Hooking up one thing to another so that it becomes more powerful is something The Transformers cartoons of yore showed.
Someone at Micro-Star International (MSI) obviously grew up watching the cartoons because, in a way, that's what its new GS30 2M Shadow notebook and docking station package is about.
The Shadow is a lightweight notebook that combines with a docking station to deliver desktop-quality performance.
MSI is probably one of the earliest proponents of this concept. We've seen its working prototypes from past trade shows, such as the MSI Luxium from Computex 2007. With the Shadow and its gaming dock, we're glad that it's finally shaping up to be a product which will eventually ship next month.
Here's our hands-on run with it, but do note the set that we received isn't the finished product, so the specifications and performance potential are subject to change.
The unit is 32cm long, 22.73cm wide and 1.98cm thick, and weighs 1.2kg. Its physical characteristics easily qualify it as an ultrabook.
The notebook comes with Windows 8.1 pre-installed. Our unit came with an Intel Core i7-4870HQ processor operating at 2.5GHz with a 6MB cache, as well as 8GB DDR3-1600 RAM.
Visuals are tackled by the central processing unit's integrated Intel Iris Pro Graphics 5200. Storage is handled by two M.2 solid-state drives linked in MSI's Super Raid configuration. Ours came with 256GB of storage.
The notebook's 13.3-inch matte and anti-glare display is reasonably good and displays colours well, although its thin top cover makes it wobble easily. It supports a resolution of up to 2560 x 1440 pixels, and has a webcam built in.
Typing was fine on the keyboard, but the display tends to wobble at the slightest touch. This might be addressed in the final production model.
It has a white backlit keyboard, but the colour is not customisable.
Owing to its compact size, it's also missing a number pad, which is acceptable for a 13.3-inch notebook. Typing on its chiclet keys is still responsive, with no issues despite their size.
Besides the keyboard, the Shadow has a clickpad too.
The notebook sports two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI connector, audio ports, as well as a card reader.
The quality and build of the notebook are good enough for it to be marketed as a standalone product. There are currently no plans to sell the notebook without the gaming dock.
THE GAMING DOCK
The dock is big, black, bulky and boxy. It's meant to be left at home or at work. The front is really a speaker system so you have a ready audio solution with this dock. Inside, it's almost like a mini PC.
It has display ports such as an HDMI one, connectivity ports, a couple of audio jacks and four USB 3.0 ports. Connecting the Shadow notebook to the dock is just a matter of sliding it in place on top of the dock.
It has an Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 graphics card - which can be swopped out - and has space to mount a conventional 3.5-inch hard disk drive for extra storage, which isn't included in the package.
The Shadow is a pretty sleek and slick portable machine. As a notebook, it's a light and versatile piece of hardware for light computing needs, like Web browsing or processing office documents and presentations. It's capable of handling very light gaming too.
The size and weight of the notebook make it easy to carry around, and its long lasting battery means you can use it for quite a while (the details are embargoed for now). Even so, we felt its power consumption figures could be improved.
When docked, the Shadow is a beast, especially with the Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 graphics card powering it. We love that you're paying one price for two machines, and the dock offers great customisation options to suit anybody.
It even has speakers built-in so you've one less item to worry about if you have limited desk space. The dock is relatively easy to open and swop parts around, which makes it handy if you're constantly upgrading your hardware.
While it's obviously not geared for the hardcore (the limited space makes liquid cooling set-ups impossible, for instance), it's a great desktop solution for those with space constraints, and would like to maximise their desk space and investments.
Despite all the good stuff, the Shadow and its gaming dock have a few quirks. Things might change with the final production model, but as of now, you cannot dock the notebook and use its monitor, meaning you need a separate monitor.
Positioning the dock can be tricky. You'll spend some time finding an optimal spot to place the monitor and dock. Otherwise, the dock's speakers will blare in a direction not suitable for daily use.
Based on the model we have, the Shadow is a pretty impressive piece of hardware. We like the versatility and choice it gives users and, so far, it fulfils both the roles it sets out to do pretty well: a lightweight portable notebook and a desktop gaming machine.
So, if you're looking for something that could cater to both work and gaming needs, the Shadow definitely deserves consideration.
Visit Hardware Zone for more stories.