016 news!
*Currency conversion calculated at R16.04 to U.S. $1 as of 8 January 2016