Sure, your workstation can run CAD programs, but can it create and test VR applications? MSI continues to break boundaries, launching the WT72 6QN, the first workstation capable of supporting the resource-taxing Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets. When you're not designing or exploring virtual spaces, the laptop delivers good overall performance with a lovely 4K display. However, the $4,999 price of the MSI WT72 6QN may give pause to all but the most deep-pocketed engineers and designers.
Workstation in gaming rig's clothing
The WT72 looks pretty bad-ass for a workstation, and that's because it uses the same frame as the company's GT72 Dominator line of gaming notebooks, albeit with one distinctive change. Instead of the red-and-white backlit dragon emblem, the WT72's brushed-black aluminum lid is adorned with a gleaming MSI emblem set above a green-and-black workstation sigil.
The majority of the laptop's interior is made of black aluminum with the exception of the semiglass palm rest. A large speaker grill resides at the top of the deck above the backlit keyboard. Buttons for power, GPU, fan speed, KLM backlighting software and a programmed shortcut sit to the left of keyboard. Along the laptop's front lip are two LED strips that can also be customized.
You want ports? The WT72 has them in spades. Starting on the right, you have a pair of USB 3.0 ports and a Blu-Ray burner. You'll find four USB 3.0 ports with jacks for headphones, microphone, S/PDIF and an amp and a SD card reader. In the rear is a Thunderbolt 3 port, HDMI, a mini DisplayPort and the power jack. That means that this monster can support up to four monitors or a VR headset if you're so inclined.
The WT72 might be one of the most powerful workstations in the land, but at 8.6 pounds, the 16.9 x 11.6 x 1.9-inch behemoth is most certainly the chunkiest. The 16.4 x 10.8 x 1.2-inch Lenovo ThinkPad P70 is a full pound lighter.
The Dell Precision 5510 (14.1 x 9.3 x 0.66 inches) and HP ZBook Studio G3 (14.8 x 10 x 0.71 inches), both of which have 15-inch screens, weigh 4.6 pounds, while the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display measures 4.5 pounds, 14.1 x 9.7 x 0.71 inches.
Jaw-dropping 4K display, booming sound
Whether you're watching movies or creating them, the WT72's 3840 x 2160 display is a sight to behold. Actor Byung-hun Lee stood larger than life against a pale, blue sky and a field of green at his back in the 1080p trailer of The Magnificent Seven. Details were sharp enough that I could see the individual jet-black hairs in his mustache as well as the fine stripes in his shirt.
The matte panel can reproduce 173 percent of the sRGB color gamut, topping the 129 percent desktop-replacement average. The ZBook wasn't too far behind at 169 percent, while the ThinkPad P70 hit 158 percent. However, the Precision 5500 got the win at 177 percent. The MacBook Pro delivered a disappointing 86 percent.
The WT72's vividness is matched only by its accuracy. When tested, the display registered 0.87 on the Delta-E test (0 is ideal), besting the 1.3 category average. The MacBook Pro, ZBook and Precision 5500 posted 2.1, 2.4 and 2.6, respectively. But the ThinkPad P70 proved the most accurate at 0.7.
When measured for brightness, the WT72 averaged a glimmering 305 nits, easily outshining the 291-nit average, but not the Precision's dazzling 322 nits. The WT72 fared better against the MacBook Pro, the ThinkPad P70 and the ZBook, which produced 303, 277 and 241 nits each.
Thanks to the pair of Dynaudio speakers, the WT72's bark is as big as its bite. Paired with a bottom-mounted subwoofer, the top-firing speakers filled my small test space with loud, mostly clear music. Listening to Chance the Rapper's "Angels," I got a nice thump of bass paired with a playful steel drum and the artist's singsong-y vocal. The background vocals sounded slightly distorted, which was a bit off-putting.
Bouncy and bright keyboard
MSI and SteelSeries continue to make touch-typists happy with their full-size, island-style keyboard with customizable backlighting. The generously spaced keys have 1.6 millimeters of key travel and require 62 grams of force to depress, making for firm, bouncy feedback. I easily hit my 60 words-per-minute average on the 10FastFingers typing test.
Despite using a SteelSeries keyboard, I was surprised to see the laptop outfitted with MSI's old KLM software for the backlighting. Depending on which of the seven modes I chose, I was restricted to a limited color palette. By contrast, the SteelSeries Engine app lets me paint with a brush of 16.8 million colors. KLM also lacks the ability to create macros, which isn't absolutely necessary since this isn't a gaming laptop, but I'd still like to map a shortcut or two. One thing that hasn't changed is how bright the lighting is in a dimly lit room. My hands were drawn to the glowing keyboard like a moth to a flame.
The 4.4 x 2.5-inch Synaptics touchpad " like the rest of the laptop " is quite large. My fingers skated across the warm surface, performing two-finger scroll and three-finger press, eliciting quick and accurate responses. The pair of discrete mouse buttons offer strong feedback delivered with an audible click.
Ready to design the metropolis of the future in CAD? The WT72's Nvidia Quadro M5500 GPU with 8GB of video memory can get the job done. The powerhouse netted 133,766 on the synthetic 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark, topping the 120,204 desktop-replacement average. The ZBook and the Precision 5510 with their Nvidia Quadro M1000M GPUs weren't too far off at 117,745 and 117,636, respectively. However, the ThinkPad P70 and its Nvidia Quadro M4000M GPU delivered a whopping 144,030.
Although the WT72 wasn't meant to be a gaming rig, we couldn't resist running Metro: Last Light, our most taxing graphics test. At its native resolution (3840 x 2160) on low, the workstation notched 81 frames per second, easily beating the 51 fps average. The ThinkPad P70 was a distant second at 45 fps, while the Precision 5510 and the ZBook were in a dead heat at 21 fps.
When I ran the SteamVR Performance Test, the laptop fell into the lower end of the ready spectrum. That means the system can run high-quality VR without encountering the stuttering or lag that could induce simulation sickness.
Fast, but not the fastest
Equipped with a 2.9-GHz Intel Core i7-6920HQ processor with 32GB of RAM, the MSI WT72 6QN blows away mainstream laptops but doesn't offer the most power in its class. The laptop easily streamed an episode of Black Mirror on Netflix with a full system scan and 10 additional Google Chrome tabs in the background.
On Geekbench 3, which measures overall performance, the system notched 13,928, passing the 13,255 average. The MacBook Pro and its 2.5-GHz Intel Core i7-4870HQ CPU hit 14,423. Outfitted with 2.8-GHz Intel Xeon E3-1505M v5 CPUs, the Precision 5510, the ZBook and the ThinkPad P70 notched 14,316, 14,276 and 13,158, respectively.
Despite having a pair of 128GB PCIe SSDs in MSI's SuperRAID 4 and a 1TB, 7,200-rpm hard drive, the WT72 copies files more slowly than its competitors. The laptop duplicated 4.97GB of mixed-media files in 40 seconds for a transfer rate of 125.7 megabytes per second. That's well below the 513.4 MBps desktop-replacement average. The ZBook and ThinkPad P70's 512GB PCie SSDs notched 508.9MBps and 848.2MBps, while the Precision 5510 and the MacBook Pro (powered by 512GB SSDs) hit 565MBps and 636MBps.
On the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro test, the WT72 matched 20,000 names and addresses in 3 minutes and 33 seconds, beating the 3:41 category average, the Precision 5510 (3:40) and the MacBook Pro (4:14). The ThinkPad P70 and the ZBook tied at a faster 3:23.
Stay near an outlet
I don't imagine anyone grappling with the WT72's elephantine frame once it has been positioned on a desk, which is just as well since the laptop needs to be near an outlet at all times. The workstation lasted for only 3 hours and 16 minutes on our battery test (continuous web-surfing over Wi-Fi), which is an hour below the 4:16 desktop-replacement average.
The ZBook took much longer to tap out at 5:08, while the Precision 5510 and the ThinkPad P70 clocked times of 5:34 and 5:53, respectively. Not surprisingly, the MacBook Pro was the last laptop, running at 9:08.
Bottom gets toasty
Despite the wicked-looking vents along the WT72's undercarriage and rear, the laptop can get a tad hot. The touchpad and the space between the G and H keys measured 83 and 94 degrees Fahrenheit after playing a full-screen Hulu video. Both temperatures were below our 95-degree comfort threshold. The notebook's bottom hit a hot 106 degrees, but since you'd rarely if ever use this behemoth in your lap, your family jewels should be safe.
The 1080p integrated webcam accurately captured the color of my persimmon-colored dress, but everything else was off. The bright yellow stripes in my colleague's blue-and-green plaid shirt were nearly invisible and my hair looked more red than purple. The test shots were very fuzzy, missing details like the small gap in the band of my headphones.
Creative software included
To further cement its workstation cred, MSI preinstalled a few apps to help in your multimedia creation goals. For instance, there are trial versions of Magix Photo Manager 15 and Magix Music Maker Silver, which lets you make simple edits to your favorite shots and create your own original music by cobbling together the provided samples.
MSI-branded software includes True Color, which lets you change the display's color temperature, and Shortcut Manager, which lets you map programs to hotkeys for a one-button solution. Battery Calibration keeps your battery running at optimal performance, whereas System Control Manager lets you quickly access settings for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Brightness and Volume.
Third-party apps include Twitter, Flipboard, Candy Crush Soda Saga and PicsArt Photo Studio.
The WT72 is plenty pricey, so gird your wallets for battle. I reviewed the $4,999 iteration of the laptop, which has a 2.9-GHz Intel Core i7-6920HQ processor; 32GB of RAM; a pair of 128GB PCIe SSDs in a SuperRAID configuration with a 1TB, 7,200-rpm hard drive; an Nvidia Quadro M5500 GPU with 8GB of video memory; and a 4K (3840 x 2160) display. If you don't need the ultra-high-res panel, you can go for the 1080p version, which costs $4,599.
The base model is a much more affordable $1,899 and features a 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ CPU; 16GB of RAM; a 128GB M.2 SSD with a 1TB, 7,200-rpm hard drive; a Nvida Quadro M1000M GPU with 2GB of VRAM; and a 1080p display.
While other gaming laptop manufacturers fall into a steady groove with their products, MSI is never afraid to push boundaries. As the first VR-capable workstation, the WT72 is a testament to the company's innovative instincts. For $4,999, game designers, architects and other creative professionals flush with cash can build their own VR worlds, thanks to a system sporting a powerful Intel Core i7 CPU and a Nvidia Quadro 5500M GPU. And when it's done, they can marvel at their work on the stunning 4K display.
However, $4,999 is a lot to ask for any laptop, even one as mighty as the WT72. For $3,477, you can get the Lenovo ThinkPad P70, which offers a brighter, more vivid display, more processing power and better battery life. However, you're losing the ability to run VR applications on an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. If you're a creative professional seeking a portable solution that can both run and create VR apps, the MSI WT72 is the laptop for you.