One of the very interesting looking laptops from MSI is their upcoming GS30, which carries on the thin and light theme of the GS series but extends that down into a 13.3” chassis. The core laptop uses a Crystalwell i7-4870HQ processor, which means it should have decent integrated graphics performance but nothing earth shattering. Along with the Haswell-based CPU comes support for up to 16GB of DDR3L memory, RAID SSD storage, and a 13.3” 1080p anti-glare IPS display. All of that is well and good, but where things get interesting is when we get to the expansion dock.

Similar to the Alienware 13, the GS30 will have support for an expansion dock that supports full size desktop GPUs. MSI says it should work with all desktop GPUs, from lower end models all the way up to GTX 980, and Titan/Z/Black, as well as various AMD GPUs. The dock uses a proprietary connector, and the laptop sits on top of the dock rather than interfacing through a cable. The dock isn’t just for a discrete GPU either, as it supports an additional 3.5” hard drive, Killer Gigabit Ethernet, and it includes two speakers. I’m not convinced about the need for the speakers or networking support, especially considering the laptop already has a Gigabit Ethernet jack, but the additional four USB 3.0 ports certainly don’t hurt.

If you’re curious how MSI is interfacing with all of these extra devices and whether there will be sufficient bandwidth, the answer is that the dock uses a full x16 PCIe 3.0 based connector. That means not only is there plenty of bandwidth, but the discrete GPU will also be able to run at maximum performance. Interestingly, MSI noted that with certain high-end GPUs (e.g. Titan class and above), there may be a minor drop in performance on the laptop unless you also connect the laptops AC adapter. The dock itself comes with a 450W PSU, which should be plenty to run any GPU, HDD, USB peripherals, and still leave sufficient room to power the laptop, but until we can do some actual testing with the final hardware it’s not clear why there would be a need for the added power.

The GS30 Shadow is definitely one of the more interesting laptops we’ve seen, and for those that don’t need to have a ton of gaming power on the go it offers a nice blend of mobility with the option to hook up to a dedicated display and GPU at home for serious gaming. Note also that the GS30 cannot “hot-dock” – you have to power down the system before undocking, or there could be problems. Also, when docked the laptop’s internal display is disabled (for now?) and only an external display connected to the discrete GPU can be used.

Pricing and availability have not been announced yet, but at least the latter should be sooner rather than later. It’s also not clear whether the GS30 Shadow will always be sold as a package that includes the GPU docking bay, or if that will be a separate device. Selling the dock as an accessory would likely make the most sense, as there may be users that don’t care for the dock but otherwise like the GS30 laptop. We’ll have a full review once the laptop and dock are ready for retail customers. This is clearly a shot across the bow of Alienware, and while it’s too early to declare a victor and both offerings have their pros and cons, it’s shaping up to be a very interesting year for laptops.

Source: MSI Notebooks

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  • gw74 - Monday, January 5, 2015 - link

    no. not ftw. what's opposite, ftl? I want to use my laptop with a desktop GPU. If I wanted to buy lots of extra peripherals, I'd buy a desktop.
  • SleepyFE - Wednesday, January 7, 2015 - link

    The opposite is wtf?! (if the shoe fits).
  • az060693 - Sunday, January 4, 2015 - link

    Doesn't matter as much because you can't even use the laptop display when it's docked :/
  • Gunbuster - Monday, January 5, 2015 - link

    So why does it have two giant honkin stereo speakers? So you can have it on one side of your External Monitor, Mouse, KB setup? The useless laptop is flat on top so you cant even use it as a monitor stand.
  • Anonymous1a - Monday, January 5, 2015 - link

    Yes, that is how the current setup would work. Though I suppose they will probably unlock the laptop screen in the future, it
  • Anonymous1a - Monday, January 5, 2015 - link

    it probably would be just as bad as not having it because, despite the IPS screen, having the laptop screen above the dock means you really won't be able to see very well, thus necessitating an external display, really.
  • eanazag - Wednesday, January 7, 2015 - link

    The speakers are to help drown out the desktop GPU fans sitting right next to you.
  • Anonymous1a - Sunday, January 4, 2015 - link

    While both this and the Alienware 13 are obviously both first-generation products, the ideal machine of this kind would be one which connects to the dock like the Alienware, with a cable, thus removing any ergonomic problems and allowing for more flexibility, while having the internals of the GS30: a powerful i7 instead of a measly ultra-low voltage i5 and no dedicated card inside the laptop so that the costs are lower and because it is practically redundant in a large number of cases.
  • schizoide - Sunday, January 4, 2015 - link

    I've been waiting for real workable eGPUs to come for so dang long.

    It is truly a shame that they're all proprietary due to Intel not allowing thunderbolt to be used this way. Heartbreaking, really.

    Time to step up Asus, Acer, MSI, Gigabyte, Dell, Lenovo, Clevo-- we need a standard! Obviously thunderbolt isn't it. So work together and draft a new one, go through a RFC process, and make this happen the right way. You'll ALL benefit.
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, January 4, 2015 - link

    Keep in mind that Thunderbolt would limit performance as it doesn't offer the full bandwidth of an x16 PCIe 3.0 slot. In fact, a single PCIe 1.0 lane can transmit 250MB/s (2 Gbps) bidirectionally, and PCIe 3.0 bumps that up to nearly four times the bandwidth (a bit less than 8Gbps bidirectional), so at best Thunderbolt 2.0 offers something like the equivalent of an x2 PCIe 3.0 connection or x4 PCIe 2.0. It's enough to get started, but there will be a performance bottleneck with external GPUs.

    My personal belief: Intel isn't just "killing" external GPUs because they're a bit mean monopoly. I think there are some real hurdles to doing external GPUs over Thunderbolt and the potential for problems is enough that Intel doesn't want to open that can of worms. I believe Windows and the GPUs are at least part of the problem as well (unloading/loading drivers in Windows, and connecting/disconnecting GPUs on the fly).

    TL;DR: It's messy and a very niche problem, so none of the big companies are really putting a lot of effort into solving this.

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