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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  • TheinsanegamerN - Thursday, July 11, 2013 - link

    the clevo w230st is 13 inch with the hardware power of a fully upgraded alienware 14. and way cheaper too.
  • kallogan - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

  • hellfish - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    if you read the story its msi fan fail. To quote "Haswell is certainly faster clock for clock"
  • ZeDestructor - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    Optical Drive TSSTCorp SN-506BB Blu-ray writer

    Chuck this out and you have all the space you need for cooling. While keeping room for another HDD or mSATA/mPCI-E SSD Cluster. Seriously, optical media needs to die. ASAP!
  • Darkstone - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    Dustin, you have to be careful detecting clock speeds. Furmark is the only tool i know that correctly detects graphics card throtteling in every case. For an example, see taken from GPU-z thinks that the GPU is happily running at it's max clock speeds. This is obviously not the case.

    On the CPU side, CPU-z seems to be unable to detect throtteling in all cases with haswell. See taken from CPU-z states the CPU runs at 2.8Ghz, so does Intel turbo boost monitor. Yet Hardware Monitor measures a package power of 12.63w. No way that is possible on that clock speeds while running 8 threads on prime95. I have personally tested an i7-3820QM under prime95 and it draws around 45W @ 3.2Ghz. Haswell shouldn't be that much more power efficient under load.
  • MrSpadge - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    Or the power reading is wrong?

    Crunching BOINC on my HD4000 results in 12 -14 W reported power draw, depending on clock speeds. Yet at the wall I'm drawing 16 - 32 W (1150 - 1350 MHz with adjusted voltage), so it seems those reading simply do not factor supply voltage in, which seems perplexing.
  • Darkstone - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    The maximum power draw of the HD 3000 is around 12w, or 20w with furmark, those results are not surprising. Intel uses the same sensor to determine when to throttle the processor. My i7-2820QM runs around 2.6Ghz when all 8 threads are stressed, consuming 45w. Under lighter loads the processor still consumes 45w on higher clock speeds.

    I usually use the Package Power sensor to determine whether the processor is throttling instead of the clock speeds.
  • Paapaa125 - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    Please include units to upper battery life charts. "229"? Points? Minutes? Hours? What?
  • Meaker10 - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    The fan draws air from the bottom vents (not directly under the fan) and from the keyboard and blows it out the back and side at the same time. It does not suck air through either heatsink.

    The paste job on your cpu likley needed redoing.
  • Meaker10 - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    Further cooler boost takes your cpu temps down to 86 at which point you should not see any throttle.The issue may actually be the 180w brick at thwt point.

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