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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  • huaxshin - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    I used to own a GT70. It had GTX 680M and i7 3610QM. The components reached maybe max 72C after gaming for many hours. So I`m raising big question about this review since the thermal capacity have improved along with a GPU with slightly higher Core count.

    And the fact that you got HIGHER temperatures than Notebookcheck when they pushed the GPU and the CPU to the very limit by using artificial benchmarks like Prime95 and Furmark. Programs known to have killed a dozen of systems because of the stress they put on the components.

    How do you explain that?

    I absolutely believe you got a notebook with some crappy paste job. And that caused the game tests you have to show a incorrect picture of the newest GTX 780M as well as MSIs own notebook. I hope you have contacted MSI to get a new system or atleast some explanation, because what this review shows is not normal.

    Nor is fair to compare Razer, very thin notebook with low end components, with a pure gaming notebook, which is very thick, and have the industries biggest fan to cool off the components. Which you failed to write about in the review. Its not just 1 fan, but a big one.

    180W PSU is also more than enough, shown by internal tests by resellers I know. It even allows overclocking. The CPU throttling didn`t come from lack of power, it came from bad temperatures.
  • huaxshin - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    Time to redo the review. For the sake of Anandtech as well as MSIs reputation.

  • ZeDestructor - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    "I used to own a GT70. It had GTX 680M and i7 3610QM. The components reached maybe max 72C after gaming for many hours. So I`m raising big question about this review since the thermal capacity have improved along with a GPU with slightly higher Core count."

    Did you read the review? The older model CLEARLY had a different cooling design. Like, 2 fans vs 1. On opposite ends of the chassis.
  • huaxshin - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    Eh, no. MSI have never had 2 fans.

    And yes, the older model had a different cooling design. A worse one.
  • ZeDestructor - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    Actually, I take that back, here's the old model:

    as you may notice: SEPERATE heatpipes. Somehow they didn't account for the VRMs moving on chip.... Gee, maybe they should've paid attention when Intel announced quite proudly that Haswell would have integrated VRMs. and started redesigning there and then.

    The 680M is a cut-down, lower power version of the 780M too, so naturally it will run cooler.
  • BobBobson - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    Gee Whizz....

    Are you still pumping your gums about this?

    Call the MSI secret police and hit squad, a negative review has hit the dare they!
  • Darkstone - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    It's unfair to compare the temperatures of notebookcheck vs anandtech, because notebookcheck measured quite serve throtteling issues as well. The CPU was basely running at 1/4th of the designed power consumption. It's clearly in the screenshots, yet the reviewer didn't even mention it.
  • mercutiouk - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    I notice our shill doesn't respond to this.
  • ZeDestructor - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    "And I absolutely believe engineers would consider 98C for a CPU core to be normal."

    As an engineering student who used to run an old acer at an idle of 85+°C and load of 102°C (with the bottom panel completely off), I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes constraints happen and stuff like this gets forced through QA and validation. Someone in marketing probably wanted a quieter machine, so the engineers tried something proven in a rather new way: single heatsink with a single giant fan. While the concept is great, it really needs more refinement. See the old Dell Precision M4400 (quad-core with top-end Quadro FX parts) for single-fan setups done right. ish. They probably run quite a bit hotter than my E6500 ¬_¬

    Since I got my desktop, my priorities regarding laptops have changed, so I rock an awesome little X220 tablet for uni/mobile work. with a much more reasonable 40-75°C range. I can make it hit 97°C using IBT, but IBT is a pretty special little torture test, much like FurMark.

    Talking of which, you guys should review convertible tablet PCs and more enterprise laptops that aren't HP Elitebooks. There's a severe lack of ThinkPad and Latitude reviews around here :(
  • cjl - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    The fact of the matter is, the test sample (which I would tend to think would be tested pretty heavily before it was sent out to a reviewer) had a woefully inadequate cooling system. Whether it was a bad thermal paste job (possible), or simply the fact that they were trying to cool a combined ~150W of TDP with a single small fan (more likely IMHO). Look at the Alienware design - two separate thermal systems, one for the CPU with a similar fan to the one in the MSI, and one significantly thicker fan with a different design (more similar to the blowers on high-end video cards) for the GPU, along with 3 dedicated heatpipes for the GPU and 2 for the CPU. The MSI design has two dedicated heatpipes for each, and one shared heatpipe (and I'm skeptical how useful a shared heatpipe would be, regardless of what kind of fancy marketing-speak MSI uses to describe it), all cooled by a single fan that looks similar to the Alienware's CPU fan alone.

    Would improved TIM help? It would probably be good for a couple of degrees, but I doubt it would reduce the CPU temps to acceptable levels. The simple fact is, a modern high-end gaming notebook should have multiple fans to provide optimal cooling, and this notebook falls short in that area. As for whether the computer would have been designed for that? A surprising number of modern notebooks have overheating problems at full load (due to the competing constraints of form factor, appearance, marketing, and component placement), and it's therefore much more plausible (to me) that MSI really did botch the cooling system design than that Anandtech is incompetent (given past reviews).

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