Budget-price gaming notebooks are polarizers. They’ll get you playing, but the next performance tier up from them usually isn’t that much of a financial stretch. That’s the dilemma facing the GL63, MSI’s 15.6-inch economy gaming model. (It starts at $899; $999 as tested.) The 8RC-076 configuration in this review pairs, oddly, a high-end hexa-core processor with an entry-level Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 graphics chip. That’s not inherently a bad combo, but the GPU makes the GL63 a tough sell. For about the same price, Dell’s G7 15 gets you far more capable GTX 1060 (Max-Q) graphics. Quick searches revealed this GL63 configuration discounted by etailers by $100, but it needs more markdown to be competitive. Lenovo’s Legion Y530, our current top-pick budget gamer, emphasizes this: It offers a sleeker design, better battery life, and a 4GB version of the GTX 1050 starting at just $749.
You’ve Got That Gamer Look
Tried and true, the GL63’s black-and-red color scheme pegs it as a gamer’s machine. Or perhaps that should read tired and true, as the combo has become ubiquitous in this kind of notebook. Dell and Lenovo have seen the colors on the wall and countered with brighter themes on their latest models.
The MSI still has a good look, even if it doesn’t break the mold. I noted a few out-of-the-ordinary design choices on this notebook. The illuminated MSI shield logo on the lid backing is one of them.
The MSI’s chassis is average in size for a 15.6-inch notebook, at 1.16 by 15.1 by 10.2 inches (HWD). The Lenovo Legion Y530 measures just 14.4 inches wide, thanks to its nearly bezel-less display. The GL63’s bezel, while thin, is just over half an inch thick on the sides. Coming in at 4.8 pounds, the MSI is 0.3
The three notebooks have in common an all-plastic construction, the norm among budget gaming notebooks. The Acer Predator Helios 300 (2018) is one exception, but even that machine is partly plastic. If metal is your fancy, the slightly more expensive MSI GF63 series is slimmer and lighter (4.1 pounds), yet has the same processor and graphics-card options as the GL63. One plus to the GL63’s plastic is that it hides smudges better than most metals. In terms of chassis strength, the GL63’s chassis has some flex, but it’s rigid enough for a non-business-class machine. The display hinges are overly stiff; you’ll need two hands to get the lid open.
The keyboard has attractive red backlighting that isn’t taxing on the eyes in the dark. It’s red-only; the backlighting color can’t be changed. Shallow key travel and rubbery keystrokes make, alas, for a numb typing experience. I had trouble getting the far right portion of the spacebar to register, but that might just have been our review unit.
Some of the key layout choices, though, compromise productivity. The lack of dedicated Home and End keys is one quibble, and the two-thirds-size number pad keys are another. Also, forcing the arrow keys into the main keyboard area truncates the right Shift key and the number pad’s “0” key; the latter is sure to send number-pad junkies curling into a fetal ball. It doesn’t look like the layout has a left-side Windows key, but the pre-installed MSI Dragon Center software allows you to toggle the left Fn key to act as one. (The software also allows you to disable the Windows key entirely.)
Through trial and error, I discovered that the Windows-key tweak was the extent of the key-reprogramming capability of this notebook. While the board itself is designed by SteelSeries, the GL63’s keyboard isn’t recognized as a device in the SteelSeries Engine software. (I manually downloaded the software from SteelSeries after not finding it on MSI’s support site, subsequently realizing why MSI didn’t have it listed.) You’ll have to step up to one of MSI’s GS or GT series notebooks to get the fully featured SteelSeries keyboard with reprogrammable keys and changeable color backlighting.
You get no dedicated macro keys on the GL63, but its competitors don’t have them, either. Just under the keyboard, the amply sized touch pad has a smooth surface but stiff buttons.
The GL63 has plenty of connectivity to go around. Along the left edge is the Kensington-style cable-lockdown notch, a Qualcomm Atheros-backed Ethernet jack, HDMI and mini-DisplayPort video-out connectors, USB Type-A and Type-C ports (both version 3.1), and headphone-out and microphone-in jacks. A dedicated microphone jack is nice to have on a gaming
The right side is home to a full-size SD-card reader, a pair of USB Type-A 3.1 ports, and the power jack. SD cards don’t insert fully into the reader, sticking out about an eighth of an inch. Internally, the GL63 has an Intel 9462AC wireless card and support for Bluetooth 5. The 720p webcam above the display has reasonable quality. There are no built-in biometric features, such as an IR camera or a fingerprint reader, though.
A Bright IPS Panel
All GL63 configurations include the same full HD (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) screen. Wide viewing angles and an anti-glare display earn it good marks, but it doesn’t pass scrutiny with an “A” grade because, well, it’s just not super-colorful. MSI’s specification sheet reveals why: The panel is advertised to cover just 45 percent of the NTSC gamut.
This display’s good brightness and contrast rescue the picture quality for gaming, though, providing an enjoyably vivid experience. Speaking of games, support for Nvidia G-Sync is regrettably unavailable on the GL63. You seldom see it on budget gaming PCs, but I look for it nonetheless because it can make games look more fluid, especially when running at frame rates less than 60fps, a more-than-likely scenario with an entry-level GPU like the GeForce GTX 1050.
On a positive note, the 1080p native resolution is ideal for a 15.6-inch screen; the use of scaling to increase text size isn’t mandatory (as it would be with a 1440p or 4K resolution), and the GTX 1050 isn’t suited to gaming at higher resolutions, anyway. It’s not at all a bad display for a budget gaming notebook.
Forgot your headphones? No problem: The twin Dynaudio-tuned speakers on the GL63 pump out some great sound. Projecting forward from under the palm rest, they exhibited minimal distortion even at their maximum volume setting. Entertaining a few people around a table will be no problem.
The Component Mix: More GPU, Less CPU Please
While not component-by-component customizable, the GL63 is available in a litany of from-the-factory configurations. Our GL63 8RC-076US model is a well-rounded performer, thanks to its Core i7-8750H hexa-core processor and small-but-speedy 128GB solid-state drive (SSD). A 1TB hard drive is also present for storage duties. Windows 10 Home is installed on the SSD, albeit not cleanly; I was irked to find a Norton trial. I do have to give credit to MSI, however, for managing to get an SSD and a hard drive in a machine under a grand. You’ll need to manage that SSD space carefully, though. A couple of game installs could eat most of the bytes.
The 8GB of system memory in this GL63 configuration is the bare minimum for productivity, let alone modern gaming. I’d like to see 16GB for more multitasking ability, though I understand the necessary compromise to hit the price, especially given the current cost of RAM. With just 8GB of aboard, I found the GL63 sluggish after exiting a demanding game, as Windows was no doubt using the page file to free up memory for the game. Upgrading RAM is possible; the GL63 supports up to 32GB, via two SO-DIMM slots on the motherboard.
The GeForce GTX 1050 provides just enough oomph for the latest AAA titles. Its 2GB of video memory in this GL63 configuration is, dare I say, borderline inadequate for higher texture settings in some games. The Far Cry 5 benchmark I ran reported 2.7GB of video memory in use, meaning the card was having to swap textures in and out. The GL63 is also available with the 4GB versions of the GTX 1050 or the GTX 1050 Ti, the latter coming highly recommended, with the potential for up to one-third better performance.
The powerful Core i7-8750H processor in our GL63 doesn’t make up for the performance gap between the GTX 1050 and the GTX 1050 Ti. Given a choice, I’d trade down the Core i7-8750H for the still-capable Core i5-8300H and trade
Thermally speaking, the GL63 did well during my 30-minute stint in
Putting Budget to the Bench
The highly CPU-dependent Handbrake and Cinebench R15 tests reveal that the GL63 may be seeing its CPU performance throttle under heavy load, given that the Dell G7 15 scored far better using the same Core i7-8750H chip. As a matter of fact, the GL63 scored more like the Lenovo Legion Y530 and Dell G3 15, which each have a Core i5-8300H processor with two fewer cores. I ran the tests multiple times just to be sure. The Asus TUF Gaming FX504G likely had throttling issues, too; it performed noticeably worse than the Lenovo despite using the same Core i5-8300H CPU. (The PCMark 8 test doesn’t reveal the CPU-performance differences as transparently because the Work Conventional preset we use factors in other components, such as the graphics, storage speed, and display resolution; the same to an extent is true of our Photoshop test.)
Also, the GL63 doesn’t remedy MSI’s reputation for poor battery life in its gaming notebooks. Four hours off the plug is still serviceable, but Lenovo’s Legion Y530 lasted twice as long.
Next, on to the synthetic graphics tests…
The GL63’s CPU-performance woes more than likely contributed to its dead-last showing in 3DMark Fire Strike Extreme, where it should have edged out the Lenovo Legion Y530. The MSI’s 2GB of video memory shouldn’t have been a limiter in that scenario. (The Legion Y530 has the same GTX 1050, albeit with 4GB of memory.)
To further back up the CPU-throttling theory, consider that the GL63 and the Legion Y530 produced near-identical results in the Heaven and Valley benchmarks at their Ultra presets. The entry-level GTX 1050 ensures that the CPU isn’t a limiting factor for either machine at that preset. Thus, with the CPU largely out of the equation, the GPU performance is similar. The GTX 1050 Ti 4GB in the Asus TUF Gaming FX504G did noticeably better than the GL63 and the Legion Y530 across the board, but the Dell G7 15 and its GTX 1060 Max-Q sent them all home with a spanking.
Gaming: Just Middling 3D Performance
No gaming-laptop testing would be complete without a dose of actual games, so I ran two demanding game benchmarks on the GL63 at its 1080p screen resolution.
The first was Rise of the Tomb Raider in DirectX 12 mode, where the GL63 achieved an average of 49.2fps at the Medium detail preset, falling to a borderline-unplayable 29.5fps at Very High.
Far Cry 5 proved tougher still. The GL63 kept its head above water at 36fps at the Normal preset, but it dropped to 29fps at Ultra. Older titles should be no challenge for this notebook, but as these two demanding game benchmarks indicate, you shouldn’t expect to run the latest AAA games maxed-out with a GeForce GTX 1050.
This situation won’t improve as games, inevitably, get more demanding. A GeForce GTX 1050 Ti would improve on the GL63’s numbers, but for true future-proofing on a 1080p-display laptop, you’ll need to step up to a GeForce GTX 1060 with 6GB of video memory. MSI offers that GPU in some of its other 15.6-inch gaming notebooks, but not the GL63.
For reference, the Dell G7 15, with its GeForce GTX 1060 Max-Q graphics chip, achieved 55fps in
A Low-Cost Machine That’s Not Quite
The MSI GL63 is a tough sell in the 8RC-076US configuration we reviewed. We found it discounted to $899 online, but the Lenovo Legion Y530 offers a sleeker design, twice the battery life, and a 4GB version of the GTX 1050 for less. Spend just shy of $100 more, and you can get the Dell G7 15 with a GeForce GTX 1060 6GB and better CPU performance.
The GL63 offers some good traits—a sturdy-enough design, a quiet cooling system, and ample storage—but no true highlights that set it apart from the crowd. Average through and through, the GL63 will need heftier discounting to pull it out of the shadows cast by Lenovo and Dell.