Introduction, Design, Features
We’ve reviewed a multitude of MSI gaming notebooks over the past year, including several iterations of the flagship 17.3-inch GT72GT73series. The all-new GT75VR that’s being put under the microscope in this article is the successor of those models, sporting a refreshed design and a per-key RGB-backlit mechanical keyboard. This unit seems to have otherwise retained just about everything we liked about the GT73, including its excellent cooling.
The GT75VR comes as a preconfigured model only; MSI had six variants listed on its U.S. site as we typed this review. The GT75VR Titan Pro-215 model we were provided for review retails for $2,699, though we found it online for $2,499. At its heart, this configuration has the single most potent gaming GPU available in a notebook, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 8GB. It also has an Intel Core i7-7700HQ quad-core processor, 16GB of RAM, a 256GB solid-state drive for the operating system, and a secondary 1TB hard drive for storage. The 1080p display on this model is also special, with a 120Hz refresh rate, Nvidia G-Sync support, and high color gamut.
The GT75VR goes head-to-head with the Alienware 17 R4Acer Predator 17XToshiba Qosmio X305 is worth revisiting if you want a taste of the latter.)
The GT75VR sports a refreshed design compared to the outgoing GT73VR. For this, we’re glad; it’s not that the old design was boring, but it had been around for a while. The most visible change is the palm rest, which is now covered by a piece of smooth plastic. It’s thick enough to sit level with the surface of the keys on the keyboard. The plastic has the added bonus of not showing fingerprints or smudges as easily as the brushed aluminum of the GT73VR. There’s still plenty of brushed aluminum on the GT75VR, however, namely on the keyboard surround and on the back of the lid. The rest of the chassis is constructed of plastic.
The rest of the notebook looks every bit an MSI. The lid of the notebook has MSI’s dragon shield at the center. The clear covering is actually a piece of Gorilla Glass.
Back to the topic of big and heavy, we’ll let the dimensions of this beast speak for themselves. The 16.9 by 12.4-inch footprint is about normal for a notebook with a 17.3-inch diagonal display, but the 2.3-inch thickness is a real eye-opener. Tack on a 9.9-pound carry weight, and you’re looking at a machine that needs a serious backpack or roller bag for regular travel. Don’t forget to factor in its massive 330-watt power adapter, which weighs four pounds by itself. Despite the GT75VR’s bulk, one thing’s for sure; it would still be far easier to lug it to a LAN party than a traditional desktop setup.
The touch pad is new for the GT75VR. This time around, the buttons have been reworked to feel more engaging. They have a generous amount of travel and nearly silent clicks, two things which we always appreciate. The light strip above each button can be configured in any color you wish, as well. You can do this through the pre-installed SteelSeries Engine software…
This software also controls the keyboard backlighting. Whereas the GT73VR had three-zone backlighting, the GT75VR has per-key backlighting, where each key can be any color in the RGB spectrum. This kind of functionality is becoming an expected feature on high-end gaming notebooks. (Razer was the first to implement per-key RGB backlighting in a notebook, namely on its Blade StealthX7 v6 gaming notebook.)
The software has a number of preset profiles, or you can create an unlimited number of your own. Layered effects are available, allowing you to have the keys change to a different color when pressed.
The GT75VR’s mechanical keyboard is a delight to type on. The keys have an excellent range of travel and a precise feel…
They’re louder to press than those of a traditional membrane keyboard, but that’s all part of the mechanical experience. We’re not sure what we like better: this keyboard, or the mechanical one on the Razer Blade Pro (2017, GTX 1080).
The layout is where the GT75VR’s keyboard has shortcomings. The number pad has a non-standard layout of three columns, as opposed to the usual four. We found this to be a difficult transition; it’s unlikely we’d get used to this layout, given that we use different keyboards on a regular basis. The downsized number pad 0 key was especially tricky. Your mileage may vary.
Other layout oddities include the fact that the Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down keys are all MIA. They’re available in the number pad as Fn-key combos, but you have to disable Num Lock for that to work. As a possible alternative, you can use the SteelSeries Engine software to remap keys, but that would mean giving up existing ones. On the plus side, we very much like the full-size and segregated inverted-T arrow key cluster. Also of note is the Windows key’s left-side placement; traditionally, the SteelSeries-designed keyboards on MSI notebooks had it on the right. We complained about its placement previously, as the relocated key prevented the use of left-handed Windows key shortcuts. Now the opposite is true, but we’ll take this layout over the old one. Regardless, the addictive feedback of the mechanical switches almost makes us forgive the layout nuances.
MSI offers a choice of two very different displays on the GT75VR. The pricier option is the 4K (3,840×2,160-pixel) in-plane switching (IPS) panel with wide viewing angle support. It’ll be great for multimedia, but not so much for gaming. Even with a GPU as powerful as the GeForce GTX 1080, smooth gaming at 4K really requires an SLI setup. (That’s assuming you want to keep the in-game detail settings maxed-out, of course.) The GT75VR Titan SLI 4K-028 offers dual GTX 1070 cards if 4K gaming is your thing.
The 1080p panel that’s on our review unit is the one best suited to gaming. It’s a twisted nematic (TN) panel, meaning it has limited viewing angles; that shouldn’t be a problem for gamers, given that they’ll be looking at the display head-on. The TN panel has the advantage of faster response times; MSI advertises it at just 3ms, whereas an IPS panel can have several times that. The 1080p panel also has a fast 120Hz refresh rate, an important attribute since the GTX 1070 and the GTX 1080 GPUs offered with this rig are both capable of pushing triple-digit frame rates in the latest games at 1080p resolution. This display furthermore has Nvidia G-Sync support for the smoothest possible gaming experience. Last, the picture quality of this panel is fantastic. The anti-glare surface holds reflections at bay, and the advertised 94 percent NTSC gamut coverage translates to eye-popping color. It’s hard to beat the GT75VR’s 1080p panel for gaming and general multimedia.
Two speakers and a subwoofer face downward from within the base of the GT75VR. They get appreciably loud and have good bass. The clarity is slightly muffled since the speakers are inside the chassis, but the sound is convincingly full, and the overall listening experience is admirable for a notebook setup.
As you might expect from a notebook this size, the GT75VR has an almost desktop-like selection of ports. Starting on the left edge are a trio of USB 3.0 Type-A ports and a quartet of audio jacks, the latter consisting of line-out, line-in, microphone, and headphone jacks…
The right edge of the chassis holds another two USB 3.0 ports and an SD card reader…
The rear of the desktop also has ports, namely the Killer Ethernet jack, mini DisplayPort 1.2, a Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) port, HDMI 2.0 (for 4K output at 60Hz), and an imposing four-prong AC power jack…
Wireless connectivity is courtesy of a Killer 1535 802.11ac card, which includes Bluetooth 4.1. The GT75VR’s wireless range was average in our testing, but we didn’t have any issues with dropped connections.
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080GTX 1070, although two GTX 1070s will handily outperform a single GTX 1080 in situations where multiple GPUs are fully supported. And that’s the key to the whole thing; not all games (or benchmarks, even) support multiple GPUs, which is why the GTX 1080 makes the most overall sense from our point of view. The GTX 1080 is still the most powerful single GPU available in a notebook. Released in mid-2016, this GPU can tackle AAA-level titles at their maximum detail settings without breaking a sweat.
For memory, the GT75VR has four DIMM slots. Our review unit came with a single 16GB module of DDR4-2400, making it easy to expand later. Up to 64GB of RAM is supported in a four-16GB DIMM arrangement. Storage-wise, this notebook has a single M.2 Type-2280 (80mm) slot for solid-state drives, along with a traditional 2.5-inch bay. Our GT75VR Titan Pro-215 configuration had a 256GB Samsung-brand SSD in the M.2 slot, and a 1TB Hitachi-brand hard drive.
Getting under the skin of the GT75VR is possible. The entire bottom of the chassis comes off with the removal of five screws. The most tedious part is undoing the plastic clips that hold it down once the screws are removed.
Two of the DIMM slots for memory are located in the center-right of the motherboard. The other two slots are on the other side of the motherboard, which would require much more in-depth disassembly. (We didn’t attempt that.)
Capable of fitting up to four internal storage drives, the GT75VR has impressive expansion capability for a notebook. The storage drives accessible under this panel include the three M.2 Type-2280 (80mm) slots, sitting next to one another under the aluminum heatsink towards the front of the chassis. It’s good to see that the drives have dedicated cooling. Just underneath those slots is the 2.5-inch bay.
The cooling solution in the GT75VR consists of two large fans and 10 heatpipes. The bare copper pipes are a change from the black-coated pipes that we saw in the outgoing GT73VR. We’re unsure if there’s a reason for that change, but we certainly like the copper look better.
The fans were all but silent unless we were gaming or running benchmarks. In such scenarios, we could hear the fans running, but the noise level was just average by gaming notebook standards. The fans are large enough that they don’t have to spin all that fast, thus keeping motor noise at bay. In addition, fan whine was nonexistent. You won’t go unnoticed while gaming on the GT75VR in a dead-silent environment, but we’d say this notebook is unlikely to cause a bother in most other situations. (We wouldn’t recommend pushing your luck by trying to game in class, though.)
We monitored the GT75VR’s internal component temperatures using software tools in an AAA-level game title over a 30-minute session. The Core i7-7700HQ processor reached just 67 degrees C; it’s not uncommon for gaming notebooks we test to reach 10 to 20 degrees higher than that.
Here’s a look at how the GeForce GTX 1080 GPU performed under stress:
The GPU’s core clock (blue line) was quite stable; the downward spikes you see in there are likely from us transitioning between levels or loading cutscenes in the game. The GTX 1080 in this notebook is rated for a 1,582MHz core clock and a 1,771MHz boost clock, but the average clock over our session was 1,846MHz. The GPU’s temperature (red line) didn’t break 80 degrees C, meaning it ran cool enough that the GPU was able to maintain its maximum performance potential. Not all gaming notebooks have the cooling to allow their GPUs to maintain or exceed their boost clocks like the GT75VR. Variation in the effectiveness of cooling systems explains some of the variance in GPU performance between notebooks that have the same model GPU.
This is a look at the outside of the GT75VR during the gaming session. These images are courtesy of our FLIR One Pro, a thermal imaging attachment for Android and iOS devices.
The heat is concentrated towards the rear of the chassis, where the heat-producing components are located. Our IR thermometer reported a maximum surface temperature of just 83 degrees F. Granted, we were doing the testing in a relatively cool area, but the surface temperature wasn’t far above room temperature. (For reference, we prefer to see notebook surface temperatures stay below about 100 degrees F. Anything over 100 degrees F would be considered toasty, and 116 degrees F or higher wouldn’t be safe to touch.)
A closer look at the keyboard reveals that most of the heat comes from the top right, where the GeForce GTX 1080 GPU is located on the motherboard.
The only warm areas under the chassis were the thermal exhaust vents. The highest temperature we recorded under here was 104 degrees F at the top left corner. You can just make out the heatpipes doing their job through the grates in the bottom panel. Needless to say, you wouldn’t want to do anything strenuous with this notebook in your lap, as the cooling system greatly depends on air coming through the bottom panel.