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MSI’s Most Powerful Gaming Laptop – GE76 Review

MSI’s Most Powerful Gaming Laptop – GE76 Review

MSI’s new GE76 is their most powerful gaming laptop that I’ve ever tested, it’s even able to beat their much thicker desktop replacement, the GT76 titan. I’ve got the highest specced config here, including an 8 core i9 Intel processor, 64 gigs of memory, and a 4K 120Hz screen which is powered by Nvidia RTX 3080 graphics.

There are different specs available though, my 3080 has 16 gigs of VRAM but there is also an 8 gig option. The design of the GE76 looks very similar to the 15” version from last year, the GE66, and overall build quality feels great.

The laptop alone weighs close to 3kg or 6.6lb, then over 4kg or 9lb with the large 280 watt power brick, but lower specced models have smaller bricks and will be lighter. The dimensions are similar to many other 17” laptops, it’s not exactly thin, but it’s not as thick as larger desktop style replacement machines.

My GE76 has a 17.3” 4K 120Hz screen, but it’s also available with 1080p higher refresh options too. The colour gamut is decent, and it gets fairly bright at full brightness and has a 932:1 contrast ratio.

It’s possible to disable optimus and only use the Nvidia discrete graphics after a reboot, which will boost gaming performance, but unfortunately there’s no G-Sync here. I measured average grey-to-grey response times at 7.

6ms, which is a decent result given our target for a 120Hz monitor would be an 8.3ms response time for transitions to occur within the refresh window, granted some transitions were longer than this. Here’s how these results compare against other gaming laptops.

There are definitely faster 1440p and 1080p panel options, I don’t have any other 4K data to compare with unfortunately. Backlight bleed was very minor with a small patch towards the right, but this will vary between laptops.

There’s a 1080p camera above the screen in the middle, but it does not have IR for Windows Hello. This is what the camera and microphone look and sound like, this is what it sounds like to type on the keyboard, and this is what it sounds like if we set the fan to full speed, so you can still hear me ok over the fan noise.

The keyboard has per key RGB backlighting which illuminates all keys and secondary key functions. It’s got 4 levels of key brightness, though even at maximum I thought it was a little dim compared to previous MSI laptops.

I had no issues typing with the keyboard, it worked fine and had a light clicky feel. Here’s how it sounds to give you a rough idea of what to expect. The power button is in the top right corner of the keyboard, but unlike others it’s not next to delete or backspace so should be clear of accidental presses, though you can of course control the action of a button press in Windows.

The precision touchpad clicks down anywhere and works fine. I thought it was a little small given the overall 17” size of the machine, but it gets the job done. Fingerprints and dirt aren’t too obvious, but they’re easy to clean with a microfiber cloth thanks to the smooth surface.

On the left from the back there’s a Kensington lock, air exhaust vent, USB 3.2 Gen2 Type-A port, USB 3.2 Gen2x2 Type-C port, which is the 20 gigabit one, and a 3.5mm audio combo jack. The right has two USB 3.

2 Gen1 Type-A ports, a full sized SD card slot, and there’s an air exhaust on this side too. The rest of the I/O is on the back between two more air exhaust vents. From left to right we’ve got a mini DisplayPort 1.

4 output, USB 3.2 gen2 Type-C port with DisplayPort support, 2.5 gigabit ethernet, HDMI output, and the power input. Unfortunately there’s no Thunderbolt, and you cannot use Type-C to charge the laptop, but all 3 display outputs connect directly to the Nvidia graphics, bypassing optimus, which you would expect from a machine which has a MUX switch.

The ethernet port in mine is definitely 2.5 gigabit, but the specs list gigabit, so it might vary by region. It’s easy to open up with one finger despite there not being any groove, the lid just sticks out a little instead.

There’s also the light bar on the front, which can be customized with the steel series software, same as the keyboard, or turned off if you prefer. There’s a little screen flex, it felt quite sturdy though, and like the GE66 last year, the GE76 is using MSI’s newer hinge design.

Keyboard flex was extremely minor when pushing down hard, it felt very solid overall. Underneath has air vents directly above both intake fans. Getting inside was easy enough. There are 13 phillips head screws which are all the same size, I pried the panel off starting at the back using the tools linked in the description.

The light bar is part of the main laptop chassis, so there aren’t any cables to worry about when removing the panel. Inside we’ve got the battery down the front, two M.2 storage slots above it on the left, two memory slots to the right of that, and WiFi 6e card to the right of those.

The speakers sound good, definitely above average for a gaming laptop and there’s a bit of bass. Sound comes out from both sides towards the front, and also from the front facing speakers on either side of the keyboard.

The latencymon results were looking good too. Like other MSI gaming laptops, the BIOS the GE76 uses is excellent once you press this epic cheat code to enable advanced mode, you can change pretty much everything from power limits, undervolting and overclocking.

Just make sure you understand what you’re doing as you could brick the machine. The GE76 has a large 99.9Wh battery inside. I’ve run my YouTube playback test both with optimus enabled and disabled, and I was able to get more than an extra hour of run time using Optimus as the Nvidia discrete graphics alone draws more power.

Here’s how the best case results compare against other laptops. Despite the large 99.9Wh battery, the battery life isn’t great, likely owing to the high end specs in my unit. The MSI Dragon Center software, which is the control panel for the machine, also lets you modify the maximum level to charge to which can help increase battery life span.

Let’s check out thermals next. The MSI Dragon Center software lets us change between different performance profiles, which from lowest to highest are silent, balanced and extreme performance. Extreme mode lets us enable coolerboost mode which sets the fan to max speed, and we’re also given the option of overclocking the GPU here too, though no overclocks were applied by default.

Although software only lets us enable coolerboost in extreme mode, we can use the F8 keyboard shortcut to enable it in any of the modes. Additionally we can set user mode which lets us customize the fans for both CPU and GPU if you want to get more granular.

The idle results down the bottom were on the warmer side in my 21 degree Celsius room, especially for CPU. Stress tests were done with the Aida64 CPU stress test with stress CPU only checked and the Heaven GPU benchmark run at the same time, while gaming was tested playing Watch Dogs 2.

CPU thermal throttling was at 95 degrees Celsius, though this was only happening in the worst case stress test with extreme mode and the fan set to auto, it was possible to remove this simply by enabling cooler boost.

The GPU on the other hand was thermal throttling any time it’s at 86 or above. We kind of expect stuff like this in the lower modes as the fans will be quieter though, it was easy enough to remove it by boosting fan speed.

The cooling pad, which is linked in the description, was then able to lower temperatures further, well, at least in the stress test, the gaming result is weird as you’ll soon see. These are the clock speeds for the same tests just shown.

Basically clock speeds increase as we move up to higher performance modes and improve cooling. The biggest boost to CPU performance was seen from the undervolt, though this didn’t appear to affect this particular game.

The 10980HK in my model has a 4.4GHz all core turbo boost speed, and this wasn’t being hit in any of these tests, and that’s the reason I haven’t bothered with manual CPU overclocking here. With the stress tests going silent and balanced mode the CPU seems to be limited to 30 watts, though with an actual game running this is a differed a bit, and this is likely due to dynamic boost.

The gaming workload would vary a bit more based on what’s going on in the game compared to the stress test which is more consistent. The GPU was able to run up to 150 watts, though I didn’t see this as often while playing the game.

I’m not sure why the CPU TDP was higher here, as we saw earlier it was hotter too, both the CPU and GPU were higher than the undervolted result which is a little strange, so again not sure if it’s dynamic boost shenanigans.

The CPU seems to cap at 55 watts long term, though it can of course boost much higher than this. Here’s how an actual game performs with these different modes in use. Interestingly silent and balanced mode are still offering excellent results, but we’ll check out fan noise differences soon.

By manually overclocking the GPU through the software it was possible to get a little boost. Here’s how the different modes perform in Cinebench R23. There’s not that much difference between balanced and extreme modes here, and by undervolting it was possible to boost the multicore score a little higher.

The results aren’t too impressive for Intel’s top tier 8 core processor. The lower tier i7-10870H is able to beat it both in single and multicore scores simply due to higher power limits, while Ryzen options can go even higher.

Now the MSI BIOS does let us modify things like power limits, but even with mine set at 200 I still found a CPU only workload to be power limited once boost periods had expired, but this could just be due to me not being familiar with the one million available BIOS options.

The performance drops quite a bit when running on battery power too, so you’ll probably want to stay plugged in for best performance. The GE76 was sitting in the low 30s when idling, so cool and normal.

It warms up with the stress tests running, but remember as we saw earlier silent mode is still offering good performance. The next balanced mode was similar, mid 40s in the center and just warm but not hot.

Extreme mode was fairly similar and hot up the back, though you don’t need to touch there. With coolerboost enabled it’s now cooler, which makes sense, as we saw earlier this change could lower the internal temps a bit, but the trade off is fan noise, let’s have a listen.

The fans were audible when idling despite the warmer internal temps. Silent mode with the stress tests wasn’t that loud when you consider that it was offering excellent gaming performance still, the trade off was of course thermal throttling, but it is still possible to run quieter without too much performance loss – a good option for those that prefer that.

Balanced mode was louder, extreme mode starts getting loud, then for cooler boost ideally you’d be using headphones. Now let’s find out how well the GE76 compares against other laptops in games, but use these results as a rough guide only, as they were tested at different times with different drivers.

I’ve tested Battlefield 5 in campaign mode at ultra settings, and the GE76 is highlighted in red. It’s on another level compared to all other laptops that I’ve tested so far, with an average frame rate almost 19% higher than the next closest competitor, which is also using new RTX 30 series graphics.

Unfortunately I’ve only got 1080p data for comparison, at higher resolutions the differences could be even larger, especially with the 16 gigs of VRAM that my RTX 3080 has, it is worth noting that MSI do also sell the GE76 with the 8 gig 3080, so expect different results with that configuration, particularly at higher resolutions.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider was tested with the games benchmark tool with the highest setting preset. In this test the GE76 was reaching 10% higher average FPS compared to the next best result that I’ve recorded, a higher wattage RTX 2080 based machine.

This is a GPU heavy test, so I’m not too surprised to see the 150 watt 3080 at the top of the chart again, but at the same time I really wish I could compare higher resolutions like 1440p. Unfortunately that just wasn’t possible as laptops with 1440p panels only started becoming available this year.

Far Cry 5 was also tested with the games benchmark tool at max settings. The GE76 wasn’t the best here, though it’s not far off. This test is heavier on the processor, so it’s not too surprising to see the desktop i9-9900K 51m at the top, granted at the same time MSI’s GT76 Titan with the same 9900K processor was one place under the GE76.

Regardless, still an impressive result despite not being first place. From memory both of those desktop replacement machines do have overclocks applied to the graphics and CPU. The GE76 does not by default, but as we saw earlier, we can do that to boost performance.

I’ve also tested the GE76 in 12 games at 4K, 1440p and 1080p resolutions in this video over here, so check that one out if you want to get a better idea of how it stacks up in games. Now for the benchmarking tools, I’ve tested Heaven, Valley, and Superposition from Unigine, as well as Firestrike, Timespy and Port Royal from 3DMark, just pause the video if you want a detailed look at these results.

Adobe Premiere was tested with the Puget Systems benchmark. The results from the GE76 are the best I’ve seen from this newer version of the test, though it’s basically within margin of error with the Ryzen laptop with weaker GPU just one point below.

Adobe Photoshop generally depends more on processor performance, and again the GE76 is high up in the results, however it’s being beaten by Ryzen based machines. DaVinci Resolve is more GPU heavy, though despite this the lower wattage 3070 with Ryzen processor in the Neo 15 was slightly ahead, but again it’s a margin of error difference at just 2 points, regardless the GE76 is ahead of most others, as we’d expect with these top tier specs.

I’ve also tested SPECviewperf which tests out various professional 3D workloads. The drive speed for the 2TB NVMe M.2 SSD was great for the reads though lower for the writes. The SD card slot was also doing well, basically maxing out my V90 card.

The card clicks in and sits most of the way into the laptop. I booted an Ubuntu 20 live CD to test Linux support. Out of the box the speakers and camera worked. Screen brightness did not work and WiFi was not recognized which could be due to the newer 6e card.

Keyboard brightness can be controlled as it’s not dependent on software. Let’s discuss price, you can check the links in the description for updated prices, as these will change over time. At the time of recording, the 3070 config is $2300 USD on Newegg, while the 3080 model I’ve tested is $2900, granted this one has less storage, RAM and a lower tier CPU, I couldn’t see the exact spec I tested.

Alright so with all of that in mind, let’s summarise both the good and the bad of the GE76 to help you decide if it’s worth considering. As we’ve seen in many of the benchmarks so far, the GE76 is the most powerful gaming laptop I’ve tested to date, but that said it is also the only one that I’ve had so far with RTX 3080 graphics with 16 gig of memory that can go up to 150 watts, so that’s kind of expected.

With these specs, it was often at the top of gaming and productivity benchmarks, or otherwise close to. Personally for me, 17 inches is a little too big as I just prefer portability, but that said the 4K 120Hz screen looked great while gaming.

It’s got decent response time, colour gamut and brightness, though the lack of G-Sync at this price point was a bit sad. Most laptops have a 720p camera, but this one has 1080p. It does look a bit better than most others, but it’s still not amazing.

I thought the light bar was kind of cool, but the keyboard brightness seemed a little dim, and the touchpad felt a little small considering the overall larger size. The I/O selection is pretty good, though there’s no Thunderbolt.

Despite the big battery, it just doesn’t last too long due to the higher end specs, and performance on battery was lower too. It can get hot, but we’re expecting this with the i9 8 core CPU and 3080 graphics with 150 watt power limit, but despite that it was easy to remove thermal throttling just by raising the fan speed, and of course we’ve got other options like undervolting or using a cooling pad too.

Overall the performance here is great, and if your focus is on power while being plugged in and not using battery so much, then the GE76 definitely seems to be one worth considering. I’ll show you how well it performs in 12 games at 4K, 1440p and 1080p resolutions in this video over here.

I only touched on 1080p performance in this review, as I’ve covered that in depth over in this one, so I’ll see you over there next. Otherwise if you’re new to the channel then make sure you get subscribed for future laptop reviews like this one.


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