The introduction of the MacBook Pro with Retina kicked off a resolution war in the laptop market, but gaming laptops have sidestepped this battle so far, for the most part. Gaming beyond 1080p puts great strain on the system’s GPU, and most simply can’t handle the load.
MSI thinks it has a notebook that’s up to the challenge though. They call it the GT60 Dominator Pro, and it features a 15.6-inch 2880×1620 display. The task of driving this cutting-edge screen falls on one of the most powerful mobile GPUs currently available; Nvidia’s GTX 880M, which boasts 8GB of lightning-quick GDDR5 RAM.
Cutting-edge hardware comes at a price, however. MSI sells the GT60 for $2,299, a figure that’s not absurd, but is certainly above average for a gaming notebook from a mainstream manufacturer. Does shelling out for the GT60 get you a big slice of gaming nirvana, or could your money be better spent elsewhere?
Same old, same old
Words like “rugged” and “attractive” aren’t generally associated with MSI’s notebooks. One might think that the company would pursue a different design strategy. Instead, it stubbornly trots out the same game plan time and time again.
Glossy black plastic coats every surface, broken up only by plastic chrome accents and a few red lines. We know the black-and-chrome look is supposed to be cool, but to us it looks gaudy.
Build quality is mixed, too. The lower chassis feels solid, but often creaks and moans when handled via an edge or corner. Obvious panel gaps are everywhere, and the display lid flexes noticeably when opened or closed using a single corner.
There are some positives, though. The bottom of the notebook can be taken off by removing a few screws, providing access to the internals. Here, upgrading the RAM and the hard drive are possible. The battery is replaceable, too, though there’s no extended-life option.
Connectivity is a bit limited, given the notebook’s size. There are three USB ports, but only two are 3.0. These are joined by HDMI, two DisplayPort connections, Ethernet and a card reader. Our review unit also featured a DVD/Blu-Ray drive, Bluetooth and 802.11n Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi and Ethernet hardware is provided by Killer, a company that makes specialized network adapters that allegedly improve latency. We’d rather see 802.11ac instead.
Keyboard, Steelseries style
The GT60’s Steelseries keyboard offers a spacious layout with a full-size numpad, excellent tactile feel, and significant key travel. Gaming notebooks tend to have better keyboards than average, but the GT60’s keys are great, even by this category’s higher standards.
A highly adjustable backlight comes standard. You can configure a single color for the whole keyboard, assign different colors to different parts of the keyboard, or rotate between up to three select hues. Users can even save backlight settings to a profile, and switch between them using a touch-sensitive button located above the keyboard. These features are controlled through a clunky, but functional software interface.
The touchpad, by contrast, is small and basic. The usable surface is only three inches wide and a bit less than two inches deep. Even ultra-portables frequently ship with larger touchpads. The left/right mouse buttons aren’t integrated, but instead are offered as a single rocker switch with a massive dead-zone in the center. MSI clearly doesn’t intend for the touchpad to be used frequently, and it’s automatically disabled when an external mouse is plugged in. However, we’d still like to see the company make a greater effort in this area.
The feature that distinguishes the GT60 Dominator Pro from other gaming notebooks is its 2880×1620, 15.6-inch display, which packs 213 pixels into every inch. That’s almost equivalent to a 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina but, as usual, Windows’ scaling problems hold this screen back. Many desktop apps and icons look slightly out of focus.
That problem doesn’t impact games that are played at the native resolution, however, and image quality is otherwise respectable. Our tests showed that the GT60 can render 94 percent of the sRGB gamut. It also provides a maximum contrast ratio of 650:1 with the display set at its maximum brightness of 273 lux.
The GT60 may seem outdated at first glance, but what’s inside is cutting-edge.
Subjectively, the strong test results translate to a favorable viewing experience. Color balance appears neutral, and strong contrast helps movies look vibrant and colorful. The only problem, once again, is scaling content to the display’s resolution. 1080p video, when stretched to fit the screen, lacks the crisp appearance that we’re accustomed to.
The built-in speakers round out the entertainment experience with rich, balanced sound. We found maximum volume to be loud enough to fill a large room with sound, and bass-heavy tracks are reproduced with the depth you’d expect from a pair of external speakers. Most users will see no reason to pair the GT60 with an aftermarket sound system.
Our review unit arrived with an Intel Core i7-4800MQ processor running at 2.7 GHz paired with 16GB of RAM. To see how it performs, we threw SiSoft Sandra’s Processor Arithmetic test at it, which is our primary CPU benchmark. In short, the results were impressive.
The GT60 scored 115.16, which is the second best figure we’ve ever recorded from a notebook. Only the Origin EON17-SLX, which we reviewed with an Intel Core i7-3940XM CPU, is quicker, but only slightly. The AVADirect Clevo W230ST and ASUS G750 are both slower than the GT60.
The results were different in 7-Zip, however, where the MSI turned in a score of 18,695. The ASUS G750 reached a higher score of 19,634, and the AVADirect Clevo W230ST nearly ties the GT60 with its mark of 18,615. The Origin EON17-SLX whipped them all, however, with a grade of 22,710.
The GT60 we reviewed had a 128GB solid state drive paired with a 1 TB mechanical disk. We tested the SSD with PCMark 8, which returned a solid score of 4,952. This is the second-best result we’ve ever recorded from a notebook. Only the Toshiba Kirabook, which turned in a score of 4,978, is quicker.
Now let’s move on to the star of the show; Nvidia’s GTX 880M graphics card. We began by throwing 3DMark at it, which is our standard synthetic graphics performance test. How did it handle? See for yourself.
The Origin EON17-SLX predates 3DMark, so we couldn’t use it in this comparison, but we did lean on 3DMark when we reviewed the AVADirect Clevo W230ST and ASUS G750. Those notebooks had a GTX 765M and a GTX 770M, respectively, when we reviewed them. Both are blown away by the GT60, which scored an astounding 5,362 in Fire Strike; which is more than double the W230ST’s score. The GT60 is so powerful that it even bests the Acer Predator G3 gaming desktop.
To further test the GT60 Dominator Pro’s gaming performance, we used Total War: Rome II, Battlefield 4, and League of Legends. These games represent a variety of genres and workloads. We know the GTX 880M is quick enough to handle these titles at a normal resolution, but our review unit’s 2880×1620 display is more demanding than a 1080p screen. Let’s see how the GTX 880M handles 3K.
Total War: Rome II
Rome II is a deceptively demanding strategy game, due to its use of high-resolution textures, and the large number of units that can be on-screen at once. The GTX 880M had a rough start, as it managed an average of only 28 frames per second on the campaign map with detail set to Medium. The maximum was 60 FPS, but the minimum was 15, which means that gameplay was very choppy at times.
Switching up to Extreme detail brought the GPU to its knees. We recorded an average of 16 FPS, with a maximum of 32 and a minimum of 10. The game’s lack of fast-paced action meant that it was playable, but it certainly wasn’t enjoyable.
Though it’s known for its graphical eye-candy, Battlefield 4 is not as demanding as Rome II. At Medium detail, the game ran at a pleasing average of 71 FPS, with a maximum of 84 and minimum of 46. The experience was flawless.
Bumping detail up to Ultra, however, reduced the average to 28 FPS, with a maximum of 36 and a minimum of 19. The game was still playable, but it felt significantly less responsive and was visibly choppy at times.
League of Legends
This incredibly popular free-to-play game normally doesn’t place much strain on hardware, but playing at an extremely high resolution can change that. We recorded an average of 44 FPS at Medium detail, with a maximum of 64 and a minimum of 20.
Bumping up detail to Very High lowered the average to 30 FPS, with a maximum of 41 and a minimum of 20. The game was still playable at this setting, but occasionally became choppy when multiple heroes were duking it out on-screen.
Lugging a brick around
One look at the GT60 communicates a very clear message; this is a notebook for desktop use. Though a large backpack could be used to lug around the system’s 7.7-pounds of bulk, most users will want to keep this heavyweight at home.
Peacekeeper drained the battery in four hours. That’s better than the AVADirect Clevo W230ST, which lasted 3 hours 22 minutes, and the ASUS G750 nearly ties it. This is impressive given that the configuration MSI sent us outperformed both machines. The old Origin EON17-SLX, which is the quickest notebook we’ve ever tested, lasted just 1 hours and 43 minutes before conking out.
Our watt meter revealed that the notebook consumes no less than 24 watts at idle, and a maximum of 161 watts at load. The load figure is higher than the ASUS M70AD multimedia desktop, and almost double the consumption of Lenovo’s C560 Touch all-in-one. Power draw isn’t excessively high given the hardware that’s inside the GT60, but don’t trick yourself into thinking that a notebook is always a “green” option from a power usage standpoint.
Jekyll & Hyde
At idle, the GT60’s large chassis easily dissipates heat. The fan spins at a leisurely pace, and our sound meter picked up just 38.9 decibels of noise. External temperatures reached a maximum of 84.1 degrees Fahrenheit, but only in one particular spot near a vent on the bottom of the system. Most of the laptop was only a hair above room temperature.
Playing a game, however, changed the script entirely. Suddenly, the fan sprung to life, emitting an annoying 59.1dB in its attempt to keep the internals cool. This figure is the highest we’ve ever recorded from any system, desktop or notebook, by over four decibels.
Yet, temperatures still rose to a maximum of 112.3 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s far more than the AVADirect Clevo W230CT, which reached only 91.8 degrees, or the ASUS G750, which spiked to 98.4 degrees. The GT60 can cause a serious case of palm sweat as heat rises from the keyboard and makes contact with the user’s hands.
The MSI GT60 Dominator Pro is heavy, looks gaudy, and runs hot, but the hardware is absolutely fantastic. The processor is quick, the GTX 880M can outrun mid-range gaming desktops, and the 3K display looks great when it’s used for gaming. The GT60 may seem outdated at first glance, but what’s inside is cutting-edge.
Unfortunately, the 3K display hinders the GT60 as much as it helps it. Including it reduces the quality of HD video, which must be stretched to span the display, and greatly increases the GPU’s workload. Both Total War: Rome II and Battlefield 4 weren’t enjoyable at maximum detail, and the former also ran poorly at Medium. You can, of course, turn in-game resolution down to 1080p – but then what’s the point of having a laptop with such a high-res display?
What MSI has created is a laptop that defeats itself. The GT60 Dominator Pro would be outstanding if it had a 1080p display and a somewhat lower MSRP, but pairing it with a super-HD screen creates a system that can’t play the latest titles with details set to maximum, and sometimes even medium. Any gamer who spends over two grand for this laptop with the expectation that it will handle games at 3K is sure to experience some serious nerd rage.
- Great keyboard
- Sharp 3K display
- Extremely powerful hardware
- Respectable battery life
- Connectivity could be better
- Tiny touchpad
- Can’t handle some games at 3K resolution
- Fan can be very loud at times