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A quick look at MSI's WS63 8SJ mobile workstation

Fuzzy wuzzy on a tear

A few weeks ago, I introduced you to Gipsy Danger: a beefy shared workstation for translating CAD data. Well, Gipsy made more than a few people in the office more than a little jealous of her power. Unsurprisingly, that heightened my users' desire to acquire new mobile workstations to replace an aging fleet. Normally, that would mean ordering up a few of HP's latest and greatest Zbooks. The stars weren't quite aligned, though—the HP hexa-core machines of our dreams simply weren't cart-able when we wanted them.

After some research, it turned out that only MSI had so far managed to put together a system with everything I was looking for that was also for sale. Enter the MSI WS63 8SJ: a bona fide 15.6" mobile workstation in the body of an ultrabook. I have to admit that purchasing something other than my trusty HPs made me a bit nervous. The specs were just too good to resist, though, so I took the chance and ordered one up for "educational" purposes.

The specific configuration I chose for the WS63 comes with a Core i7-8750H processor and 32 GB of 2400 MT/s memory. It also sports a 512-GB Samsung PM981 NVMe SSD, Nvidia Quadro P2000 graphics, and an Intel Wireless-AC 9560 radio inside. A 1920x1080 "IPS-level" display and Thunderbolt 3 connectivity through a USB Type-C port round out the critical components. The rest of the port array includes a full-size HDMI port, a mini DisplayPort, uh, port, three USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports and a single USB 2.0 port. Niceties like a 720p webcam, card reader, stereo speakers, and a pair of audio jacks are, of course, built-in.

At this point I've got to mention the disclaimer that comes with this review. As a work system, my primary concern was to get this machine into its anxious user's hands ASAP. I took good notes, ran a few tests, and documented what the user had to say after a few days with the system, but this is not an in-depth review with all the standard TR metrics. Think of it as light reading. If you want more performance numbers on the Core i7-8750H CPU that the WS63 has inside, take a look at our full review of Gigabyte's Aero 15Xv8. That gaming machine runs on the same chip. I also want to specifically apologize up-front for the lack of battery run-down tests, but it just wasn't in the cards. The machine comes with an integrated three-cell 65 WHr battery, though. As always, workstation users looking for the best performance will get it when the WS63 is plugged into the wall.

Looking the part

Aesthetics seem as good a place as any to start with this system. As a workstation, I'm going to call the WS63 close but no cigar. Don't get me wrong: the WS63 is a handsome machine, but it seems like someone that had a hand in its design just couldn't fully break free of the "gaming" mindset. The superfluous shield logo on the lid and bright neon accents just feel out of place. It's funny—if this was a "gaming" laptop I'd be crowing about MSI's design restraint, but since it's a workstation even the reserved appearance isn't quite bleak enough for my tastes.

The font on the keyboard is another giveaway that the WS63 may have gaming roots. It's not something that will cause problems, but my personal preference would be for a more professional-looking typeface. It's especially irksome that some of the letter labels are the same as others on the board but just rotated a bit. W, M, U, and N are guilty of this case-agnostic tomfoolery, for example. At least the backlighting on the keyboard is effective, and there's not an RGB LED in sight.

Now, the next aspect of the look and feel of this machine is a bit of a weird one. Some of you may know that I'm no stranger to fuzzy computers. Even with the way fabric and consumer electronics are meeting more often these days, I wasn't expecting the entire underside of the WS63 to be plush-ified. I think the material is a microfleece of some kind, and it seems to be well-adhered to the laptop. While I'm fairly amused by this underbody treatment, I'm also essentially ambivalent about its function. I guess it would be nice if you used the system on your lap, and it probably doesn't affect thermal performance much in that case, but only time will tell how well it holds up to that kind of use. At least it doesn't appear prone to generate lint or pill up and clog its own fans.

Speaking of cooling, the WS63 has three fans to move air through its svelte chassis. Those fans intake from the bottom and exhaust out the back and sides of the notebook. This setup was able to keep the 45-W Core i7-8750H processor between 82°–84° C after 20 minutes of Prime95 Small FFTs load. For comparison, a few-year-old Zbook 15 with an i7-4700MQ in it hit 98°C under the same load in the same environment. That said, the MSI had to get both noticeably louder and higher-pitched than the Zbook under load to maintain those temperatures, but not problematically so. Under normal operation, the MSI was inaudible over my office's background noise. I didn't check temps under a graphics load, but I'm left with the impression that there is thermal headroom to spare in this system—especially considering the GPU has its own fan and heat pipe.