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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  • NA1NSXR - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    Maybe some of us can't have a desktop, which is kind of the point of the segment. Not everyone is anchored down to a town, a state, or even a country. For me, someone who was accustomed to powerful desktops, resorting to a laptop for everything I need a computer to do was hard, but it had to be done after taking a job overseas. Thanks to this segment, I have preserved all of the functionality of my desktop with reasonable performance. The big chassis allows these machines to be overclocked to decent speeds. My Ivy Bridge is running at 3.8GHz on 4 cores and 4GHz on 1, and my 680M runs at 967MHz on load, all with excellent temperatures. I would say I salvaged a good 80% of my desktop performance after being forced on to a laptop and on a day to day basis this is quite acceptable. If this segment did not exist my situation would require a huge compromise in my computing experience, so these "back breakers" are far from ridiculous to me.
  • wdfmph - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    Yes, for people constantly on their way to somewhere and needs tons of computing power, it make sense.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    Just because you don't understand a concept doesn't mean it intrinsically has no value. I don't personally like ultrabooks at all, but I recognize their appeal and purpose, and I recognize why they exist.

    What you need to understand is that the traditional notebook is effectively being put out to pasture. Entry-level computing is going to be done with tablets and convertibles in not too long, ultrabooks are going to be for actual portable computing, and for high performance mobile computing, gaming laptops and mobile workstations will persist. There are a million reasons to go with just a laptop; my M17x R3 goes with me to friends' houses frequently to game, and on trips it's a good substitute for a full on desktop.

    Also consider that PC gaming is enjoying a bit of a resurgence in popularity right now. We cover what we're sent, and the GTX 780M especially is worth covering.
  • wdfmph - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    I understand there's a niche market for gaming laptop and personally I liked the design of the already dead Voodoo PC. I like pay games on PC. I'm happy to see many AAA PC games coming out. With all due respect, gaming laptop is good for hardcore gamers like you to carry around. It better than carrying a huge computer case to attend a LAN party.

    I wish someday I could only take my phone and ipad to go to work. However, if I try that tomorrow, or someday next year, I am basically fooling around at office. A new Surface pro might be something close try, but with a price and weight like that, many might just opt for an "traditional" notebook such as Macbook air or slim ultrabook. Tablets and convertibles are making attempts to substitute notebooks in some way, but to be successful, serious efforts are needed from silicon to software.I don't see that will happen soon.
  • RAWRscary - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    Amazing how narrow of a view you have.
  • Flunk - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    I actually own both a "gaming" laptop and a desktop system. The laptop is useful when out and about and good enough for a game on the go, but I mostly bought it for software development because it was cheaper than a mobile workstation. The one I have is a little smaller (6.5lbs) but I don't find the weight or size unmanageable. As long as it fits in the backpack I'm good.
  • BobBobson - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    Yes wdfmph, that is right!

    And I dont understand those queer African types who walk 10 miles every morning just to fetch some water from the well. Why don't they just go to their kitchens and turn on the cold water tap!? Idiots!
  • ickibar1234 - Saturday, June 29, 2013 - link

    Gaming laptops now days aren't just for gamers, they are for Engineers and computer enthusiasts. GPUs can do so much more than just rendering these days. Also the ability to put in an Extreme CPU years down the road for cheap is a great deal.
  • skiboysteve - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    Thanks for the review. Good to see people using the haswell quads. Too bad this one sucks.

    I really want a thin and light laptop with the 4900MQ or 4950HQ and no discrete graphics. Just a work laptop CPU powerhouse. Only 47W to dissipate with no graphics to worry about. Why doesn't anyone build this? I would buy it for work today!
  • Flunk - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    There are actually a few options for a quad-core Haswell without discrete graphics. Look at business-class systems like Thinkpads, Dell Lattitude or maybe HP's Elitebooks.

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