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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  • Darkstone - Wednesday, June 19, 2013 - link

    Of course it can throttle at 70°. Notebookcheck recently tested a clevo with haswell that throttles at 70°

    A classmate of mine uses to have an low-end HP with A6 APU. The part throttled as soon as it hit 70°. The throttling temperature is a choice. The thinkpad's throttle at 100°, the XPS 15 (l521x) does not throttle at all (shutdown) with early bios.
  • JarredWalton - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    Excuse me, huaxshin, aka Cloudfire/Cloudfire777 from our forums, aka Cloudfire over at NotebookReview forums:

    One, we're not looking at the Ivy Bridge i7-3610QM with GTX 680M, are we? Two, we don't fix problems caused by the manufacturer of a notebook (though we do tend to email them and say, "this is underperforming...."). Three, I said "I'm wondering..." not "this is happening"; on further investigations, it appears to be mostly Enduro/APU related. Four, no other review out there is showing results with the GT70 Dragon Haswell+780M edition that are actually significantly different than our numbers; oh, they test different games, and when the CPU isn't taxed as much and therefore doesn't get as hot and therefore doesn't throttle, performance of GTX 780M can be higher than GTX 680M, but that's not what happens in a lot of games.

    Are we done here? You appear to like MSI a lot, having owned one of their laptops and having also commented extensively on forums under the name Cloudfire about MSI hardware. Maybe you own some other notebooks as well, maybe not. The fact is, we report on what we are sent, and if a manufacturer wants to fix a problem they can get in contact with us. When hardware is shipping to end users, though, it's not time to delay for several weeks or more to get an even better cherry picked sample; it's time to post findings. Our findings right now are that MSI's latest GT70 Dragon with GTX 780M and Haswell has some serious problems. Until/unless those get fixed, we cannot recommend this notebook.

    Show me a review that has the same notebook hardware (not a "similar" notebook that has Ivy Bridge or GTX 680M!), and they have some figures that show much better performance and lower temperatures under similar tests to what we have posted, get back to me. Notebookcheck, incidentally, has not actually reviewed this particular laptop. Neither has NotebookReview. Most places that have reviewed it only have one or two gaming tests, often with substantially inferior hardware on a "comparable" system -- like, using GTX 675MX vs. GTX 780M instead of GTX 680M. The fact is that we ran a full suite of tests with the 780M and several other laptops, even going so far as to delay the review a bit to get a full set of up to date GTX 680M numbers. No one else even tried to do that, and at best I've seen reviews with three games and numbers from three or four laptops.
  • huaxshin - Wednesday, June 19, 2013 - link

    Sure, compare motherboard with a notebook. That makes sense.

    You have an axe to grind against MSI, so you jump in with this childish comment.
  • BobBobson - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    A good honest review, the first of its kind I have read. This review corresponds to the behavior of my own GT70 notebook.

    Perhaps MSI somehow got a GT70 intended for the masses mixed up with a cherry picked GT70 intended for the Anandtech review.
  • landsome - Wednesday, June 19, 2013 - link

    Well, no intention here to fan the fire, but I find it all of this ironic. I own a GT663R and it performs admirably cool with a 920XM (55w) and a replacement videocard of the (now almost) last generation - a 7970M. At stock speeds it's 89C max for the CPU and 83C max for the GPU in prime+furmark - and all that on a Delta 150W psu, on a moderately hot summer day, no throttling, no other cooling except a few holes drilled below the single fan (not my doing). Both CPU and GPU are supposed to be powerhogs and pretty hot too.

    So while it's pretty obvious huaxshin has a big axe to grind (if only in light of his persistence), I would also assume MSI has done an improper paste job on Dustin's sample (not their prerogative exclusively - I once gained an amazing -13C by repasting a Dell M6600). What this says about QC @ MSI is another matter entirely...
  • pinkyswear - Wednesday, June 19, 2013 - link

    In the review, you said the system fan pulls air in from the back and exhausts it through the side vent. The fan would actually pull in air from the bottom and exhaust it through the side and the back. If it felt to your hand like air was cool in the back and warm on the side, it means the heatsink for the 780M was working and the 4700MQ was not. When you opened up the machine to take pictures, did you remove any part of the CPU heatsink? The fact that no warm air is blowing out of the back means that something is wrong with the CPU or the heatsink installation.
  • Khenglish - Thursday, June 20, 2013 - link

    Yes there is no way that air is coming in through the CPU radiator. It may seem that way though because since the fan spins clockwise (when looking at the laptop with the bottom plate off), it will build up air speed for the 270 degrees that there is no radiator and blow that out the GPU radiator, while the CPU radiator does not have any air buildup, and thus the air move through it much more slowly and is hard to feel.

    If you guys put you hand to your laptop fans you will notice that far more air blows through one side than the other.

    One fan just does not cut it with these high power components. Then when you add on that MSI uses aluminum radiators, you just have disaster.
  • secretmanofagent - Thursday, June 20, 2013 - link

    Just wanted to say, great review, ignore the spam flying around.
  • watzupken - Friday, June 21, 2013 - link

    Having done some homework back then while looking out for a gaming laptop, I do agree that the cooling does look insufficient for a high end gaming laptop. I really doubt the blower fan is pushing out sufficient air through both the heatsinks.
  • michael777 - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    I would like to refer in this discussion for a moment to MSI GT70H-80M4811B which was mentioned somewhere above. The cheaper dragons brother was on my shopping list until I read this massive discussion here. To remind it it has the same CPU and GPU with only one SSD and 8GB Ram, rest stays the same. In most of the german webstores the above costs approx 2000 euros and unfortuantely nowhere you can have an alienware with i7 and 780GTX for that price. So there goes my question: if you not willing spending on a gaming laptop more that 2000 does that underperfoming is really such an issue? Isnt it still the best laptop speaking of gaming performance for that money? Am I risking anything more then few frames less in few games compare to actually more expensive competition? Thanks for advice and lots of professional info here.

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