Gaming laptops are a peculiar niche in the notebook world. They try to achieve an incredibly difficult goal -- achieving plenty of power to run high-end PC games, while shoehorning all those powerful and heat-producing components into a vaguely portable chassis. The MSI GT72 Dominator Pro takes the same all-out approach as the existing GT70, but has brand new top-of-the-line PC hardware inside. It has all the outright grunt of a high-end desktop gaming PC, but is also mobile -- just.
What Is It?
- Processor: Intel Core i7-4980HQ, 2.80GHz up to 4.00GHz
- RAM: 32GB 1600MHz DDR3L
- Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M 8GB
- Storage: 4x 128GB SSDs, 1TB HDD
- Display: 17.3-inch, 1920x1080 pixels, anti-glare
- Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Killer Ethernet, Bluetooth 4.0, 7.1ch analog audio, 5x USB 3.0, HDMI, DisplayPort, 2x miniDisplayPort
The MSI GT72 Dominator Pro, available from MSI's partnered Australian retailers like Scorptec and Computer Alliance for a minimum $3299 all the way up to a blisteringly expensive $4999-plus, is the most hardcore of hardcore gaming laptops. It's a 17-inch beast, with a matte 17.3-inch 1920x1080p display, and a 48mm thick, 3.78kg chassis that makes it just as hulking as you'd expect. It is worth mentioning, though, that that's a full 320g and 7mm less than the outgoing GT70.
The styling of the GT72 is a little more restrained, and while it's not exactly a suit-and-tie Lenovo ThinkPad it is a little more professional than other gaming laptops out there -- although not quite so as the Aorus X7 Pro. The interior of the laptop is comparatively subtle, with a simple satin black finish, full-size keyboard with white lettering (although hidden underneath is a full array of RGB backlighting), and a large multi-touch trackpad with two discrete click buttons.
Scattered around the four edges of the laptop's outer sides when closed, you'll find surround sound analog audio output, four USB 3.0 ports (on the left), two more USB 3.0 ports and a Blu-ray writer (on the right), an Ethernet jack for the GT72's Killer networking card, HDMI 2.0, DisplayPort and two miniDisplayPort video connectors (on the back). At the front of the laptop, which comes to a smooth, chevron point, there are two headlight-esque RGB LED lights. On the GT72's lid you'll see probably the most ostentatious gamer-y symbol, which in itself is actually pretty muted -- a crest with the MSI G Series Gaming logo.
What's It Good At?
The MSI GT72 Dominator Pro is hugely powerful. The best-of-the-best 2QE-248AU variant I tested even moreso. Its Intel Core i7-4980HQ quad-core 2.8-4.0GHz processor is the absolute top-of-the-line CPU in Intel's top-of-the-line i7 range, it has a full 32GB of 1600MHz DDR3 RAM, its brand new Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M is the fastest laptop GPU on the market and has a ridiculous 8GB of GDDR5 RAM to itself, and the laptop's system disk has four 256GB SSDs in RAID 0. These specifications honestly put almost any other laptop or pre-built desktop PC on the market to shame -- and the performance figures back that up.
MSI GT72 Dominator Pro: Performance
CPU: PCMark 8 Home: 5832 PCMark 8 Creative: 6214 PCMark 8 Work: 6119 Graphics: 3D Mark Fire Strike: 9976 3D Mark Fire Strike Graphics: 13184 Gaming: Tomb Raider: 137fps Metro: Last Light: 81fps Far Cry 4: 72fps Storage: CrystalDiskMark (Sequential Read): 1471MBps CrystalDiskMark (Seq. Write): 1311Mbps Battery: Gizmodo Torture Test: 3hr 45min Gizmodo Torture Test Extreme: 2hr 1min
These are incredible numbers for a laptop, and even for any desktop that you haven't spent a couple of thousand dollars building and speccing out with high-end components. If you were looking for a portable machine -- even one only slightly portable, let's be honest -- with the power to run a CAD studio or to handle 4K video editing or to play the latest games like Far Cry 4, then the MSI GT72 is the laptop for you.
And, as we liked on the MSI GT70 Dominator Pro, the GT72 has an excellent keyboard, with a pre-installed Steelseries Engine utility controlling a full multicolour RGB LED backlighting across the entire keyboard and enabling the use of software macros in your favourite games. The utility isn't the most lightweight piece of software I've ever used, but it's versatile, and mandatory if you want to use the backlighting at all. Moreso than the software, though, the hardware of the keys themselves is excellent -- there's very little flex across the keyboard, even if you're stabbing hard at its centre while typing. SteelSeires and MSI have teamed up very well here. The trackpad is much improved from the previous model, too.
Similarly, the GT72's 2.1 speaker system is great for one stuffed inside a laptop. The MSI GT72's speakers, moved from beside to behind the keyboard, have been tweaked by Dynaudio. With two upward-firing drivers and a bass-tuned, downward-firing miniature 'subwoofer' on the base of the notebook, it's one of the better audio systems we've heard inside a portable computer -- but we're not surprised, given the amount of empty space inside the chassis that MSI is working with.
That empty space also contributes very well to a smartly engineered cooling system. The components inside the GT72 actually run cooler than the last generation, and that means that even when you're running a graphically-intensive 3D game or a computationally-demanding synthetic CPU benchmark, it doesn't get annoyingly loud in the same way as the Aorus X7 Pro did -- the virtue of having one graphics card versus two. Cooling is almost completely restricted to the base of the laptop, though, so don't try to run anything too strenuous with the laptop sitting on a soft surface like carpet or a bedspread.
What Is It Not Good At?
The MSI GT72's 17.3-inch LED-lit display is probably its weakest point. It's crisp and sharp, obviously, and its 1080p resolution is a good middle-ground for desktop-replacement and mobile PC gaming, but its colour reproduction is a tiny bit off. It's not able to display the entire gamut of colours you see displayed on Web pages, for example. It's still perfectly usable, of course, and games and video themselves look pretty good, but for Web browsing and desktop work there are better laptop displays out there. The GT72's range of brightness is just fine, as is the depth of blacks.
Since the MSI GT72 doesn't implement Nvidia's Optimus live graphics switching -- we're not exactly sure why not -- you'll have to reboot Windows when switching between the CPU's integrated low-power HD 5200 graphics and the fully-juiced Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M. It's a minor complaint, but it's a little bit frustrating when you're trying to move quickly between Web browsing and word processing and emails -- office work, for me at least -- to a spot of gaming during your lunchtime break. To be fair, it's a relatively small price to pay to have all that power on tap.
Despite the efficiency of the GTX 980M and Nvidia BatteryBoost 2.0 letting users choose between outright performance and energy conservation, the MSI GT72's battery life -- from its 83Wh integrated 9-cell battery -- is not amazing. You'll get nearly 4 hours with mid-brightness 720p video watching, while bumping up the brighness and choosing 1080p video halves that. If you want to play a modern video game, expect less than an hour of screen-on time before you run out of juice. This restriction also means you're more likely to lug around the GT72's sizeable 180 Watt battery charger.
If you've gotten this far into the review without realising that the GT72 is quite a large laptop, then I'll be surprised, but it's worth mentioning again that although the MSI GT72 Dominator Pro is a laptop, it's a comparatively large one. 3.8kgs, 428x294x48mm makes for a not exactly bag-friendly device -- this is one for the rolling luggage travellers, if you're courageous enough to take it out on the road in the first place. I really think this is a laptop that will occasionally make the trip from office desk to home desk, and that's about it -- and that's perfectly fine.
Should You Buy It?
The MSI GT72 is just about as hardcore a laptop as you can buy without getting yourself a full-on workstation. It's big, brutish, powerful and unabashed about its purpose -- and that purpose is providing desktop-grade performance for processing and gaming.
That requires some compromises when it comes to the laptop's weight and size and dimensions, and you're not going to buy it without knowing this. But as far as its components go, the GT72 that we tested reigns supreme, and rightly so.
It's not especially portable, especially when you take into account lugging around the large power brick and finding an outlet whenever you want to play a 3D game for more than a couple of minutes at a time. But it's possible. (Just.)
The GT72 isn't perfect -- it doesn't have Optimus graphics switching for some reason, and its display isn't the best, and battery life takes an amazingly quick nosedive once you switch to Nvidia graphics and load up a computationally-intensive game or program -- but if you're going to play games on your laptop, you may as well do it right, and the MSI GT72 definitely is that way.