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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  • frodbonzi - Tuesday, November 11, 2014 - link

    Alienware gives you the same hardware....it's only the 980m that is different...and I'm sure it will be offered soon. Someone on the Alienware 18 owner's thread on a different forum has said it was late November...

    Anyways, as I posted earlier, once you are going the gaming laptop route, I don't see the reason for going "half way"... Yes, the 18" laptops are heavier - but it's not like you're going to be taking this one with your everywhere either... they're both "portable desktops".

    The Alienware 18, even with "only" dual 880m, will beat this laptop (and any other single GPU laptop) handily... the benchmarks Jarred included were from dual 780m... and they STILL beat the 980m! Alienware can give you an IPS screen and 4 SSDs (although I prefer 3 SSDs and a blu-ray drive myself) for just a bit more cash...

    Lastly, I have to say that once you are in this price range, cost ceases to be a large factor. Yes, when buying a $500 laptop, an extra $200 is a big deal... But when buying a $3000+ laptop, a few hundred dollars no longer really matters...
    Reply
  • CrazyElf - Tuesday, November 11, 2014 - link

    We're not talking about a small difference in price here though. The Alienware 18 is a couple of thousand dollars more if you max it out. Price I'd argue still matters.

    I have no doubt that the top end Alienware and Clevo laptops will beat this thing, especially if they are running 980M SLI (when that comes out). The top end Clevo probably will run a desktop grade CPU, so it's even more potent in this regard. I believe Clevo P570WM3 is the 6 core Ivy Bridge E model. Not sure if they are coming with a Haswell E laptop that can support 8 core Haswell though.

    The only other benefit I can see is this thing can support 4x M.2. Not sure how many the Alienware 18 can support, although they are probably using 2.5" SATA 3 drives. It's not a huge advantage though, as M.2 is faster, but not something you'd notice for gaming.

    Agree on the Blu-Ray drive.

    @Jarred Walton
    Would it be possible to get the IPS GT72 tested out when it comes out? It should have a better quality screen overall.
    Reply
  • frodbonzi - Thursday, November 13, 2014 - link

    If you don't mind refurbished, we're only talking about $200-$300.... and Alienware 18s have 1 M.2, and 3 SATA slots (some models give u 3 hard drives and an optical drive, others give all 4 hard drives).

    As a point of pricing:

    My Alienware 18 (purchased 2 months ago) has 32GB of RAM, dual 880m, and the i7 4940mx. I'm not a fan of RAID 0, so the "fast" M.2 is my boot drive (256gb) and the other 2 drives are 256gb sata SDDs... I replaced the DVD drive with a $50 Blu-Ray writer off of ebay (Panasonic UJ265)...

    Cost: $3200 --> I've seen the same on ebay ranging from $3000 to $4000...
    Reply
  • Aikouka - Tuesday, November 11, 2014 - link

    I ended up picking up one of these a few weeks ago, and it's a nice laptop. I went with the "budget" 980M version that only has a single SSD, and I purchased a separate 512GB SSD to use in non-RAID. It works great as I leave the original SSD for the OS and use the other one for more important games/applications. That's the same approach that I take on my desktop as well.

    I also had the same problem with the bottom of the laptop. Honestly, I was afraid that I was going to break it! MSI uses a *ton* of tabs in addition to the screws to hold the bottom panel on, and it requires a bit of yanking to get it off. I also found it to be a bit more difficult than desired to put it back on.

    I'm not the biggest fan of the trackpad though. I find that even at higher sensitivity, it just isn't all that sensitive and requires a lot more movement than some of my other laptops. The problem is that when making scrolling gestures and such, I really have to push down on it or else it doesn't register the gesture.

    I was also pleasantly surprised by the Killer Wi-Fi card. I use Intel 7260-AC cards in my two NUCs, and honestly... they're downright awful. If they do connect, it will only last for a few days until it drops to unusable levels of performance, and I've never had one connect at full AC speed. My laptop connects to my router at full 2x AC speed.

    As for the noise, I do wish that the laptop was a bit quieter during low usage, but I'm also the type that builds very quiet PCs. I highly doubt that any normal user would mind the noise.
    Reply
  • jabber - Tuesday, November 11, 2014 - link

    Nice hardware...shame it looks like a tacky toy. Reply
  • utferris - Tuesday, November 11, 2014 - link

    I am a computer scientist, I just do not understand the design.
    4x128GB RAID 0, seriously? The failure rate will be incredibly high with RAID0 of four storages of any kind, though they can get some speed up.
    I can understand gamers buy monsters, but I donot understand why they will pay for such stupid design.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Tuesday, November 11, 2014 - link

    Agree, 1st thing I'd do would be to RAID10 it; but every time someone at Anandtech or elsewhere sends a "RAID0, WTF!" email to a gaming laptop representative, the answer they get back is some version of "Our customers are demanding RAID0." Assuming their market research is valid, there're a lot of idiots buying gaming laptops with no clue beyond benchmark numbers. I'm somewhat skeptical though because you don't see the same thing in pre built gaming desktops. I suspect that what happened was that they went RAID0 in the HDD era to try and compensate for the crapitude of 2.5" HDDs; and haven't checked to see if it's still a valid customer requirement.

    What surprises me is that they don't offer an alternative model with a single 2.5" SSD. The price premium on M.2 drives is high enough that they could still charge a large markup on it while being substantially less than the M.2 RAID0 model.
    Reply
  • jabber - Wednesday, November 12, 2014 - link

    I know a few friends that have bought such machines in the past. The truth is they spend more time going back for repairs/fixes than actually on the users desk. More trouble than they are worth in the long run. Reply
  • IgenIgen - Tuesday, November 11, 2014 - link

    The new ASUS G751JT/JY actually use a redesigned chassis compared to the G750. It also comes with an IPS display as standard (at least in Europe). Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, November 12, 2014 - link

    Is it a radical overhaul of the design, or just incremental tweaks of the previous iterations of the G7xx series? Judging by images, it's the latter:
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...

    Compared that with the GT70 vs. GT72 and it's a massive change. That's what I'm trying to get at.
    Reply

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