MSI GT72 Dominator Pro Introduction

MSI has several lines of gaming notebooks catering to different types of users. In the past few months we've looked at MSI's top-of-the-line GT70 Dominator Pro with NVIDIA's GTX 880M GPU, the GE60 Apache Pro with GTX 860M, and the GS60 Ghost Pro 3K with GTX 870M. It’s been a long time in coming, but after many years we finally have an updated chassis for MSI’s top gaming notebook, the new GT72 Dominator Pro. We’ve already previewed the gaming performance of the GT72, and we did a detailed look at NVIDIA’s BatteryBoost with the laptop; now it’s time to bring everything together for the full review.

When it comes to high-end gaming notebooks, there are only a few real competitors: Alienware, ASUS, Clevo (under various brand names), and MSI are the main options, with a few others like Razer and Gigabyte offering second tier performance (e.g. not the 880M or 980M, but instead dropping one step to the 870M and 970M). [Ed: Gigabyte is now joining the ranks of companies offering GTX 980M with the P35X V3.] The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M officially launched in the first half of October, and it wasn’t too much of a surprise to see it come out ahead of all other mobile contenders. Maxwell 2 (GM204) proved quite potent in desktop GPUs like the GTX 980, and the notebook counterpart is equally capable. For our testing, MSI shipped us the third highest configuration of their GT72 Dominator Pro, with four 128GB SSDs in SuperRAID to help keep storage as fast as possible. Here are the full specifications:

GT72 Dominator Pro-208 Specifications
CPU Core i7-4710HQ (Quad-core, 2.5-3.5GHz, 6MB L3, 47W)
GPU NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M 8GB
(1536 CUDA cores, 1038MHz + Boost, 256-bit 5010MHz GDDR5)

Intel HD Graphics 4600
RAM 32GB (4x8GB) DDR3L-1600
SSD 512GB M.2 SATA SSD Array
(4x128GB Toshiba THNSNJ128G8NU in RAID 0)
HDD 1TB 7200RPM
Optical Blu-ray Burner 9.5mm
Display 17.3" Anti-Glare 1080p (1920x1080)
(Chi Mei N173HGE-E11)
Networking Killer e2200 Gigabit Ethernet
Killer N1525 Combo (2x2 802.11ac + BT 4.0)
Audio Realtek ALC892
2.1 speakers
Four audio jack
Front N/A
Left Flash Reader (SDXC/SDHC)
4 x Audio jacks
4 x USB 3.0
Right Optical Drive
2 x USB 3.0
Rear Left/Right Exhaust Vents
2 x mini-DisplayPort 1.2
1 x HDMI 1.4
Ethernet
AC Adapter
Input 101 Key SteelSeries Keyboard
Multi-touch Touchpad
Power 9-cell ~87Wh battery
230W AC adapter
Extras Full HD webcam (1080p30)
Configurable Multi-colored Backlighting
Anti-Ghost Key
Shift Cooling
Switchable Graphics
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

Obviously this is close to the maximum level of performance you might get from any modern gaming notebook. If you want more performance than this in a notebook, your only options are GTX 980M SLI and/or a faster CPU. MSI does have two higher models of the GT72 available that upgrade the CPU to the Core i7-4980HQ (which means you get Crystalwell’s embedded DRAM and Iris Pro Graphics 5200 along with a 300-500MHz bump in clock speed), but the lesser of the two options still costs $3300, so you’re basically paying $400 more for the CPU upgrade over the system we received. If you’re thinking of that upgrade, there’s another model with 4x256GB SSD and the i7-4980HQ for $3800.

Getting back to our review sample, while I’m still not sold on the need for four separate M.2 SSDs, I can say that there’s a ton of storage bandwidth available. In the process of getting the gaming library copied over, a few games sometimes require Steam to validate the files, and the GT72 does that faster than any other system I’ve tested. So yes, having more than 1GB/s of storage throughput can be beneficial. On the other hand, the cost of the storage upgrades is much higher than what you’d typically pay for SSDs. As an example, a 1TB Samsung 850 Pro can be had for $650; going from the base $2284 GT72 with a 128GB single SSD to 512GB with four 128GB SSDs and doubling the RAM to 32GB from 16GB currently adds $616 to the price. The RAM upgrade costs roughly $150, so in effect you’re paying $466 for an additional 384GB of storage.

Of course, finding the Toshiba THNSNJ128G8NU 128GB or Toshiba THNSNJ256G8NU 256GB M.2 SSDs for sale can be a bit tricky; I’ve seen them in Europe for around £65/£113 (around $100/$180 USD), so the problem isn’t just that MSI is overcharging for the parts but that the parts are also rather expensive to begin with. Considering the final price looks to be upwards of $720 for 4x256GB of storage, it might have been better to offer two 2.5” drives instead. That would allow users to install two 512GB SSDs for around $400-$500, and while you might give up a bit of raw performance in practice I don’t think the difference would be noticeable. Anyway, MSI has chosen to stick with multiple M.2 SATA drives, so that’s what you get.

The remaining components and features look good, including four SO-DIMM slots with support for up to 32GB RAM, 802.11ac WiFi with up to 867Mbps connectivity, and six (!) USB 3.0 ports. Probably the only real flaw in the specifications is the LCD, which is the same Chi Mei N173HGE that was in the MSI GT70 prior to this. The LCD identifies as an “E11” compared to the “L11” in the GT70 we have, but it’s still a TN panel.

There is a bit of good news regarding the LCD, however. There are a few sites listing the GT72 with an IPS panel (e.g. XoticPC and Amazon), and after contacting MSI we were able to confirm that there are certain models of the GT72 that do indeed have an IPS display. There's a catch, unfortunately: the only two models with the IPS display right now are the 445 and 444, which cost $3300 and $3800 respectively. Both feature the faster i7-4980HQ CPU along with the IPS display, and the 444 comes with four 256GB SSDs for a total of 1TB of SSD storage… but wow, that's a lot of money to spend on a notebook!

MSI GT72 Dominator Pro: Subjective Evaluation
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  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, November 11, 2014 - link

    Sadly, we haven't had a high-end AMD mobile GPU in for testing since the 7970M a couple years back, which was tested on an older gaming suite. You can check results in Bench, though:
    http://www.anandtech.com/bench/product/1378?vs=833
    Reply
  • Spigsy - Tuesday, November 11, 2014 - link

    Thanks for the link Jarred! I logged just in time to see you'd already done the work for me. Truly appreciated.

    From what I can see the 980m would offer me anywhere from a 30% to over 100% boost in gaming, which is seriously impressive. I've always been a fan of bang for buck (thus the 7970m) but I have to say I'm seriously impressed with what Nvidia have achieved this generation, particularly considering we're still on 28nm here.
    Reply
  • DILLIGAFF - Tuesday, November 11, 2014 - link

    good review, this part is not right:
    "Second, the RAM has two SO-DIMM slots in the main area under the laptop, but there are two more that are accessed after removing the keyboard and top portion of the chassis; I didn't want to hassle with that as it's not really necessary for the review"

    i have the 211 sku, and you cant remove the lid and the keyboard from the top on the gt72. To get to those ram slots you have to disassemble most of the laptop through the back cover on this model. should not be a big deal- the cheapest sku they offer comes with 16gb already populated into those slots. so the only people who will deal with those slots are people who want lower cas ram or people doing repairs if the ram goes bad.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, November 11, 2014 - link

    Text edited, thanks. As noted, I didn't actually disassemble the system to check the battery and other RAM slots, so all I could say for certain was that they were on the opposite side of the motherboard. Reply
  • DILLIGAFF - Tuesday, November 11, 2014 - link

    Thanks dude!

    as far as that second unused 2.5" bay- there is a sku (non usa sku as of today afaik) that comes with no SSD, so instead of a bracket to hold m.2 drives, there is a bracket that has connectors for both 2.5" bays- at least one is sata 6. this is sort of relevant because in the sku's that come with the m.2 bracket/ssd, there is no sata 3 port for a 2.5" drive.
    Reply
  • RaistlinZ - Tuesday, November 11, 2014 - link

    Unfortunately, these things become expensive paper weights after 2 years. They just don't hold much of their value over time. You can probably get 80% of the performance of this laptop while spending only $1,500.00 or so. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, November 11, 2014 - link

    Yes and no. A desktop with similar performance will cost between $1400 and $1500 (with 32GB RAM and a 512GB SSD), but that doesn't include the display, speakers, or keyboard/mouse... and what it really doesn't include is portability. No matter how much people want to try and say otherwise, there are users that want a portable gaming system like this. And in two years, while there will be faster GPUs available, that hardly makes an older system obsolete -- a three year old gaming notebook can easily handle most games today, just not at maximum settings. Reply
  • CrazyElf - Tuesday, November 11, 2014 - link

    One advantage that this laptop has is that the GPU is upgradeable.

    Asus G series is not. Alienware, some models are. Many of the Clevo models are.

    CPUs don't seem to improve much every year, so it's not as big a deal.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Tuesday, November 11, 2014 - link

    Have MxM cards actually become available at sane prices? The last time I looked the premium on them was so large it was cheaper to dump the old laptop on ebay and buy a new one.

    Also, is cooling still a concern with MxM swapping? IIRC something about early generation ones had problems with the heatsink connectors changing between generations making the upgrades nearly impossible in practice.
    Reply
  • CrazyElf - Tuesday, November 11, 2014 - link

    Pretty good gaming laptop all things considered. For the money, you get better hardware than what a comparable Alienware offers.

    The only thing I wish for is that the battery was user replaceable. Gaming laptops don't have good battery life times, and this one is decent with the integrated, but still I'd like to be able to hot-swap on the go.

    The are already IPS GT72s coming in, which should fix the only real flaw of this laptop, which is the poor color accuracy of the TN display. You will no doubt have to pay extra though for the IPS display.

    I believe that the GPU can also be upgraded, leaving future potential upgrades available. Unfortunately, the CPU has been soldered, which has become standard among all gaming laptops.

    Otherwise a solid laptop.
    Reply

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