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MSI GX70 Gaming Notebook Review; AMD A10-5750M Tested

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
Feb 26, 2007
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12,861
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Montreal
AMD launched their Richland mobile parts months ago but thus far, design wins have been few and far between. The situation has led to Intel’s expensive Haswell architecture virtually taking over the notebook and ultra-portable markets. The last place many would have expected Richland in within a gaming notebook but that’s exactly what happened when MSI chose the A10-5750M for their new GX70.

MSI’s notebook family may not be the most widely recognized around and it certainly doesn’t receive the press coverage of Dell’s Alienware line or ASUS’ Republic of Gamers G-Series notebooks. However, their gaming notebooks are known as being well priced and feature packed. The GX70 is no different in this respect since it boasts some serious specifications and only costs $1300. When compared against comparably-equipped systems using Intel processors, that’s a huge savings. But do you get less by going with a Richland-based notebook? Not necessarily if gaming is the system’s primary purpose.


For just $1300, the GX70 has the potential to become an affordable, portable gaming powerhouse. As we saw in our initial architectural preview, its A10-5750 APU may not be the most powerful processor around, decent in-game performance is still possible. Even though Richland has been marketed for its battery life proficiency, MSI has paired up it with AMD’s most powerful mobile graphics chip: the HD 8970M 2GB. This mobile graphics processor is based off of the Neptune XT core which has 1280 cores and operates at 900MHz with Turbo enabled. Though clock speed has been increased this is the same core used in the previous-generation HD 7970M though UVD3 has been added and ZeroCore Power will allow for drastically reduced power consumption when the display is turned off. Eyefinity multi monitor support tags along for the ride as well.

One of the most important features brought to the table by AMD’s HD 8970M is the new Enduro technology. Much like NVIDIA’s Optimus, this fourth generation implementation of switchable graphics allows the GPU to automatically turn off when it’s not needed, causing the more efficient APU to take over in most non-demanding situations. In most scenarios Enduro will prolong battery life by only enabling the discrete GPU when its massive graphics horsepower is needed. In theory, this works quite well but AMD has struggled to bring their Optimus-competitor to a level that makes it a viable solution.

The GX70’s other specifications are relatively par for the course in the gaming notebook segment. There’s a massive 17.3” 1080P backlit LED screen, a 750GB hard drive, 7200RPM hard drive and more connectors that most gamers could possibly need. It also weighs in at hefty 8.6 pounds and over 11 pounds with the external power brick, bringing the whole affair into desktop replacement territory. The GX70 may be a notebook but don’t expect to haul it around like an Ultrabook.

There are some interesting additions too, among them Killer’s networking stack which prioritizes gaming-related packets, a headphone port that’s been upgraded with an amplifier, Sound Blaster Cinema software, Bluetooth V4.0 support and a gigantic 9-cell battery. Even the keyboard received a gamer-focused design with SteelSeries providing their knowledge for its engineering.


With an overall size of about 17”x12”, the GX70 isn’t a small notebook by any stretch of the imagination but it isn’t any larger than similar products from ASUS and Alienware. As a matter of fact, at 8.6lbs it is actually one of the lighter desktop replacements, though a thickness of 2.17” makes it feel quite chunky.

MSI’s exterior design uses a straightforward non-nonsense approach with a brushed a blackened brushed aluminum top cover that’s been flanked by plastic bumpers on all four sides. There’s a slight amount of lid flex but for the most part, the GX70 feels well constructed albeit with heaps of plastic. By the way, that MSI logo is backlit so it glows a muted white when the notebook is in use.


The black on black tones continue within the GX70’s interior but this time, some glossy plastic has been added around the keyboard. Unfortunately it causes distracting reflections whenever the notebook is used in well lit environments or outside.

MSI has avoided the soft-touch finish preferred by some of their competitors, instead deciding standard reinforced plastic palm rests. This does cause hand oils to become an unsightly problem in short order but luckily it’s easily cleaned with a microfiber cloth.

Throughout testing the GX70 exhibited very little chassis deflection, proving that exotic materials aren’t really needed to ensure a rigid, nearly flex-free build. Granted, the engineering here doesn’t feel quite as refined as ASUS’ G-series but it price point is substantially lower and the material joints are well executed which virtually eliminates the possibility of them becoming dust magnets.


Another indication of good build quality is hinge strength and the GX70’s ensure its heavy lid remains securely in place. MSI has also added a small lip around the chassis’ outer edge which helps immensely when trying to lug this thing around.


The upper edge of the GX70 holds a centrally-mounted power button as well as a number of indicator LEDs that correspond to functions within MSI’s Control Center Software. They also serve as hot keys for booting the included Media Player, switching the display and keyboard backlighting on / off, starting the Cooler Boost function (which runs the fans at 100%) and engaging an Airplane Mode that turns off all wireless communications. There’s also a G-Panel key that isn’t tied to any function but can be set up through an onscreen user control interface. Their muted orange glow ensures they won’t become overly distracting.

A pair of THX-certified speakers with an old-school sliver look has also been installed in this area to ensure adequate acoustical separation.



The GX70 certainly doesn’t disappoint on the connector front either. Its left side is equipped with three USB 3.0 ports and four audio gold plated audio jacks which include audio out and mic in ports alongside two dedicated hookups for left / right separation for headphones which support the function. An SD card reader is present here as well.

On the right hand side MSI has installed a pair of USB 2.0 ports and the GX70’s Blu Ray drive.


The notebook’s rear is where much of the action happens with the Killer Networks enabled LAN jack, a Kensington lock, the power connector and three display outputs. The HDMI 1.4, mini DisplayPort and VGA connectors can be utilized separately or they can be combined to create an Eyefinity display group. This does limit maximum resolution on each external monitor to 1080P from the VGA output but the HD 8970M likely won’t allow for playable performance on three higher resolution screens anyways. Alternately, the mini DisplayPort can be used with a compatible hub for triple monitor daisy chaining.


At first glance the underside of MSI’s GX70 doesn’t feature anything of particular interest but the removable 9-cell battery is becoming something of a rarity these days. There’s also another speaker grille here which houses a 3 watt mini subwoofer, a necessity when securing this notebook’s THX certification.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
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Montreal
Keyboard & Trackpad / Upgrade Options

Keyboard & Trackpad



SteelSeries is well known in the gaming industry for their uncompromising commitment to providing gamers with the best peripherals possible so we had some high expectations for the keyboard they provided MSI’s GX70. Our experience was mostly positive but there are some areas in need of improvement.

Feedback is generally excellent with just the right amount bounce-back from every one of the keys when typing, though the small Enter and left Shift buttons quickly become an annoyance in some situations. The whole keyboard is also slightly recessed into the chassis meaning a longer than normal finger reach will be needed but this is tempered by the fact that MSI has angled the whole notebook to ensure it is ergonomically perfect for long-term use

The learning curve on this keyboard is minimal but there is a nearly imperceptible flex in certain critical areas. It won’t be noticed until gaming enters the equation but when that happens, the lack of reinforcement on the WASD keys becomes abundantly obvious since the keys have so little travel to begin with. Under no circumstance is this a glaring flaw but it will definitely be picked up by serious gamers.


Maximizing the amount of horizontal space for a slightly more spacious layout would have been preferable since the keyboard does feel a bit cramped. Some separation between the number pad and the main buttons would have been welcome since its current position alongside the direction arrows leads to the stunted Enter and Shift buttons. While typing this review, we constantly hit the Up or 4 keys instead of those two, causing no small amount of frustration.


On the positive side, the GX70’s keyboard is completely backlit and has various intensity settings making it the perfect companion for mobile gaming.


There have been very few notebooks which have absolutely nailed the trackpad experience but this isn’t one of them. The unit included on MSI’s GX70 does feature excellent palm recognition, a good border and nearly perfect placement. Its physical keys are also welcome addition considering the number of disastrous outings we’ve had with integrated buttons and there’s even a handy switch next to the keyboard to completely turn it off. Unfortunately, that’s where the fun stops but MSI is only partially to blame here.

The trackpad has plenty of real estate but its functions don’t work particularly well with the GX70’s Windows 8 OS. For whatever reason, it just doesn’t seem to support the countless navigation eccentricities Microsoft rolled into their latest operating system and as a result, navigating the Metro UI becomes a lesson in extreme frustration. Ironically, all of the gesture controls are present and accounted for within the trackpad’s associated driver. As a matter of habit, we’d normally place most of the blame on Microsoft’s horrid software but MSI and their partners could have made the experience a bit more user friendly.


Upgrade Options



Gaming notebooks typically include for some user access to upgrade the system’s memory or hard drive but that isn’t the case here. MSI doesn’t allow for any modification to their original hardware and protects the GX70’s internals with a Warranty Void if Removed sticker.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
Display & Audio Quality

Display



The GX70 uses a matte 1080P LED backlit display which is surprisingly capable given its presence within a budget gaming notebook. Its panel may use TN technology –which isn’t known for high end color reproduction- but when placed into the same platform as AMD’s excellent Catalyst software suite, it becomes a thing of rare beauty.

In it’s out of box settings, there’s nothing spectacular about the GX70’s screen but performance isn’t all that bad either. Colors are well represented, blacks never appear overly saturated, there isn’t any backlight bleeding and contrast remains constant throughout the dynamic range. However, AMD’s software allows for just enough tweaking that in just a few minutes you’ll achieve a rich, vibrant color pallet that puts some higher end units to shame. This is all accomplished while retaining the TN panel’s buttery smooth response times that all but eliminate ghosting.


Regardless of the untapped abilities of this panel, it is still based on a technology that all but guarantees sub-par viewing angles. When that happens, contrast drops off dramatically which is perfect for privacy but unfortunate for anyone who is sitting next to you. Luckily, you’ll be gaming while looking directly at the screen’s “sweet spot” most of the time so this is really a non-issue and once again, MSI’s screen of choice features much better than average performance in this area.


Audio Quality



If there is one area in which the GX70 is a cut above, it is in the acoustical realm, with speakers or headphones enabled. Its pair of 2W primary speakers aren’t all that great but when paired up with the 3W bottom-firing subwoofer, the sound they produce is nothing short of spectacular for a notebook. The base is surprisingly rich, high notes are reproduced with a clarity that rivals ASUS’ Bang & Olafsun setup, in-game sound directionality is spot-on and the acoustical separation nears perfection. Be it music, movie watching or gaming, we couldn’t find one area in which this THX-certified speaker setup didn’t excel.

While Sound Blaster’s Cinema THX powers the speakers to another level, it does wonders for headphones as well since MSI has integrated a dedicated amplifier for the 3.5mm jacks’ exclusive use. As a result, our Grado xxx headphones were pushed to another level which has rarely been achieved without a high end discrete audio card. Finding words to describe the experience is nearly impossible. Do yourself a favor: if you have a GX70, buy a pair of good headphones and get ready for an out-of-this-world experience.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Included Software

Included Software


MSI’s GX70 has one of the most complete software stacks we’ve come across in recent memory and its nearly devoid of bloatware. Every gamer’s worst enemy, Windows 8, has thrown into the mix too which ensures a healthy mix of frustration, mind-boggling interfaces, and bewildering backgoround processes eating up precious resources. Unfortunately, the GX70’s pedestrian-speed 7200RPM hard drive doesn’t help the situation either since it can’t cope well with these demands and causes the entire computing experience to feel unwieldy.

AMD’s Face Login is a key component within the Richland ecosystem and MSI advertises it within their marketing materials. It functioned quite well in conjunction with the included HD webcam and was able to log every user into Windows 8 without the need for a password.


The list of pre-installed programs doesn’t include any surprises and that’s a good thing since MSI hasn’t loaded up their notebook with unnecessary junk. With that being said, there are a few additions here which can be deleted if extra hard drive space is required. BlueStacks App Player is a simple program that allows Android apps to be used in a standard PC environment, though it tended to crash quite a bit. MSI’s Remind Manager and Social Media Collection are there to ensure you stay connected with MSI.

One of the major annoyances here –other than Windows 8 that is- is the Norton Security programs. They are only installed on a trial basis, cause constant pop-ups while in-game and essentially cause havoc whenever an application consumes more than 60% of the processor’s workload. Norton also happens to be nearly impossible to uninstall (special utilities are required for that) and merrily gobbles up more than 300MB of memory.

The main issue here is Windows 8 though. We won’t go through its well-publicized eccentricities but in this iteration it uses a shocking 2.4GB of system memory to keep itself propped up. That’s 33% of the GX70’s available resources which is unacceptable in our books considering you can’t upgrade the memory without voiding MSI’s warranty.


MSI’s System Control Manager or SCM serves as a jump-off point for a number of functions from performance settings to a Wireless toggle. All of these can be controlled with keyboard inputs or hotkeys but it’s still convenient to have them in one universal location.


The keyboard’s backlighting controls are grouped into a single interface which isn’t quite as in depth or user friendly as the one found on Alienware’s offerings. However, it is still relatively well designed with different patterns and colors available alongside zone-specific settings and several illumination presets for Gaming, Audio and other tasks.


When the Killer network card is installed, its application is a must in order to achieve optimal network performance. Without going through its entire setup process, we actually found that Windows’ default sharing center played tug of war with the network card, resulting in dropped WiFi signals or packet conflicts. At least the Killer software is easy to navigate and it gives a dizzying array of options.


Last but not least we have Sound Blaster THX Cinema Pro which essentially gives the user preset audio settings which are optimized for either Surround, Headphone or Stereo setups. There’s also a full-band equalizer, bass options, additional presets for Smart Volume (which adapts volume to your environment) and a well-designed positional sound interface.

Our personal favorite was the Dialog Plus setting which allowed actor's voices to come to the forefront when watching a movie, ensuring they didn't get lost in the other audio that's typically present in a 2.1 sound stage.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
A Closer Look at AMD’s Enduro Technology

A Closer Look at AMD’s Enduro Technology


Following in the footsteps of NVIDIA’s Optimus, Enduro allows for seamless switching between a Radeon discrete graphics processor and the onboard GPU within AMD’s Accelerated Processing Units. This means the power hungry discrete card will virtually shut off, conserving battery life until it is needed. The switch is accomplished in a way that’s completely invisible to the end user.

The idea is anything but a new one for AMD since their graphics switching technology is now in its fifth generation but this time around, it offers full support through the Vision Engine Control Center. There is however one major limitation: Enduro won’t work with Intel processors so any notebook manufacturer that wants to implement it needs to use one of AMD’s APUs.


The first group of options under Enduro or Switchable Graphics is a global settings option where generalized power profiles can be set up and maintained. This actually marks a massive improvement over the previous generation which tended to muddy the lines between battery-focused energy savings and the high performance needs of certain applications.


While AMD’s drivers are fairly good at picking up applications and the power profile they will require, it does need a helping hand once in a while. That’s where the custom application screen comes in handy. It allows you to browse every application detected by the Control Center and ensure programs have the correct power profile. New applications can be added; all that needs to be done is navigate to a folder that houses an executable and add it to the Vision Control Center.


AMD’s PowerPlay may not be part of the switchable graphics solution but it does allow for finer control over the processor’s power states when plugged in or operating under battery power. Like the other parts of Vision Control, it is well designed and very user friendly. We also found the Vari-Bright setting offered better automatic screen brightness control than MSI’s default application.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
System Benchmarks

System Benchmarks


These system benchmarks will cover the basics of a notebook’s sub-system performance along with Startup and Shutdown times. For PCMark 7 the standard test is used for most notebooks but entry level models are tested using the Lightweight Test. WPrime tests CPU performance and finally, Crystal Diskmark will give us an idea of storage (HDD or SSD) performance.







Our system benchmarks don’t exactly shine a positive light upon the GX70 or its Richland APU. The slow hard drive alongside its lack of a caching SSD keeps the PCMark 7 and Crystal DiskMark scores in extremely low territory and even Windows 8 (normally a quick-booting OS) struggles to load on this platform. For all of its horsepower, the GX70 barely manages to edge out an Intel Sandy Bridge ULV processor in WPrime.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
Productivity Benchmarks

Productivity Benchmarks


In this section we will be benchmarking programs which many people use on a daily basis. WinRAR will show how well a given system’s CPU, memory and storage subsystem performance work together to compress a large folder with 2.5GB of information contained within. Meanwhile, we use DriverHeaven’s Photoshop Benchmark and CineBench to recreate a professional usage environment of photo manipulation and rendering. MediaCoder x64 is also included in order to show CPU video transcoding performance within a free, vendor agnostic and multi threaded program.






Here we see the GX70 beginning to assert itself more aggressively due to its ability to leverage the Richland APU’s GPU compute power. With that being done, we see it rising in some key applications like Photoshop and OpenGL rendering. However, once again it falls behind in areas which solely support x86 processing or don’t support AMD’s GPU Compute algorithms.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
Entertainment Benchmarks

Entertainment Benchmarks


With a swift propagation of online and disk-based high definition content, testing a notebook’s performance in this area is critical. In order to accomplish this, a 720P YouTube Flash video clip is played through Google Chrome with hardware acceleration enabled.

The Blu Ray tests are conducted through Cyberlink’s PowerDVD 11 Ultra once again with hardware acceleration enabled if the system supports it. The video was run directly from the notebook’s hard drive. If the notebook doesn’t support 1080P input to its screen, we output the video via HDMI or DisplayPort to a 1080P HDTV.




This area holds no problem for the GX70 since it is able to utilize the CPU / GPU combination Richland processor or task the HD 8970M with these workloads.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
Network Performance

Network Performance


One of the most important aspects of any portable device is its ability to connect to wireless networks. A weak wireless card, insufficient insulation around the receiver or a badly placed antenna could all lead to connection issues and poor signal reception. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting booted from the ‘net due to insufficient signal.

In this simple test, we set up a wireless router (D-Link DIR-825) in six pre-determined locations within our 3-floor home at a rate of two locations per floor and each connected to a host PC. The notebook is placed upstairs (on the 3rd level), the router is connected to and a 1GB folder of information is transferred over to the host PC over the network. Typically, the transfer takes 5 to 20 minutes depending upon signal strength, etc.

The numbers you see below indicate how many connection points each notebook could recognize and then complete a successful file transfer. Naturally, higher recognized connection rates and successful file transfer numbers indicate better wireless performance.

Note than the floor plate between the basement and first level is concrete, which will prove to be a significant challenge for the penetration of wireless signals. The locations chosen range from 20 feet to approximately 50 feet away from the tested computer.



The GX70 is only the second notebook we’ve come across to completely ace this crucial test, both of which use the Killer networking backbone. While these results are impressive and critical for any self-respecting gamer, what isn’t shown are the extremely high download speeds we received: in excess of 2.5MB/s within Steam, a new record.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
Gaming Benchmarks (Synthetic)

Gaming Benchmarks (Synthetic)


The gaming tests seen below are relatively straightforward with a mix of DX11, DX10 and DX9 games being used in order to ensure full compatibility with every system. 3DMark06 and 3DMark 11 (for supporting systems) are used as well. They are all run in-game three times over so as to ensure accuracy with all settings as indicated in the charts below.




The first set of gaming benchmarks shows the GX70 to have a split personality. 3DMark06 is extremely CPU-bound and as a result, the quad core Richland APU drags the score down into the gutter. On the other hand, 3DMark 11 focuses on raw GPU performance and here, the HD 8970M is able to blow away everything else in our charts.
 

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