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
Ethernet
D-SUB
Mini-DisplayPort
HDMI
Vent
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
3.9kg
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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  • Shayler - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    I must say, after comparing this article with Notebookcheck's much more professional and thorough review, I'm disappointed in your outcome.

    With such comments as, "...a few runs of games and some stress testing..." I'm forced to question your methodology which throws your entire review into question.

    Please see Notebookcheck's test of this system (the non dragon edition) and reevaluate your review.

    http://www.notebookcheck.net/Review-MSI-GT70H-80M4...
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    Given that Notebookcheck's review is of a slightly different build, it may not have the issues we noticed in this review. Our review is what we would expect an end user to get if they buy the GT70 Dragon with i7-4700MQ and GTX 780M right now; if you get a similar system with the MSI chassis but assembled by a boutique that uses different thermal paste, you may see better results. If you're willing to disassemble your notebook to replace the thermal grease, you may also see improved performance and lower temperatures, but we don't expect most end users to resort to such measures. Reply
  • michael777 - Tuesday, June 25, 2013 - link

    Thats great but to come back to my question you cant have a laptop with these specs (considering MSI GT70H-80M4811B) for the price of 2000 euros. So what am I actually risking apart from the hot machine and few frames less in few games? Reply
  • Shayler - Tuesday, June 25, 2013 - link

    Hi Jarred,

    Thanks for taking the time to respond.

    The internals on these systems are identical. The MSI GT60/70 (regardless of model name/number) and all bare bones use the same cooling system. In fact, you can remove the all of these parts and interchange them. Including the motherboards!

    My thought is, you received a bad sample. No one expects the end user to repaste their system (even though it's very easy on these models), but from personal experience with this model, I know for a fact that the temperatures you're reporting are far above normal even with silicon based thermal compounds.

    My concern with your review is the lack of documentation. Where's your methodology? What games did you play, at what settings, and for how long? Wheat benchmarks did you run? What were your ambient temperatures?

    Contact MSI, have them send you a new sample, document your methodology and results, and reevaluate your review.

    If you have the same results, post them and have your, "I told you so." moment.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, June 25, 2013 - link

    My point about the internals is that special editions (e.g. the Dragon Edition) may go through a modified assembly line at the factory. Dell and others do this as well -- it's an optimization for a SKU that they expect to sell more units, and it simplifies things as they don't have to custom build every single notebook. You just put the same parts in every Dragon and thus it's faster and easier -- but what if you happen to have a minor glitch on the thermal paste application?

    Oh, if only it were that easy. I'll see if Dustin wants to do a follow up...or I can ask as well. Sometimes it's difficult to get even one notebook sample in for review, and if it's not a favorable review they may just try to cut their losses. Anyway, no promises that it will happen, but I'll at least give it a try. Stay tuned....
    Reply
  • michael777 - Tuesday, June 25, 2013 - link

    Looks like its a bit hard for the author(s) of that review to find an answer for my pretty simple question and, in fact, their own statement. So ill try again, what laptop with i7-4700MQ and gtx780 can you find for the similar money even if the cooling isnt the strongest point of this one? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, June 25, 2013 - link

    Here are a few vendors stocking Clevo builds (no mSATA RAID, but that's not a huge issue IMO)....

    AVADirect:
    http://www.avadirect.com/gaming-laptop-configurato...
    http://www.avadirect.com/gaming-laptop-configurato...
    http://www.avadirect.com/gaming-laptop-configurato...

    Eurocom (http://www.eurocom.com/) -- look at their gaming notebooks X3/X5/X7.

    OriginPC (tend to be a bit more expensive): http://www.originpc.com/gaming/laptops/

    Mythlogic: http://www.mythlogic.com/mobile.php (Pollux 1613)

    Alienware 17: http://www.dell.com/us/p/alienware-17/fs

    If you're looking at a $2700 notebook like this, there are certainly other options, including beastly SLI setups if you don't mind spending even more money and carrying around a gigantic notebook. They all have pros and cons for certain, but I'd be more inclined to spend a few extra hundred if it's the difference between throttling/cooler temperatures and not. Or maybe it really is just the thermal paste -- we'll see if we can get a second sample for testing.
    Reply
  • Trkkr - Tuesday, August 20, 2013 - link

    I'm looking for the same answers as michael. Jarred, do you know if any of the manufacturers you have listed here have had their 17.3" GTX 780M models reviewed? If they haven't what's to keep their systems from suffering from cooling issues as well (they might have dual fans but that doesn't mean their systems will stay any cooler). Thanks. Reply
  • Globemaster - Thursday, June 27, 2013 - link

    How do you reconcile the folks at gentechpc getting temps of 60 CPU and 65 GPU when running the similar benchmarks on the same Dragon Edition 2 at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVjv2gcB7uc. I know they have a commercial interest, but doubt they faked the video. I'll be getting mine tomorrow and will try to replicate what you had here. Rest assured, if I get these results, it'll be going back. I just really think you got a lemon. That should be noted, but in my experience with reviews (even of SimCity V), most reviewers try to evaluate a working version of a product while making note of the possible quality control issues rather than just trash the product completely when results come in that seem unreasonable. Possibly at least worth a note in the article that you might have just gotten a lemon, rather than making people search through the comments to find alternate hypotheses. Reply
  • Globemaster - Friday, July 05, 2013 - link

    Just upgraded to 320.49 drivers and got 5002 on Firestrike 3DMark 2013 (same config 4700MQ and 780M) and temps never exceeded 74 on CPU or GPU. Not sure why you got a better score on older drivers with such high temps here (was yours force overclocked???), but I had hoped for over 5000 and hit it. I was getting 4600 with the stock 311.xx drivers. The only scores I'm seeing higher are oc'd through bios or 3rd party programs. My 2 year old Sager with a 485M only got 1563, so this more than triples performance. I'm thriled with this laptop and will be keeping it. Reply

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