Known for its custom aesthetic tweaks and high-end components, Xotic PC can transform your run-of-the-mill gaming system into a real standout piece -- provided you have the money. The company took the MSI GT72V2 Dominator (starting at $1,799; reviewed at $2,515) and gave it a custom wrap, a 512GB PCI-e solid-state drive and an overclocked video card. The result is a virtual-reality-ready MSI system that stands out from the crowd with its face-melting speed, powerful gaming and overall performance, and ability to stay cool and quiet under pressure.
I've seen quite a few MSI laptops in my time, but never any like this. Swathed in one of Xotic PC's custom wraps, the Dominator looks strange and yet familiar. Instead of the typical brushed-black-aluminum chassis with the red-and-white dragon emblem, there's a playful assortment of red lines of varying thicknesses and gray and red triangles against a black backdrop. The Xotic PC logo is placed prominently at the bottom, reminding you that this isn't your usual gaming rig.
Xotic PC offers a plethora of options that can transform your system from just another MSI into something truly different. The process starts with the company's custom wraps ($119) that come in a variety of textures and pictures. Creative-minded gamers can even send in their own images for a truly custom job. The company can do a custom paint job or hydro dip a pattern onto the chassis. In terms of components, you can choose your thermal system, storage configurations, wireless networking and professional display calibration.
When I opened the laptop, it was MSI business as usual. The top-mounted speaker grille is accented by a blood-red plastic underneath. The backlit keyboard rests in a slightly recessed compartment, with buttons for power, GPU, fan speed, XSplit Gamecaster and SteelSeries Engine running down the left edge and the raised palm rest finishing off the look.
For ports, you get two USB 3.0 ports on the right, as well as a DVD burner. There are four more USB 3.0 ports, an SD card reader and jacks for headphones, microphone, S/PDIF and an amp. A USB 3.1 Type-C port, a mini DisplayPort, an HDMI port, a Gigabit Ethernet port and a power jack are located on the notebook's rear.
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At 8.4 pounds and 16.9 x 11.6 x 1.9 inches, the Dominator is a lightweight compared to the Asus ROG G752V (8.9 pounds, 16.4 x 12.7 x 0.8~1.5 inches) or the massive Acer Predator 17 X (10 pounds, 16.7 x 12.7 x 1.8 inches)
Don't be surprised if you fall under the spell of the Dominator's 17.3-inch, 1920 x 1080 IPS display. Tika Sumpter's bronze skin glowed against her peach blouse during the Southside with You trailer. I could see the individual strands of the actress's ebony mane combed delicately into a chignon at the nape of her neck.
Before I started hacking monsters in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, I took some time to smell the roses and enjoy the sunset. The sky was a pastel pastiche of yellows, oranges and pinks that slowly turned into a crystal blue that accentuated the emerald green clearing I stood in while admiring the view. The details were so sharp that I could see the sun reflecting off the links in Geralt's chain mail.
The panel's color reproduction measured 108 percent in our tests, which is well above an excellent 100 percent but short of the 128-percent desktop-replacement average. The G752VS and Predator 17X notched 114 percent and 112 percent, respectively.
However, the Dominator could stand to be a bit more accurate. The screen hit 1.5 on the Delta-E test, missing the 1.3 average (0 is ideal). The G752V fared slightly better, at 1.1, while the Predator 17 X hit 0.9.
Despite its matte panel, the Dominator is plenty bright, averaging 319 nits; that outshines the 271-nit category average and the Predator 17 X's 288 nits. The G752VS was just a little bit brighter, at 326 nits.
Gamers who want the highest frame rates but not at the expense of choppy graphics no longer have to compromise. Nvidia's G-Sync technology strives to bridge the gap by syncing 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.
Big bombastic explosions and docile tones await with the Dominator's Dynaudio speakers and its bottom-firing subwoofer. Usher's smooth tenor filled my large room as I listened to "Here I Stand," and was accompanied by a clean keyboard and tight percussion. My only complaint is that the electronic wind instrument sounded a bit distorted at maximum volume.
As I leapt into battle during The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, the upbeat battle music seemed to swirl around me, accentuated by vigorous violins and high-pitched yelps. Fighting against human bandits allowed me to enjoy the clashing of metal as sword met ax in combat.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Even though Xotic PC added some custom touches, they were smart enough to leave the SteelSeries' springy island-style keyboard alone. The 1.8-millimeter key travel and 60 grams of force needed to press down the keys made it easy to hit my 65 word-per-minute average on the 10fastfingers.com typing test.
The 4.3 x 2.7-inch Synaptics touchpad is huge, which made performing gestures such as three-finger press and two-finger rotate a snap. The pair of discrete buttons delivered firm feedback with a nice click.
Gaming, Graphics and VR
The Dominator sure does pack a gaming punch, thanks to its Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU with 6GB of VRAM. Nvidia's latest generation of graphics chips are powerful enough to deliver great frame rates on the most titles, including resource-taxing games such as The Witcher 3.
During a tense standoff with a griffin (Ultra settings at 1080p), I dodged the beast's talons as it dived at me, unleashing an exploding arrow, dropping it to the ground and allowing me to get in a few good sword strokes at an average 41 frames per second. Dropping the settings to High raised the frame rate to 52 fps and 58 fps on Medium.
When we ran the Rise of the Tomb Raider benchmark on High, the Dominator notched 36 fps, which is above our 30-fps playability threshold. It nabbed even higher marks on the taxing Grand Theft Auto V at 50 fps on maximum settings.
But Nvidia's 10-Series video cards do more than deliver impressive frame rates in traditional games. Now, every notebook outfitted with a 10-Series GPU can support the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. The laptop notched 6.9 on the SteamVR Performance benchmark, which places it in the Very High segment of the test. However, the G752VS (Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070) and the Predator 17X (Nvidia GeForce GTX 980) notched 10.1 and 8.1, respectively.
The Dominator is no slouch on the multitasking front. Its 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor with 32GB of RAM streamed an episode of "The Get Down" on Netflix while running a system scan with 18 Google Chrome tabs open, without a whisper of latency.
The gaming rig also showed solid performance on synthetic tests such as Geekbench 3, where it scored 13,728. It wasn't enough, however, to beat the 18,528 desktop-replacement average. Keep in mind that this category features gaming laptops with powerful, overclockable processors. Those include the G752V and the Predator 17X and their 2.7-GHz Intel Core i7-6820HK CPUs, which notched 18,779 and 13,763.
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The Dominator got a measure of revenge during the File Transfer Test, where its 512GB M.2 PCI-e SSD duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in a quick 5 seconds. That's a transfer rate of a blistering 1,017.9 megabytes per second, which smokes the 504.1-MBps category average. The G752VS' 256GB NVMe SSD obtained 848.2 MBps, while the Predator 17X and its dual 256GB SSDs hit 727 MBps.
During the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro test, the Dominator matched 20,000 names and addresses in 3 minutes and 38 seconds, beating the 4:30 average. Both the Predator 17 X and G752VS were a tad faster, at 3:35 and 3:23, respectively.
The bigger laptops are, the faster their battery drains. The Dominator lasted only 3 hours and 33 minutes on our battery test, which involves continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi. That's shorter than the G752VS' 3:42 and the 4:57 desktop-replacement average, but still longer than the Predator 17X's 3:13.
I took an extended jaunt through White Orchard in The Witcher 3, and after 15 minutes of battle, I was pleasantly surprised by the laptop's lack of heat. The touchpad measured a chilly 88 degrees Fahrenheit, while the notebook's undercarriage hit 95 degrees, matching our comfort threshold. The space between the G and H key was slightly warmer, at 97 degrees. Even though I ran the game on Ultra settings, I barely heard a peep from the fans.
Once the notebook cooled down, we streamed a full-screen Hulu video. The Dominator kept its cool, with the touchpad hitting 86 degrees. The center of the system measured 93 degrees, while the bottom maintained a rather tepid 90 degrees.
The 1920 x 1080 integrated camera does a pretty good job of capturing color. The hue of my pink shirt was spot-on, as was my boyfriend's charcoal-gray hoodie. However, the detail could have been better. While I could see the little cracks and divots of the wall behind me, there was a lot of visual noise, which obscured finer details such as the delicate creases in my blouse.
Software and Warranty
As part of the OS Boost option that Xotic PC included on my review unit, some tried-and-true MSI programs, such as the Dragon Gaming Center, were removed as part of a clean install. That means MSI True Color, Burn Recovery, Battery Calibration SteelSeries Engine, XSplit Gamecaster and Nahimic are missing. However, you can download most of those to your system without any discernable hassle. If you're looking to take advantage of that OS Boost right out of the box, MSI Afterburner survived the reinstall.
In addition to your typical Windows 10 apps (Mail, Calendar and Microsoft Edge), you get third-party apps such as Netflix, Pandora, Twitter, Candy Crush Soda Saga and FarmVille 2: Country Escape.
With its slew of modifications, the model of the Dominator I reviewed costs $2,515 and has a 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor with 32GB of RAM, a 512GB M.2 PCI-e SSD and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU with 6GB of VRAM. Modifications include IC Diamond Thermal Compound for both the CPU and the GPU, OS Redline Boost, an Overclock Video Card and a Custom Graphic Wrap.
The $1,799 base model features a 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ CPU; 16GB of RAM; a 256GB M.2 SSD with a 1TB, 7,200-rpm hard drive; and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU with 6GB of VRAM.
Gaming laptops are cool, but like most mass-produced products, they look like every other system on the market -- unless you get your system from companies like Xotic PC. The company has taken a rather average MSI GT72 Dominator and turned it into a showpiece by adding a cool lid wrap. But you're also getting custom thermals that keep the system cool under pressure, a crazy-fast SSD and a system that's overclocked out of the box. However, all those modifications don't come cheap, and with a system priced at $2,515, you'll want to choose your mods wisely.
If you're more interested in power, you might want to check out the $2,499 Asus ROG G752V, which lets gamers overclock both the CPU and the GPU. It also has a brighter, more accurate display and a more powerful GTX 1070 GPU. However, if you want a system that is a true head-turner, Xotic PC's mods on the GT72 Dominator are worth the investment.