What's Hot: Good value and performance for the price. Well optimzed for gaming and heavy loads, yet fairly slim. Latest Intel Skylake CPUs, high performance dedicated graphics that's great for gaming. Very serviceable internals.
What's Not: Some flex in display bezel area. Styling is decent but not eye-turning.
We've reviewed the huge desktop replacement 17" MSI Dominator laptops and the slim and light Ghost Pro that's a gamer's take on the Dell XPS 15 and 15" Retina MacBook Pro. This time we look at the middle of the family, the MSI Apache Pro. If you're looking for something more affordable than the Ghost and Stealth models, with much more portability than the Dominator line, it's the Apache Pro. Whether you need a GE62 15.6 or GE72 17.3 inch laptop, you're covered since the Apache comes in both sizes with identical specs and ports. The Apaches have the latest Intel Skylake 6th generation CPUs, fast PCIe SSD boot drives, spacious secondary HDDs for your games and media and your choice of NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M or 970M graphics. They have full HD 1920 x 1080 matte IPS displays, but no touch screen.
The GE62 is priced around $1,100 and the GE72 starts around $1,300-- both nicely configured with 16 gigs of RAM, a quad core i7, 128 gig boot SSD and NVIDIA GTX 960M graphics. For fairly powerful gaming laptops that can handle pro apps like Adobe Premiere Pro easily, those are nice prices. MSI laptops are tuned for gaming--heat is well managed as is noise and there's no thermal throttling when gaming. The gamer oriented tuning, optical drive, on-board Ethernet and generous port selection are features that set the Apache line apart from The XPS 15, 15" MacBook Pro with Retina Display and the handful of additional slim and light laptops that take on many of the same chores as the Apache.
Our 15.6" GE62 review loaner came from XoticPC.com. They sell a variety of gaming laptop brands and models and will customize them--handy if you're not comfortable opening up a laptop. They can re-paste the CPU and GPU with IC Diamond compound, upgrade the RAM and storage, and their prices are very competitive. They also do a full round of performance testing before they send the laptop out--the results of which are included in a binder.
Design and Ergonomics
The Apache Pro sports MSI's familiar but slightly updated look with a double "waterfall" crease in the black aluminum lid and a fairly slim design--though not wildly skinny like the 15" Ghost and 17" Stealth models. In terms of practicality, unless portability is paramount to you, the Apache's less waifish design allows for quieter cooling and surface temperatures that won't singe the hairs off your hands and thighs when gaming. They're still modern looking laptops that aren't chunky by any means and their weights at 5.3 and 6.5 lbs. respectively are manageable. For gaming laptops, their look is understated with a tiny bit of red trim and MSI's Ferrari style logo hinting at what's inside. The backlit SteelSeries keyboard has multicolor zone lighting that's programmable, so you can go with a single staid color at work and a veritable rainbow when gaming. It's a very good keyboard that I find more enjoyable than the GT72 Dominator Pro keyboard, and it's fine for writing at length. Unfortunately, MSI continues to lead the path to the bottom when it comes to trackpads. Synaptics trackpads are generally quite good, but the Apache Pro trackpad has barely adequate tracking and it tends to ignore two-finger gestures half the time. Get a mouse. Really.
Build quality and esthetics are typical MSI, which is to say that the machines look and feel like they were designed by engineers rather than designers. They're well put together with practical designs and the internals are a delight if you're like me and analyze motherboard and component layouts with relish. Intelligently laid copper heat pipes, dual fans with quiet bearings and upgradable RAM, SSD, HDD and WiFi cards are hallmarks of MSI design. They're a company that makes some of the best gaming motherboards for desktops--they know what they're doing.
The laptops have aluminum lids and wrist rest areas and plastic bottoms (fine with us since plastic doesn't get as hot as metal). The design and port selection is identical on the MSI Apache Pro GE62 and Apache Pro GE72--the choice between them comes down to display and laptop size preference. The 15.6" GE62 has a larger than average footprint in terms of width (left to right), which again is typical for MSI because they include a number pad in the keyboard area. Thus, the size difference between the two isn't as much as you might expect. The depth and thickness are competitive with the Lenovo Y700 models, which are also available in 15 and 17 inch sizes. Our only complaint with build quality centers on the display bezel, particularly on the 15" GE62--it has flex across the lid (the price of a thin design) and it's disconcertingly easy to push the bezel in at the bottom center area. I've owned a few MSI gaming laptops and I've yet to have the bezel fall off, but it doesn't inspire confidence. The 17" GE72 has less flex--you'd think an even longer expanse would give more, but apparently there's more reinforcement on the larger model.
The laptop's Dynaudio stereo speakers fire from the front edge (dual drivers left and right) and there's a subwoofer on the bottom. MSI gaming laptops have very good speakers that are considerably louder and fuller than the Windows competition. I love using them as a Netflix TV when exercising on loud gym equipment for this reason. MSI switched from SoundBlaster to Nahimic sound software last year--I have no strong preference, though I know some folks liked SoundBlaster's software better.
Ports and More
The Apache Pros have a DVD burner, 3 USB 3.0 ports (right and left side), a USB-C port, Gigabit Killer Ethernet, HDMI, mini DisplayPort, SD card slot and 3.5mm stereo out and mic in with an ESS Sabre audio amplifier. They have Intel AC 3165 dual band WiFi 802.11ac with Bluetooth. In comparison, the larger and more expensive Dominator Pro GT72 is available with a Blu-Ray drive, NVIDIA GTX 980M, Killer WiFi 802.11ac, optional G-Sync display and several full size USB 3.1 ports.
Both models have 1920 x 1080 IPS non-touch matte displays, and both of our review units had panels made by LG. The pixel density is higher on the 15.6", so it looks a little bit sharper, and our GE62 15.6" model had a brighter panel that measured 290 nits of brightness vs. 260 nits on the 17" GE72. Both have good color gamut that cover 94% of the sRGB spectrum and 73% of Adobe RGB. These aren't crazy full Adobe RGB gamut displays like the much more expensive Dell XPS 15 with 4K Infinity display, but for those who work professionally with web graphics and video, they do cover the sRGB spectrum used for the web. Color calibration with the default setting (MSI has a color settings app) wasn't superb, but calibrated to near perfection easily. These displays are good enough for pro work if you're a photographer, even if they don't rate quite as high as the more expensive Dominator GT72 1080p matte display. Black levels were decent but not exceptional at 0.4 and contrast was good at 550:1. In comparison, the more expensive Dell XPS 15 with full HD display has a 1200:1 contrast ratio and slightly better 0.34 black levels.
Deals and Shopping:
MSI Apache Pro GE62 and GE72 Video Review
MSI Apache Pro Gameplay Demo
Performance and Graphics
Unlike some MSI models that have manual graphics switching, the Apache Pro models use NVIDIA's Optimus automatic switching, which generally does a good job of picking the proper GPU for the job. The Intel HD 530 integrated graphics is more than adequate for 1080p video playback, productivity and even Photoshop work, though the machine will switch to the NVIDIA GTX 960M 2GB DDR5 dedicated graphics for Photoshop and Premiere Pro. Both our units have the GTX 960M, but you can get them with the more powerful GTX 970M for even higher gaming frame rates and future-proofing.
The machines run on the new Intel Skylake 6th generation quad core 45 watt platform, for roughly double the performance you'd get on an Ultrabook running on 15 watt dual core CPUs. Specifically, our models have the Core i7-6700HQ clocked at 2.6 GHz with Turbo Boost to 3.5 GHz. That means they can handle serious number crunching in Excel, big software compiles, video exports and anything else that's CPU intensive with ease and great speed. The dedicated graphics is strong enough to play current popular demanding 3D titles on mostly high settings with frame rates of 45-60 fps. These are powerful laptops. With the NVIDIA GTX 960M, they're also similar to the Dell XPS 15 Infinity and the Asus ZenBook Pro UX501, two laptops that target business users and the pro apps market centered on Adobe CC programs. With the GTX 970M, they're considerably more powerful gamers. Most configurations have a 128 gig SSD of the fast PCIe NVMe variety and a 1 TB, 7200 RPM HDD in the 2.5" drive bay. The machines have 2 RAM slots, 1 M.2 SSD slot, a 2.5" drive bay and a socketed wireless card.
MSI continues to put some silly bloatware on their machines--WinZip for example... did you know that still existed? They bundle XSplit Gamecaster gameplay streaming too, but Twitch and other services are more popular. It's not a terrible lot of junk--just a few silly choices that you can (and should) uninstall. Some MSI software is loved by the gaming community--like MSI Afterburner, though that was oddly missing from our preinstalled apps.
PCMark 8 Home accel: 3701 (uses integrated graphics)
Geekbench 3: 3660 / 13,480
wPrime: 11.3 seconds
Unigine Heaven 4 (1920 x 1080, high, no tessellation) : fps: 45.6, score 1148. Max GPU temp: 67C
3DMark 11: P5576, X1858
3DMark Cloud Gate: 16,995
3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited: 120,160
Cinebench R15: 46.25 fps OpenGL, 677 CPU score
Both laptops have a 6 cell battery that's nominally sealed inside (you'll have to remove the bottom cover to access it for maintenance). The machines ship with a 120 watt charger, which is sufficient to charge the laptop under heavy loads like gaming. Gaming laptops often don't have decent battery life, but MSI has impressed us lately and with brightness set to a very adequate 40% with WiFi active while doing productivity tasks, we averaged 6 to 6.5 hours. No doubt, NVIDIA Optimus automatic graphics switching helps since it uses the less power hungry integrated Intel 530 graphics for productivity work.
The MSI Apache Pro models are relatively slim, yet they're powerhouse performers with all the bells and whistles laptops used to have--like Ethernet, a DVD drive and ample room for heatsinks and ventilation. In the $1,100 to $1,300 range well configured, they offer a lot of bang for the buck. Styling is decent, the laptops have aluminum lids and we love the easily serviceable and upgradable internals. Performance is strong with no thermal throttling complaints, relatively cool CPU and GPU temperatures (good for long life) and the laptops don't get burning hot. You'll hear the fan when gaming, but noise is also well managed for reasonably slim notebooks. The NVIDIA GTX 960M and 970M will run most 2014-2015 games at high or a mix of medium and high settings, and you won't find a laptop with a more powerful GPU in this slim and light a chassis. If you're in the market for a 15 or 17 inch powerhouse portable, the Apache Pro models are worth a long hard look.
Display:15.6" (GE62) and 17.3" (GE72) IPS full HD 1920 x 1080 matte, non-touch IPS displays. Intel HD 530 integrated graphics auto-switching via NVIDIA Optimus with NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M or GTX970M 2GB DDR5 graphics. HDMI 1.4 port, USB-C and mini Display ports.
Battery:6 cell Lithium
Ion rechargeable, sealed inside. 120 watt charger.
Performance:2.6 GHz Intel Skylake 6th generation Core i7-6700HQ quad core with Turbo Boost to 3.5 GHz, 45 watt processor. Intel HM170 chipset. 2 RAM slots, 16 gigs of DDR42133 MHz RAM in most configurations (32 gigs max). 128 gig PCIe boot SSD and 1 TB HDD (7200 RPM) in most configurations. One M.2 slot for SSD and one 2.5" drive bay.
Size:Weight: 5.2 lbs. for GE62 and 6.5 lbs. for GE72.
Camera:720p webcam with mic.
Audio:Built-in stereo speakers and subwoofer, built-in mic, 3.5mm stereo headphone
jack and 2.5mm mic jack. ESS Sabre HiFi audio DAC, Dynaudio speakers and Nahimic sound software.
Networking:Killer E2200 gigabit Ethernet. Integrated dual band
Intel AC 3165 WiFi 802.11b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth.
Software:Windows 10 Home.
Expansion and Ports:3 USB 3.0 ports, 1 USB-C port, mini DisplayPort, HDMI, 3.5mm stereo out and 3.5mm mic in jacks and
SD card slot.