MSI's sweet Shadow gaming dock bundle costs as much as an old-school PC

LAS VEGAS—As any gamer knows, the problem with a laptop is that once you’ve purchased it, you’re stuck with whatever the manufacturer included inside. MSI now has two separate products that can solve that problem.

MSI announced plans to make the GS30 Shadow laptop a couple of months ago—a bundle of a thin-and-light notebook and a massive gaming dock that can hold a full-length graphics card. And then there’s the GT80 Titan SLI, a massive notebook featuring a mechanical keyboard that’s serviceable from the top—and may or may not allow you to swap in a new CPU in a few months.

“PC gaming is constantly evolving and our new lineup of battle machines are ready to take on any challenge,” says Andy Tung, the president of MSI Pan America, in a statement. “We’ve thrown down the gauntlet with a selection of outstanding choices for every type of gamer.”

At the CES show here, MSI spelled out what gamers will have to shell out for the GS30 Shadow and dock: a flat $2,000. MSI will sell the notebook and dock as a bundle. That’s a slightly different business model than the Alienware Graphics Amplifier, a $299 external-GPU dock that’s sold separately, but only works with Alienware PCs. 

The Alienware solution uses a X4 external PCI Express GPU connector, though, while the MSI model uses a x16 PCI Express Gen 3 connection. That’s about as much bandwidth as the spec allows for, however,and shouldn’t prove to be a bottleneck. The dock also includes speakers, a 3.5-inch hard-drive bay, USB ports, ethernet, and analog jacks. The ultraportable GS30 notebook, meanwhile, measures only 0.77 inches thick, and weighs less than 2.65 lbs. What the bundle doesn’t include is a graphics card, however; you’ll have to supply your own.

The GT80 has a what keyboard?

Laptop keyboards tend to suck. There, we said it. Unless you opt for an external keyboard, those who feel strongly about keyboards tend to buy Lenovo ThinkPads, and older models at that. 

 

The MSI GT80 changes all that, with keyboard built around mechanical Cherry MX Brown switches. And if you want, you can even swap out a particular key for something a bit more blingy. 

Inside the GT80, however, is where things get interesting.  It’s the first gaming laptop from MSI that comes with dual Nvidia GTX 980M GPUs in SLI mode, with a top-opening hood that allows easy access to the components inside —similar to the way the trunk opens on your car.  It can also support up to 4x M.2 SATA SSDs in RAID 0, with 32GB of memory, and includes a super-efficient dual fan cooling system drawing heat from both graphics cards and processor with its 8-heat pipe design, MSI said. And there’s also 24 GB of RAM, a terabyte hard drive, and a 256GB SSD. It’s available now for $3,700.

The rumor, according to PCW’s Gordon Mah Ung, is that the laptop will eventually support a drop-in Broadwell replacement when the chips are released in several months. And wouldn’t that be a nifty upgrade?

Why this matters: We would love, love, love a future where we could take a thin-and-light notebook to work, power through some Web browsing and document creation, then take the same notebook home and plug it into an external GPU for some additional gaming. With Alienware, MSI, and The Hive all supporting something similar, could this be the year of the external GPU?

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