MSI GT72: Ultra Quality Gaming Performance

Okay, that's enough small talk. I know most of you are really only interested in one thing: how fast is the GTX 980M? I've run a limited set of benchmarks on the system, basically testing at 1920x1080p "Ultra" and "High" settings. I've also increased the number of games being tested for this article beyond the usual five that we use for notebooks, simply because this is first and foremost a gaming notebook. PCMark and general system performance results might be nice to know, but I don't think anyone is going to buy the GT72 unless they plan on utilizing that shiny new GTX 980M. The new games are Batman: Arkham Origins, GRID Autosport, Metro: Last Light Redux, and Sniper Elite 3; I've also brought back Company of Heroes 2, which isn't something we normally test on notebooks. For now I'm comparing the GT72 with three other MSI notebook, and I've also tossed in a desktop i7-4770K (at 4.1GHz) with a GTX 970 as a reference; in theory, the GTX 980M shouldn't be too far off the GTX 970 performance.

For the sake of completeness, the settings used for Ultra generally include anti-aliasing, and in some cases that means SSAA (which can really pummel the GPU). Batman: Arkham Origins sets all the options to on/DX11, anti-aliasing is 4xMSAA, and PhysX is disabled. BioShock Infinite uses the UltraDX11_DDOF setting, Company of Heroes 2 has all the options at their maximum (including anti-aliasing set to High), and GRID Autosport has 4xMSAA enabled with the Ultra quality preset. For Metro: Last Light Redux, all settings are at maximum (including SSAA). And wrapping up, Sleeping Dogs uses the Extreme preset (which includes High SSAA), Sniper Elite 3 uses the Ultra preset with 4xSSAA enabled, and Tomb Raider uses the Ultimate preset (but without enabling SSAA – maxing out the settings drops the 980M by 7 FPS if you're wondering, so it's not a huge difference). Here are the benchmark results, starting with Ultra quality:

1920x1080 Ultra Performance

Batman: Arkham Origins - Ultra

Bioshock Infinite - Ultra

Company of Heroes 2 - Ultra

GRID Autosport - Ultra

Metro: Last Light Redux - Ultra

Sleeping Dogs - Ultra

Sniper Elite 3 - Ultra

Tomb Raider - Ultra

Average FPS for Eight Games - Ultra

First, let me just say that the inclusion of the desktop GTX 970 is really something of a high water mark for mobile GPUs to strive for. Granted, it's a $329 part compared to a $2200+ notebook, but high-end gaming notebooks have never been particularly economical. The fact that the GTX 980M can come close to the GTX 970 is pretty impressive, and it also breaks 30FPS in every one of our test games – something no other mobile GPU has ever achieved.

Obviously there are still going to be games where cranking every dial up to 11 isn't going to work out so well. Metro: Last Light (and the Redux sequel) is a prime example of this, as enabling SSAA in particular can bring even the fastest desktop GPUs down to unplayable frame rates; games like Crysis 3 and The Witcher 2 can be similarly taxing with all the settings maxed. Of course, if we're talking about "normal" settings (e.g. not SSAA), the GTX 980M is able to handle pretty much anything you might want to throw at it. Dropping down to our High settings (which mostly means turning off anti-aliasing in terms of quality and performance, though there are also differences between High and Very High/Ultra in some titles), performance jumps well into the playable range.

In terms of average performance, the GTX 980M tops all mobile contenders by a sizeable margin. It's about 35% faster than the GTX 880M, 70% faster than GTX 870M, and a whopping 110% faster than GTX 860M. Interestingly, I was expecting performance to be closer to the desktop GTX 970, but it turns out the 980M only manages to deliver 81% of the 970 performance on average. GPU memory bandwidth may be a factor here (7GHz vs. 5GHz), and the desktop GPU is also being helped by a CPU that's clocked 17-28% higher than the i7-4710HQ (depending on how high the 4710HQ is able to turbo).

This is part of what makes me wonder if MSI went a bit too conservative on the CPU side of things, but then we're already pushing high frame rates with the 4710HQ and in most cases it's only going to be frame rates above 60 FPS where the CPU plays a significant role.

MSI GT72: Unboxing and Initial Impressions MSI GT72: High Quality Gaming Performance
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  • Flunk - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    On the topic of Optimus support, maybe Nvidia's new "batteryboost" technology is so magically delicious that they don't need it in order to have good battery life anymore. I have an Optimus-equipped laptop and it's mildly annoying sometimes so I can see the appeal of no Optimus on a gaming laptop. Optimus does reduce performance a bit too.
  • MrSpadge - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    On the desktop you're hard-pressed to get any big GPU consume less than 10 W. That's more than the idle power consumption of an entire modern laptop...
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    There are pros and cons; I'd like to see an idle mobile GPU at no more than 1-2W before I'd say it's a reasonable alternative to Optimus, and I don't think NVIDIA is there yet. Keep in mind however that their mobile GPUs typically have much lower idle clocks than their desktop parts. Anyway, it's something I'll look at in the full review.
  • Meaker10 - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    No optimus means you can overclock the display refresh rate ;)
  • flemeister - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    Happily using manual graphics switching on my Alienware M11x R1 (GMA 4500H + GT 335M). I like being able to lock it to one or the other as needed. Most of the time I'm using the laptop for basic tasks, and would prefer that the Nvidia graphics stay off (and not turn on unnecessarily). Switching between GPU's doesn't require a reboot either. Just need to close any programs that use the GPU. For me this involves Firefox, f.lux and Steam. Not a big deal.

    Just wish that I could use a more recent driver version. Stuck on this custom 263.08 version, and modified drivers (to get Optimus working) don't properly disable the Nvidia GPU, resulting in poor battery life (same as if using the Nvidia graphics). With light usage I get 6+ hours with GMA 4500HD, but only 3.5 hours with the GT 335M.

    I wonder if the GT72 would have longer battery life (on Intel graphics) with manual switching, compared to if they used Optimus?
  • Icehawk - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    I don't really get the specs on this laptops - 4xSSD RAID and 32gb of RAM? What on earth does that do for you besides drive the price up and *maybe* (it won't) offer a tiny percentage of performance upgrade. If this was some kind of render machine that setup might actually be of use but as a gamer I'd much rather see more CPU, larger storage, etc.
  • Spoelie - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    You forgot the 8GB vram on the GPU.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    I understand the sentiment on the RAID 0 SSDs. Still, I will say that some operations are super fast. For example, after copying over all my Steam files (185GB or so), quite a few games need to have files "validated" -- something doesn't quite get transferred over right. On an HDD and a large game, this can take as long as 5-10 minutes. On a fast SSD, it might take a minute or so. With the GT72, the validation process was the fastest I've ever experienced, probably no more than 15-20 seconds. Is that worth the price premium over a single SSD? Probably not.
  • zepi - Sunday, October 12, 2014 - link

    What is the likelihood of one of four SSD controllers breaking down instead of one? How about wear leveling algorithms of 4x128GB drives instead of one 512GB SSD? I'd guess that at least the later suffers since the controllers can only shuffle data around their own small turf.

    Are the performance benefits really worth this tradeoff when a single fast M.2 Drive should reach over 700MB/s sustained transfer...
  • wetwareinterface - Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - link

    this isn't the laptop for you. as a gamer you'd be better off buying the base model with 980m and just adding your own m.2 drive and calling it a day. there are 4 different versions of the dominator pro this one being the top specced version. this one is for the ballers and professionals who need the storage system to be fast (think video editing ) and the video ram to be high.

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