Gaming notebooks generally only come in one style. When you’ve got something this big, it can look pretty goofy if you try to ape the clean, minimalist Ultrabook-design, so instead, everyone just makes it look like a fighter jet or some kind of alien spaceship.
MSI’s take on the gaming notebook-chic features a pronounced taper from back-to-front, with lots of angles and vents. They've gone for an all-black aesthetic, with a blend of different textured materials to give the GT70 a unique look and feel. Brushed, black aluminum covers the lid and keyboard, while matte black plastic goes around the side and back edge, with the front part of the lid sporting a black, ‘brushed’ plastic design. Inside, the keyboard, track pad and screen are ringed with shiny, black plastic, while the speaker grilles are picked out in silver. A single, red, accent line underlines the touch-sensitive control panel and appears again on the track pad.
It’s an interesting look. At first glance, our sensibilities were offended by the clashing materials, not to mention MSI’s over-enthusiasm for angles and corners, but surprisingly, we’ve found the design growing on us. The combination of all the different black materials and angles makes the notebook look a bit like Darth Vader, which can never be a bad thing.
Opening the GT70 up is a breeze thanks to a sizeable groove between lid and base, and rock-solid hinges - not to mention the fact that the entire unit weighs 3.9kg, most of that in the base.
While we grudgingly understand their prevalence on style-centric Ultrabooks, we’ve never understood why glossy displays continue to show up on gaming notebooks. Fortunately, MSI has opted for an anti-glare, non-reflective finish on their full HD screen, which keeps reflections at a minimum.
While we were happy with the screen head on, we did notice that its viewing angles are woefully shallow. A couple of degrees to the left or right and there’s a sharp loss of color. While it’s not a problem for single-person use, it does reduce the GT70’s usefulness for co-op, split-screen gaming or as a movie-watching machine.
The GT70’s sound system is supplied by Dynaudio, who have a long-standing partnership with MSI. The 2.1-channel speaker setup is loud and clear, with plenty of volume and a well balanced sound. THX's TruStudio software provides a reasonable imitation of surround sound, and there's a clear distinction between left and right speakers. The subwoofer on the unit’s base has enough oomph to add an extra rumbling kick to explosions and other bass heavy sounds without threatening to overpower the overall sound experience.
A rarity among notebooks, the GT70 also features dedicated gold-plated, line-in and line-out ports letting you use the system’s speaker setup if you’re lacking good audio output from your portable devices, or if you want to connect a full-sized sound system.
SteelSeries is one of the biggest names in pro-gaming, and for good reason: they make some of the best gaming peripherals out there - they're particularly well respected for their input devices. MSI’s partnership with SteelSeries has been a major coup, giving the Taiwanese company a major selling point compared to other manufacturers.
The chiclet keyboard on the GT70 is exceptional, and without a doubt, one of the best we’ve experienced on a notebook. Each keypress is met with a satisfying, firm click with a generous response and loads of tactile feel. The keys themselves are smooth, matte black, very slightly concave, have a decent amount of key travel while retaining a fairly low-profile, which, all in all, makes typing very comfortable.
The layout is fairly standard, with a row of F-keys and a number pad crammed into the right side. Gamers will be pleased to see that the left side Windows key has been removed entirely. A track pad lock button can be found under the space bar. If we have one complaint about the keyboard, it’s the slight flex evident in the plastic keyboard well. It really doesn’t do justice to the keys, and it’s something we hope MSI corrects in future.
Customizable backlighting is pretty much mandatory on gaming notebooks these days, and MSI doesn’t disappoint. Three sections of the keyboard can be individually customized in a rainbow of colors (using MSI's utilities), which, unlike most we’ve seen, are actually fairly color accurate to the onscreen representation. Different lighting options include dual-color shift, breathe and the always-popular ‘Mexican wave’ option.
Above the keyboard, a touch-sensitive panel contains controls for Turbo Drive, Cooler Boost, Keyboard lighting, Wireless on/off, Screen on/off and the eject button for the Blu-ray drive.
We're not sure quite what to make of the GT70's trackpad. On the one hand, MSI has chosen a trapezoid shape that mirrors the angular shape of the notebook itself but, in doing so, they've created an unusually small trackpad - made all the more noticeable by the notebook’s overall huge size. On the other hand, the trackpad itself handles like a pro.
The rough, textured surface is surprisingly accurate at recognizing multi-touch gestures, including the all-important, two-finger scroll. Considering how hit-and-miss this tends to be on Ultrabooks, we were very impressed that MSI managed to get this so right. Buttons are large with a nice, firm click. Honestly, this would be the perfect trackpad if it weren’t for the weird shape and small size. Our understanding is that the prospective user is likely to plug in their own mouse for extended usage rather than use the trackpad, hence MSI didn't really put a whole lot of thought and emphasis on the integrated trackpad. By the way, an MSI gaming mouse is included with the GT70, but you’ll probably want to connect your own personal choice for any serious gaming.
Killer Gaming is a company that specializes in improving network performance for online gaming. Their network cards are amongst the best choice for serious online gaming where latency can mean the difference between victory and crushing defeat. Their network controller work by optimizing packet priority to achieve the lowest possible ping. Of course, this is also dependent on your network connection and, unfortunately, their desktop add-on cards are quite expensive.
MSI has partnered with Killer Gaming to incorporate their Bigfoot E2200 networking controller into the GT70. In a quick test using World of Warcraft connecting to a US server, we noticed a slight reduction in latency from an average of about 230ms using our non-Bigfoot equipped Dell Alienware M17X R3, to about 200ms with the MSI GT70. For local servers, we fired up Team Fortress 2, which went from 40ms ping to about 34ms. Not a massive drop in latency, but still a noticeable improvement that we're glad to know that the extra investment put into the notebook does actually do its job.
MSI wastes no surface on the GT70 with ports or LED indicators on every edge. We'll let the photos do the talking with their respective captions:
Watch out for our updated article in a couple of days with full test results to see if this new Ivy Bridge based MSI gaming notebook can deliver the goods!