MSI GT70 Dragon Edition Notebook Review: Haswell and the GTX 780Mby Dustin Sklavos on June 18, 2013 12:01 AM EST
I had been hoping the MSI GT70 Dragon Edition would be an able demonstration of the performance of Intel's Haswell and NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 780M. While we can isolate the CPU performance easily enough, isolating GPU performance is much trickier. NVIDIA is using boost clocks on the GTX 780M, which means it's able to turbo up depending on thermal and power headroom, and there's actually a healthy enough variation in clocks that different chassis will be able to produce different levels of performance.
There's also the cooling system of the MSI GT70 Dragon Edition, which either doesn't have or just barely has the capacity to handle a combined 150W of heat.
Entry-level gaming results are in Bench, but suffice to say the GTX 780M is more than adequate for those settings, and so for the review I'm going to stick to Mainstream and Enthusiast level benchmarks.
In situations where the CPU is not a limiting factor, the 780M is able to boast a healthy lead on the 680M. But you'll notice that the GT70 Dragon is actually underperforming in certain cases; the CPU is getting throttled due to heat. The superior cooling system of the Alienware M17x is able to dissipate far more heat than the GT70's is.
Situations that stress the GPU more exclusively can result in healthy gains over the 680M, but overall stress on the CPU stemming from processor-intensive games like Skyrim and StarCraft II, as well as the hit from TressFX in Tomb Raider, effectively keeps the 780M from really stretching its legs.
Remember that on paper, at stock clocks, the 780M has at least 22% more shader power than the 680M and 39% more memory bandwidth. That means that, bare minimum, the 780M should be roughly 15%-20% faster than its predecessor. We're getting that in the traditionally GPU intensive Sleeping Dogs and Metro: Last Light, and most of it in BioShock: Infinite. But other games see lower gains, or are even slower on the GT70 Dragon Edition despite it having directly superior hardware.
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EzioAs - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - linkI 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 - linkIt 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 - linkThat'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 - linkThey 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 - linkintel 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 - linkNo, 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 - linkYou 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 - linkyeah, 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 - linkThanks 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.