MSI has undergone an "Extreme Makeover: Badass Edition." Its new $2,799 GT70 gaming rig is one of the first notebooks to debut with a fourth-generation, quad-core Intel Haswell CPU. It's also rocking a Nvidia GeForce GTX 780M chip, which was recently declared the world's fastest notebook GPU. This new tag team is a force to be reckoned with, offering stronger graphics and overall performance with longer battery life. And did we mention the wicked limited edition dragon motif? Read on to learn why the GT70 might be the new titan of gaming notebooks.
It's clear that the MSI GT70 has been bathed in Targaryien dragon fire. This limited-edition chassis sports a scintillating red brushed aluminum lid, adorned with a backlit MSI logo surrounded by a dragon, immediately draws the eye. The beast's innate beauty is diminished by the thick black plastic bands encasing the aluminum, however. We would have preferred a totally aluminum chassis, but also would have settled for red plastic like the band at the top of the lid.
The notebook's interior is classic MSI, using a mix of aluminum, matte and glossy plastics. A capacitive touch panel and a rather large silver button power button are positioned above the keyboard in between a pair of speakers. A red band of color running beneath the panel gives the console a Voltron-esque appearance. The keyboard deck is swathed in shiny black plastic, and the dragon-adorned red aluminum makes a return along the palm rest with a fairly large black touchpad centered below the G and H keys.
The GT70 features a customizable backlit keyboard that you can tweak using the accompanying software. MSI's KLM utility gives Alienware's AlienFX software a run for its money, offering a plethora of color options and effects. We were even able to create custom lighting profiles for when the keyboard was in use or sitting idle.
While we doubt you'll be lugging around the GT70, the 8.9-pound, 16.85 x 11.3 x 2.2-inch
notebook is lighter than the 9.8-pound, 16.1 x 11.9 x 1.75-inch Alienware M17x R4. However, the 16.5 x 10.7 x 1.2~1.7-inch Toshiba Qosmio X875-Q7390 is the lightest gaming behemoth on the block at 7.9 pounds.
The MSI GT70 comes with a full HD (1920 x 1080) matte display. During our "Tomb Raider" playthrough, the lush green jungle looked alive and realistic. At the lowest setting, the textures were rather muddy, with jagged plant matter and slight pixelation of the local fauna. At higher settings, we could see the delicate misting from a nearby waterfall as well as the dying embers of our torch.
On the other hand, the colors could be better on this panel, especially compared with the glossy screen on the Alienware M17x R4. For example, the orange from Mozilla Firefox start page was much brighter. However we could get better detail from the GT70, specifically among the shaded background images.
We attempted to adjust the color using the display brightness settings in the System Control Manager (Eco, Presentation, Office, Game and Movie), but the picture consistently appeared duller than high-gloss visuals offered by the Alienware M17x R4. The red shoulder accents of Katniss Everdeen's party dress in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" trailer were muted, as were her normally steel-blue eyes. However, we were able to see every frond on her bird-themed dress.
We were awash in color when we watched the same trailer on the M17x R4; Katniss' skin tone looked healthier. The red accents on her dress popped and her eyes sparkled. We also couldn't stop looking at the woman with the lilac-colored pompadour. Viewing angles on both notebooks were generous enough to fit three or four people comfortably.
When we measured the display with our light meter, the GT70 measured 240 lux, 10 points below the average. The M17x R4 fared better with 282 while the X875 scored a dazzling 305 lux.
The GT70's Dynaudio speakers deliver clear, full audio -- loud enough to bathe our medium-size test room. Dialogue was nice and crisp during "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," particularly Katniss' plaintiff screams of protest and Hoffman's dark brooding.
As we made our way out of a dark, dank cave in "Tomb Raider," the audio was immersive. The sounds of cave-in, including falling rock and splintering debris, had real weight. We cringed at the squishy sound of a man being crushed by a boulder and his last fading gurgles. We were also exhilarated by the almost quiet hum of pulling back a bowstring to make a stealth kill on a large buck.
The piano and guitar on "Get Lucky," the Daft Punk/Pharrell Williams collaboration, were lively, upbeat and balanced. Daft Punk's signature synthesizer was crisp and clear while Williams' soft tenor drove the track. Our only complaint was the lack of bass. However, that was quickly remedied by the SoundBlaster software that allowed us to adjust bass and toggle between four settings (Music, Games, Movies and Custom).
The GT70's island-style keyboard suffers from a little bit of flex, but overall, it delivers an excellent typing experience. The black matte keys are evenly spaced and provided strong, responsive feedback. The Right Shift and Backspace keys are slightly undersized due to the inclusion of the number pad. The palm rest is nice and big and stayed cool despite its aluminum plating.
With its shiny black plastic border and red accents, the 3.3 x 1.5-inch Synaptics touchpad is big on style. The pad provided fast, fluid response when we performed two-finger scrolls, three-finger swipes and three-finger presses for launching. However, it felt a little cramped as we attempted to pinch-zoom or two-finger rotate. Kudos to MSI for including discrete mouse buttons with firm, springy feedback.
After streaming "Codename: Kids Next Door" on Netflix for 15 minutes, the touchpad measured 82 degrees Fahrenheit. The space between the G and H keys and the bottom of the notebook registered 88 and 86 degrees, respectively. The bottom back vent on the GT70 blew 95 degrees, matching our comfort threshold.
When we went poking around ancient ruins in "Tomb Raider," the GT70 stayed relatively cool thanks to the surprisingly quiet fans. The touchpad, space between the G and H and the underside of the notebook registered 85, 92 and 90 degrees respectively. That bottom back vent blew slightly above our comfort threshold at 99 degrees.
The GT70's 720p webcam is one of the better ones we've seen in terms of color accuracy. The camera captured the vivid blue of our blue dress as well as our chocolate skin tone under fluorescent and natural lighting. However, images were heavily pixelated. For instance, we could barely make out our colleague's nameplate on the desk behind us.
The GT70 packs a copious amount of ports. A tray-loading Blu-ray burner and a pair of USB 2.0 ports are located on the right side of the notebook. A trio of USB 3.0 ports lines the left side along with a 7-in-1 card reader and jacks for a mic, a pair of headphones and a pair of gold-plated audio jacks. There's even more ports along the rear, including HDMI, VGA, Gigabit Ethernet, DisplayPort, a security lock slot and the power jack.
Despite the motif on the lid, the MSI GT70 isn't powered by dragon fire, but this rig feels like it is. The GT70 sports an Nvidia GeForce GTX 780M GPU with 4GB of VRAM, the most powerful from the company's new GeForce 700M Series GPU line. The notebook also has Intel's latest GPU, the Intel HD Graphics 4600 chip. The notebook really impressed during our "Tomb Raider" playthrough, delivering an average frame rate of 38.7 fps on Ultimate at 1080p. On Normal, the rate jumped to 63 fps, and on the lowest setting, we saw an average fps of 101 fps.
When we ran the 3DMark11 benchmark, the GT70 posted a massive score of 7,352. That's 3,118 points higher than the 4,234 desktop replacement average. The Alienware M17x R4 and its Nvidia GeForce GTX 680M GPU scored 6,158. The Toshiba Qosmio's X875 Nvidia GeForce GTX 670M GPU notched 2,984.
On the "Bioshock Infinite" benchmark, the GT70 averaged 155 frames per second at 1366 x 768 and the effects on low. When we switched over to native resolution (1080p), the frame rate dropped to 70 fps. The M17 R4, by comparison, notched 132 fps and 59 fps at those respective settings, and the Qosmio delivered 86 fps and 52 fps.
After cranking the settings up to maximum, the GT70 delivered 43 fps at 768p and 44 fps at 1080p. On the M17 R4, we saw frame rates of 32 fps and 30 fps while the Qosmio posted 31 fps and 19 fps.
The MSI GT70 is one of the first notebooks to feature Intel's new Haswell processor. According to Intel, this new chip delivers improved battery life, overall performance and graphics performance.
During the PCMark 7 benchmark, the notebook's fourth-generation, 2.4-GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-4700MQ processor with 32GB of RAM returned a beastly score of 6,025, easily smashing the 3,999 desktop replacement average. The Toshiba Qosmio X875-Q7390 and its third-gen Intel Core i7-3630QM CPU scored 4,724 while the Alienware M17x R4's 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-3720QM CPU only notched 4,610.
To ensure maximum speed and storage, MSI crammed a couple of 128GB SSDs in RAID 2 configuration into the chassis in addition to a 1TB 7,200-rpm hard drive. The extra oomph enabled the GT70 to boot Windows 8 in a blistering 9 seconds, easily beating the 42-second average. That's nearly four times faster than M17 R4's (500GB 7,200-rpm and 32GB mSATA SSD) time of 0:34. The X875's 1TB 5,400-rpm hard drive clocked in at 0:18.
When we ran the File Transfer Test, the GT70 duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 11 seconds for a transfer rate of 462.7 MBps, shattering the 90.6 MBps desktop replacement average. The M17x R4 and X875 were nearly even at 23.6 and 21 MBps, respectively.
On the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro Test, the GT70 paired 20,000 names with their corresponding addresses in 4 minutes and 1 second, about 40 seconds faster than the average. The M17x R4 was hot on the GT70's heels at 4:10 while the X875 took 4:41.
Gaming rigs are well-known for their horrendous battery life, but the combination of Nvidia's Optimus technology and Intel's more efficient fourth-generation Core CPU definitely help. During the LAPTOP Battery Test, which consists of continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi, the GT70 lasted 4 hours and 18 minutes. That's 32 minutes longer than the 3:46 desktop replacement average. The Qosmio X875 only managed 1:58, but the M17x R4 clocked in with a whopping 5:27.
Software and warranty
MSI continues to go against gaming rig conventions, loading their machines up with software. Luckily, programs such as MSI Hybrid Power, Qualcomm Atheros Killer Network Manager and Nvidia's GeForce Experience are designed to promote optimal CPU and GPU performance.
Other utilities include the System Control Manager, which allows users to adjust screen brightness, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, volume, CD and webcam. There's also MSI Burn Recovery to help users back up all their precious data.
Third-party apps include Skype, Cookbook by Slow Serve, Microsoft Office, Evernote Touch, MusicMaker Jam and TuMetro, a reader app that compiles stories using keyword semantics. The system also comes with a 30-day trial of Norton Security.
And if that's not enough to satisfy your app hunger, there's BlueStacks, which enables Android apps to run on Macs and PC and its large cache of apps, including Pulse and WeChat.
The MSI GT70 comes with a two-year limited warranty.
Our configuration of the GT70 is priced at $2,799 and features a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i7-4700MQ processor with 32GB of RAM, a pair of 128GB SSDs in RAID 2 configuration with a 1TB 7,200-rpm hard drive, an Intel HD Graphics 4600 GPU and a Nvidia GeForce GTX 780M with 4GB of VRAM.
The regular edition of the GT70 loses the dragon chassis in favor of a more subdued black aluminum lid. Priced at $2,599 you'll get a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i7-4700MQ processor with 24GB of RAM, a pair of 128GB SSDs in RAID 0 configuration with a 1TB 7,200-rpm hard drive, an Intel HD Graphics 4600 GPU and a Nvidia GeForce GTX 780M with 4GB of VRAM.
The $1,499 base model has a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i7-4700MQ CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 1TB 7,200-rpm hard drive and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 770M GPU with 3GB of vRAM.
MSI has unleashed a gorgeous ogre of a laptop on the unsuspecting masses. The GT70 combines a show-stopping chassis with the latest technology from Intel and Nvidia, resulting in the best performance we've seen from a gaming notebook. The glare-free display and solid audio quality only further sweeten the pie. Yes, this comes at a cost -- the GT70's $2,799 price tag will leave many gamers out in the cold. But even the $1,499 base model should be able to delight gamers. While some may want to see what Alienware can do with Haswell and Nvidia's latest GPU, the MSI GT70 is a top-notch gaming rig.