MSI’s External Gaming Dock And GS30 Shadow Gaming Notebook Offer Alternative PC Paradigm

My first impression of MSI’s Gaming Dock, which was resting on a table with a gaming laptop perched atop it in the company’s suite at CES, was that it was an ugly, bulky brick, and I instantly became concerned with how I was going to politely communicate that sentiment to the room full of MSI reps.

It didn’t take long for me to change my opinion.

The Gaming Dock houses a full desktop GPU that can take over the notebook’s graphics, and it does so via a proprietary PCIe x16 slot that’s built into the rear hinge area of the GS30 Shadow. To take advantage of the Gaming Dock’s GPU prowess, you simply pop the laptop into the dock and lock it in place with a lever. You can secure it further by flipping the lock tab.

Turn on the laptop, and you’re ready to go. With an external monitor connected to the Gaming Dock, you have yourself a powerful gaming machine ready to roll.

There’s currently no hot-swap capability, but MSI said that it has some custom software that protects the laptop from damage if (when) one carelessly yank the GS30 Shadow off of the dock without first powering it down.

The Gaming Dock has plenty of its own ports to augment those of the GS30 Shadow, including at least three USB 3.0 ports, LAN jack, and headphone and mic jacks. Obviously, it has its own small PSU, as well. There’s space for a 3.5-inch hard drive for extra storage, as well as integrated speakers.

The Gaming Dock is user-upgradable, as you can see, and it looks easy enough to swap cards in and out.

None of the above negates the fact that the Gaming Dock is an ugly, blocky box. However, for some users, the box means freedom. For many of us, our computer setup consists of 1) a nice, powerful desktop, 2) a portable laptop of some kind, and 3) a smartphone. With the GS30 Shadow, you get that laptop, and when it’s docked in the graphics-boosting Gaming Dock, you get a more powerful de facto desktop. Thus, you can remake your personal computing setup with just the GS30 Shadow, the Gaming Dock, and smartphone, with no desktop.

Granted, the GS30 Shadow is not a true desktop replacement, even with the external graphics juice. But it is a fairly powerful gaming laptop.

It has an Intel Core i7-4870HQ processor, Iris Pro Graphics 5200, 16GB 1600MHz DDR3  and 128GB SSD RAID 0 storage. There’s a gigabit Ethernet port with Intel 7260 (2x2) 802.11ac WiFi. It’s a rather svelte machine for a gaming laptop, and it has a 13.3-inch 1920x1080 non-reflective display. Ports include two USB 3.0 ports, an SD card slot, HDMI, LAN, and headphone and mic jacks.

It’s a petite laptop that’s easily portable but packs a relatively big performance wallop, and when it’s docked, it functions more or less as a desktop. Fundamentally, that changes how many PCs you may want to purchase. Why buy a laptop and a desktop when you can buy a laptop and a dock that’s much smaller than a regular PC?

This setup is not for everyone — especially at a $2,000 price tag for the pair — but MSI believes there’s a large-enough percentage of the enthusiast population that will see the GS30 Shadow and Gaming Dock as an ideal solution.

Follow Seth Colaner @SethColaner. Follow us @tomshardware, on Facebook and on Google+.

This thread is closed for comments
17 comments
    Your comment
  • turkey3_scratch
    It's a unique idea, almost like adjoining laptop and desktop into one machine and then splitting them apart when you want to go mobile. I just think that for the price people already pay for laptops and with this on top they would not want to spend the money but rather just buy a gaming desktop or gaming laptop itself.
  • Gam3r01
    Make this a bit more streamlined (smaller box, and make it seem more "meant to be" than just sitting on top), and cost slightly less and I would be interested in picking one up.

    I already like the idea, and think it could go places, just not for that pricepoint.
  • JackNaylorPE
    I have two of these "in concept" on a shelf in my office...a 1996 Toshiba and a 2000 ish IBM. They came with a monitor stand and I used it with an external full size monitor, KB and mouse and it had built in 5.25 bays, SCSI, zip drives and everything else this has (and more) minus a "gaming specific GFX card". Ours were used primarily for AutoCAD.

    I hated when docking stations fell out of favor and bringing that lappie in meant reconnecting 5-6 cables (mouse, KB, ethernet, power, speakers, joystick) instead of "drop and latch". They were same footprint but about half as tall.

    My guess is they took this form factor to allow the use of the laptop screen. I'd prefer the old form factor where the closed laptop slid into the docking station horizontally under the monitor stand.