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)
GPU NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M 8GB
Intel HD 4600 (Manual Switching)
RAM 32GB (4x8GB) DDR3L-1600
SSD 512GB M.2 SATA SSDs
(4x128GB SSDs in RAID 0)
HDD 1TB 7200RPM
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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  • Flunk - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    On the topic of Optimus support, maybe Nvidia's new "batteryboost" technology is so magically delicious that they don't need it in order to have good battery life anymore. I have an Optimus-equipped laptop and it's mildly annoying sometimes so I can see the appeal of no Optimus on a gaming laptop. Optimus does reduce performance a bit too. Reply
  • MrSpadge - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    On the desktop you're hard-pressed to get any big GPU consume less than 10 W. That's more than the idle power consumption of an entire modern laptop... Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    There are pros and cons; I'd like to see an idle mobile GPU at no more than 1-2W before I'd say it's a reasonable alternative to Optimus, and I don't think NVIDIA is there yet. Keep in mind however that their mobile GPUs typically have much lower idle clocks than their desktop parts. Anyway, it's something I'll look at in the full review. Reply
  • Meaker10 - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    No optimus means you can overclock the display refresh rate ;) Reply
  • flemeister - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    Happily using manual graphics switching on my Alienware M11x R1 (GMA 4500H + GT 335M). I like being able to lock it to one or the other as needed. Most of the time I'm using the laptop for basic tasks, and would prefer that the Nvidia graphics stay off (and not turn on unnecessarily). Switching between GPU's doesn't require a reboot either. Just need to close any programs that use the GPU. For me this involves Firefox, f.lux and Steam. Not a big deal.

    Just wish that I could use a more recent driver version. Stuck on this custom 263.08 version, and modified drivers (to get Optimus working) don't properly disable the Nvidia GPU, resulting in poor battery life (same as if using the Nvidia graphics). With light usage I get 6+ hours with GMA 4500HD, but only 3.5 hours with the GT 335M.

    I wonder if the GT72 would have longer battery life (on Intel graphics) with manual switching, compared to if they used Optimus?
    Reply
  • Icehawk - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    I don't really get the specs on this laptops - 4xSSD RAID and 32gb of RAM? What on earth does that do for you besides drive the price up and *maybe* (it won't) offer a tiny percentage of performance upgrade. If this was some kind of render machine that setup might actually be of use but as a gamer I'd much rather see more CPU, larger storage, etc. Reply
  • Spoelie - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    You forgot the 8GB vram on the GPU. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    I understand the sentiment on the RAID 0 SSDs. Still, I will say that some operations are super fast. For example, after copying over all my Steam files (185GB or so), quite a few games need to have files "validated" -- something doesn't quite get transferred over right. On an HDD and a large game, this can take as long as 5-10 minutes. On a fast SSD, it might take a minute or so. With the GT72, the validation process was the fastest I've ever experienced, probably no more than 15-20 seconds. Is that worth the price premium over a single SSD? Probably not. Reply
  • zepi - Sunday, October 12, 2014 - link

    What is the likelihood of one of four SSD controllers breaking down instead of one? How about wear leveling algorithms of 4x128GB drives instead of one 512GB SSD? I'd guess that at least the later suffers since the controllers can only shuffle data around their own small turf.

    Are the performance benefits really worth this tradeoff when a single fast M.2 Drive should reach over 700MB/s sustained transfer...
    Reply
  • wetwareinterface - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    this isn't the laptop for you. as a gamer you'd be better off buying the base model with 980m and just adding your own m.2 drive and calling it a day. there are 4 different versions of the dominator pro this one being the top specced version. this one is for the ballers and professionals who need the storage system to be fast (think video editing ) and the video ram to be high. Reply

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