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

    Older than that: This is Spinal Tap (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Up_to_eleven)

    "As you can see, these numbers all go up to eleven. That's one louder than ten...." :-)
  • WereCatf - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    Every time someone reviews these gaming laptops I wonder one thing: where are the laptops that are designed not to have an optical drive at all? I mean, you could certainly just leave the ODD out, but the chassis would still be designed with one in mind. What if I want a laptop with chassis that was not designed to hold an ODD at all and instead used the space for, say, better cooling?
  • sullrosh - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    just make the ODD removable and design an extra battery to fit in the slot.
  • WereCatf - Thursday, October 9, 2014 - link

    No. You'd still be wasting space on the support structures -- connectors and rails and whatnot -- plus the casing on the extra battery itself. It'd be more efficient to just skip the ODD-bay completely and simply make the main battery itself larger. Personally, when talking of gaming laptops I want good cooling-performance and skipping the ODD-bay would allow for designing airflow properly so that cool air goes in from one side and blows out the other side, all through the whole laptop. That's what I want, real, proper cooling in a gaming-laptop, without the totally useless ODD-bay at all.
  • danjw - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    What is going on with Broadwell. I was just looking around for a current time frame and all I saw was the Core M parts for tablets. Has Intel given up on Broadwell for more powerful systems?
  • Acarney - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    Is there anyway to get these graphic cards standalone? Was there any upgrade path in the retail chain? What's the connector for these and has there been any kind of hacked/modded cables for connecting these graphic cards to desktop motherboards? I think the potential for cooking this in a passive card (think HDplex) is higher then taking a desktop class board and trying to cool that. I know HDPlex has a new chassis about to be released that'll handle a 750Ti Maxwell part but this might be able to handle a 970M (if the rumored ~95w TDP is true and MAYBE even the 980M with a semi passive option; think one or two ~15dBa fans to move some air out of the chassis). Both these cards seem to out perform the 750Ti and probably would do even a little better matched with a desktop class i7 haswell. Could finally match or exceed Xbox1/PS4 class graphics with a box including the 970M or 980M & 100% passive for HTPC/DVR and ~15dBa semi passive when 1080p gaming...
  • Laststop311 - Thursday, October 9, 2014 - link

    Well When I upgraded my m18x r1 from radeon 6990 xfire to gtx 680m sli I ordered the gpu's from dell. You can buy the parts separately but they are not cheap at all. I paid 700 dollars each for my GTX 680m's when they first came out.

    The TDP claims are true and you need a MXM slot to install these dpu's they dont go into a regular pci-e slot but the tdp claims have tpo be true as MXM slots only provide for a max of 100 watt tdp.

    For this project idea you have be prepared to spend around 3000 when all is said and done and that's if you can even locate all the parts you would need. You would need to find a motherboard that supports desktop cpu's and MXM graphics cards. Like the boards used in some laptops that use full desktop cpu's. That specialized board will cost you big bucks. They use all laptop parts like so-dimms and mxm gpu's but have a regular desktop cpu socket. I believe clevo made laptops like this. The GTX 980m will probably cost 1000 dollars to buy as a standalone separate part from dell or such. So by the time you buy a proper case, the specialized mobo, the gpu, sodimm ram, tiny psu, cpu, storage, odd and whatever else you may be looking at even more than 3000. Is it really worth it just to have a silent htpc with extra potent gaming power?

    You do realize you can build a very quiet htpc with MSI gaming gtx 970 gpu and that fans don't even start spinning until the gpu hits 60C so when you are doing anything other than gaming the gpu fans don't come on and then even under light gaming it can turn on just 1 of the 2 fans and since it uses large 100mm fans they spin much slower. Check out the reviews the twin frozr V cooling system with 2x 100mm fans it is literally the quietest top end GPU ever. Even the GTX 980 is super quiet like 1db louder than gtx 970. And really since the fans don't even turn on except for gaming you have the silence you are looking for when you actually need it. You don't need pure silence when you are gaming as the noise from the gaming will far drown out the tiny fan noise. When you are watching movies or doing anything else you have silence.

    You can build this version of what you want far cheaper then trying to build this laptop gpu version. 100 dollar mitx board, 350 dollar gpu, 250 dollar cpu, 100 dollar ram, 75 dollar psu, 100 dollar case, 20 dollar ODD, storage varies depending on how much space you need but since you can use 2.5" drives pretty dirt cheap 230 dollars for 512GB or so. Add another 200 for top quality noctua case fans that are dead silent and a noctua cpu cooler with noctua heatsink fans that are also dead silent and you spend 1400 for something you are going to spend 3000 on doing it the convoluted way you describe. You can send me 800 dollars as a consultation fee and still be 800 cheaper
  • Laststop311 - Thursday, October 9, 2014 - link

    when i say large 100mm fans i mean relatively large as fans located on the gpu are typically 80mm or even smaller. 100mm size on the actual gpu is the largest size to date to come pre installed on a gpu.
  • rpanic - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    Got a MSI 17” barebones with 680m a few years ago, travel with it and have it on every day very happy with it and it was cheaper than anything else when the 680m came out. Very solid laptop if you don’t mind putting in your own OS, HD and CPU.
  • jdrch - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    With 2 mDP 1.2, an HDMI, and a GigE port, this thing is pretty much a dream engineering workstation. Compare that with HP's EliteBook line that has 1 DP port, or Dell's Precision line that has 1 DP and 1 HDMI.

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