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There's a new fad trending in the world of gaming laptops, and we like it: thin, light and simple. Three years ago, you'd have been hard-pressed to find a gaming rig that fit those adjectives, but they're perfectly suitable for the GS60 Ghost. Save for a few manufacturer logos, a silver-accented mousepad and a small, angular shelf surrounding the keyboard, this laptop is as plain as they come. There are no gaudy color schemes, aggressive shapes or unnecessary embellishments -- just a lightly brushed, black magnesium-alloy chassis.
This simple elegance doesn't cripple the device's connectivity options, either -- Ethernet, Mini DisplayPort and HDMI sockets run down the laptop's right edge, accompanied by an SD card reader and a USB 3.0 port. Two more USB 3.0 connections fill out the device's left side, flanked by a pair of audio jacks and the machine's AC adapter. Air vents circle around the back of the GS60's slim 0.78-inch frame, quietly teasing the graphical prowess hidden within. All in all, if it weren't for MSI's Dragon Army branding on the lid, the GS60 Ghost could easily be mistaken for a 15-inch Ultrabook.
While the notebook's metal frame lends it the countenance of a sturdy, well-built machine, it also makes it an easy target for scratches -- which is probably why MSI ships a soft, zippered case with every unit. The protective sleeve is only lightly padded, but it's a nice freebie nonetheless.Keyboard and trackpad
There is one element of the Ghost's design that put us off: the keyboard. There's nothing wrong with its full-sized chiclet layout, and it's certainly not missing any key functions, but the keycaps are marred by an ugly, sharply angled and slightly oversized font. Fortunately, almost everything else about the keyboard overshadows its cosmetic faults.
Most gaming laptops feature keyboards with a faint, multicolored backlight, usually controlled through a desktop application. So does the GS60, but it takes things a step further: The notebook's SteelSeries-sourced keyboard gives users control over not just the robust LED backlight, but also the specific function of each individual key. The included SteelSeries Engine can reprogram any key (except F1-F12) to launch applications, run customized macros or simply emulate a different keyboard function. Custom profiles can be configured to automatically launch with specific games or applications too, and can be visually differentiated by custom backlight configurations. It makes for a decent typewriter too, though the keys could stand to have a little more travel.
We were a little surprised to find a buttonless, clickable trackpad -- common for Ultrabooks and productivity machines, but extremely rare for gaming rigs. MSI's implementation seemed stiff and awkward at first; it tracks fingers well enough, but only right-clicks if you press down in the lower-right-hand corner. Turn on multi-touch gestures and two-finger clicking, however, and the pad blossoms into a productivity wunderkind. Properly configured, the Ghost's trackpad is excellent for general use. Unfortunately, it's on a gaming laptop.Trackpads make poor game controllers as a general rule, but clickable trackpads are particularly ill-suited to the task. Since both mouse buttons are integrated into the same clickable surface (differentiated only by an assigned area or how many fingers are being used), only one can be activated at a time. The problem? Many games require the player to move the mouse while simultaneously using both mouse buttons -- aiming down the scope in a first-person shooter, for instance. Trying to depress the pad while using it to move a character is also extremely awkward. Overall, it's a great mouse, but terrible for game input. Display and sound
Wide viewing angles, bright colors and a non-reflective, matte screen: everything we want in a laptop display and exactly what the GS60 has to offer. It's a relief too: Far too many gaming laptops ship with panels that lose their luster when viewed off center. MSI claims the Ghost's 15.3-inch panel will display accurate colors to any viewer within 85 degrees of the screen, and while we didn't exactly whip out a protractor, we'll admit the display stayed vibrant no matter what angle we tried. All told, it's bright, beautiful and glare-free. There isn't much else to say.
While it's not uncommon for notebooks to lean heavily on audio software to get the most out of their tinny speakers, the GS60's tin cans seem to use the drivers as a crutch. Without the aid of the included Sound Blaster Cinema equalizer, the Ghost's audio has all the fidelity of an AM radio. Properly filtered, they don't sound bad, per se, but for speakers proudly flaunting Dynaudio branding, they're resoundingly average. Still, they do more than a passable job when tuned to the software's default settings: They don't distort, crackle or buzz at high volumes, for example. There's nothing wrong with them, really; we just expected more.Performance and battery life