So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
MSI GT70 20D gaming notebook
High-end components make MSI's GT70 20D one of the fastest notebooks on the market
- Triple-SSD RAID 0
- Extreme Edition CPU
- High-end graphics
- Design looks a little dated
- Keyboard backlight utility isn't great
- Gets loud
MSI's GT70 20D offers a high-end computing experience that's perfect if you're a gamer, or simply someone who wants as much speed as possible in a notebook computer. You pay a lot for the fast performance that this notebook can supply, but that's because you get the current fastest CPU, graphics, and storage components, in addition to a Full HD screen and better-than-usual audio.
Price$ 4,999.00 (AUD)
MSI's treat for gamers and high-end notebook enthusiasts is the 17.3in GT70 20D, which contains components and capabilities that can induce drooling. It's an expensive beast, but if you're serious about buying one of the fastest notebooks on the market, be it for professional reasons or for gaming, then you're probably already aware that you'll need to raid your bank account in order to get your hands on one.
A most powerful configuration
Residing inside the chassis of the MSI GT70 20D are some of the best components available for notebook computing: a fourth-generation Intel Core i7-4930MX Extreme Edition CPU (it's quad-core and Hyper-Threaded with a standard speed of 3GHz and a maximum Turbo Boost of 3.9GHz), 16GB of DDR3 SDRAM (upgradeable to 32GB, and the price we have for it includes 32GB), an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M graphics adapter, and a three-drive RAID 0 array that's comprised of 128GB SanDisk X100 solid state drives (SSDs).
The GT70 20D can basically be described as a desktop in a notebook's clothing, mainly because it has stacks of built-in features, and also because the performance you're getting will only be bettered by a high-end gaming desktop PC. The high-end Intel processor and the three-drive RAID 0 array, in particular, make it a blazingly quick laptop when it comes to installing and loading applications and accessing system settings, and boot up time was a mere 6sec in our tests — this is the time it took to cold boot to the Windows 8 login screen.
It will play many recent games at maximum detail levels and at a Full HD resolution without breaking a sweat. We ran BioShock Infinite on it at 55 frames per second (fps); StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm got 64fps. The only game we tried that gave it a hard time was Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, which clocked an average of 29fps. In the latest 3DMark, the notebook reached a mark of 98817 in the Ice Storm test, 17891 in the Cloud Gate test, and 4616 in the Fire Strike test. These are the fastest results we've seen from a notebook to date.
What allows this notebook to be used for high-end gaming is the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M graphics adapter, which has 4GB of built-in GDDR5 memory and a standard clock speed of 823MHz. As of this writing, it's the fastest graphics adapter in NVIDIA's notebook GPU stable, so you're buying the absolute best that's available. The adapter is cooled by a heat sink that's attached to two heat pipes, both of which lead to another heat sink that has an extraction fan passing air through its fins. Rest assured, it's a notebook that can get very loud when it's under a heavy load. It was mostly quiet during tasks such as video playback and Web browsing, except for a slight squeaking sound from the slow-spinning fan.
You can do pretty much anything with this laptop in addition to gaming, and our tests showed just how useful it can be for those of you who work with media files in particular. In our Blender 3D rendering test, the GT70 20D recorded 16sec, in our iTunes MP3 encoding test it got 33sec, and in our HandBrake DVD-to-MP4 file conversion test it took 7min 49sec. These are all marked improvements over the previous MSI gaming notebook we reviewed back in February, the GT70 Dragon Edition. That notebook was based on a third-generation Intel Core i7 CPU, it had a two-drive SSD RAID 0 array, and a mid-range NVIDIA GeForce GTX 675MX.
The storage performance of the three-drive RAID 0 array in the GT70 20D recorded a read rate of 822.2 megabytes per second (MBps) in CrystalDiskMark, which is a lower rate than the two-drive RAID 0 array in the GT70 Dragon (936MBps), but its write rate of 860.5MBps is the fastest we've seen in a laptop to date. It's this super-fast write rate that allows the GT70 20C to perform actions such as application installation so quickly. Overall, it made the notebook feel extremely responsive.
The SanDisk SSDs all reside on the same daughterboard in mSATA slots, and they can be accessed by removing the bottom panel. The hard drive, graphics adapter and CPU can all be accessed this way. Memory slots are located on both sides of the motherboard, which means you have to remove the keyboard if you want to access all of them. It's the type of notebook you won't need to fiddle with, though, not unless you need to replace a component after the 24-month warranty has expired.
Long battery life thanks to 9 cells and 4th gen Core
A 9-cell battery is located underneath the notebook and towards the front-right of the chassis. Its capacity, along with the fourth-generation Intel Core CPU (which our tests of Ultrabooks have shown to be a more power efficient CPU than its third-generation predecessor), give this large notebook a remarkably useful runtime away from a power outlet.
In our rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video, the GT70 20D lasted 3hr 57min. It’s a great time for any notebook, but in particular for a large beast of a notebook. That said, the 17.3in form factor and 4kg weight of this notebook means you can’t use it on your lap for long periods of time unless your name is Yao Ming or Shaquille O’Neal, and it’s not the type of notebook that you can easily take on the road or use while commuting (catch a cab or drive if you need to get to a LAN party). Instead, the long battery life comes in useful when you want to use the notebook for browsing the Web or watching videos in a space in your home that doesn’t have easy access to a power outlet.
Other features, the screen, and input devices
The wide and thick chassis has plenty of built-in features that make the GT70 20D a commendable desktop replacement notebook. You get a built-in Blu-ray burner and two USB 2.0 ports on the right side, three USB 3.0 ports, an SD card slot, and four audio ports on the right side, and HDMI, mini DisplayPort, VGA, and Gigabit Ethernet on the rear. The left corners of the chassis contain the vents for the cooling system, and there are vents on the bottom of the notebook, too. Other features of the GT70 20D include a webcam, a dual-band Killer Wireless-N 1202 Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and a 750GB, 7200rpm hard drive.
The screen is large at 17.3in and it has a native resolution of 1920x1080. The brightness is adequate, but importantly, the screen has a matte finish so it won't be prone to reflecting light sources behind you. The angle of the screen will affect how things look, though, which means you might have to tilt it just right to get photos and videos to display properly. Because it’s such a big screen, the tilt angle probably won’t need regular adjustment unless you change the way you sit in front of the machine.
The keyboard feels solid in its tray, and it has keys that are soft, yet firm. They have a noticeable resistance and a good amount of travel, and they need a reasonably hard hit in order to leave their mark on the screen. When we were soft-fingered while typing, we found that some hits failed to register. That said, it's a very comfortable to keyboard to type with. The Windows key has been moved from the left side of the board to the right side, mainly so that you don't accidentally hit it while gaming.
It has a multi-coloured backlight that shows a different colour for each third of the board, and there is a gaming mode that lights up the ASDF side of the board with a separate colour of your choice. The utility that’s installed to customise the backlight is cumbersome and not all that intuitive. First you have to select the type of illumination you want (dual-colour, wave, gaming, normal, etcetera), and then you can select the zone and the colour that you want. There are 29 colours to choose from.
Even though the notebook commands a large footprint thanks to its 17.3in size, it does feel a little cramped because it’s just littered with keys. It has a number pad on the right side, and the arrow keys reside between this and the main part of the keyboard. You can’t differentiate the arrow keys easily by feel — not until you get used to the board’s layout and your right hand’s position on it. Above the keyboard you will find some shortcut buttons that can be used to invoke the preinstalled CyberLink media player, to switch the keyboard light on or off, to enter the System Control Manager, and to switch off the screen, among other things. They are not feather-touch buttons, which means they need pressure in order to work. They are not the most user-friendly buttons we’ve seen.
On both sides of these shortcut keys rest the speakers, and the audio from this notebook is above average. It has Sound Blaster Cinema software installed, which allows you to tweak the way the audio sounds, from regular stereo to virtual surround, and we found the overall quality of it to be more than acceptable when watching movies and listening to music.
The touchpad on this notebook is a relatively small one considering how big the palm rest is, but it’s an accurate touchpad that performed well during our tests. It supports multi-finger gestures and Windows 8 swipe-in gestures, though the latter were a little inconvenient to use due to the height difference between the pad and the palm rest and the slightly angled sides.
The MSI GT70 20D gaming notebook is an expensive beast, and definitely one to lust after if you’re a gamer or just someone who has an interest in high-performance notebooks in general. It’s the fastest notebook we’ve ever seen so far in terms of overall performance, mainly due to its top-line components: its quad-core Extreme Edition CPU, GeForce GTX 780M graphics adapter, and triple-SSD RAID 0 array. These components, in addition to the Full HD screen, a good sound system, and an above-average keyboard and backlight, are the reasons it costs so much.
Apart from the configuration, which we love, the design of the GT70 20D is a little dated. We think MSI should consider refreshing the shape of the chassis, much like Alienware did with its fourth-generation Core-equipped line up of gaming machines. That said, you could always opt for MSI’s Dragon Edition notebook, which has a little more flair, albeit with the same design cues.
All up, though, the MSI GT70 20C is a satisfying model for the user who wants the current fastest notebook configuration.
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