Intel has migrated its new i9 processor family to the portable market, or semi-portable, anyway. The i9-8950HK is an unlocked, overclockable 6C/12T laptop CPU, capable of turbo boosting to 4.8GHz when power and thermal budget permits.
The new i9-8950HK runs at a base clock of 2.9GHz, with single-core turbo boosting to 4.8GHz. We are unclear on what the all-core turbo boost max frequency is, but it’s clearly lower. TDP is rated at 45W, though note that this is more a measure of the cooling requirements and not the actual power consumption; that said, Intel’s TDP ratings almost always explicitly coincide with power consumption numbers. The 8950HK will move away from the quad-channel support of its desktop brethren, and instead move down to dual-channel memory at a base frequency of 2666MHz. Unlocked motherboards should theoretically permit higher memory speeds, though we are uncertain of the market options at this time.
Our approach to reviewing the MSI GE72 7RE gaming laptop has been more drawn-out than normally, as we’ve individually run tests for FPS performance and for the impact of pre-installed software on the machine. Today, we’re combining all of those numbers into our final review of the MSI GE72 7RE notebook and its 1050 Ti & i7-7700HQ hardware, coming to an ultimatum on the product as a whole.
The MSI GE72 7RE Apache Pro runs a 17.3” display, making for what is an abnormally large form factor for a 1050 Ti, and is able to accommodate a larger keyboard as a result. It’s not a perfect keyboard, as we’ll discuss in the video, but it does have a numpad and most standard keys. This larger form factor is also critical for the sprawling cooling solution, which makes use of the additional area to spread out its heatpipes and dual-fan cooling. It’s a trade-off, as always: A bigger laptop does mean better cooling, but a 1050 Ti does sort of seem the perfect fit for a 14-15.6” machine. From experience, we can say that you won’t be opening this display in an economy seat on an airplane – but if that’s not how the laptop is being used, you end up with what is still a slim, fairly light option.
Our model included a 128GB SSD from Toshiba (but supply changes, so that’s not a guaranteed supplier), 1TB HDD, 2x8GB DIMMs, the 1050 Ti, and an i7-7700HQ. The price for this unit, which we had on loan, would run around $1200-$1300.
We posted a content piece pertaining to MSI’s pre-installed software – which we called “bloatware” – prior to the start of Computex. The company had responded at first with silence to emails, but then responded mid-week (in emails) with an overall neutral tone that suggested a wish to improve. There wasn’t much said in the emails, though, and certainly nothing official – so we sought out MSI’s US laptop representative at Computex, then asked for comment.
MSI’s Clifford Chun joined us, Product Manager of Laptops at MSI (US HQ), and discussed the company’s intermediary solution to the excessive pre-installed software. As Chun states in the video below, MSI will begin including an uninstaller package with their new laptops in 2H17. This utility will provide check boxes to each of the pre-installed applications and, upon launching it, will allow users to check and delete software. There is some irony to the idea of including more software to remove software, of course, but it’s a first step. It’d also be ideal to opt-in, not out, but marketing agreements do not generally permit this (as we said in the first video).
We’ll talk more below about why MSI is stuck in a difficult position, but first, the interview:
One of the most frustrating aspects of the hardware industry is when a company made a perfectly viable product, but somehow flummoxed execution. The consumer doesn’t see the architecture or the engineering – at least, not outside of reviews – they see the full picture. In this capacity, consumers get a view of a product that is similar to a product manager’s: The big picture as it comes together, seeing past all the smaller details along the way.
A GPU might, for instance, be a powerhouse when analyzed under an SEM or in a vacuum, but could prove hamstrung in adverse thermal conditions resultant of an inadequate cooler. More appropriately, a laptop could host the best mobile hardware available, but prove devalued when flooded with unneeded software. The fastest SSD in the business, as bogged down with bloatware, will still be slower than a clean Windows install on a fresh HDD.
This big picture is sometimes lost to the chaos of marketing development efforts, particularly when MDF starts exchanging hands, and lost in the need to turn a profit in an industry with small margins. That’s what happened with MSI’s laptops: These are completely capable, highly competitive laptops that demand attention – but they’re plagued with an ineffable concoction of applications, responsible for doubling time required to boot. That’s not all, either – we have measured an impact to noise output as the CPU boosts sporadically, an unpredictable and spurious impact to frametimes, an impact to battery life, and an overall reduction in product quality.
All because of bloatware.
Laptop reviewing and benchmarking comes with a unique challenge: We don’t typically get to hang onto review samples once the cycle is complete, unlike other review products, which limits regression testing for content like today’s. This means that we need to rely on some of our older testing and methodology, but we can still judge scaling based on old games – that should be mostly linear, with some exceptions (which we’ve accounted for in our summary of tests).
Fortunately, the upshot of revisiting older titles for comparative analysis is that those titles do not change. They don’t get updates to game code and they don’t get driver updates, so results should largely exist in a hermetically sealed state.
Regardless, today’s goal is to benchmark the GTX 1050 Ti notebook GPU. We still have a lot of work to do on notebooks as we work to rebuild our bench, but this will start us off. The GTX 1070 is next. We’re starting with an MSI GE72 7RE Apache Pro with GTX 1050 Ti and i7-7700HQ CPU. This isn’t a review of the GE72 – that’s upcoming – but just a GPU benchmark to help determine scaling and placement of the 1050 Ti against other notebook GPUs.
Our review of the notebook is forthcoming, as are a few feature benchmark pieces. It’ll be interesting stuff, as we’ve got some key things to point out with this one. Be sure to follow or subscribe to catch that. For today, let’s get into the 1050 Ti notebook benchmarks.
MSI’s new-ish GS43 Phantom Pro laptop made an appearance at PAX East this weekend, where we’re presently RNG-ing some tear-downs and live benchmark demonstrations. Our first content piece discussed keyboard input latency testing, and our second piece – this one – will open up the Phantom Pro for a closer look.
As a quick side note, MSI does have “new” camo finish GTX 1060s, Z270 motherboards, and GE62 laptops. We show those briefly in the video, though it’s really not a focal point for today.
At CES 2016, Razer introduced what they touted as the long-awaited solution for laptop users that wanted desktop power gaming: the Razer Blade Stealth and the Razer Core. Razer promised UltraBook lightweight portability combined with PNP conversion to desktop GPU performance; however, like many products at CES, only part of the solution was ready. The UltraBook and external GPU enclosure combination was demonstrated at that CES and, to Razer’s credit, PNP worked … mostly.
While on the show floor, we were permitted to disconnect and reconnect the Core from the Stealth multiple times to watch the PNP in action. During the process, the engineers that we worked with explained the many difficulties involved with making real-time driver switching across Thunderbolt 3 (brand new, at that point) work. Asking a Microsoft OS to disconnect and reconnect display drivers from 3 different vendors (AMD, Intel, nVidia) was challenging. So, as we watched Windows change the display drivers in real time through Device Manager, we were impressed to see it working even if it wasn’t the fully polished end product. Soon after the show, Razer began delivering Stealths with 6th generation Core i7 CPUs, 2560x1440 QHD or 4K touch screens, 8GB of DDR3 DRAM, and up to 512GB PCIe based SSDs. The only slightly disappointing specification was the 45 WHr battery which provided around 9 hours of use.
NVidia has added to our pile of pre-CES hardware news with the announcement of GTX 1050 and 1050 Ti-equipped laptops. 30+ models from various OEMs will be arriving in Q1 2017, including several using Intel’s new Kaby Lake CPUs this week at CES. Confirmed manufacturers include Acer, Alienware/Dell, ASUS, HP, Lenovo, and MSI.
As mentioned in our laptop 1060/1070/1080 benchmark, improvements to power management mean that nVidia’s 10-series notebook GPUs are the real deal, rather than the neutered “-M” versions that laptops have gotten in the past. The specs listed for the notebook GPUs confirm this, with the only major difference being higher core clock speeds in the notebook 1050 and 1050 Ti. This doesn’t indicate a change in the physical hardware, it mostly seems that nVidia has increased the clock-rate given the high thermal headroom (room to increase heat) as a result of the efficient 1050/Ti GPUs. Like other 10-series laptops, OEMs will probably be allowed an additional +/-10% for overclocking their GPUs.
We recently prolonged the life of GN Andrew’s Lenovo laptop, a task accomplished by tearing the thing down and cleaning out the dust, then re-applying thermal compound. This brought temperatures down well below 80C on the silicon components, where the unit was previously reaching 100C (or TjMax values and thereby throttling). The laptop has lived to work many more long render sessions since that time, and has been in good shape since.
That’s gotten us a bit of a reputation, it seems, as we just recently spent a few hours fixing a Dell Studio XPS 1640 and its noise issues.
The 1640 had a few problems at its core: The first, loud noise during idle (desktop); the second, slowing boot times with age; and the third, less-than-snappy responsiveness upon launching applications.
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