Introducing the MSI GT70 Dragon Edition

You'll forgive me if deja vu is striking. This is the third time we've had a chance to test this chassis from MSI (the first being the iBuyPower Valkyrie CZ-17 and the second being the CyberPower FangBook). Each time there's been an incremental hardware update, but this is also the first time we've seen this notebook directly from MSI and more than that, this flagship edition brings a tremendous amount of hardware to bear. The GT70 Dragon Edition may have the same basic chassis, but MSI has secret sauce hiding under the hood.

While it may seem like there's not much left to say about this chassis that hasn't already been addressed in those previous reviews, as it turns out, there are both some new wrinkles that materialize with this ultra high end build and some old wrinkles that are finally making themselves apparent.

First, this review isn't just about the MSI GT70. Under the hood we also have the benefit of testing Intel's shiny new Core i7-4700MQ based off of the new Haswell microarchitecture. We're also getting to check out NVIDIA's brand new GeForce GTX 780M, the first full GK104 part available in a notebook. The 680M was no slouch, but with the 780M we're getting all of the shader clusters, a healthy boost in clocks, and NVIDIA's Boost 2.0 technology.

CyberPowerPC FangBook Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-4700MQ
(4x2.4GHz + HTT, Turbo to 3.4GHz, 22nm, 6MB L3, 47W)
Chipset Intel HM87
Memory 4x8GB A-Data DDR3-1600 (Maximum 32GB)
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M 4GB GDDR5
(1536 CUDA cores, 771MHz/797/5GHz core/boost/memory clocks, 256-bit memory bus)

Intel HD 4600 Graphics
(20 EUs, up to 1.15GHz)
Display 17.3" LED Matte 16:9 1080p
Chi Mei N173HGE-L11
Hard Drive(s) 3x SanDisk X100 128GB mSATA 6Gbps SSD in RAID 0

Western Digital Scorpio Blue 1TB 5400-RPM SATA 6Gbps HDD
Optical Drive TSSTCorp SN-506BB Blu-ray writer
Networking Killer Networks e2200 PCIe Gigabit Ethernet
Killer Wireless-N 1202 dual-band 2x2 802.11a/b/g/n
Bluetooth 4.0
Audio Realtek ALC892 HD audio (Sound Blaster Cinema)
2.1 speakers
Mic, headphone, line-in, and line-out jacks
Battery 9-cell, 87Wh
Front Side -
Right Side 2x USB 2.0
Optical drive
Left Side Vent
3x USB 3.0
SD card reader
Mic, headphone, line-in, and line-out jacks
Back Side Kensington lock
AC adapter
Operating System Windows 8 64-bit
Dimensions 16.9" x 11.3" x 2.2"
429.3mm x 287mm x 55.9mm
Weight 8.6 lbs
Extras Webcam
USB 3.0
Card reader
SoundBlaster Cinema audio
Killer Networks wireless and wired networking
Configurable backlit keyboard
3x mSATA SSD Striped RAID
Warranty 2-year parts and labor
Pricing $2,699

Starting from the top, the new Dragon Edition (searchable as Dragon Edition 2) features an Intel Core i7-4700MQ socketed quad-core CPU. More informed readers will note that Haswell chips don't feature higher clocks than their outgoing Ivy Bridge counterparts, so all CPU performance improvements are purely architectural. The i7-4700MQ, outside of its GPU, is on paper identical to the outgoing i7-3630QM: 2.4GHz nominal clock speed, with turbo bins of up to 3.2GHz on three or four cores, 3.3GHz on two cores, and 3.4GHz on just one core. As a flagship notebook it's a bit surprising that MSI opted for the entry-level Haswell quad, but you'll see CPU performance isn't really the limiting factor here.

Attached to the i7-4700MQ is 32GB of DDR3-1600, more than most users are going to ever need but appreciated nonetheless. The shiny new HM87 chipset brings much needed 6Gbps support across all of the SATA ports, and MSI takes advantage of this by configuring three SanDisk X100 SandForce-based mSATA SSDs in RAID 0. While this is extremely fast and capable of being much, much faster than just using a single SSD, there's no subjective difference. The biggest change a user can make is just jumping to a good SSD in the first place, and I've always been skeptical of SSDs in striped RAID for consumer use.

Of course, the other big news is the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M, and despite being based on the same silicon as the GeForce GTX 680M, NVIDIA brings to bear a very healthy performance boost. Everything is up but the TDP: from the 680M's 1344 CUDA cores we're up to GK104's full 1536, GPU clocks are up from the nominal 720MHz to a bare minimum 771MHz, and memory speed is up from 3.6GHz to a fantastic 5GHz. Boost clocks on the 780M ensure that it's constantly performing as fast as it can, and in testing I saw it spending a substantial amount of time over 900MHz, essentially biting the heels of a desktop GTX 680's stock clock. On top of that, GK104 tends to be memory bandwidth limited, so the nearly 50% faster memory clocks should go a long way towards improving performance further.

Finally, MSI has gone with Killer Networking across the board. While I'm iffy on the need for Killer wired networking, Jarred has personally tested their wireless and found it to be a substantial upgrade over conventional Centrino wireless networking. Dual-band support also gets the Dragon Edition a pat on the head.

System Performance
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  • EzioAs - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    I knew something was wrong when I saw the benchmarks and the GTX 780M was lower than the GTX 680M. Single fan. What were they thinking? I'd say just drop the RAID SSDs, lower the amount of RAM to 16GB and focus on a more terrific cooling. RAID SSDs and more than absurd amount of RAM isn't required for gaming.

    Sadly, it's just as you said Dustin, their "feature set" solution is the main attraction. A lot of people who spend tons on a gaming notebook (especially the less informed) would probably buy these just because it has more features even though it's reliability/usability goes down the drain.
  • axien86 - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    It turns out both system builders AND OEMS were surprised that Intel overhyped and overpromised on the thermal performance characteristics of Haswell.

    First article to report this was PCPro UK: "Intel Haswell is hotter and slower than expected."

    Second article by TheVerge: Can Intel deliver on Haswell Hype? Many OEMs interviewed indicate that Haswell does not mostly deliver on Intel's promise and claims.
  • EzioAs - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    That's one thing. But just because they didn't get the promised thermal performance doesn't mean they should keep the poor cooling design. They did test products before it's released so they should know about the heat issues. I'm guessing they've decided to skip redesign and just let this model sell for it's features alone since not a lot of people read reviews, most of them just look at the specs and features. I'm very disappointed with MSIs decision in this matter.

    Their video cards coolers are one of the best (Twin Frozr and Cyclone are great), so you'd think you can expect something similar in one of their gaming laptops.
  • xdrol - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    They did not start the design of this laptop when the first tests of Haswell arrived, rather they started on whatever Intel promised. If Haswell were supercool as promised, then a one-fan design would be good enough (making space for... 3x SSD raid for instance).
  • mczak - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    intel didn't overpromise. Sure everybody was somewhat expecting better perf/w but pretty much the only thing intel really promised was lower idle power. Besides, the TDP numbers were set ages ago and I haven't seen anything that they are off (yes turbo can exceed TDP but that's nothing new and clearly stated how it works in the datasheets). Plus it wouldn't really make a difference anyway as the cpu is only responsible for less than a third of the thermal budget of the cpu+gpu combo. (I have however no idea if the gtx780m itself is worse than what OEMs were expecting, at the very least I'd not be surprised there, because the gtx680mx was a imac exclusive because it exceeded the "usual" 100W TDP figure for mobile chips, and the gtx780m which is pretty much the same chip is in fact clocked higher AND supposedly is now using "only" 100W - unfortunately there's no power figures in this review compared to the older 680m which could help answer this.)
  • Sabresiberian - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    No, they slapped in components in an existing design that was already flawed. And, the major source of heat isn't the CPU, it's the GPU - CPU intensive performance that didn't use much GPU power was fine, it was only in apps where the GPU really needed to kick it up a notch, and the CPU also needed to supply top power, that the CPU throttled. Obvious conclusion: main source of throttling heat was the GPU, and it was woefully, badly, cooled, meaning the whole system was badly cooled.

    It was improperly cooled when the 680 part was in, and it's worse now.

    And, I don't recall Intel ever saying that every CPU with the "Haswell" name on it would be low powered. The whole design is a step in the direction of achieving lower power, but the real low-powered parts are those intended for smaller, lighter form factors, not full-blown gaming notebooks.
  • Sabresiberian - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    You missed the part in the article where OEMs said it was their adaptation of the Haswell CPUs that would slow down the proper adaptation of the lower powered SKUs, not Haswell itself. As per usual, most of them waited until the CPU was released to even think about new design considerations. Seriously, what's up with that?

    The major problem in the PC industry is that manufacturers have largely based their increases in sales by what Microsoft and Intel did; a new OS or new CPU used to mean new sales - but what if one or both of these companies takes a new direction, and OEMs don't take advantage of it? Lower sales and bad products is what happens. MSI has only itself to blame for the failures of this "could have been great" notebook.
  • alcalde - Thursday, June 27, 2013 - link

    >would probably buy these just because it has more features even though it's reliability/usability
    >goes down the drain.

    It doesn't "go down the drain" at all. It's still plenty fast enough to play almost every mainstream title at 1080p and high settings. Whether some other system gets 2 or 3 FPS higher on a particular game is really irrelevant.

    >RAID SSDs and more than absurd amount of RAM isn't required for gaming.

    Most people spending this kind of money are looking for more than a portable X-Box; they want a laptop they can use for demanding applications and be a desktop replacement. A desktop is more than a GPU.
  • TheinsanegamerN - Thursday, July 11, 2013 - link

    yeah, those other laptops that run 2-3 fps faster? they also run 15-20c cooler without 50db of noise. they are better designed for the work they are doing. and raid ssds are useless for gaming. games are big, and id rather have a cache ssd and a big hdd for games. or a single big ssd. same deal with ram. if you actually need that much ram, you shouldn't be buying a gaming notebook.
  • wdfmph - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    Thanks for the review. I'm sure it's good. The test on Intel Core i7-4700MQ is absolutely necessary and it is the first review of the processor I have ever seen.

    I just don't get the concept of "gaming laptop". It's so against the general trend for a laptop, which calls for a thinner, lighter and more durable ones. For me it's ridiculous to carry around an 8 lbs "back breaker" and play 2 hour game on a small screen. Get a desktop maybe way better for PC gamers. Or get an console at 10% of the price of this beast.

    I would really appreciate if anandtech can have a test on the new slim laptops, such as vaio pro 11/13, new Acer S7, or asus zenbook infinity.

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