MSI GT72 Dominator Pro review
Hulking gaming power in a gargantuan 17in laptop – the might of Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 980M in an (almost) portable package
The MSI GT72 Dominator Pro harks back to the days when gaming laptops were giants. Weighing just short of 4kg, this 17.3in Goliath is the last thing anyone would want on their lap. But with Nvidia’s latest high-end mobile GPU, the GeForce GTX 980M, taking centre stage, it’s the most powerful gaming laptop the world has ever seen. So powerful, in fact, that puts more than a few gaming desktop PCs to shame.
MSI GT72 2QE Dominator Pro review: design
No attempt has been made to slice the GT72 down to a manageable size. This is a hefty, rock-solid laptop that weighs 4.7kg including the brick-sized power supply. And if you were in any doubt as to MSI’s intentions, the huge panel of mesh venting on the underside and sizeable fan exhausts at the rear speak volumes: this laptop has been designed to survive all-day gaming sessions, not look slim and svelte.
Nevertheless, MSI has made sure that the GT72 grabs the attention in any way it can. The panel of brushed metal on the MSI’s lid adds a dash of class, but everything else is garish gaming glam: the LED strips on the front edge, the keyboard and even the touchpad ignite with multicoloured backlighting of your choosing; the SteelSeries Engine control panel makes it possible to set the GT72 aglow in a riot of user-configurable colours.
MSI GT72 2QE Dominator Pro review: specifications
Depending on your budget, the GT72 comes in a range of different specifications, each with a varying selection of CPU models, multiple SSDs, RAM, and a choice of Nvidia’s GTX 970M and GTX 980M GPUs. If you’re willing to blow the budget entirely, then it’s theoretically possible to specify anything up to Intel’s top-flight 2.8GHz Core i7-4980HQ CPU, 16GB of RAM, up to four M.2 SSDs in RAID and a GeForce GTX 980M equipped with 8GB of GDDR5 memory. If you have £3,000 spare, that is.
In our review unit, MSI reached for the middle ground, partnering a relatively modest quad-core 2.5GHz Core i7 CPU with 16GB of DDR3 RAM, twin 128GB SSDs in RAID0, a Hitachi 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive and a fully stacked 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M.
It’s the Nvidia’s GPU that’s the star of the show here. While Nvidia’s power-efficient Maxwell architecture made its debut in the GTX 860M (take a look at our review of Chillblast’s Defiant 2 Mini to see how that GPU fared), this is the first time that the architecture has been used for the high-end products in the range. The result is a GPU that packs in significantly more performance per Watt than the previous Kepler generation. Nvidia claims Maxwell is up to 40% faster than last year’s range-topping GTX 880M.
MSI GT72 2QE Dominator Pro review: gaming performance
In practice, there’s little this gaming monster can’t handle. Crysis might be looking a little long in the tooth, but it’s still a serious challenge for most mobile GPUs – or at least it was until the GTX 980M came along.
Running at Full HD resolution and Very High detail, the MSI smashed through our benchmark at an average of 73fps. Compared to the GeForce GTX 880M in the Asus ROG G750JZ, the GTX 980M is 26% faster. The MSI maintained an average frame rate of 50fps even when we upped the resolution to 2,560 x 1,440. It wasn’t until we pushed Crysis up to 4K (3,840 x 2,160) resolution and Very High detail that the average frame rate finally dipped to 26fps.
Application performance isn’t to be sniffed at, either. A result of 1.04 in our Real World Benchmarks isn’t the best result we’ve seen, but the SSD-based RAID array is stupendously fast. We recorded sequential read and write speeds of 1,021MB/sec and 878MB/sec in the AS SSD benchmark. This makes for seriously quick boot and application-load times, and we never found ourselves waiting around for games to load, either.
In one slightly curious turn, MSI has taken the decision not to employ Nvidia’s Optimus graphics-switching technology – on the rare occasion you do want to use the CPU’s integrated graphics (frankly, we can’t think of many reasons why anyone would want to on such a heavy, high-performance laptop), it’s necessary to reboot the laptop.
In Optimus’ stead, you’ll find MSI’s Shift feature, which provides the ability to switch between Green, Comfort and Speed modes. As the name suggests, Speed mode allows the CPU and GPU to work flat out; Comfort mode limits the maximum GPU frequency; and Green mode limits both the CPU and GPU clocks and sets a temperature cap of 85˚C.
Despite the best efforts of MSI’s Shift Green mode, however, the powerful GPU means the GT72 isn’t as long-lasting as it is powerful. With the screen dimmed to 75cd/m2, and Wi-Fi off, the MSI lasted a mere 2hrs 26mins before running dry. Take the time to reboot and allow the Intel integrated graphics to take the helm, however, and the GT72 lasts significantly longer: it lasted 7hrs 26mins in the same light-use battery test.
MSI GT72 2QE Dominator Pro review: features and upgradability
MSI hasn’t overlooked essentials such as the keyboard or touchpad, either. Despite the extrovert LED backlighting, the SteelSeries keyboard is more than just a novelty act. The control panel makes it possible to set up macros for often-used key combinations, in addition to detailed profiles for individual games.
The crisp, responsive keys are mounted on a keyboard panel that doesn’t exhibit the slightest bit of flex or wallow. Whether you’re typing or frantically smashing the WASD keys in the latest online shooter, the MSI delivers. And while the touchpad is of less interest to gamers, it’s a class act: the huge touch area is accurate and responsive, and the dedicated buttons respond with a solid, reassuring click.
Practicality is also top of the agenda, with MSI providing easy access to all the components inside – just remove six screws to get in. There are two 2.5in bays; an M.2 riser card with two Toshiba 128GB SSDs installed; and both the GPU and CPU are covered with beefy-looking heatsinks, each with multiple heatpipes connected to a dedicated pair of 60mm fans at either corner of the chassis. Despite our model coming with 16GB of RAM, there are two further RAM slots waiting to expand the memory up to the maximum of 32GB. Best of all, MSI has used a replaceable MXM graphics module, so it’s possible to upgrade the GPU in the future.
Connectivity is also highly impressive. At the rear, twin DisplayPort 1.2 outputs and an HDMI 1.4 port permit triple-monitor setups, and all three can be used at the same time as the laptop’s display. Six USB 3 ports are spread across the laptop’s two flanks, and the four 3.5mm audio jacks make it possible to hook up an external 7.1 speaker set. Gigabit Ethernet buddies up with 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and there’s even a Blu-ray writer thrown in.
MSI GT72 2QE Dominator Pro review: display
If you’re wondering why we haven’t mentioned the display yet, there’s a very good reason – it’s the GT72’s biggest disappointment. We’ve no issue with the Full HD resolution, but the presence of TN LCD technology is underwhelming in a laptop of this calibre. In fairness, it is a very good TN screen, with brightness reaching 289cd/m2, contrast hitting an impressive 1,189:1, and the panel covering a reasonable 86.7% of the sRGB colour gamut.
Colour accuracy is poor, however, with an average Delta E of 7.54 indicating that onscreen colours are significantly off-beam, and our test images looked cold and bluish due to the panel’s high colour temperature. Viewing angles are good by TN standards, but you can’t move very far off axis without noticing colour shift and crushed darker tones.
The good news is that when the GT72 arrives at retail, it will be equipped with an IPS panel instead. This should ensure better viewing angles, may deliver higher brightness, and will hopefully be more colour-accurate. We’ll be updating this review with test results as soon as we can lay our hands on a review sample.
MSI GT72 2QE Dominator Pro review: verdict
In other regards the MSI GT72 is every inch the gaming laptop we’d love to own. And we wouldn’t be disheartened by the £2,000 asking price, either: the price of our review was inflated due to the inclusion of a swathe of SteelSeries gaming accessories and an MSI rucksack. Spend a little time shopping around and, as long as you don’t mind dropping to 8GB of RAM and losing the SSDs, you can buy a GT72 equipped with a 4GB GTX 980M for £1,500.
Regardless of which model you choose, the GT72 is an excellent gaming laptop. Great build quality is matched with plenty of scope for future upgrades, and Nvidia’s powerhouse of a GPU is capable of smashing through most games without breaking sweat. The only thing holding us back from rewarding it with a Recommended award is that we haven’t been able to test the version with an IPS display – if it turns out to be any good, there’s every chance our credit card balance will be looking very unhealthy indeed.
MSI GT 72 2QE Dominator Pro specifications
|Processor||Quad-core 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-4710HQ|
|Memory slots (free)||4 (2 free)|
|Size||428 x 294 x 58mm (WDH)|
|Weight||3.8kg (4.7kg with charger)|
|Screen size (type)||17.3in (TN)|
|Screen resolution||1,920 x 1,080|
|Graphics adaptor||Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M|
|Graphics outputs||2 x DisplayPort 1.2; 1 x HDMI 1.4|
|Total storage||1TB HDD|
|Optical drive type||Blu-ray writer|
|Ports and expansion|
|USB ports||6 x USB 3|
|Networking||1 x Gigabit Ethernet; 802.11ac Wi-Fi|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1|
|Operating system restore option|
|Parts and labour warranty||2yr RTB|
|Price inc VAT||£2,000|