Superior graphics performance; Searing file transfer speeds; Rich, room-filling audio; Customizable keyboard; Runs cool when gaming
Expensive; Display lacks color accuracy, brightness
The MSI GT72 Dominator Pro gaming laptop delivers first-class speed and performance with excellent audio and a customizable keyboard.
The Dominator returns. With the arrival of Nvidia's powerful new Maxwell graphics, MSI's gaming laptop series has undergone a significant internal refresh, creating the GT72 Dominator Pro (starting at $1,799, configured at $2,999). In addition to its Nvidia 980M GPU, this laptop features four -- yes, four -- blistering-fast SSDs, excellent audio and one of the better customizable keyboards on the market. It's a potent combination that's well worth the splurge, but the display doesn't quite shine.
The Dominator Pro isn't the prettiest laptop I've seen, but I wouldn't kick it out of my bed or off my desk. The laptop's black, brushed-aluminum lid is subtly handsome; I'm particularly a fan of the red backlit emblem in its center, which mimics a coat of arms.
In an attempt to look like the cool kids, MSI stole a page from Alienware's brightly colored playbook and added a pair of LED strips to the front lip of the notebook. On the bottom of the GT72, you'll find a large set of blood-red vents. It's a nice try, but the overall execution is a tad clumsy for my taste. I prefer the come-hither looks of the ASUS G751JY, particularly with its use of aluminum, soft-touch finish and sexy red accents.
MSI applied a slightly more restrained approach to the interior, covering the majority of the deck in black aluminum. If you look closely at the speaker grille at the top of the deck, you'll notice shiny, red plastic stashed away beneath the aluminum. Buttons for power, GPU, Fan, XSplit GameCaster and the SteelSeries Engine control panel are located on the left side of the keyboard deck.
In its default blue lighting, the keyboard looks like a shimmering sea, and as on many MSI laptops before it, gamers can tweak the colors to whatever they choose. The palm rest is slightly raised and made of a black pseudo glass, and the touchpad is demarcated by thin LED lights.
The GT72 weighs 8.4 pounds and measures 16.9 x 11.6 x 1.89 inches, placing it on the lighter side of behemoth gaming notebooks, but not by much. The Digital Storm Krypton (16.3 x 11.3 x 1.8 inches) weighs in at 8.6 pounds, while the Alienware 17 (17.9 x 12.9 x 2.26 inches) and the ASUS G751JY (6.4 x 12.5 x 0.9~1.7 inches) tip the scales at 9.2 pounds.
When I compared the MSI against the ASUS G751JY using the 1080p The Wedding Ringer trailer, the GT72 initially looked better. During the park scene, the MSI initially had more realistic color, including better representation of reds. I had no problem distinguishing the candy-apple red of the park bench from the darker red of the blue awning supports.
However, once I used the ASUS Splendid Utility software to adjust the color calibration, the ASUS emerged as the winner. The G751JY also had a sharper picture and better contrast, showing off the three stains on the concrete near the garbage cans. The G751JY continued to serve up richer color and sharper detail in the lush coastal savannah in the Num area of Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor.
Color accuracy and reproduction tests confirmed my observations. The GT72 reproduced only 88.5 percent of the sRGB gamut -- well below the 97.2 percent desktop-replacement average and barely beating the Krypton's 88.4 percent. The G751JY and Alienware 17 hit a higher 99.1 percent and 106 percent, respectively.
For display brightness, the GT72 scored 255 nits, which is below the 275-nit average. The Alienware 17 notched 268 nits, while the G751JY and Krypton tied with a brilliant 304 nits.
One thing's for sure: The GT72 is loud, hitting 93 decibels on the Laptop Mag Audio Test. It blew past the 88 dB average, and drowned out the Digital Storm Krypton (82 dB) and the G751JY (78 dB). However, the Alienware 17 fired off an earsplitting 99 dB.
In a sound-off against the G751JY, the MSI Dominator Pro brought down the house, producing loud, balanced audio that filled my large test space. I could hear every strike of the bongos, cowbell and strum of the bass guitar on Usher's "She Came To Give It To You." The singer's smooth vocal glided along the track almost as gracefully as one of the artist's choreographed routines.
Similar to previous generations, the Dominator Pro has a customizable keyboard that utilizes the SteelSeries Engine UI. The software features elements of Alienware's Command System software and Razer's Synapse 2.0 control panel
In addition to setting colors and effects on different keyboard zones, you can create custom profiles for different applications. Similar to on Synapse 2.0, gamers can assign actions to every key on the keyboard. Setting individual keystrokes and macros is as simple as selecting a key, entering the command and hitting Save. The interface also offers a Statistics feature that shows how a particular user engages with the keyboard, highlighting the most frequently used keys
The pair of discrete mouse buttons offered firm feedback, delivering a small but satisfying click each time I pressed down.
Gaming and Graphics
The Dominator Pro cut through the 3DMark Fire Strike test like a hot knife through butter, scoring 8,228, which shattered the 4,861 desktop-replacement average. However, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M GPU-powered ASUS G751JY was just slightly more powerful, scoring 8,367. The Alienware 17 and Digital Storm Krypton, outfitted with last-gen Nvidia GeForce GTX 880M GPUs, hit 5,389 and 5,527, respectively.
When I played BioShock Infinite at the highest settings, the Dominator Pro notched 85 fps, which is well above the 59 fps average and the Digital Storm Krypton (65 fps) and Alienware 17 (63 fps). However, the Asus G751JY managed a higher 92 fps.
The real test came when I cranked Metro: Last Light to the max. Even the highest-end Kepler GPUs, such as those in the Alienware 17 and Krypton, were only able to eke out unplayable frame rates of 20 and 24 fps, respectively. That all changes with Maxwell. The GT72 managed to hit a just-playable 34 fps, and the G751JY was just a few frames higher, at 37 fps.
Nvidia's GeForce Experience is a complementary suite of utilities that help gamers get the most out of their games. For those "I can't believe I did that" moments, ShadowPlay lets you record up to 20 minutes of gameplay, which can then be uploaded instantly to Twitch.
The Battery Boost feature lets you further tweak settings to extend your notebook's battery life without sacrificing gaming performance.
People who own Nvidia's Shield tablet or Shield Portable can take advantage of GameStream, which allows gamers to stream their favorite PC titles to those devices over a local network.
Dragon Gaming Center
The notebook also held its own on synthetic benchmarks. On Geekbench 3, the GT72 hit 13,018, beating the 12,336 desktop-replacement average. The ASUS G751JY, which has the same CPU, turned in a slightly higher 12,582. The Digital Storm Krypton (2.8-GHz Intel Core i7-4810M CPU) and the Alienware 17 (2.9-GHz Intel Core i7-4910MQ CPU) scored 13,774 and 14,009, respectively.
MORE: Top Gaming Mice 2014
If you blink, you might miss the GT72 Dominator Pro transfer gobs of data. Outfitted with four 128GB SSDs in RAID 3 configuration and a 1TB 7,200-rpm hard drive, this laptop runs rings around the competition.
On the File Transfer Test, the Dominator Pro duplicated 4.97GB of mixed media files in just 8 seconds. That translates to a transfer speed of 636.2 MBps, which absolutely roasts the 260 MBps average. The Alienware 17 was a distant second, with 463 MBps, while the G751JY posted 339.3 MBps. The Krypton posted a meager 159 MBps.
The laptop tied the ASUS on the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro Test, matching 20,000 names and addresses in 3 minutes and 53 seconds. That was enough to top the 4:54 average, but neither rig was faster than the Krypton (3:33) and the Alienware 17 (3:29).
Once I started hacking down Uruk-hai in Shadow of Mordor, the touchpad temperature rose to 83 degrees, while the space between the G and H keys fell to 86 degrees. The laptop's undercarriage teetered at 102 degrees -- toasty but still reasonable.
The GT72's 2-megapixel integrated camera isn't the greatest when it comes to detail or color. In a test shot, my bright-red sweater looked washed out, as did my skin tone. I could barely make out a vague outline of my sweater's pattern, while the individual strands of my co-worker's hair looked like blurry blobs.
Although the MSI GT72 Dominator Pro has more than enough muscle for games, the notebook doesn't offer much staying power. The laptop lasted only 3 hours and 14 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi at 100 nits of brightness).
That's well below the 4:18 desktop-replacement average, but then again, most gaming systems didn't fare much better. The Digital Storm Krypton lasted 2:54, the ASUS G751JY posted a time of 3:53 and the Alienware 17 was the last laptop standing, with a battery life of 4:06.
Software and Warranty
MSI also preloaded a six-month free trial of XSplit Gamecaster, which lets gamers record and edit their best moves, unlike ShadowPlay, which is a strictly record/livestream affair. My favorite features are the ability to add both an image overlay and in-game annotations, to further point out my sweet moves in Shadow of Mordor.
Once the trial is over, you can subscribe to Gamecaster's premium features for $14.95 a month, or use the free version and lose the ability to stream to multiple service providers and incorporate Skype video into the feed.
The MSI GT72 Dominator Pro comes with a two-year limited warranty.
The $2,999 configuration of the MSI GT72 Dominator Pro I reviewed comes with a 2.5-GHz Intel Core i7-4710HQ processor with 32GB of RAM, four 128GB SSDs in RAID 3 configuration with a 1TB 7,200 rpm hard drive, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M GPU with 8GB of VRAM.
For those without the budget comparable to small countries', the $1,799 base model features a 2.5-GHz Intel Core i7-4710HQ processor, 12GB of RAM, a 1TB 7,200-rpm hard drive and an Nvidia GTX 970M GPU with 3GB of VRAM.
The GT72 Dominator Pro offers some of the best performance I've seen from a gaming laptop. The $2,999 notebook has a searing-fast hard drive, excellent audio quality, a customizable keyboard and an Nvidia 900 series GPU and Core i7 PU. I just wish the screen were as good as the rest of the system.
The ASUS G751JY delivers comparable performance, a slightly longer battery life and a vivid, sharper display, all for $500 less. However, its audio isn't up to snuff. Overall, gamers looking for an absolutely beast of a machine should definitely consider investing in the Dominator Pro.
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|CPU||2.5-GHz Intel Core i7-4719HQ processor|
|Operating System||Windows 8.1|
|RAM Upgradable to||AddNewOpt|
|Hard Drive Size||128GB|
|Hard Drive Speed||n/a|
|Hard Drive Type||Quad SSDs|
|Secondary Hard Drive Size||1TB|
|Secondary Hard Drive Speed||7,200|
|Secondary Hard Drive Type||SATA Hard Drive|
|Optical Drive||BD-R/DVDRW DL|
|Optical Drive Speed||8X|
|Graphics Card||Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M|
|Wi-Fi Model||Killer Wireless-n/a/av 1525 Wireless Network Adapter|
|Touchpad Size||4.3 x 2.5 inches|
|Ports (excluding USB)||HDMI|
|Ports (excluding USB)||USB 3.0|
|Ports (excluding USB)||S/PDIF|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Mini DisplayPort|
|Card Slots||2-1 card reader|
|Warranty/Support||2 Year Limited Warranty|
|Size||16.85 x 11.57 x 1.89 inches|