Keyboard and trackpad
Keeping to a tried-and-trusted formula, the GT70 keyboard is for the most part the same panel that featured in the 2011 GT780DXR. Back then, we identified a single fault; the keyboard wasn't backlit, and that's something MSI's put right with the GT70.
For the upgraded 2012 model, each key is backed by a multi-coloured LED that's programmable using a bundled software utility. There's a myriad of colours to choose from - as well as pulse and wave patterns - and the backlight appears even throughout the panel, with a touch-sensitive toggle switch allowing the user to turn the illumination on and off quickly.
Elsewhere, the keyboard hasn't changed; it's still geared toward gaming with a right-sided Windows key that's been moved out of the firing line and up to 10 simultaneous key presses are supported. In use, the keys have a good amount of travel, providing a good springy response, and they're well sized - though, the single-row enter key may be a bugbear for some. The integrated numpad is always welcome, as is the touch-sensitive panel directly above the keyboard that provides common shortcuts for disabling/enabling wireless radios and ejecting the Blu-ray drive.
The power button's clever, too, in that it glows white when the laptop's using the integrated Intel HD 4000 IGP, and turns orange when NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 670M gets called into action. A simple touch, but a handy way of keeping tabs on when NVIDIA's Optimus technology is kicking in.
MSI's getting the simple things right, and it's doing so by opting not to change components that already work well. The trackpad looks identical to MSI's previous efforts, which is to say it isn't at all fancy, but it's modestly-sized, well-defined, smooth to the touch and accompanied by two dedicated buttons that each provide a satisfying click.
We're all for sticking with dedicated buttons - as opposed to all-in-one clickpads - but it's a shame MSI hasn't provided an aesthetic upgrade. The keyboard and trackpad components work well, but they look dated and their glossy surrounds continue to act as magnets for dust and fingerprints.
Display and sound
At this price point, you'd expect the GT70 display to be as close to perfect as possible. Sadly, that isn't quite the case. MSI's 17.3in panel feels spacious with a 1,920x1,080 resolution, but it's both good and bad in certain respects.
On the one hand, the display is nice and bright with good contrast, and a matte finish does a grand job of preventing glare, but on the other hand viewing angles are below-average, with vertical viewing angles offering the greater concern - tilt the screen out of the narrow sweet spot and you'll soon lose sight of that otherwise excellent colour.
The display's very good for a single user head-on, but sharing in-game action with your mates may not be ideal and we've mixed feelings about the GT70's acoustic credentials, too.
MSI puts a lot of effort into its laptop sound systems and the results suggest that the time has been well invested - the GT70's 2.1 Dynaudio sound system, with THX TruStudio audio processing, sounds surprisingly good. Using two upward-pointing stereo speakers and a bottom-facing subwoofer, the laptop's able to provide a convincing amount of depth and sufficiently high volume. Gamers will most likely continue to revert to headphones for precise in-game positioning, but the speakers create a decent stereo sound stage and make for a pleasant movie/music experience.
You won't be rushing out to buy a set of external speakers, but you might feel the need to invest in headphones for another reason - to mask the GT70's occasionally loud internal fan. We say occasionally because the system is generally quiet when idle, but the cooling mechanism feels the need to kick up a few gears sporadically, providing a surprise gush of noise from time to time. The noise won't be enough to distract the hardened gamer, but if you are sensitive to PC noise - we're fans of quiet computing ourselves - you may find the GT70's frequent whir hard to live with on a day-to-day basis.
MSI has a history of loading laptops with a slew of software packages, so it's no surprise to find that the GT70 comes loaded with a fair few pre-installed apps.
Even if you come to expect it, the 50-odd on-screen icons still take you by surprise, and it makes the laptop feel cluttered from the off. Having an SSD-based storage system helps prevent all this software from seriously hampering performance, but users who appreciate a lean Windows environment will be wanting to carry out a clean install at the nearest opportunity.
If you do decide to stick with it, you can expect to find a list of programs that includes CyberLink YouCam, MAGIX Music Maker, MAGIX Photo Manager 9, Norton Online Backup, Trend Micro Internet Security, a trial of Microsoft Office 2010, Windows Live Essentials, MSI's own S-Bar dock and a keyboard backlight configuration utility.
Some of the programs have a tendency to pester more than others - we're looking at you Norton and Trend Micro - but a fair few do serve a purpose. The keyboard lighting utility functions well, the Qualcomm Athertos Killer Network Manager makes it easy to prioritise network traffic for your favourite games, and there's a pre-configured recovery partition that makes it easy to restore the laptop to its factory state.