MSI doesn’t do middle-of-the-road laptops – it makes brash, in-your-face laptops built for gaming. With the GE72 2QD Apache Pro, it delivers a 17in beast packed with powerful components at a modest price.
It’s not ugly, despite its size. The base may be plastic, but the lid and keyboard surround are clad in brushed black aluminium. I can’t fathom why MSI thought it wise to extend the brushed-aluminium look to the touchpad, though. In reality, it’s still plastic, but lacks the smooth glide of normal touchpads. However, the fact that most keen gamers will opt for a dedicated mouse mitigates this decision.
Once you switch it on, the Apache Pro has a hallucinogenic haze of ever-changing lights that beam out from beneath the keyboard. You can switch these off but – call me crazy – I rather liked them, especially the option to create a rainbow selection.
As with most 17in gaming laptops, the GE72 is a desk hog. It measures 419 x 280 x 29mm (WDH) and weighs a hefty 2.7kg, so you aren’t going to want to lug it around. Still, this is a do-it-all laptop designed to replace a hulking desktop, not a commuter’s companion. It even has a DVD writer.
At the heart of it all is a fifth-generation Intel Core i7-5700HQ processor with a nominal clock speed of 2.7GHz, Turbo Boosting to 3.5GHz in times of need. Backing that up is a respectable 8GB of RAM (expandable to 16GB), plus an Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M supplied with 2GB of GDDR5 memory. When you don’t need the power of the 960M, Intel’s on-chip HD Graphics 5600 GPU takes over and eases the burden on the battery. As for storage, the Apache Pro is equipped with a 128GB SSD, plus a mechanical 1TB hard disk. Windows 10 boots before you know it.
The Apache Pro aced the gaming benchmarks, too. Running through BioShock Infinite’s benchmarking utility, the Apache Pro hit 81fps at 720p in Ultra mode. Knock up the resolution to 1080p and the frame rate drops, but it’s still playable.
While the added grunt of the Core i7-5700HQ helps MSI’s laptop get ahead in the games department, the limitation of 8GB of RAM means it falls short of the Helix 2 in our general-use tests, recording an overall score of 90 compared to the Helix’s 96.
Connectivity is great, especially when it comes to video. You can plug in two external monitors via the HDMI and DisplayPort outputs, and if you own two 4K monitors, you can output to both simultaneously – although don’t expect smooth, full-resolution gaming if you do.
The Dynaudio-branded speakers pump out a substantial sound, but the chassis vibrates at higher volumes. Elsewhere, you have everything you’d expect from a high-end laptop: three USB 3 ports, one USB 2, dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth 4 and an SD slot.
As you can imagine, with a 17in screen and an i7 processor, the Apache Pro devours the battery. It lasted 3hrs 6mins playing a 720p video with the screen set to a brightness of 170cd/m2, and you can expect half that figure when you play games.
The worst aspect of the Apache Pro, however, is its display. While it’s not drastic enough to ruin games, it’s not pleasing on the eye. Maximum brightness is decent at 281cd/m2, and a contrast ratio of 1,222:1 ensures that images pop off the screen, but colour accuracy is poor. MSI’s IPS panel gives many colours a blue cast, although it does bundle an app that lets you tweak the display.
None of that will matter if you plug the laptop into an external display, of course, and as soon as you boot up Fallout 4 or run through the plains of Eorzea in Final Fantasy XIV, you’ll stop caring about its shortcomings, knowing that you’ve got a great gaming laptop at a bargain price.