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MSI GT70 2PC Dominator review: first gaming laptop with a brand-new GeForce GTX 870M graphics chip

Gaming laptops are still the only way to play intensive games on the move, and the MSI GT70 2PC Dominator shakes up the competition – it's the first firm to deploy an interesting new graphics processor from nVidia, the GeForce GTX 870M. See also best laptop

This is the first mobile chip from nVidia's new range, and it's a monster. It's got 1344 stream processors clocked at 941 MHz, with a GPU Boost peak of 967 MHz. Those are faster clocks than any top-end mobile card in last year's nVidia range.

MSI has doubled the standard 3 GB of GDDR5 memory, and it's now clocked to 1250 MHz. That's a mighty specification, and it scarcely matters that this chip uses last year's Kepler architecture – it still battered every benchmark test we threw at it.

We loaded Stalker's toughest Ultra settings at full-HD screen resolution, and the MSI averaged 115 fps. That's better than almost every laptop we've tested, and on a par with the more expensive Alienware 17 with its nVidia GTX 780M.

The MSI handled recent games, too. We tested Battlefield 4, Batman: Arkham Origins and Bioshock Infinite at their toughest settings and full-HD, and the three titles averaged 34, 52 and 86 fps. See all laptop reviews.

The Core i7-4800MQ processor has four 2.7 GHz Hyper-Threaded cores, and it also impressed in general system speed. In PCMark 7 it scored 6222 points, which is ahead of almost every rival – only the Alienware 17, with the same chip, was marginally faster.

The 128 GB Toshiba SSD returned an excellent sequential read speed of 497 MB/s, but its write pace of 271 MB/s was mediocre. We wish the SSD was bigger, but at least it's backed up with a 1 TB hard disk.

MSI also includes 8 GB of memory, Killer-branded gigabit ethernet, Killer's 2x2 MIMO dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi, and a DVD writer – but no Blu-ray compatibility.

The 17in matt screen has a 1920 x 1080 resolution and is capable of particularly bright output: its 343 cd/m2 brightness is about the highest we've seen on a laptop, beating the Alienware 14's 325 cd/m2 result.

Both machines had the same 0.29 cd/m2 black level, but the MSI had better overall contrast.

The TN panel still makes games look great, but it's not without fault. The matt layer adds grain, and the Delta E of 7.2 is not great. And while black levels are commendably deep, it struggled to distinguish between subtly different shades. Viewing angles weren't good either.

The GT70 is huge: 59 mm thick with its little rubber feet included, and weighs 3.9 kg, with another 500 g for its power brick. That's more than both Alienwares, but the MSI puts its weight to good use with great build quality – there's barely any give in the wrist-rest and screen, and the base is stronger.  

It's got the typically loud design we expect from gaming machines, with flashing status lights, dramatic angles, big vents and a mixture of brushed aluminium and glossy plastic. The design isn't as coherent as the matt, colour-coordinated Alienwares, but it makes a statement.

The keyboard comes from SteelSeries, and it's good: the Scrabble-tile keys are spaced further apart than those on the Alienwares, and they've got a consistent action that withstands frantic gameplay. There's a numberpad, too. The trackpad's buttons are good – their clicky action is reminiscent of gaming mice – but the pad itself is a little too small.

Gaming laptops don't usually have good battery life, and that's the case here. We looped streaming video from BBC iPlayer and the MSI lasted just 2 hours 53 minutes – and this figure dropped to little over an hour during games.

The MSI wasn't quiet, either, with a fan that ramping up in demanding games. Its noticeable whir proved distracting unless we had the GT70's loud, punchy, well-balanced speakers playing at high volume – we'd use headphones instead.


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