As a PC gamer that enjoys getting my hands on the latest hardware, the most exciting feature of MSi's new GT70 laptop should be the 2.3GHz Core i7-3610QM quad-core Ivy Bridge CPU or its ridiculously speedy storage solution, a combination of a 7200RPM 750GB hard drive and a pair of Samsung 64GB solid state drives.
But neither of those impressive features is quite as engaging as that damn illuminated SteelSeries keyboard.
Oh don't worry, I'll discuss power and performance, but what's the first thing that catches your eye when you look at the article atop this review? After the orange circle. No, no, below the screen. Above the trackpad.
That's right, it's the multicoloured glow of the keyboard, a shining beacon in a darkened room, calling me to come and play. It's completely customisable as well, with three illuminated sections that can change hue, turn on and off, breath, or roll in a constant wave.
It's not just the pretty colours. Each pressed key delivers a satisfying mechanical click, something I crave in a gaming laptop like a dying man craves... not dying. Look, my analogy skills might need work, but I know typing.
Okay, now that I've gotten that out of my system...
Joining the keyboard on the exterior of the GT70 is a pair of Dynaudio speakers, a mainstay of MSI's machines, providing sound a step above that of your average portable gaming rig. Between the speakers is a touch panel, giving easy access to several important controls, including the MSI Turbo Drive Engine (more on that in a bit) and the Cooler Boost button, which sends the unit's fan into noisy overdrive.
It also bears noting that one of the few issues I had with the previous MSi laptop I tested, the single-piece trackpad button, has been taken care of. The GT70 sports two buttons below an incredibly responsive pad, and while I still prefer an external mouse I don't hate it nearly as much as other finger-based navigation options.
At 16.9 by 2.2 by 11.3 inches and a weight of 3.7kg, the GT70 is a meaty machine that's looking to relegate your PC to the dusty corner of your closet. Its 17.3-inch anti-glare 1920x1080 LCD panel communicates vibrant colour as readily as any standalone monitor, with an expansive viewing angle insuring you won't need to constantly adjust the tilt to get your view just right.
To be a true desktop replacement, however, a laptop needs to provide power on par with a moderately high-powered gaming rig, and the GT70 isn't quite there.
It's certainly got the data access speed. Its super RAID design — a laptop first — ties together a pair of 64GB Samsung solid state drives with a standard 720GB hard disk to generate access speeds of up to 900 megabytes per second. While the unit I reviewed was configured incorrectly and only allowed for speeds of up to 600MB/s, the difference between this configuration and anything else I've used was still quite noticeable.
It's got the network technology as well, incorporating Killer Gaming's Bigfoot Gaming LAN technology to detect when games are accessing the network, giving them priority over other online applications. This supposedly results in reduced latency, giving players of online games an edge on the competition. I don't know, I still died quite a lot in Battlefield 3. Apparently the technology can't fix suck.
Indeed Battlefield 3 marks one of the only shortfalls of the GT70. With its integrated NVIDIA Geforce GTX 670M with 3GB of GDDR5, I figured it would perform a bit better than it did in Battlefield 3, but in campaign mode on Ultra settings I only managed to swing 24-25 frames per second. Pressing the MSI Turbo Drive Engine button brought the frame rate up to 25-26. That's on par with the Razer Blade, the expensive gaming laptop everyone laughed at because it was so underpowered.
That doesn't mean the MSi GT70 isn't a powerhouse of a machine; it just means all of that power can't help it run Battlefield 3 on Ultra. It performed quite well on lower settings, and less intense games (like Tera, for instance) gave it no trouble whatsoever.
For $US1,999 (in the reviewed configuration), the MSi GT70 delivers one sturdy piece of computing hardware, packed with power, bristling with ports, and ready to gently nudge your space-hog PC into the desk-side garbage can. What it may lack in gaming power it more than makes up for in cutting-edge technology, construction, and overall design. MSi makes good laptops.
And SteelSeries makes wonderful laptop keyboards. Did I mention the keyboard?