Introduction, Design, Features
Why settle for 30 when you can have 60? Why settle for 60 when you can have 120?
We’re talking, of course, about frame rates for gaming laptops. Thirty frames per second is the universally accepted minimum or threshold for smooth gameplay, perhaps because it matches the 30Hz refresh rate (redrawing the image 30 times per second) of an old cathode-ray TV set.
In the last year or two, however, faster graphics cards have made serious gamers shoot for the satin-smooth look of 60fps, squeezing all you can see out of the 60Hz refresh of most notebook screens. It’s a real challenge for the human eye to detect any stutter or flicker at 60fps, but, inevitably, a small but growing number of gaming rigs today boast 120Hz displays able to keep up with the quickest cards. The MSI GP72VR Leopard Pro seen here is one of them—and at $1,599, it’s only one C-note above the ceiling for Computer Shopper’s popular Cheap Gaming Laptops feature.
Actually, the MSI’s 120Hz panel is arguably too much screen for its Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 graphics. As you’ll see in our gaming test results, unless you like playing games with the image quality and detail turned substantially down, you’re more likely to see frame rates north of 60fps from GTX 1070 and 1080 machines. But the rapid-refresh display is a nice thing to have. When we sampled Tom Clancy’s The Division with vsync (vertical sync) turned off to maximize frame rate, the Acer Aspire V 17 Nitro suffered from visible screen tearing. The Leopard Pro was as smooth as a baby’s, er, trigger finger.
And the rest of the system’s equipment list is thoroughly competitive. The CPU is the seventh-generation Intel Core i7-7700HQ that dominates the midpriced gaming notebook segment. Sixteen gigabytes of DDR4 memory join a 512GB PCI Express solid-state drive (the specs on MSI’s Web site also list a 1TB hard drive, but our test unit—formally named the GP72VR 7RFX-473US—has none). The 17.3-inch screen offers full HD (1,920×1,080) resolution. The SteelSeries keyboard is roomy and comfortable.
The Leopard Pro doesn’t blow away the competition; compared to the abovementioned Acer, which has the same processor and graphics, it was a couple of frames per second faster with some games, a couple slower with others. Hardcore gamers who can find a GeForce GTX 1070 rig for about the same money will be tempted to jump that way instead, regardless of screen speed. But if you’re looking for a full-sized, VR-ready value, the MSI is well worth a look.
Alienware 17 R4—1.2 by 16.7 by 13.1 inches and 9.7 pounds.) Visually, it’s the obligatory black slab, finished with a brushed aluminum lid and palm rest and plastic bottom. Shallow curves on either side of the chrome MSI and red dragon shield logos provide a bit of flair.
Opening the lid reveals another MSI logo centered below the screen, which has plenty of black bezel all around. A Webcam centered above the screen—which can be disabled, protecting you from potential Peeping Toms, by pressing Fn+F6—captures bright and sharp if slightly noisy images.
The Leopard Pro does not have a Thunderbolt 3 port, but otherwise can make all of the connections you might want. On the laptop’s left side, you’ll find a lock slot; an Ethernet port; two USB 3.0 ports; HDMI and mini DisplayPort video outputs; a USB-C port; and headphone and microphone jacks.
The right edge holds an SD card reader, a USB 2.0 port, a CD/DVD burner, and the connector for the AC adapter brick. Bluetooth and 802.11ac Wi-Fi take care of wireless communications.
We have a couple of complaints about the MSI’s keyboard layout: First, despite approximately an acre of space in the palm rest, the inverted-T cursor arrows aren’t moved away or segregated from the primary keys as we prefer. Second, the Delete key is tiny, part of a top row that includes Page Up and Page Down. There aren’t dedicated Home and End keys, but there’s a dedicated Insert key—when was the last time anybody used Insert? A decade ago?
Razzle-dazzlers may also gripe that the keyboard’s RGB backlighting can’t be customized key by key as with some Razer laptops, though we’re content that it can be divided into three color zones with special effects such as breathing and wave illumination. Nor are there programmable macro keys, as on Aorus laptops, for setting up gaming shortcuts.
On the positive side, the keyboard offers a lively typing feel, with ample travel and snappy feedback. We were cruising at near maximum speed with only a little practice. The touch pad felt slightly sluggish, as if it had too much friction for quick moves around the screen, but responded to taps and clicks accurately.
Four speakers produce sound that’s quieter than we expected—it’ll fill a room, but not rattle the windows—and short on booming bass, but full and rich, with accurate instrumentals, crisp vocals, and realistic game effects and explosions. Supplied Nahimic 2 software lets you tweak audio output, especially for faux-surround-sound headphone use.
The GP72VR’s screen is a highlight—you won’t be sitting in front of it saying, “Wow! One hundred and twenty hertz!”, but you might say, “Wow! That looks great!” The 1080p display offers vivid colors in games and videos alike, with sharp details and high contrast. Even Word and PowerPoint looked as if they’d put on their Sunday best. Viewing angles are broad, and brightness is fine as long as you stick to the top two or three backlight settings.
MSI backs the Leopard Pro with a one-year warranty. While the company contributes a couple of utilities (and a pop-up-happy 60-day Norton Security trial), most of the bloatware is Microsoft’s (Candy Crush Soda Saga, Sling, March of Empires).