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Mobile Workstation Review: A Name Worth Noting

 

Micro-Star International’s GT70-2OL mobile workstation.

Micro-Star International’s GT70-2OL mobile workstation.

We recently received a new mobile workstation from MSI (Micro-Star International). If that company is not familiar to you, perhaps it is a name worth noting. MSI, based in Taiwan with offices in the U.S. and Canada as well as throughout Europe, the Middle East and Asia, was founded in 1986 as a motherboard and graphics card manufacturer. Today, it manufactures consumer and commercial electronics including notebooks, all-in-one PCs, servers, workstations, industrial PCs, household appliances, car infotainment products, multimedia systems and communication devices.

After spending some time working with the MSI GT70-2OL mobile workstation, we came away impressed. A fourth-generation Intel Core i7 processor powers the system, which is housed in a nicely sculpted black, brushed aluminum case. With overall dimensions of 16.75×11.25×2.38 in. (WxDxH), this notebook is definitely on the large size. At 8.25 lbs., it is also heavier than other mobile systems we have recently reviewed. It also comes with a large external power supply that adds an additional 2.25 lbs. to the total package.

Unlike many of those other systems, however, MSI does not offer a lot of configuration options. What you see is what you get — but what you get is a mobile workstation with a fast CPU, high-end graphics, great display, big hard drive, and lots of memory at a very attractive price.

The system we received was powered by a quad-core 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-4700MQ with integrated Intel HD Graphics 4600. This mobile processor has a maximum turbo boost speed of 3.4GHz, a 6MB cache, and a fairly frugal thermal design power (TDP) rating of 47 watts. Our MSI mobile workstation also came with 16GB of memory installed as a pair of 8GB 1600MHz small outline dual in-line memory modules (SO-DIMMs). Both the CPU and memory come standard in the base configuration; with two additional memory sockets, the MSI GT70-2OL can accommodate up to 32GB of RAM.

Also standard was an NVIDIA Quadro K4100M GPU, with 4GB of DDR5 memory and 1152 compute unified device architecture (CUDA) cores. This high-end mobile discrete graphics card enabled the GT70-2OL to deliver some of the fastest graphics performance we have ever recorded.

It’s What’s Inside That Counts

Lifting the lid reveals a beautiful, 17.3-in. full HD backlit LCD display with a native resolution of 1920×1080 and a nice 102-key SteelSeries backlit keyboard with a separate numeric keypad. A 720p webcam is centered above the display, with a single microphone to one side, while a touchpad with two dedicated buttons is centered below the keyboard.

Six quick-launch buttons above the keyboard let you quickly access the Windows Media Play, increase the speed of the system fan, toggle the keyboard backlight, switch the system into airplane mode, turn off the LCD, and access a System Control Manager application for adjusting multiple system settings. To the right of these are caps lock and number lock indicators. A pair of stereo speakers is located in the upper corners above the keyboard.

A power button located in the middle of the quick-launch buttons glows white when the system is using the integrated Intel graphics, and amber when the discrete NVIDIA GPU is active. This is just one of the many features we have not seen before in other systems. Another thing we have never seen before is a small toggle switch located to the upper-left of the touchpad, which glows amber when the touchpad has been turned off.

LEDs along the front edge of the case indicate Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, battery status, sleep state and hard drive activity. The right side of the case houses a pair of USB 2.0 ports as well as an optical drive that comes standard with both Blu-ray Disc and DVD read/write capability. The left side sports an exhaust fan vent, three USB 3.0 ports, and audio jacks for headphone, microphone, line-in and line-out as well as an SD card reader.

The rear of the case contains a Kensington lock slot, the power connector, an RJ-45 LAN port, a 15-pin VGA port, a mini-DisplayPort, HDMI connector, and an additional air vent.

The MSI GT70-2OL motherboard, based on an Intel HM87 chipset, is made by Micro-Star International. Standard features include integrated Sound Blaster Cinema sound, Bluetooth 4.0, a Qualcomm Killer DoubleShot LAN and wireless LAN with a/b/g/n capability, and a 1TB 7200rpm hard drive.

Battery life also proved to be quite good. With the GT70-2OL switched to power-saving mode, the 12.4 volt 86.6 amp hour battery kept running for 4 hours and 34 minutes.

Mobile Workstations Compared

  MSI GT70-2OL
mobile workstation(2.4GHz Intel Core i7-4700MQ quad-core CPU, NVIDIA Quadro K4100M, 16GB RAM)
Eurocom Racer 3W
mobile workstation2.4GHz Intel Core i7-4700MQ quad-core CPU, NVIDIA Quadro K1100M, 16GB RAM)
BOXX GOBOXX G2720
mobile workstation3.6GHz Intel Core i7-3820 quad-core CPU, NVIDIA Quadro K5000M, 16GB RAM)
Eurocom Panther 4.0
mobile workstation(3.1GHz Intel Xeon E5-2867W 8-core CPU, NVIDIA Quadro K5000M, 16GB RAM)
Lenovo ThinkPad W530
mobile workstation(2.90GHz Intel Core i7-3920XM quad-core CPU, NVIDIA Quadro K2000M,
16GB RAM)
HP EliteBook 8560w
mobile workstation2.30GHz Intel Core i7-2820QM quad-core CPU, NVIDIA Quadro 2000M, 16GB RAM)
Price as tested $3,200 $2,172 $5,895 $6,800 $2,592 $4,063
Date tested 11/25/13 11/10/13 5/28/13 4/20/13 12/29/12 5/1/12
Operating System Windows 7 Windows 7 Windows 7 Windows 7 Windows 7 Windows 7
SPECviewperf 11 higher
catia-03 72.47 28.97 73.23 65.87 34.82 27.49
ensight-04 50.62 17.38 61.24 61.01 18.40 18.46
lightwave-01 64.39 31.53 78.03 65.85 62.75 48.21
maya-03 112.33 51.20 111.58 102.18 62.04 58.12
proe-05 18.38 9.43 16.06 13.82 15.58 9.77
SW-02 55.00 24.95 63.26 55.06 39.48 35.85
tcvis-02 60.63 27.70 60.91 59.28 30.63 23.12
snx-01 59.76 23.17 63.57 64.62 25.14 19.85
SPECapc SolidWorks 2013 higher
Graphics Composite 5.27 3.63 2.72 2.26 2.06 n/a
RealView Graphics Composite 6.27 3.97 2.93 2.42 2.18 n/a
Shadows Composite 6.26 3.95 2.93 2.42 2.18 n/a
Ambient Occlusion Composite 13.00 5.35 6.09 5.14 3.76 n/a
Shaded Mode Composite 5.78 3.83 2.66 2.41 2.13 n/a
Shaded with Edges Mode Composite 4.80 3.44 2.78 2.12 2.00 n/a
RealView Disabled Composite 2.62 2.55 2.02 1.72 1.65 n/a
CPU Composite ratio 3.74 3.99 3.61 3.72 3.59 n/a
Autodesk Render Test lower
Time seconds 60.33 55.83 79.20 57.33 62.00 89.83
Battery Test higher
Time hours:min 4:34 3:47 1:15 1:14 6:09 2:37

Numbers in blue indicate best recorded results. Numbers in red indicate worst recorded results.

Excellent Results, Great Price

Of course, all of the standard features and impressive battery life mean nothing if the system doesn’t perform well. But as we’ve already hinted, the performance of this MSI mobile workstation was equally impressive. On the SPECviewperf test, the GT70-2OL outperformed every other mobile system we have ever tested with the exception of the BOXX GOBOXX G2720, a system costing twice as much. Keep in mind, though, this test focuses solely on graphics performance and is not necessarily a good guide to overall productivity benefits.

On the SPECapc SolidWorks 2013 benchmark, which is more of a real-world test, the MSI mobile workstation, turned in test results that were not only faster than any other mobile workstation we have ever tested, but results that rivaled or exceeded those of desktop workstations as well.

It was only on the multi-threaded AutoCAD rendering test where the edge definitely goes to systems with fast, multi-core CPUs. But while the GT70-2OL lagged behind other systems we have recently reviewed, it did so only by a small margin.

In fact, if we have any criticisms at all of the MSI GT70-2OL mobile workstation, our issues are relatively slight. The cooling fan, which was generally quiet, became more pronounced during heavy CPU loads (such as during our rendering test), with air leaving the side exhaust port reaching 125˚F, although the bottom of the case stayed under 100˚F. We also encountered several instances where the optical drive did not initially respond after loading a disc.

Other than those minor issues, we were very impressed by the GT70-2OL mobile workstation. MSI offers either Windows 7 Professional 64-bit or Windows 8 included in the price, and backs the system with a 2-year limited warranty. And unlike many other lesser-known brands, this MSI mobile workstation is independent software vendor (ISV)-certified for Autodesk software as well as SolidWorks and Adobe Creative Suite 6.

Perhaps the most impressive feature of all is that this mobile workstation sells for $3,200 as configured. That is also the base configuration.

More Info

Micro-Star International

MSI GT70-2OLWS-683US

• Price: $3,200 as tested ($3,200 base price)
• Size: 16.75×11.25×2.38 in. (WxDxH) notebook
• Weight: 8.25 lbs. as tested, plus 2.25-lb. power supply
• CPU: 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-4700MQ quad-core w/6MB cache
• Memory: 16GB 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM (32GB max)
• Graphics: NVIDIA Quadro K4100M w/4GB memory
• LCD: 17.3-in. diagonal (1920×1080)
• Hard drives: 1TB 7200rpm SATA
• Optical: Blu-ray Disc burner
• Audio: headphone, microphone, audio line-in, audio line-out, built-in microphone and speakers
• Network: integrated Killer E2200 Gigabit Ethernet (10/100/1000 NIC); Killer N1202 a/b/g/n wireless
• LAN: integrated Bluetooth 4.0
• Other: three USB 3.0, two USB 2.0, SD card reader, 15-pin VGA, mini DisplayPort, HDMI, 720p webcam
• Keyboard: integrated 102-key keyboard with numeric keypad

About David Cohn

David Cohn has been using AutoCAD for more than 25 years and is the author of more than a dozen books on the subject. He’s the technical publishing manager at 4D Technologies, a contributing editor to Desktop Engineering, and also does consulting and technical writing from his home in Bellingham, WA. Watch for his latest CADLearning eBooks on AutoCAD 2015 on the Apple iBookstore, at Amazon, and on the CADLearning website. You can contact him via email at david@dscohn.com or visit his website at www.dscohn.com.
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