MSI GT70 review: Large display, long-Lasting performance

MSI GT70 review: Large display, long-Lasting performance

Great performance, state-of-the-art components, and a nice feel highlight this desktop replacement laptop.

The MSI GT70 is a formidable everyday performer, as well as an excellent gaming machine. When the unit's closed, it even looks the part. Flip it open, and MSI might have been better off shooting for an under-the-radar aesthetic rather than incorporating what look like elements from a Cadillac body kit. Appearances aside (beauty is in the eye of the beholder), the GT70 is a very powerful laptop with only minor foibles.

What's most surprising about the GT70 is its battery life—5 hours and 10 minutes. That's positively Methuselah-like for a desktop replacement this powerful—and is partly due to a capacious 87 watt-hour battery and a less voracious third-gen Intel Core i7-3610QM CPU. Our $2000 test unit also sported 16GB of memory, dual SanDisk U100 60GB solid-state drives configured in RAID 0, a 700GB hard drive, and a Blu-ray burner. Other, cheaper configurations are differentiated only by more sedate storage options.

The GT70's ports and connectivity are state of the art: three USB 3.0 ports, eSATA, gigabit ethernet, and Killer 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi (450 megabits per second), HDMI and VGA video out, an SD card slot, and surround audio. The latter is output via two additional jacks sitting beside the normal headphone and microphone jacks. All are gold-plated, which makes them less prone to oxidation and offers a slightly firmer connection, but doesn't improve sound quality.

Speaking of which, while the GT70's 17.3-inch, 1920-by-1200-pixel display and video playback are top-notch, the audio is significantly less so. Through headphones the sound was decent, but from the speakers it was muddy and seemingly distorted at higher levels. I wasn't in love with the signal output to external speakers either. Call the audio just passable, despite all the marketing hype and the onboard subwoofer.

The gaming frame rates delivered by the GT70's Nvidia GTX670M GPU are very playable, if not quite all the way up the scale. At 1920 by 1080, Crysis 2 dragged a bit when set to high or ultra detail. Dirt 3 was just barely workable at maximum settings. You'll probably need to dial down the detail slightly for smooth game play at the screen's full capacity with most modern titles.

The MSI GT70 also turned in a score of 145 on WorldBench 7, which is very fast, though 55 points off the pace set by the Origin EON17-S, a far pricier unit with an unlocked, overclocked Core i7-3920XM CPU that runs almost 2GHz faster. Still, the feel of GT70's Windows 7 OS and applications is snappy and them some. Our test system also had one of the quickest Windows boot times we've yet seen from a laptop—a mere 25.8 seconds. That includes the initialization of the Intel Rapid Storage RAID controller as well as the network boot utility.

The GT70 induced more than my usual quota of gazing at the review subject in a theta (trancelike) state, largely thanks to the time I had the keyboard's tricolor backlights in pulsating "breathe" mode. There are also normal, dual, and gaming modes that are a tad less transfixing. The keyboard seems to type nicely and has a full numeric keypad, but that may have been an illusion I suffered while in my semihypnotic state. I also imagined that the touchpad and buttons have a nice feel. The laptop has a prominent on/off switch for the keypad and buttons.

On startup, MSI shows you a somewhat busy desktop. Depending on your point of view, you'll think of MSI as considerately providing a lot of value-added software, or saddling you with a lot of useless craplets. The short list of apps includes Norton Online Backup, Magix Video Easy SE and Music Maker 16, and the Qualcomm Atheros Killer Network Manager. KLM is provided to control the keyboard backlighting, and Cyberlink's YouCam utility is included in the 720p Webcam.

The GT70 is heavy: 8.4 pounds by its lonesome, and 10.6 pounds in combination with the hefty AC power brick. It's also large at 16.9 inches wide by 11.1 inches deep by 2.4 inches high. But it's a desktop replacement, a category you shouldn't be shopping if you're not looking to develop your arm musculature.

The laptop does have several mild annoyances. It has no physical eject button for the Blu-ray player disc tray. Instead, a touch control for this is at the top of the keyboard deck, but the included S-Bar toolbar app must be running in order for it to work under Windows. I don't like toolbars. The button does, however, function at boot time sans software. Also, I was unable to permanently disable the Bigfoot network boot agent in the GT70's BIOS—it kept turning itself back on for some as-yet-to-be-explained reason.

I also ran my own primitive test of the Bigfoot Killer Wi-Fi. You most likely need a 450-mbps-capable router to get the full effect of its bandwidth. My Linksys E3000 router is up to only 300 mbps. Still, the GT70 transferred 15GB of largish files at only 10 mbps—while my 6-year old Asus laptop using 802.11g managed 12 mbps. It can be said fearlessly—your results may or may not live up to the hype.

All in all, while the styling might be considered amateurish, and some minor idiosyncrasies exist, MSI has put together an all-around winning package in the GT70. Its 5-hour-plus battery life sets it apart from other high-performance heavyweights, and it's a full $1500 less than its aforementioned EON17-S rival.

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