MSI has a solid reputation in the gaming laptop space: its laptops are generally fairly powerful, heinous monstrosities that get the job done at a fair price. The MSI GT70 fits the mold quite nicely. While it isn’t quite as garish as its forbears, it ticks all of the appropriate “gaming desktop replacement” boxes: heavy, loud, and stuffed to its plastic grilles with performance oriented goodies.
The GT70 I reviewed packs a quad-core Intel Ivy Bridge processor, 16GB of RAM, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 670M GPU, and a pair of SSDs in RAID 0, to start. All that for a mere $2,000 — not cheap, but actually not a bad deal. Is it worth the price? You’ll have to keep reading to find out.
Hardware / design
Hardware / design
Looks aren't everything
The MSI GT70 is pretty big — but you probably expected as much from a gaming laptop. At 8.6 pounds it probably won't twist your back out of shape, but you'll want to consider keeping it on a desk. In fact, tucked indoors is probably the best place for it: I wouldn't go so far as to call the GT70 ugly, but the slight racing aesthetic and bulky plastic chassis telegraph "hardcore gamer" in the least flattering sort of way. The chassis feels solid (as it should, given the size), and the plastic gives way to an aluminum palm rest. The right side of the palm rest is covered in badges and stickers which ruin both the look and feel; annoying, but common and easy enough to remove. The brushed aluminum lid sits on sturdy hinges, opening and closing slowly but smoothly. The MSI logo is arrayed in the center and glows softly when the machine is powered up. The 17.3-inch display will start to flex if you put the slightest bit of pressure on the lid, but that never presented itself as much of a problem while I used the machine. Truth be told, my only real gripe with the GT70's design is that it looks a bit dull — clichéd, even. That said, beauty remains in the eye of the beholder and aesthetic appeal is in no way a deal breaker.
The GT70 is well equipped for the beefy-gaming rig role, sporting a quad-core 2.3GHz Core i7-3610QM, which is backed by 16GB of RAM and a 3GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 670M GPU. A pair of 64GB mSATA solid state drives arranged in RAID 0 host the operating system and applications offering limited but speedy storage, while a 750GB hard drive rounds out the pack. The GT70 offers a fair selection of ports scattered about its base. On the left, you'll find three USB 3.0 ports, a multi-format card reader, and the headphone, microphone, line in, and line out jacks. On the right, you'll find a pair of USB 2.0 ports and the Blu-ray burner. The Gigabit ethernet, VGA, HDMI and eSATA ports are located on the rear alongside with the power plug.
Display / speakers
Fortunately, most games are gray and brown
If you’re sitting still, directly in front of the 17.3-inch, 1920 x 1080 display, you won’t have too much trouble with its performance. That’s not exactly a shining endorsement, but it’s apt: move slightly right or left of center, and the color reproduction starts to suffer. It gets worse when the screen is tilted even slightly — purples become blues, reds become pink — so if you plan on watching movies on this machine you’ll want to find a comfortable position and stay there.
The Dynaudio 2.1 speakers, by contrast, are actually rather nice. The pair of speakers sit at opposite ends of the laptop just over the keyboard tray, pumping audio directly at you. The subwoofer is underneath, towards the rear of the chassis — the raised rubber feet keep the laptop from being muffled. Audio is loud, and while the bass isn’t exactly spine-tingling, there’s a fair amount of oomph pumping out of the cavernous body. A set of nice headphones will arguably serve a bit better, but these speakers will fill a room with sound that doesn’t disappoint.
Keyboard / trackpad
I'll admit, I'm a sucker for lights
The keyboard is designed by SteelSeries — it even says as much right on the bottom left corner of the tray. I’m generally opposed to slapping logos and the like onto PCs, but SteelSeries has earned a reputation for making great peripherals. The full-sized keyboard attached to the GT70 does not disappoint, with wide chiclet keys that spaced evenly, leaving plenty of room for my large mitts. The keys are responsive and offer a fair amount of travel with a satisfying (but not overly loud) click following every tap. Keys are in their usual places, save one — there’s only one Windows key, and it’s on the right. I’d imagine I’m not the only gamer who gave a silent nod of approval, having lost many a match when an errant tap triggered the Windows Start menu instead of a crouch or sprint.
Another great feature: multicolored LED backlighting. I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for lights. Backlit keys are arguably a must (especially if you prefer to quest in the dark), and the GT70’s LED array gives you a fair number of customization options. MSI’s Keyboard LED Manager app does what it says on the tin: pick a color, pick a lighting mode, and pick a section of the keyboard, which is divided into thirds. It’s a simple app, but there are enough options backed in to make a suitably attractive (or garish) color scheme of your own. Colors bleed from one hue to the next, pulse, or simply sit statically, if you’d like to avoid distractions. There’s also a gaming mode, which only dims all but the left side of the keyboard. You’ll need to keep the Keyboard LED Manager app running to keep your light show running, but it disappears into the taskbar’s tray and never caused any fuss while I used it.
The trackpad sits just below the spacebar, a bit closer to the left edge of the keyboard. It’s positioned just about perfectly, staying out of the way of your palms while you’re typing. I also can’t quite recall the last time I used a trackpad on a Windows PC that worked so well — multitouch gestures are tracked effortlessly, and I pinched and scrolled through Windows 7 with ease. It’s a bit disappointing that this isn’t par for the course on Windows laptops, but bravo to MSI for getting such a crucial piece of the puzzle right. That said, this is a gaming notebook, so you’ll probably be plugging a proper mouse in anyway — a toggle switch sitting just over the trackpad’s left edge will shut it off.
Performance / software
Fast, though not quite a barn burner
The MSI GT70 is well equipped, and performed amicably on our battery of tests. Those dual-SSDs in RAID 0 are no slouches; the machine sprang to life in about 26 seconds, and resumed from sleep in about 1.8 seconds. In the AS-SSD benchmark, I measured 659MB / sec reads and 358MB / sec writes out of the pair of 64GB SSDs. Synthetic benchmark performance was also amicable.
|Lenovo ThinkPad X230||8,269||P3,159||4,929|
|Samsung Series 9 (2012, 15-inch)||10,404||P1,693||4,164|
|Acer Timeline Ultra M3||11,896||P6,813||11,201|
|Dell XPS 13||10,242||P1,697||4,193|
|MacBook Air (2011, 13-inch)||10,134||P1,748||4,195|
|HP Envy 15 (late 2011)||7,360||P5,558||8,988|
Gaming performance wasn’t bad, either. The GT70 earned an average of 33 frames per second on High settings in Battlefield 3, and dropped down to 23 frames per second when I cranked it up to Ultra. The Witcher 2 was less forgiving: At Ultra quality, the machine eked out 21 frames per second. I had to dial the game down to the low quality preset to get a smooth 30 frames per second at a 1920 x 1080 resolution. Pull that resolution down to 1680 x 1050, and you can dial up to the medium quality presets. In Just Cause 2, you can feel free to crank things up — the machine earned 34 frames per second at 1920 x 1080 with 4xAA, and 40 frames per second with AA disabled. All told, it’s not bad. If you opted for a proper gaming desktop you would do far better, but the GT70’s performance is right in line with gaming laptops, and doesn’t disappoint.
Bloatware is all but expected on most Windows PCs, but there isn’t too much cruft here. The outright nagware is limited to an antivirus suite and Norton’s Online backup software, which can be uninstalled effortlessly. Of particular note is the Qualcomm Atheros Killer Network Manager, which allows you to track and set network bandwidth on an app by app basis. Corel’s WinDVD handles media playback (including Blu-ray discs), while Cyberlink’s YouCam lets you add silly effects to your webcam videos. MSI’s Burn Recovery app will help you create backup discs, but there are plenty of better options on the market. Finally there’s the S Bar, which plants an icon at the center of the top of the screen; hovering over that icon calls up a menu bar which gives you access to basic hardware controls and some applications. It’s useless: you can accomplish just about everything it does by holding down the Function key on the keyboard, and it won’t pop up over fullscreen windows unless you select it from the taskbar, which kind of makes the mouseover functionality pointless. It also takes up a spot on the Windows taskbar when open, which is its greatest offense; that real estate is precious.
I should mention MSI’s various Eco Modes: they’re generally glorified power options, but there’s also a Turbo Mode that’s activated by way of a button just over the keyboard’s function row. It’s really just a play on Intel’s Turbo Boost technology. A refresher: Turbo Boost allows Intel CPUs to automatically overclock themselves when they’re active and haven’t hit their maximum TDP. In the case of the MSI GT70, the 2.3GHz Core i7-3610QM will climb as far as 2.7GHz when necessary, but often settles somewhere in between. MSI’s Turbo Mode simply forces the CPU to throttle up to the max whenever the CPU is pegged. The performance difference is going to be negligible: slightly better performance in applications that are CPU dependent, but games generally aren’t going to see much of a bump.
Battery, heat and noise
The Verge Battery Test cycles through 100 top websites and downloads high-resolution images with screen brightness set to 65%, until a machine's battery dies. The GT70 lasted for four hours and fourteen minutes, which is actually pretty good for such a beefy gaming machine. My own usage is a bit more strenuous — I keep the display brightness cranked up and stream music while I work, and saw about three hours and forty minutes of use before the GT70 finally called it quits. You'll need to keep that power adapter handy if you're looking to get some gaming done however, as the Nvidia GPU throttles down whenever the machine is running on battery and simply can't keep up with games.
|Lenovo ThinkPad X230||7:10|
|Samsung Series 9||6:01|
|Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M3||5:42|
|HP Envy Spectre||5:14|
|Dell XPS 13||4:55|
Heat was never a problem: I wouldn’t recommend ever putting the machine in your lap, but it isn’t likely to scald you while it’s cutting off your circulation. The fans can get awfully annoying though, spurring to life while the machine is doing a bit of heavy lifting and a bit louder than I’d like.
I’m torn. The MSI GT70 is a fair deal, offering strong performance (for a gaming laptop) without much in the way of caveats. The keyboard is excellent, the speakers pump out loud, solid audio, and the trackpad is precise and responsive. It certainly isn’t as chic as the Razer Blade, but you’ll ultimately get better performance (thanks to Ivy Bridge and a newer GPU) without spending too much. And therein lies the rub. Unless you’re dead set on hauling a behemoth to gaming events fairly regularly, I’d honestly recommend building your own PC; you can choose your own parts, and get better performance for less. It’s also incredibly easy, just follow our guide if you’re at all unsure. If you'd prefer to to have someone else handle building and maintaining your PC, you could pick up a gaming rig with superior specs and a decent display, and still have a bit of cash left over for some games. Of course, you'd lose out on that nebulous portability factor, but you probably won't be toting this 8.6-pound machine around much anyway. That said, if you must spend your money on a PC gaming platform you can take with you, the MSI GT70 will not disappoint.