Introduction and Specifications, Configurations and Pricing
MSI has provided us with their top-of-the-line GT70 Dragon Edition gaming laptop, which should be a direct competitor to the recently reviewed ASUS ROG G750 notebook. MSI is a well-known name among desktop system builders as they produce excellent motherboards and video cards.
Just how well will their quality and performance transfer over to the laptop side of things? We'll have to put the GT70 system through its paces and evaluate. The GT70 appears to be based off of an ODM design that is also used by the iBUYPOWER Valkyrie, a system we reviewed in the middle of last year. Whether or not this will affect performance remains to be seen.
Specifications, Configurations and Pricing
The MSI GT70 we have in the lab, specifically the GT70 2OD-039US Dragon Edition 2, comes packing the new Intel Haswell-powered i7-4700MQ mobile quad-core processor. This should enable even the most powerful gaming laptops to get a boost in battery life. It features four cores and eight threads and comes clocked at 2.4GHz with TurboBoost 2.0 up to 3.4GHz. It's not clear what the difference between the 4700MQ and 4700HQ, the chip used by the ASUS ROG system recently review, is as they both feature the same clocks and features.
Coupled with the 4700MQ is 32GB of DDR3 SDRAM. 32GB of RAM is pretty much overkill, but there are specialized uses where that much memory could be utilized effectively. For most people, 16GB is more than enough.
Graphics are provided via a discrete NVIDIA GTX 780M with 4GB of vRAM. The GTX 780M is a very capable video card and will perform similarly to the older GTX 680M, as they are both based upon the same chip. It offers a total of 1536 CUDA cores, which is up from the 1344 offered by the older 680M. It also requires less power and is clocked faster.
Despite being equipped with Windows 8, the MSI GT70 Dragon Edition 2 does not feature a touch-enabled screen. It does, however, come with a full HD 1920x1080 panel with a matte surface coating.
The GT70 features three 128GB SSDs in RAID 0. MSI is calling this feature "Super RAID 2" and they claim that it makes the system capable of bandwidths up to 1500MB/s. We'll be putting that claim to the test. Mass storage is provided by a 1TB spinning hard disk.
You can check out the MSI GT70 Dragon Edition 2 packaging in the unboxing video below.
Temperatures, Cooling and Noise
The MSI GT70 is a huge laptop. As such, it should keep temperatures and noise to a minimum. Even with all of the hardware stuffed into this laptop, the palm rests should remain cool to the touch.
As you can see, on the front of the system, we logged a maximum temperature of 91.5 degrees Fahrenheit. This high temperature was located right underneath the WSAD keys, which is bad news for gamers.
Moving around to the backside, temperatures were higher. The maximum observed temperature was 112 degrees Fahrenheit. The high temperature was located right over the heatsink, which explains why the heat was concentrated there. Using the loaded system on your laptop would likely be uncomfortable.
The maximum observed GPU temperature was 92 degrees Celsius. The CPU reached a maximum of 92 degrees Celsius. The GPU was towards the top of its range of acceptable temperatures and was one of the hottest running systems in our chart. The CPU was much warmer than I'd like.
The MSI, despite running hotter that the ASUS, produced a sound level of 48 decibels in our measurement, making it one of the quieter machines we have tested, but not as quiet as the ASUS that was cooler running. Our measurement is taken in front of the laptop at roughly head level. For comparison, 30dB is a totally quiet night time in the desert, 40dB is whispering and 60dB is a normal conversation.
Keyboard, TouchPad, Screen and other User Interfaces
Keyboard and TouchPad
The GT70 comes with the now-standard island style keyboard. The keyboard is definitely comfortable to use and feels more like a desktop keyboard than a laptop keyboard, something I count as a big plus. This could be due to MSI using a SteelSeries keyboard.
The keys have a great travel distance thanks to the system's thickness, though the keyboard has quite a bit more flex than I would expect to see from a system of this caliber. The WSAD keys have quite a bit of flex, whereas the Y key has basically zero flex. The entire keyboard has a noticeable bow, which makes typing not quite as enjoyable as it could be.
Key travel and sound are good. The overall typing experience is enjoyable, though there was a weird feeling that I couldn't quite put my finger on. The keys have a matte, grainy texture on the surface and are concave from left to right. The surfaces of the keys are black, which cause them to blend in with the surround. They have a good tactile feel that I could type on for hours.
The GT70's keyboard comes with a multi-color backlight, a feature that I love on any system. The GT70 provides varying brightness options and colors, which adds a premium feel to the system.
The touchpad is made from three pieces of material, with a larger piece being the touch-enabled portion of the touchpad. The left and right click buttons are mirror images of each other. The touch-enabled portion of the touchpad could be a bit larger.
The touchpad is recessed down into the palm rest of the machine, making it easy to detect whether or not you're on the touchpad. The touchpad surface has a slightly rough surface, but it overall provides an excellent experience, albeit a bit small.
The MSI GT70 features a massive 17.3-inch display with a full HD 1920x1080p resolution. The surface features a matte coating, which helps reduce glare. Despite running Windows 8, the panel is not touch-enabled.
Color reproduction on the GT70 isn't as good as an IPS display. It appears to make use of a TN panel, though color reproduction doesn't suffer nearly at all when looking at the display from an off angle.
View our full testing methodology article.
- Accessory Port Testing
Ports to which an external storage device can be connected to are tested using HD Tune Pro to obtain their maximum, minimum and average read and write speeds. USB 2.0, USB 3.0 and eSATA ports are tested using a Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB SSD that is capable of saturating the theoretical bandwidth available.
The Corsair Neutron GTX is housed inside an Icy Dock external enclosure which features a SATA I/II/III to USB 3.0 and eSATA converter.
- Gaming Tests
3DMark Vantage is ran on the Performance preset to get a feel for how the computer would manage gaming. The CPU, GPU and combined scores are reported. A higher overall score is the best and a high GPU or CPU score shows particular prowess with tasks that use that part of the computer.
3DMark 11 is run on the Performance preset and the Physics, GPU and combined scores are reported. This test is only run if the system supports DirectX 11. A higher overall score is the target, though a high individual result shows prowess in a particular area.
3DMark is the latest benchmark by Futuremark. The Cloud Gate test is ran with all of the default settings and the score, GPU score, and physics score are all recorded in the chart. The Cloud Gate test is intended to be run on home desktops and notebooks.
- System Tests
PCMark 7 is run to get an overall idea of how the system performs as a whole. It tests all aspects of the PC and puts a score on how well it performs overall. In this test, a low scoring area can affect the overall score, so it's important to read the analysis. A higher score is better.
CrystalDiskMark is run to put a number on how well the system hard disk drive / SSD runs. It measures five different metrics, of which higher is better for all. The higher the numbers, the snappier the operating system will feel, especially if the "4K" number is high, as most operating system files are small files.
- Battery Life
PowerMark is used to measure battery life of the system when set to the "Balanced" power plan. This test simulates several different activities, but uses custom built applications.
Accessory Port Layout and Performance
The left side, from back to front, features the heatsink exhaust, two USB 3.0 ports, SD card reader, another USB 3.0 port and four various audio jacks.
The right side, from back to front, features the disk drive and two USB 2.0 ports.
The backside, from left to right, features the Kensington lock, power port, Ethernet port, VGA port, Display port and HDMI port.
The GT70 produces an average USB 2.0 read speed of 29.7 MB/s, which is neither particularly high nor low. The system performs about average.
The trend continues with USB 2.0 write speed. The GT70 pushes out an average of 21.9 MB/s, again putting it in the middle of the pack.
As far as USB 3.0 performance goes, the MSI GT70 falls behind the pack, producing the slowest average read speed we've seen from any system with a throughput of just 76.7 MB/s.
The trend continues with USB 3.0 write speeds, putting the system squarely in last place with an average write speed of just 84.8 MB/s.
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1.0
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.3dmark.com/3dmarkvantage
3DMark Vantage tests both processor and graphics performance and is a good indication of how systems compare. The results are generally more repeatable and consistent than other forms of benchmarking. Vantage uses DirectX 10 and can handle multi-core CPUs.
We received some interesting scores when comparing the GT70 Dragon Edition 2 to the recently reviewed ASUS ROG G750. The GT70, despite having a better GPU and more RAM, produced a lower score in Vantage. It produced a combined score of 18531.
Looking at the individual scores, the MSI GT70 fell behind the ASUS in both CPU and GPU scores, though not by much. Despite retesting the system, the score didn't change. It's not immediately obvious why the system failed to produce a higher score.
Version and / or Patch Used: 188.8.131.52
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.3dmark.com/3dmark11
3DMark 11 is the latest version of the world's most popular benchmark. Designed to measure your PC's gaming performance 3DMark 11 makes extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading. Trusted by gamers worldwide to give accurate and unbiased results, 3DMark 11 is the best way to consistently and reliably test DirectX 11 under game-like loads.
Due to our updating of the 3DMark 11 benchmark, previous scores have been archived.
Once again, the MSI fell behind the ASUS G750 despite having a theoretically better performing GPU. It managed to produce a respectable combined score of 5101. This puts it in third place when compared to the archived results that aren't directly comparable.
3DMark - Cloud Gate Test
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.0
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/benchmarks/3dmark
Cloud Gate is a new test that is designed for Windows notebooks and typical home PCs. Cloud Gate includes two graphics tests and a physics test. Cloud Gate uses a DirectX 11 engine limited to Direct3D feature level 10 making it suitable for testing DirectX 10 compatible hardware. Cloud Gate will only be available in the Windows editions of 3DMark initially.
The MSI GT70 continues to place third, behind the Eon 17-S and ASUS G750. It produced a combined score of 11248. There is still no explanation as to why the GTX 780M is producing lower scores than the GTX 770M in the ASUS G750.
Developer Homepage: http://www.dice.se/
Product Homepage: http://www.battlefield.com/battlefield3
Battlefield 3 is one of the most requested benchmarks, so we have finally added it. Frame rates are recorded for 60 seconds starting in the first part of campaign when the character picks up the gun and is played through until just after the train explodes. The game is played three times in that manner with the results being averaged together and reported.
Settings are 1920x1080 for the resolution with the "Graphics Quality" set to Ultra.
Interestingly enough, the real-world tests show that the GTX 780M is better than the GTX 770M. The MSI GT70 produced an average frame rate of 57.5 FPS, well above the 30 FPS minimum required.
Developer Homepage: http://crytek.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.crysis.com/us/crysis-3
Crysis 3 is run at 1920 x 1080 resolution with the graphics specifications set to "Very High." No anti-aliasing is used. See picture above for full details. The test is ran three times due to higher variability than the other benchmarks. FRAPS is used to record 60 seconds worth of FPS data and recording starts at the start of the campaign and finishes most of the way up the tower. The game is played in a similar manner each time.
Crysis 3 is also playable on the MSI GT70, though the frame rates did drop as low as 23 FPS during at least one point. The GT70 produced an average frame rate of 30.1 FPS. You'd probably want to turn down a couple of settings to ensure smooth gameplay.
Version and / or Patch Used: 184.108.40.206
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.pcmark.com/benchmarks/
PCMark 7 is a great utility for testing a PC's all-around capabilities. It tests all aspects of the computer, from graphics performance to hard disk performance and attempts to put a score on it, which is not an easy task.
Back to the synthetic benchmarks and the ASUS pulls back ahead of the MSI GT70. The GT70 produced a respectable score of 6022, coming in just behind the ASUS G750. Either system would feel nearly the same in day-to-day real-world usage.
Version and / or Patch Used: 3.0 Technical Preview
Developer Homepage: http://www.crystalmark.info
Product Homepage: http://crystalmark.info/software/CrystalDiskMark/index-e.html
Download here: http://crystaldew.info/category/software/crystaldiskmark
CrystalDiskMark is a disk benchmark software that allows us to benchmark 4K and 4K queue depths with accuracy.
The GT70 produces an incredible sequential read speed of 1043 MB/s. When you start looking at the 4K reads at various depths, the "Super RAID 2" starts to fall way behind the single SSD systems. This would explain why the MSI seemed slower booting Windows.
Interestingly, write speeds did not seem to be impacted by the Super RAID 2 setup, though they weren't necessarily any better than a single SSD aside from the sequential write. 923.3 MB/s sequential is nothing to scoff at, but the rest were in line with a single SSD.
Battery Life Performance
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1.1
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/benchmarks/powermark/
Download here: http://www.futuremark.com/benchmarks/powermark/
PowerMark is a benchmark produced by Futuremark that simulates different usage scenarios in order to determine battery life. It loops these different scenarios infinitely until the battery hits 15% and then gives us an estimated battery life time. For our testing, we use all four different scenarios. These are video playback, gaming, web browsing and word processing.
The test is ran once with the computer's Power Options set to Balanced. You'll notice our graph has been cleared. PowerMark was updated to the latest version for testing, so we removed the test results created with a past version.
Curiously enough, the MSI GT70 doesn't seem to get a huge boost from the new Haswell architecture. The GT70 produces a total runtime of just 2 hours and 27 minutes, making it one of the lowest performers we've tested.
We've gone over the hard numbers of the MSI GT70 and seen some interesting results. But as with everything, it's not all about the hard figures. Over the review, I've found that there's a lot to love about the MSI GT70 Dragon Edition 2. But also, there's some stuff that's not so great.
We'll start with some of the things that I found disappointing. For starters, the fact that it uses a third-party design is somewhat disappointing, especially considering just how much MSI is asking for this machine. I'd much rather see a custom design rather than just some aluminum plates with a cool dragon design.
MSI has equipped the Dragon Edition 2 with a SteelSeries keyboard. SteelSeries is well known for their keyboards, so you'd expect it to be an above par laptop keyboard. Unfortunately, I found the typing experience was average.
Another downside to the Dragon Edition 2 notebook is the battery life. The recently reviewed ASUS G750 provided excellent battery life, but the GT70 didn't realize the battery life improvements offered by Intel's new Haswell architecture. I'd hate to have seen what the battery life would have been without Haswell.
But enough with the bad stuff. The system provided excellent performance, albeit with some odd results thrown in. I still can't explain why the system performed poorly in synthetic benchmarks. But synthetic benchmarks will only tell you so much. The MSI GT70 pulled ahead where it mattered: the BF3 and Crysis 3 benchmarks. I'd much rather have a system perform well in the real-world, rather than in synthetic benchmarks.
A notebook is always better than desktop for taking to LAN parties as they are infinitely more portable, but if you're looking for something to haul around daily, the MSI GT70 might not be the best choice. Putting Windows 8 onto a system without a touchscreen is also not the best idea and I would much prefer Windows 7 to be installed on the system. Either that, or MSI should equip the GT70 with a touchscreen.
In the end, the GT70 should probably on your list of potentials, though you might stray away from the Dragon Edition unless you want something especially special. At $3,199, the Dragon Edition 2 is a bit overpriced for what you get, but it does offer top-notch performance and a unique dragon motif.
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