NVIDIA just launched their new GTX 980M/GTX 970M GPUs, and unfortunately we were unable to get a notebook in time for testing… which just changed this morning a couple hours after the launch article went live. We've covered MSI's GM204 notebooks already, and now we have a sample GT72 sample from MSI for review. The GT72 Dominator is available in seven different configurations, two "Dominator" SKUs with GTX 970M and five "Dominator Pro" SKUs with GTX 980M. We received the GT72 Dominator Pro-208 for testing, which has the following specifications:

GT72 Dominator Pro-208 Specifications
CPU Core i7-4710HQ (2.5-3.5GHz)
Intel HD 4600 (Manual Switching)
RAM 32GB (4x8GB) DDR3L-1600
(4x128GB SSDs in RAID 0)
Optical Blu-ray Burner 9.5mm
Display 17.3" Full HD eDP Anti-Glare (1920x1080)
Networking Killer Gaming Network
Killer N1525 Combo (2x2 802.11ac + BT 4.0)
I/O Ports 6 x USB 3.0
Flash Reader (SDXC/SDHC)
HDMI 1.4
2 x mini-DisplayPort 1.2
Input Steel Series Keyboard
Multi-touch Touchpad
Power 9-cell battery
230W AC adapter
Extras Full HD webcam (1080p30)
Configurable Multi-colored Backlighting
Anti-Ghost Key
OS Windows 8.1 Multi-Language
Dimensions 16.85" x 11.57"x 1.89"
(428mm x 294mm x 48mm)
Weight 8.4 lbs. (3.82kg)
Pricing $3000 MSRP
$2900 Online

Once you get past the sticker shock, what we're looking it is a top of the line gaming notebook. MSI's GT72 is an overhaul of their previous GT70 design, with a new motherboard and chassis. The updates includes a slimmer and slightly lighter chassis with two cooling fans, six USB 3.0 ports (instead of five USB ports with two of them being USB 2.0 on the GT70), two mini-DisplayPort 1.2 ports (no VGA now), and a switch to M.2 SATA for SSDs instead of mSATA.

MSI also supports up to four M.2 SSDs now instead of three mSATA SSDs, with the option to go as high as a 1TB SSD array. I'm still not really convinced the RAID SSDs are the best solution for storage, and the cost of the SSDs looks to be quite high relative to 2.5" SSDs. For instance, the Samsung 850 Pro 512GB only costs $380 while MSI charges $350 to go from two 128GB SSDs to four 128GB SSDs (and 24GB to 32GB RAM). That said, the RAID 0 set of four SSDs should at least provide a hefty sustained throughput if that's what you need.

There is one concern with the configuration we've received for testing, and that's the choice of CPU. On a $3000 notebook, I'm a bit worried that the i7-4710HQ might be a bottleneck in some games. Of course, those are going to be games that tend to be CPU limited anyway (e.g. Skyrim and StarCraft II, which we're no longer running for precisely that reason). Still, we ran into cases where the previous generation GTX 780M was held back by the use of i7-4700MQ in the notebook we tested, and i7-4710HQ isn't much better.

I also find it curious that MSI has opted for the soldered onto the motherboard CPUs in place of the socketed i7-4710MQ. Perhaps it came with some space savings, but it means that whatever you start with will remain your CPU for the life of the laptop. On the other hand, I don't know many people who have upgraded notebook CPUs, so I suspect this will be more of a limitation for system integrators than for end users. Another concern is the lack of Optimus support; some people dislike Optimus and it can get in the way on occasion, but going back to manual switching at the press of a button (with a reboot in between) isn't necessarily great either.

Running our full suite of notebook tests obviously requires quite a bit of time, so we're not going to be done with the complete review of the MSI GT72 Dominator Pro for at least a few days. But considering this is first and foremost a gaming notebook, we felt a short preview of the graphics performance was in order. We've run all of our current crop of gaming tests (along with a couple extras for good measure).

Since we have a decent selection of MSI notebooks still available for testing, I've confined the reported results to those notebooks. That means we're looking at the GE60 Stealth Pro, GS60 Ghost Pro 3K, GT70 Dominator Pro (GTX 880M), and the new GT72 Dominator Pro-208. (Note that if you're just after the GTX 980M, the GT72 Dominator Pro-211 drops to a single 128GB SSD and 16GB RAM for $2300.) We're also looking to get a notebook with a GTX 970M for testing, but we haven't received one yet; performance should be pretty close to the 880M in most cases, though with potentially better battery life and support for new features like VXGI and DX12.

But first, let's unwrap this "present" and see what MSI has sent along....

MSI GT72: Unboxing and Initial Impressions
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  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    Technically the top spec version of the GT72 is the Dominator Pro-243. It has an i7-4980HQ instead of the 4710HQ, and it has 4x256GB SSDs (1TB) instead of 4x128GB. It's "only" $900 more. Hahaha... There's a Dominator Pro-098 that has the same 4x128GB as the 208 we received, but it uses the i7-4980HQ as well; it costs $400 more just for the CPU upgrade. Ouch.
  • Meaker10 - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    The 243 and 098 are cancelled for the 444 and 445 which are being updated to IPS displays but otherwise at the same price and load out.
  • Meaker10 - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    Another note, MSI have an upgrade program going into effect on the GT72 series.
  • Meaker10 - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    They will be selling 970M/980M upgrade kits to owners of 8xx series systems.
  • mischlep - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    Typo: Unboxing And Initial Impresisons page ends with: "It's also large enough and has sufficient cooling that it won't get uncomfortably hot in your lap, which is a problem with "
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    Fixed... was busy all day writing this up, so my brain left off a few closing thoughts. Hahaha.
  • wetwareinterface - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    as to the omission (or in this case rejection) of optimus. it was done because it had to be done. a lot of people buy these laptops for cad or to run multiple screens for financial tracking and the like. optimus doesn't engage in those situations and you're left at that point with intel onboard graphics not supporting your app or only 2 displays available.

    optimus is only for gamers who want improved battery life when not gaming. this isn't really the target market for something like this laptop
  • huaxshin - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    Dang. I just knew 4710HQ would be too weak and would bottleneck the GTX 980M in some games. Since Alienware and MSI seems to use HQ chips this year, I sincerely hope they will use their common sense and add better HQ chips (4980HQ and such).

    GTX 980M should probably be around 50%+ faster than GTX 880M if the CPU wasnt bottlenecking it. Bad decision about CPU, MSI.

    Good Preview Jarred
  • Hrel - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    Mobile performance is still a trade-off. You have to accept lower, but still not noticeably so, frame rates. You also have to turn some things down that don't really matter, like AA and shadows and lighting effects and such. But basically all the GTX class GPU's will give you performance that's much better than what you'll get on a console, so it looks plenty good and plays smoothly.

    Hopefully the next GPU process node drop will provide mobile parts where these trade offs go away, or at least heavily reduced. Which makes me feel good about keeping my GTX765M for at least a few years, just got it this year, so I'll probably keep it until 2018. At which point, hopefully, mobile GPU's that I can afford and don't DESTROY battery life will be available. Because that certainly doesn't exist today :)
  • Mikemk - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    "cranking every dial up to 11" XKCD reference?

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