PRODUCT: WS63 7RK workstation
• Gunmetal magnesium-lithium body
• Intel Core i7-7700HQ @ 2.80 Ghz with maxed out 32Gb of DDR4 memory
• Nvidia Quadro P3000 GPU
The MSI WS63 7RK was an intriguing machine for me, because I have been fascinated with thin and light workstations for quite a few years now. Ever since the HP ZBook 14, one of my favorites, I’ve been convinced that a workstation didn’t have to crush my lap, and tear through my backpack. Since that time, I’ve looked at a few HPs and Dells, but this is the first time I’ve had the chance to review an MSI laptop. Known for its gaming machines, MSI is coming to the table with an elegant bat to swing around.
OUT OF THE BOX
When I first unboxed the machine, I was very pleased with the feel of the four-pound chassis. A gunmetal magnesium-lithium with a very nice brushed finish on the lid feels sturdy, almost like a unibody machine from Apple. The underside is covered with a nice soft felt, that gives a very good grip and is comfy on the lap, also giving it a nice finishing detail. I’m just not into flashy, over-the-top looking laptops, so I really prefer the understated and the WS63 fits that description like a glove.
And though I like an understated outside, I prefer a raging monster on the inside and on paper, this delivers in spades. My review unit sports an Intel Core i7-7700HQ @ 2.80 Ghz with a maxed out 32Gb of DDR4 memory. Good. Where it gets my ears perked is the Nvidia Quadro P3000 GPU inside, surrounded by 6Gb of GDDR5 memory like a pearl in its shell. Daddy likes the 1280 CUDA cores.
Most of the thin and lights I’ve reviewed have had the lower-end Quadros, like the M1000M. While I am fond of Quadro cards, the 1000 series represents the lower echelon of their lineup; this Pascal-based 3000 represents the middle of the Quadro lineup. Sure, MSI’s upper end WT73VR has the high end Quadro P5000 (as well as a Xeon), but it’s not a thin and light laptop by any measure.
The P3000 is a dedicated GPU, but it trades off duties with the integrated Intel HD Graphics 630 to maintain a better battery life. Nvidia’s control panel does a fine job managing the two, though for some of my benchmarks I found myself having to force the software’s hand to use the Nvidia GPU.
Whichever GPU is running the show, it gets to drive a 15.6-inch IPS panel that is clear, bright and crisp. There is a 4K version available, but I shy away from 4K on anything less than a 24-inch screen, personally. With computer graphics apps like Maya and 3ds Max not scaling very well under Windows 10 scaling, I need scaling at 100 percent, so it gets super hairy trying to read menus and dialogs with that resolution on less than 16-inches. And I’m not getting any younger, either.
But you can run up to three external displays (USB-C/Thunderbolt) as well as 4K at 60Hz through the HDMI port, so you’re well covered if you’re a screen queen like I am. So not only do I not mind it being only 1080p, I welcome it, but I do drive 27-inch, 4K external displays when at my desk.
WORKING THE MACHINE
What I do once I welcome a machine like this into my home office, is to beat it up as much as I can. I run loops of benchmarks on it for days at a time to see if it gets too hot and quits, and our WS63 held its own admirably. In fact, it didn’t flinch once. While it certainly got warm to the touch, it didn’t feel like it was too hot. The fan noise was audible for sure when the system was pegged, but I’ve heard worse in other laptops. I felt the cooling was adequate and didn’t feel compelled to slow down the tasks I threw at it.
One such benchmark was Chaos Group’s V-Ray Benchmark app, which launches CPU- and GPU-based renderings on the system. The CPU faired ok at about 3:02, putting it in line with performance from a Haswell desktop i7 4770 Quad core CPU running at 3.9Ghz. Keep in mind that this is a laptop i7 running at 2.8Ghz, so it’s much more efficient, and is a pretty good showing for rendering on a laptop. PassMark CPU results were in the 86th percentile, which is a solid showing.
Now the GPU timing is where it made its biggest impact. Clocking in at 2:41, the P3000 in this W63 laptop was on par with a desktop running two GeForce GTX 690 cards or one Quadro M4000 (8Gb) desktop card. This, especially in a thin and light notebook, is nothing short of terrific. I’m quite impressed with this performance from a $2,300 machine. My older thin and light laptop (just over a year old now), with a Xeon CPU and an M1000M card ran the GPU render in more than twice the MSI’s time — no contest! There is no reason to settle for a lower-end GPU in a thin and light machine.
The system’s battery life is pretty standard; nothing surprising at around five hours of normal use. But I never use a computer normally. I unplugged the machine and put it under heavy GPU use by running SPECViewPerf on a loop till the battery whimpered and died. But hey, you wouldn’t do that on just the battery, would you? But if you did, you’d get about 1.5 hours like I did. Seems fair enough on that kind of load.
Powering the system is a not-too-large 180W power brick. It’s form factor works well since it’s thin and not heavy. I’ve seen some serious laptop bricks in my day, so for this being a 180W, it’s not bad at all, but not quite dainty either.
Unfortunately, it plugs into a bit of an odd place: on the right side, smack in the middle. I prefer the power toward the back so it’s out of the way. With this middle placement, if you are right handed, you’ll have to manage the cable when you’re using a mouse in tight quarters. Only in this case, and in the sport of fencing, are where lefties have an advantage over us righties. Touché, good sir!
As far as expandability, the WS63 has a very good array of ports to keep you connected without toting around an octopus of dongles (Apple, I’m looking in your direction): A gigabit Ethernet, three USB 3.0, SD card reader and headphones/mic ports on the left side, which is good as you’ll want external speakers or headphones as the built-in speaker sounds flat. On the right side are a USB 2.0, a USB-C/thunderbolt, one full size HDMI 2.0, a miniDisplayPort and the power connector. All that leaves a lot of room to expand with external peripherals to plug in and out of.
The SteelSeries keyboard looks great and feels good to type on, with a subtle blue backlight to it, and good responsive travel to the keys. Not too crisp, not too mushy; Goldilocks would be happy to write her great American novel on this keyboard. The trackpad has an integrated finger print sensor and is quite large and responsive. I prefer to tap to click, which this trackpad offers, but for those who like to press down to click, the trackpad is a little work; the travel to get the click is a bit further than I’d like.
Only time will tell how durable this machine is, but with a three-year warranty, I’m confident it will last. In the end, this is a solid workhorse of a machine. It has an elegant look and a sturdy feel, and it is a beast on the inside with terrific performance from the Quadro P3000 GPU and solid results from the Kaby Lake 2.8 Ghz quad core CPU. Good battery life and thin and light portability rounds out this workstation to be a good performer for those needing workstation class performance with a solid color display on the go.