Introducing the MSI GT70 Dragon Edition

You'll forgive me if deja vu is striking. This is the third time we've had a chance to test this chassis from MSI (the first being the iBuyPower Valkyrie CZ-17 and the second being the CyberPower FangBook). Each time there's been an incremental hardware update, but this is also the first time we've seen this notebook directly from MSI and more than that, this flagship edition brings a tremendous amount of hardware to bear. The GT70 Dragon Edition may have the same basic chassis, but MSI has secret sauce hiding under the hood.

While it may seem like there's not much left to say about this chassis that hasn't already been addressed in those previous reviews, as it turns out, there are both some new wrinkles that materialize with this ultra high end build and some old wrinkles that are finally making themselves apparent.

First, this review isn't just about the MSI GT70. Under the hood we also have the benefit of testing Intel's shiny new Core i7-4700MQ based off of the new Haswell microarchitecture. We're also getting to check out NVIDIA's brand new GeForce GTX 780M, the first full GK104 part available in a notebook. The 680M was no slouch, but with the 780M we're getting all of the shader clusters, a healthy boost in clocks, and NVIDIA's Boost 2.0 technology.

CyberPowerPC FangBook Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-4700MQ
(4x2.4GHz + HTT, Turbo to 3.4GHz, 22nm, 6MB L3, 47W)
Chipset Intel HM87
Memory 4x8GB A-Data DDR3-1600 (Maximum 32GB)
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M 4GB GDDR5
(1536 CUDA cores, 771MHz/797/5GHz core/boost/memory clocks, 256-bit memory bus)

Intel HD 4600 Graphics
(20 EUs, up to 1.15GHz)
Display 17.3" LED Matte 16:9 1080p
Chi Mei N173HGE-L11
Hard Drive(s) 3x SanDisk X100 128GB mSATA 6Gbps SSD in RAID 0

Western Digital Scorpio Blue 1TB 5400-RPM SATA 6Gbps HDD
Optical Drive TSSTCorp SN-506BB Blu-ray writer
Networking Killer Networks e2200 PCIe Gigabit Ethernet
Killer Wireless-N 1202 dual-band 2x2 802.11a/b/g/n
Bluetooth 4.0
Audio Realtek ALC892 HD audio (Sound Blaster Cinema)
2.1 speakers
Mic, headphone, line-in, and line-out jacks
Battery 9-cell, 87Wh
Front Side -
Right Side 2x USB 2.0
Optical drive
Left Side Vent
3x USB 3.0
SD card reader
Mic, headphone, line-in, and line-out jacks
Back Side Kensington lock
AC adapter
Ethernet
D-SUB
Mini-DisplayPort
HDMI
Vent
Operating System Windows 8 64-bit
Dimensions 16.9" x 11.3" x 2.2"
429.3mm x 287mm x 55.9mm
Weight 8.6 lbs
3.9kg
Extras Webcam
USB 3.0
Card reader
SoundBlaster Cinema audio
Killer Networks wireless and wired networking
Configurable backlit keyboard
3x mSATA SSD Striped RAID
Warranty 2-year parts and labor
Pricing $2,699

Starting from the top, the new Dragon Edition (searchable as Dragon Edition 2) features an Intel Core i7-4700MQ socketed quad-core CPU. More informed readers will note that Haswell chips don't feature higher clocks than their outgoing Ivy Bridge counterparts, so all CPU performance improvements are purely architectural. The i7-4700MQ, outside of its GPU, is on paper identical to the outgoing i7-3630QM: 2.4GHz nominal clock speed, with turbo bins of up to 3.2GHz on three or four cores, 3.3GHz on two cores, and 3.4GHz on just one core. As a flagship notebook it's a bit surprising that MSI opted for the entry-level Haswell quad, but you'll see CPU performance isn't really the limiting factor here.

Attached to the i7-4700MQ is 32GB of DDR3-1600, more than most users are going to ever need but appreciated nonetheless. The shiny new HM87 chipset brings much needed 6Gbps support across all of the SATA ports, and MSI takes advantage of this by configuring three SanDisk X100 SandForce-based mSATA SSDs in RAID 0. While this is extremely fast and capable of being much, much faster than just using a single SSD, there's no subjective difference. The biggest change a user can make is just jumping to a good SSD in the first place, and I've always been skeptical of SSDs in striped RAID for consumer use.

Of course, the other big news is the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M, and despite being based on the same silicon as the GeForce GTX 680M, NVIDIA brings to bear a very healthy performance boost. Everything is up but the TDP: from the 680M's 1344 CUDA cores we're up to GK104's full 1536, GPU clocks are up from the nominal 720MHz to a bare minimum 771MHz, and memory speed is up from 3.6GHz to a fantastic 5GHz. Boost clocks on the 780M ensure that it's constantly performing as fast as it can, and in testing I saw it spending a substantial amount of time over 900MHz, essentially biting the heels of a desktop GTX 680's stock clock. On top of that, GK104 tends to be memory bandwidth limited, so the nearly 50% faster memory clocks should go a long way towards improving performance further.

Finally, MSI has gone with Killer Networking across the board. While I'm iffy on the need for Killer wired networking, Jarred has personally tested their wireless and found it to be a substantial upgrade over conventional Centrino wireless networking. Dual-band support also gets the Dragon Edition a pat on the head.

System Performance
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  • TheinsanegamerN - Thursday, July 11, 2013 - link

    the notebook review showed throttling. its been well established this machine has some serious thermal problems. Reply
  • Darkstone - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    Prime95 is far from 'Not remotely close to any scenario an user will even encounter'. All threaded applications i have personally written reach the 45W TDP limit without problems on my i7-2820QM. Which is exactly the amount of power that the processor will sustain even if the core is held at sub-zero temperatures.

    Notebookcheck measures massive throtteling under prime95 + furmark with the GT70: the CPU reports under 1/4th the package power it should, the GPU downlocks to 587Mhz the second prime95 starts.

    Remember: the M17x has no problems with simultaneous CPU and GPU load, even with prime95 and furmark. The GPU doesn't even reach 70° (with HD 7970m) without throttling. That seems like an unusual scenario, but not until you factor in dust or warmer climates. A notebook should not throttle on a stress test from day 1.
    Reply
  • huaxshin - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    In fact, Notebookcheck bragged about how the cooling have improved from the older GT70 series, now with the new bridge between the CPU and the GPU. Both thermal wise and noise wise. Reply
  • huaxshin - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    And now to your temperature measurements.

    Since Dragon Edition is basically a GT70 with red colour, you can compare this review against Notebookcheck`s own review of GT70 with GTX 780M. Exact same hardware as this review, 4700MQ.

    In Notebookcheck`s Extreme test, with Furmark and Prime95 running simultanously, they got 92C Max for the CPU and 93C for the GPU. Since Furmark and Prime95 is a benchmark that push the GPU and CPU to the absurd extremeness that nobody will EVER encounter with this notebook, the temperatures when gaming will be MUCH lower. Notebookcheck ran the fan without the turbo mode.

    Anandtech however got 98C for the CPU when just gaming?!

    Bad paste job from the factory maybe? A respectable reviewer should understand that no OEM would ever put components in a notebook that run on 98C. Didn`t any alarm ring in your head that something isn`t right here when watching the temperature skyrocket?

    I`m so dissappointed in you guys. You did everything wrong in this review. I just hope you didn`t test the games without the turbo fan on.
    Reply
  • huaxshin - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    Not just was this a spit in your fan base with a poor review, this was a mockery of MSI`s flagship notebook as well as Nvidia`s newest GPU, GTX 780M. Reply
  • ZeDestructor - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    "Bad paste job from the factory maybe? A respectable reviewer should understand that no OEM would ever put components in a notebook that run on 98C. Didn`t any alarm ring in your head that something isn`t right here when watching the temperature skyrocket?"

    Then their QC is so bad they can't send reviewers a cherry picked, top quality sample (evey single company does this, and it's public knowledge at this point). If the top units they send to reviewers has QC issues, what about the mass production version? No thanks, I'll stick to my Clevos and Alienwares for gaming laptops, and ThinkPad/Precision for mobile workstation. At least don't have WC issues on review units...

    On the other hand, I am curious as to why they didn't ask MSI about it... Most companies usually follow up by sending another review unit and fixing WC for mass production...

    Finally, 98°C isn't as high as laptops can go.. I used to game on a laptop that ran steady at 102°C. Granted, the poor HSF module was cooling beyond its limits (GPU swap), but it ran fine.
    Reply
  • huaxshin - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    The point is, the temperatures SCREAM bad paste job or something other with the cooling system that is not normal.
    "Cooler Boost 2" is MSI`s newest improvement in this notebook. It bridge the CPU and the GPU together to create a huge heatsink. So the thermal capacity have improved. Which you clearly see in the other review I mentioned.

    Anandtech should have never posted this review, but asked MSI to get a new notebook from them, or repasted the CPU themselves. You don`t put out a review of a product which is not functioning correctly like it should.

    Go read user reviews on Notebookreview forum. Nobody have any high temperatures gaming.
    Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    ""Cooler Boost 2" is MSI`s newest improvement in this notebook."

    Phrasing like that is aaawwwwwwful suspect.
    Reply
  • huaxshin - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    Right, so you have nothing to counter all my arguments with?
    I cannot believe you pushed out this review and thought 98C for the CPU is what the engineers at MSI have considered normal. Or that people should be forced to use the Turbo fan mode.

    Jarred Walton would be much better at dealing with reviews like this. Looks to me like you rushed out this review just to post something new to show.
    Anandtech just fell many places down as a reputable reviewer site.

    I know the difference between "Cooler Boost 1" and "Cooler Boost 2" thank you. Its much easier to write "Cooler Boost 2" than "a new copper bridge between the CPU and the GPU to spread out the heat more between the two. And therefor not have the CPU to run much hotter than the GPU, forcing the fan to go up in speed"

    ;)
    Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    Except that the CPU actually runs fine and doesn't throttle when the 780M isn't in use.

    I review what I'm sent. The system I was sent has serious thermal issues with the CPU and there's no reason a 180W PSU shouldn't be able to handle this hardware. I've spoken to contacts in the industry that have seen a high amount of variance in the quality of these units and I may very well have gotten a lemon, but that doesn't actually change whether or not the system can be recommended, does it?

    The cooling system MSI employs is inferior to the one employed in the Alienware M17x, likely the Alienware 17, and in Clevo units, full stop. Almost every other gaming notebook in this class has separate thermal zones for the CPU and the GPU for a reason.

    And I absolutely believe engineers would consider 98C for a CPU core to be normal. Did you not see the first generation Razer Blade? I've reviewed enough notebooks to know that some vendors will let the CPU cook if it means hitting specific design targets, whether it's acoustics, or form factor, or what have you. The GT70 is actually pretty quiet under normal load, but again, probably because the CPU is roasting itself.
    Reply

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