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MSI Dominator Pro Dragon Edition review: In depth

The Good

  • Powerful desktop graphics
  • VR-ready
  • Solid, customisable keyboard
  • Gorgeous and spacious screen

The Bad

  • Pricey
  • Battery dies fast
4.5

MSI Dominator Pro Dragon Edition review: This uber-powerful gaming laptop boasts a desktop Nvidia GTX 980 graphics card, making it VR-ready and well up to the task of memory-sucking modern games.

Gamers who are serious about their hardware, but who also want their rig to be in someway portable, should immediately check out the Dominator Pro Dragon Edition from MSI. Packing some impressive specs including a top-of-the-range Nvidia graphics card, this gaming laptop blows away rivals with its stunning performance and rare support for the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and other VR headsets, making it a seriously future-proofed slab of tech.

Better get saving though, cos it ain’t cheap.

MSI Dominator Pro Dragon Edition review: Design

‘Subtle’ probably isn’t the first word that pops into your head when you see the Dominator Pro Dragon Edition. The gaming laptop certainly lives up to its name, with a dragon motif emblazoned across the bright red lid, complete with a funky glowing eye that lights up when the laptop is powered on. Crank open the lid and you’ll find another dragon hiding within, just beneath the keyboard. Frankly, we’re just disappointed that the Dominator Pro doesn’t roar when you hit the power button, and there’s no column of flame shooting out of the vents when you smash your high score.

With a thickness of roughly two inches and weighing in at close to 4kg, the Dominator Pro is a hefty slab but not too ridiculous given the impressive internals. You’ll definitely want to carry it in a sturdy backpack though, and don’t pack your sandwiches in next to it, unless you want your lunch to be wafer-thin come your destination. And don’t forget you’ll need to lug the brick-like 1kg adapter about too.

Gaming with the built-in keyboard is a comfortable experience thanks to the spacious area beneath it for resting your wrists and the well-sized keys, which offer a nice tactile feedback that definitely isn’t spongy or loose. And as you’d expect you have shortcut buttons for controlling pretty much everything, plus the ability to customise the colour that each section of the keyboard glows.

MSI Dominator Pro Dragon Edition review: Screen and media

The 17.3-inch LCD screen may only pack a 1080p Full HD resolution, but the Dominator Pro’s graphics are still outstanding. Contrast levels are strong, with very deep blacks and clean whites, while colours are vibrantly reproduced. There’s no kind of latency or motion blur either; just smooth, gorgeous visuals.

If you value your ears, you might want to keep the laptop somewhere below maximum volume. The Dynaudio 2.1 speakers, which stretch edge-to-edge above the keyboard, put out a ridiculously powerful sound that could probably scare away bears and blast the cobwebs out of your granny. Audio quality is fantastic too, with accurate reproduction and full-bodied sound effects that really bring your games to life.

MSI has also included the Nahimic audio app which allows you to fiddle with the bass and otherwise tweak the laptop’s audio to suit your own tastes.

On the back of the Dominator Pro you of course have mini DisplayPort and HDMI connectivity, for hooking up an external monitor or projector. And there’s a built-in Blu-Ray drive for enjoying a flick or actually installing a game from disc, if that’s your bag.

MSI Dominator Pro Dragon Edition review: Performance and battery life

The Dominator Pro boasts a 4th-gen Core i7 processor and a mighty 32GB of RAM for super-smooth performance, no matter what you’re playing. Meanwhile the Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M with 8GB of VRAM offers desktop levels of graphical performance. We ran Rise of the Tomb Raider with maxed-out detail settings and there was nary a stutter or glitch, while frame rates consistently stayed well above the requisite 30FPS.

Nvidia’s GeForce Experience comes pre-installed so you can optimise your game settings, connect Nvidia’s Shield controller and stream to a compatible device such as the Shield TV, for a comfortable and sociable console-style experience. And the good news for VR freaks is that Nvidia’s GPU supports the Oculus and Vive, so you can get your VR game on when that shiz hits retail.

The specific disk drive arrangement of the MSI Dominator varies depending on retailer, but our review model came packing an OS drive and a 1TB secondary drive for games and software, with MSI’s Super RAID 3 tech. Loading times were impressively short; a vast level on Tomb Raider took roughly ten seconds to load, on average.

One concern with portable devices packing this much awesome tech is the temperature, and thankfully the Dominator Pro didn’t rise to worrying levels during our tests. The spacious vents keep air flowing in and out of the laptop effectively, although they can get quite noisy if you’re gaming in a quiet room with headphones in.

Battery life isn’t great, as you’d probably expect from such a super-charged machine. We generally managed just a couple of hours of gaming away from the mains before we were ordered to connect the power cable. But to be honest, we can’t see many people whipping out the Dominator Pro on the tube or a bus, and most gaming is going to take place while sat at a desk.

MSI Dominator Pro Dragon Edition review: Verdict

If you want a premium desktop gaming experience with a bit of VR future-proofing, plus the freedom to game on the go when needed, the MSI Dominator Pro Dragon Edition is a superb (but costly) solution. The overall design is seriously impressive (although obviously far from subtle), while the gaming performance is simply fantastic.

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