MSI is best known for its motherboards, although it has also built up a significant range of consumer-oriented laptops over the last decade, particularly for the gaming market. But the company produces laptops for professional users as well. The WS60 is aimed at 3D content creation, and whilst not the first workstation MSI has produced, it's the first that isn't based on one of the company's gaming systems. It's a somewhat unusual design as mobile workstations go, too.
Generally, a portable workstation is at the top-end of the desktop replacement genre. However, although the WS60 is a 15in laptop, it only weighs 1.9kg. Best of all, it's just 19.9mm thick, which is bordering on Ultrabook territory. In other words, this is one of the most portable mobile workstations around.
The chassis is a relatively sober black, and the "workstation" logo on the lid was perhaps an unnecessary indication of the WS60's intended use. The 15.6in screen has a full HD resolution, which is about the sweet spot for this size. Some vendors are now offering much higher resolutions, such as Dell's Precision M3800 – but this can cause problems with software not designed for this pixel density. So the WS60's screen is about right for now. Its matt finish and good levels of brightness and detail mean it's very pleasant to use, and viewing angles are wide, with no distraction from unwanted reflections.
MSI has taken full advantage of the width of the 15in chassis, providing a separate numeric keypad alongside the chiclet-style keyboard. The stylised text on the keys is perhaps overly telling of MSI's usual gamer focus, but the keyboard action is responsive, giving a pleasant typing experience. The large trackpad has its buttons integrated, with no indication of where the clicking area is, but in practice this isn't a problem. It's placed sensibly to the left beneath the spacebar, and is accurate and responsive.
The WS60 is based around an Intel Core i7-4710HQ, which is a quad-core CPU from the fourth Haswell generation. This runs at a nominal 2.5GHz, but as usual Intel Turbo Boost is on hand to enhance the frequency in the right circumstances, with a single core able to hit 3.5GHz. By raising the power from 47W to 55W, the clock speed of the whole processor can rise to 3.3GHz.
So there's plenty of potency here, and Hyper-Threading also means the four physical cores are presented as eight virtual ones, for a boost to parallel processing tasks such as rendering. The Core i7 has been partnered by a healthy 16GB of 1,600MHz DDR3L SDRAM, which is the maximum the system supports, but will be a decent amount for the intended purpose for a few years to come.
However, the component that fully lifts the WS60 into workstation territory is the Nvidia Quadro graphics. The Quadro K2100 is from the latest generation of Kepler-based Nvidia GPUs, and sports 576 CUDA cores alongside 2GB of GDDR5 memory. This is a mid-range member of the current Quadro line-up, but significantly ahead of the high-end desktop Quadro 5000 of just a few years ago, for example. There is also integrated Intel HD Graphics 4600, which automatically takes over when there is little 3D acceleration required, thanks to Nvidia's Optimus technology.
The storage provision takes the usual route for content creation systems of combining a smaller, faster boot drive with a larger one for general data. The operating system and main software resides on a 128GB Toshiba THNSNJ128G8NU solid state disk, but there's also a 7,200rpm 1TB Hitachi Travelstar 7K1000 hard disk as well. Whilst 128GB is starting to feel a little small, there are options for two of these in a RAID 0 array, and the hard disk means there's plenty of storage capacity available overall.
The WS60 has a comprehensive range of ports. On the left are separate microphone and headphone minijacks, a pair of USB 3.0 connections, alongside the power input and a Kensington lock slot. The right side is home to a further USB 3.0 connection, the SD card reader, full-sized HDMI, Thunderbolt 2 and Gigabit Ethernet. The Wi-Fi provision includes the latest 802.11ac, so the WS60 is comprehensively endowed in this department as well.
The powerful Core i7 and Quadro graphics provide good performance in every area. The WS60 managed 7.03 and 648 in the rendering portions of Maxon Cinebench R11.5 and R15 respectively, which are some of the highest scores we have seen. The OpenGL results of 56.13 and 68.08 respectively are also impressive.
The WS60's graphics abilities continue to 2,666 in Futuremark 3DMark11, and 1,675 in the Firestrike 1.1 portion of 3DMark. We have seen considerably larger scores from pure gaming notebooks such as Gigabyte's P25X v2, but this is still three or four times faster than integrated graphics.
The WS60 is also very capable with everyday productivity software, achieving 3,145 in the Home test of PCMark 8 and 4,194 in the Work test. We also ran SPECviewperf 11, although there was a driver compatibility issue with the latest version 12, so we couldn't run that. In version 11, the WS60 achieved 64.48 in lightwave-01, 73.54 in maya-03, and 47.46 in the SolidWorks sw-02 viewset, implying strong 3D content creation and product design abilities.
Unfortunately, although the WS60 is highly portable considering its capabilities, this isn't matched by its battery life, which remains firmly in the mobile workstation camp. It only lasted 145 minutes of PCMark 8's Home test, where Dell's Precision M3800 endured for more than twice as long. It also only managed 76 minutes of the intensive Battery Eater Pro test. So you will get maybe three hours of light work on the battery, but considerably less than two hours of intensive 3D. In reality, you will still need the mains connection nearby, and the battery is not removable so you won't be able to bring a spare either.
The MSI WS60 is an attractive break from the usual chunkiness of workstation laptops. We would have preferred a better battery life to match the svelte chassis, but the portability will still be an incentive. This is a stylish and powerful professional laptop, and it's not hideously expensive considering the component parts, either. It's definitely worth considering as an alternative to the usual big-brand choices.
Manufacturer and Model
MSI WS60 2OJ
2.5GHz Intel Core i7-4710HQ
16GB 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Intel HD Graphics 4600 and Nvidia Quadro K2100 with 2GB GDDR5 memory
128GB Toshiba THNSNJ128G8NU solid state disk, 7,200rpm 1TB Hitachi Travelstar 7K1000 hard disk
15.6in LED backlit TFT with 1,920 x 1,080 pixels
802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, Gigabit LAN
3 x USB 3.0, HDMI (1.4), headphone, microphone, Thunderbolt, LAN, SD card reader
Width x Depth x Height
390 x 266 x 19.9mm