One of the first gaming laptops to use Nvidia's new Pascal GPUs, the MSI GT62 Dominator Pro (priced at $1,999; starting at $1,599) is VR ready, willing and able. And when you're done scaling mountaintops or exploring haunted houses in virtual reality, the laptop can throw down some insanely smooth frame rates for your regular titles. Thanks to the machine's Intel Core i7 processor and PCIe solid-state drive, you can expect great performance and scorching transfer speeds. Throw in a beautiful Nvidia G-Sync display, and you're ready to enter the future of gaming with digital guns a-blazin'.
MSI's notebooks are usually either sleek or imposing. However, the GT62 straddles the fence to great effect for a laptop that exudes both power and sexiness. At first glance at the GT62, my eyes were drawn to the pair of glossy black and red strips embedded into the black brushed-aluminum lid. Each strip is flanked by a dart of metal, which only helps to attract your eyes to the middle of the lid, where the chrome MSI logo and the backlit dragon sigil reside.
Most of the laptop's interior is made of more black brushed aluminum. Buttons for power, SteelSeries Engine, XSplit Gamecaster and fan speed reside above the backlit keyboard, embedded in the speaker grille. Directly below the keyboard sits a rather large touchpad with a slim chrome accent.
While not as big as its cousins the GT80 Titan and the GT72 Dominator Pro, the GT62 offers a solid collection of ports. The right side houses a trio of USB 3.0 ports and an SD card reader. There's a single USB 2.0 port and a secure lock slot on the left, as well as jacks for headphones(S/PDIF), microphone, line-in and line-out. A USB 3.1 Type-C port, a mini DisplayPort, HDMI, Gigabit Ethernet and a power jack reside on the system's rear.
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The 15.4 x 10.5 x 1.6-inch GT62 is on the chunkier side of the gaming laptop spectrum, at 6.4 pounds. The Digital Storm Equinox (15.4 x 10.5 x 0.7 inches) and the Asus ROG Strix (15.3 x 10.5 x 0.9 inches) are noticeably lighter at 4.2 pounds and 4.8 pounds, respectively. The Alienware 15 (15.2 x 10.6 x 0.9~1.3 inches) continues to be the uncontested heavyweight, at 7.1 pounds.
MSI makes some of the best displays in the business. The GT62 Dominator Pro's 15.6-inch, 1920 x 1080 matte panel is as pretty as a dream. The screen gets a large assist from MSI's True Color software, which allows viewers to adjust color temperature via six presets (Gamer, Anti-Blue, sRGB, Designer, Office and Movie).
Although sRGB is my go-to setting, I switched to Movie as I watched the Hands of Stone trailer, as it did a better job with Usher Raymond IV's and Edgar Ramirez's skin tones. Raymond's bronze skin gleamed under the bright white lights of the ring, which only helped to accentuate the green and gold in the championship belt wrapped around his waist. Details were so clear that I watched individual sweat drops run haphazardly down the actor's muscular frame.
Before I went any farther in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, I took some time to enjoy the glory of the sun rising over the sleepy village of White Orchid. As the sun rose toward its apex, the blue sky gave way to a luxurious golden glow before reverting back to a beautiful sapphire. The sun gently caressed Geralt's armor, tracing a glowing path across the chain mail.
The display reproduced 105.8 percent of the sRGB gamut, beating the 91 percent mainstream average. That was enough to clear the Alienware 15 (60 percent), but not the Strix (109 percent) or the Equinox (111 percent).
The GT62 isn't a slouch when it comes to accuracy, scoring 0.68 (0 is ideal) on the Delta-E test, which is much better than the 2.3 average and the Equinox's 1.1. However, the Alienware 15 and Strix were a little more accurate at 0.5 and 0.49 each.
Man, this is a bright display. The GT62 averaged 301 nits, making the 265-nit average look mighty dim. The Equinox was a distant second, at 293 nits, and the Strix and the Alienware 15 turned in 273 nits and 222 nits, respectively.
Having high frame rates is cool, but not at the expense of choppy graphics. Nvidia's G-Sync technology strives to give users the best of both worlds, by syncing up the laptop's display rate with the graphics card. In other words, the tech is placing a frame cap that matches the panel limit, which allows for instant rendering in both full-screen and windowed modes, thus eliminating any tears, and leaving smooth images and happy gamers.
Typically, you can rely on Dynaudio speakers to deliver loud, clear audio with some thunderous bass, especially when they're paired with Nahimic's audio software. However, this time, the boom was decidedly absent when I listened to G.O.O.D. Music's "Mercy.1". The normally powerful lows were barely a whisper. When I switched to Frank Ocean's "Super Rich Kids," I got crystal-clear piano chords that commingled with the artist's disaffected vocal.
When I played The Witcher 3, the sound was clear enough for me to hear the pained final yelps from a pack of wolves I dispatched with a cracking wave of fire. However, the audio still lacked the volume I've grown accustomed to on MSI systems.
The Nahimic 2 software offers several presets to optimize your listening experience. For gaming, you have Role Play, Shooter, Strategy and Racing. Multimedia settings include Music and Comms. The app also offers several cool features that will help you get the jump on your gaming foes. For example, the SoundTracker feature points out your enemies' locations based on sound. There's also Audio Launchpad, which lets streams map sound effects to hotkeys, letting you quickly accentuate a sweet move.
Keyboard and Touchpad
If I can't have the GT80's mechanical keyboard, this is the next best thing. My fingers seemed to dance along the backlit, island-style keyboard, thanks in no small part to the 1.9 millimeters of travel (1.5 mm is average) and actuation (66 grams of force needed to press the keys). I easily hit 66 words per minute on the 10fastfingers.com typing test, which is higher than my usual 60 wpm.
Whether I was using three-finger press to launch Google Chrome or scrolling down the length of a website, the 4.2 x 2.3-inch Synaptics touchpad delivered quick, accurate movement. The two discrete mouse buttons were nice and clicky, with firm feedback.
SteelSeries' Engine software continues to light the way to innovation for MSI. You still have the ability to assign one of the three zones of the keyboard with one out of 16.8 million colors and four effects, for a cool custom creation. But SteelSeries has taken things one step further and unveiled the GameSense feature, which maps the keyboard zones to a specific game. For instance, the CounterStrike Go profile has the left side of the keyboard corresponding to your health, while the middle and right side map are linked to your Armor and Bullet inventory. Each section of the board will flash when a significant change in status occurs.
Gaming, Graphics and VR
Welcome to the brave new world of Nvidia Pascal, where every gaming notebook that has Nvidia discrete graphics is virtual-reality ready. So whip out those HTC Vives and Oculus Rifts, because it's going to be an exhilarating ride. When I ran the SteamVR Performance test on the Dominator Pro's Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 GPU with its 8GB of GDDR5 VRAM, the laptop delivered a mighty 10.1, which places it at the Very High quadrant of the test.
I hooked up the Oculus Rift to the Dominator Pro and settled in with Eve: Valkyrie. Despite the quick turns and sudden changes in orientation, the laptop kept up, which kept the simulation sickness at bay. If not for the ancient Lovecraftian horrors stalking me in Edge of Nowhere, I would have been happy to explore the gleaming white glaciers and the glittering blue crevices. But alas, the ominous shadow of Lord Cthulhu was on my tail, and I had to make a hasty retreat.
The Dominator Pro delivered some impressive numbers on traditional games. I cranked The Witcher 3 settings to Ultra with all the settings cranked to Very High. I even turned on Nvidia's HairWorks. The result looked like the most violent Pantene commercial ever. Geralt's long, white hair cascaded across his shoulders as he hacked an attacking Drowner's arm off, revealing various shades of pink and red beneath its dark-blue hide at 82 frames per second.
The scene became even prettier when I enabled G-Sync. At one point, I swore I saw the moonlight reflecting off the titular warrior's mane as he rode through the forest to my next objective. I did, however, have to sacrifice a few frames, as the average was capped at 60 fps.
The laptop hit 187 fps on High at 1080p on the Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege benchmark, which simply demolished the 59-fps mainstream average. Equipped with Nvidia's last-gen Maxwell GPUs (GeForce GTX 970), the Alienware 15, Strix and Equinox were left in the graphical dust at 71, 69 and 61 fps, respectively. Even laptops outfitted with a desktop 980 chip were no match, as the Origin Eon17-SLX and MSI GT72 Dominator Pro Dragon Edition only managed 115 fps and 104 fps, respectively.
The massacre continued on the Metro: Last Light test. Mightier laptops have stumbled on Metro's resource-chewing software, but the Dominator Pro was unfazed, delivering an amazing 65 fps on High at 1080p. The laptop easily lapped the 24-fps category average as well as the Alienware 15 (29 fps), Equinox (24 fps) and Strix (23 fps). The Eon17-SLX and Dragon Edition posted 57 fps and 49 fps, respectively.
The GT62 Dominator Pro isn't a slouch in the overall performance department. The laptop's 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor with 32GB of RAM performed a full system scan with 18 open tabs in Google Chrome, one of which was busy streaming Stranger Things on Netflix, with no noticeable latency.
The hits kept on coming as we tested the Dominator Pro on our synthetic benchmarks. The laptop achieved 13,556 on the Geekbench 3 test, defeating the 7,856 mainstream average. However, equipped with their own Intel Core i7-6700HQ CPUs, the Equinox, Alienware 15 and Strix weren't too far behind at 13,525, 13,494 and 13,348, respectively.
Thanks to its 256GB m.2 PCIe SSD (and 1TB, 7,200-rpm hard drive), the Dominator Pro has some "blink and you'll miss it" speed. The speed demon transferred 4.97GB of multimedia files in 8 seconds, which translates to a transfer speed of 628.6 megabytes per second, thoroughly annihilating the 137.9-MBps average. The Equinox and its 256GB m.2 PCIe SSD was the closest competitor, at 424.1 MBps, and the Alienware 15's 256GB PCIe SSD followed with 201.1 Mbs. The Strix (128GB SSD) trailed behind, at 135.9 MBps.
During the OpenOffice test, the Dominator Pro matched 20,000 names and addresses in 3 minutes and 47 seconds, which is faster than the 4:44 average as well as the Alienware 15 (3:50). However, the Equinox and the Strix posted faster times of 3:37 and 3:39, respectively.
But for all that awesome power, the GT62 does have a glaring weakness: its battery life.
The system lasted only 3 hours and 18 minutes on our battery test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi). That's well below the 6:34 average but still better than the Equinox's 3:09. The Strix lasted 5:56, while the Alienware 15 nearly lasted a full workday, at 7:13.
To keep things cool and relatively quiet, MSI has retooled its cooling system, adding more heat pipes to dissipate hot air better than the usual two-pipe system. After we streamed a full-screen Hulu video for 15 minutes, the touchpad measured 94 degrees Fahrenheit. That's just below our 95-degree comfort threshold. The space between the G and H key was significantly cooler, at 89 degrees, while the bottom of the system hit 97 degrees.
Once I started playing The Witcher 3, I cranked the fans up to the performance setting. It's a bit loud in a silent office, but once the music and game effects began playing, I could barely hear them. After 15 minutes of hacking, slashing and casting spells on my way through White Orchard, the touchpad was a cool 88 degrees, while the center of the laptop hit 92 degrees. The notebook's undercarriage measured 104 degrees, but with the fans working hard to keep everything cool, I could safely use it in my lap.
I find it hard to believe that the integrated webcam is 1920 x 1080 considering the overall fuzziness of my test shots. While I could make out a few of the orange and blue stripes on the right shoulder of my dress, the rest of the picture was rife with graininess. If you're into streaming your play-throughs, the camera can get it done at 30 fps.
Software and Warranty
Instead of making you search all over the hard drive for your apps, MSI has retooled the Dragon Center app into a hub that contains some of the integral software broken out into several tabs. The App portal houses shortcuts for SteelSeries Engine, Nvidia GeForce Experience, MSI True Color and Killer Network Manager.
The System Monitor tab allows you to check your system's status, while the LED Wizard helps you create custom indicator lighting. System Tuner allows you to create profiles controlling VR optimization, display color temperature and more. Finally, there's Tools & Help, where you'll find software for Burn Recovery and Battery Calibration.
Third-party apps include Flipboard, Candy Crush Soda Saga, Twitter and Magix Music Maker.
The MSI GT62 Dominator Pro ships with a two-year limited warranty.
The $1,999 model of the MSI GT62 Dominator Pro I reviewed is stacked. It features a 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor with 32GB of RAM; a 256GB m.2 PCIe SSD with a 1TB, 7,200-rpm hard drive; an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 GPU with 8GB of VRAM; and a 1920 x 1080p Nvidia G-Sync display.
The $1,599 base model has the same processor but offers only 16GB of RAM; a 128GB m.2 PCIe SSD with a 1TB, 7,200-rpm hard drive; and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU with 6GB of VRAM.
The era of Pascal has arrived, and if the MSI GT62 Dominator is any indication, gamers are in for an awesome ride. For $1,999, you get a 15-inch system that can deliver impressive, buttery-smooth frame rates on both traditional and VR titles. As if that weren't enough, you also get face-melting transfer speeds and a workhorse of a processor. MSI also took the time out to reconfigure its software, making it easier to create custom settings for optimal performance while gaming or doing actual work.
If you're trying to save a few bucks, I'd recommend the $1,799 Digital Storm Equinox, which is a powerhouse in its own right. However, you'd be losing out on the VR-ready goodness. If you don't mind housing a behemoth, you can configure a virtual-reality-friendly OriginPC Eon17-SLX for around $2,771.
But if you're looking for a VR-ready solution that's fairly mobile, the MSI GT62 Dominator Pro is an excellent choice.