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)
Intel HD 4600 (Manual Switching)
RAM 32GB (4x8GB) DDR3L-1600
(4x128GB SSDs in RAID 0)
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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  • Ironchef3500 - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    I'll take one.
  • Da W - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    I'll take one of those in a 27" touchscreen all-in-one
  • rodolfwelsh - Tuesday, November 25, 2014 - link

    I think you might be missing some of the best gaming laptops when you consider MSI GT72 (see http://is.gd/EiRvmC for example), at least in my opinion.
  • Highlanderwolf - Monday, April 20, 2015 - link

    And I think that you've clearly missed the difference between a "best gaming laptop" and a "best general use" laptop, considering the fact that you linked a chart placing THREE CHROMEBOOKS above an Asus ROG laptop. At least, that's my opinion.
  • Aegrum - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    Curious to see what the thermals look like. I know this class has suffered from a less-than-ideal cooling solution in the past, but this new chassis leads me to believe they've addressed that...?
  • Khenglish - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    Seconded. If MSI picks up their cooling then there is no reason to pick Clevo over them anymore.
  • Khenglish - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    Well I did some google searches and the CPU cooling looks on par with clevo, but the GPU cooling looks inferior. The fan is not quite a large and spins the wrong way. In addition the GPU core heatpipes only appear to be 5mm, which is the same as the older HM and EM series, but smaller than the dual 6mm on modern SM series. If MSI doesn't warp their die contact plates like clevo does though then unmodded cooling may end up better anyway.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    I haven't looked into this in detail yet, but it looks like the cooling is doing better than before. Clevo's fans are still larger and more powerful, but the laptops are also thicker to accommodate those fans. ASUS still has the quietest gaming solution in my experience, but the G750 is larger than the G72 I'm pretty sure.
  • xenol - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    ASUS's G series has really good cooling without having the laptop take up as much volume as a boat anchor.
  • Meaker10 - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    The G750 series are just as big and do not offer upgradable cards.

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