It’s big, it’s powerful, and it has more RGB lights than you’ll ever know what to do with. The GT76 Titan DT is MSI’s flagship 17.3-inch gaming notebook, and one of just a handful of laptops (or desktops, for that matter) that can stand up to the equally imposing Alienware Area-51m in raw performance. For $4,599 in its as-tested guise (configurations start at $3,599), it delivers the best of everything, including an overclockable Intel Core i9-9900K CPU (yes, the desktop chip!), a laptop-tip-top GeForce RTX 2080 GPU, and a UHD/4K display. It defies the notion of a laptop with its dual power bricks and four cooling fans, which are very loud at full tilt. But if you’re looking for absolute dominance in a sort-of-mobile design, the GT76 Titan DT is a punch-for-punch rival to the Area-51m.
Meet Some Elite Company
The GT76 Titan DT isn’t a direct successor to MSI’s hulking 18.3-inch GT83VR Titan SLI from 2017, but it’s built on the same concept: Packing in all of today’s top hardware possible. Besides the Core i9-9900K CPU and the GeForce RTX 2080 graphics card, our topped-out review unit (dubbed model “DT 9SG”) has an eye-popping 64GB of DDR4-2666 RAM, 1TB of solid-state storage with Windows 10 Pro, and a secondary 1TB hard drive.
The Alienware Area-51m comes in at nearly the same price ($4,794) similarly equipped, though let’s refrain from calling either one a “good deal.” You could buy four well-equipped Lenovo Legion Y545 gaming laptops for the same money, or a gaming desktop with even better performance for about half the price (including a spiffy new gaming monitor, too). This is a price point where money isn’t an object and the concept of “value” doesn’t apply. How much this feat of engineering is worth to you depends on how far you’re willing to purge your savings account for exclusivity and novelty.
All 17.3-inch notebooks are big. The Razer Blade Pro 17 (2019) does a respectable job of downplaying that fact at 0.7 by 15.6 by 10.2 inches (HWD), making it about as portable as a 17.3-incher can get. The GT76 Titan DT, in contrast, doesn’t even try to hide its bulk, at 1.7 by 15.6 by 13 inches (HWD). This laptop lets it all hang out.
It’s thick, sure, but it’s that 10.2-inch depth that makes it stand out more than anything. Its most noticeable physical feature is a bulbous protrusion behind the display to accommodate the extensive cooling internals…
Indeed, the entire back edge and rear corners of the chassis are a continuous heat exhaust…
In fact, it’s worth looking into the belly of this particular beast before going any further. The grates on the bottom panel show plenty of detail around what’s inside…
Remove that, and this is what you see…
Those aren’t your average laptop innards. The Core i9-9900K processor has a thermal design power (TDP) rating of 95 watts and can go much higher than that in practice, especially when it’s overclocked. The GeForce RTX 2080 graphics card in here also isn’t a low-power Nvidia Max-Q variant, but a full-fat version with a roaring 200-watt TDP, the highest you’ll find in a notebook. Cooling those components in a confined space requires some fancy engineering. As a result, this chassis has four fans and 11 heatpipes, which is borderline unheard of for a notebook.
A notebook this epic also has to have impressive memory and storage expansion, and this MSI delivers there, too. It boasts three M.2 slots for solid-state storage (two of which are occupied by 512GB drives in our review unit, striped together in a RAID 0 array), a 2.5-inch bay (occupied with a 1TB hard drive), and four SO-DIMM slots for DDR4-2666 memory. The 64GB of RAM in our review configuration consists of two 32GB modules in the slots on the opposite side of the motherboard, while the two slots visible here under the bottom panel are empty for easy expansion. (The maximum supported amount is 128GB of RAM, via four 32GB modules.)
Despite all that hardware, the GT76 Titan DT isn’t as heavy as you might assume. MSI’s official specifications say it weighs 9.9 pounds, but I weighed our review model at 7.2 pounds. Its large dimensions and thick chassis mean it feels lighter than it looks. Mostly plastic construction helps minimize the weight. The overall build doesn’t feel cheap, but the chassis does feel rather hollow. At least it’s plenty rigid, as I didn’t notice flex or creaking when I picked it up or pressed down on its surfaces. For a premium touch, the area surrounding the palm rest, as well as the lid backing, are cool-feeling aluminum.
Lighting the Way
Design-wise, it’s safe to say that the GT76 Titan DT isn’t subtle. Its physical size alone sees to that, not to mention the aggressive-looking rear protrusion. When you add a bunch of RGB lighting zones into the mix, it’s guaranteed to be the center of attention wherever you go…
The Titan outdoes the Alienware Area-51m by offering lighting on almost every axis. Topside, the keyboard has per-key RGB lighting (that is, each key can be set to any color you want). It’s joined by a light strip across the front of the chassis, which comprises 24 lighting zones, and two satellite lighting zones, one on each side of the chassis. There’s also a light strip above the exhaust vents along the back of the notebook, but it’s always lit red and not user-controllable. (Also, you can’t turn it off, unlike the other zones.) The preinstalled SteelSeries Engine software lets you control the colors and patterns of other zones and the keyboard, storable in as many profiles as you want. It also allows you to install apps that integrate the keyboard lighting with supported games for a more immersive experience.
For what it’s worth, MSI pursued a subtle approach to branding on this machine, using a silver, non-backlit version of its gaming shield logo in the lid…
The only other branding on the GT76 Titan DT is MSI’s logo printed in black below the display, which is hard to see without direct light. It’s refreshing that the branding is relatively low-key, even if the notebook isn’t overall. Acer’s Predator-brand gaming notebooks, for one, come to mind as the opposite when it comes to branding subtlety, while Alienware isn’t far behind.
Gaming in UHD
Our GT76 Titan DT has a UHD/4K (3,840-by-2,160-pixel) screen with a 60Hz refresh rate. MSI also offers two different full-HD/1080p (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) panels. These come in flavors with either a 144Hz or a 240Hz refresh rate, which would be ideal for fast-paced esports titles such as Fortnite and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
Meanwhile, the 4K panel offers a finer level of detail for a more cinematic experience. With four times the pixels of a 1080p screen, it’s far more demanding on the graphics card if you’re running games at the native resolution, though. The 8GB GeForce RTX 2080 in our review configuration is up to the task, but MSI’s standard GeForce RTX 2070 GPU in the base model is better matched with the 1080p display options. Even the GeForce RTX 2080 can struggle to maintain smooth gameplay at UHD in certain games.
But it’s all about the picture quality with the UHD panel, and it doesn’t disappoint…
Its brightness, contrast, and eye-popping color make it a looker for all tasks. I noticed some backlight bleed near the bottom of the panel on an all-black screen, but it wasn’t noticeable outside of that scenario. The only significant fault I can find with this panel is its lack of support for Nvidia G-Sync technology. MSI opted instead to outfit the GT76 Titan DT with Nvidia Optimus, which allows the computer to switch to the Intel CPU’s onboard UHD Graphics 630 silicon to conserve power. (It’s one or the other, as the two technologies aren’t compatible.) It’s a surprising choice in a gaming notebook, but not one without merits as we’ll see in the battery life test. For a notebook that’s likely to spend most of its life plugged in, though, I’m still scratching my head at the decision.
It would also be nice to see a better-quality webcam on the GT76 Titan DT. The 720p model above the display has no better (or worse) quality than I see on much less expensive gaming notebooks, and streamers and other gaming power users will want a better cam.
Sorry, No Mechanical Keys
Unlike MSI’s GT75 Titan, the GT76 Titan DT foregoes a mechanical keyboard for a membrane model. The keys feel snappy enough and have good up-and-down travel, but the typing experience just isn’t as tactile as it would be with mechanical switches. On the upside, the membrane keys help the GT76 Titan DT keep its thickness down. It’s already one of the thickest notebooks on the market, so I can’t argue with that reasoning.
MSI partnered with peripheral maker SteelSeries to design the keyboard. Besides illumination control, the SteelSeries Engine software lets you reassign keys and create macros, although you can only designate macros on existing keys. Given its size, it’s surprising (and mildly disappointing) that the GT76 Titan DT lacks a strip of dedicated gaming-macro keys. It would also be nice to see a full-size number pad, as there’s clearly enough horizontal room on the chassis for the keyboard to span a bit wider.
You do get three buttons above the keyboard, but they’re not meant for macros. The one on the left toggles maximum fan speed, the center is system power, and the one on the right launches the MSI Dragon Center app. The latter provides system-monitoring tools, battery settings, and a system tuner. It also has some nifty settings like a toggle to swap the functionality of Start and Fn keys. (The keyboard has no left-side Windows key, so this setting allows you to emulate one.) The system tuner provides CPU overclocking controls, which I’ll discuss later (along with the maximum fans button).
Below the keyboard, the GT76 Titan DT’s touchpad isn’t backlit like the one on the Alienware Area-51m, although I’m not exactly docking points for that. This one is still easy to feel for in the dark, thanks to its well-defined border. I imagine most buyers of this beast will plug in an external mouse for gaming, but the pad’s smooth surface and proper proportions relative to the screen make it a good second line of defense. I like the fact that it has two dedicated buttons, although the clicks are a tad too noisy for my liking.
The GT76 Titan DT offers a satisfactory selection of ports for a 17.3-inch gaming notebook, all located on the sides of the notebook. The left side is populated with the power connector (which resembles a USB Type-A port), an Ethernet jack, a Thunderbolt 3 (USB Type-C) port, a pair of USB 3.1 Type-A ports, and dedicated headphone and microphone jacks.
The right edge includes a microSD card reader, another pair of USB 3.1 Type-A ports, a USB 3.1 Type-C port, and both mini-DisplayPort and HDMI 2.0 video outputs. Inside, the GT76 Titan DT packs Killer’s AX1650x wireless card with support for the latest Wi-Fi standard (802.11ax, or Wi-Fi 6) and Bluetooth 5.
What’s missing? For sure, a cable lock slot—so don’t let the GT76 Titan DT out of your sight in public places.
Here’s the GT76 Titan DT with its dual 230-watt power bricks. Again, “subtle” isn’t a word this notebook has in its vocabulary…
The bricks connect through a converter box so that only one plug reaches the notebook. I mentioned the lack of a cable-lockdown slot on this machine, but a casual snatch-and-grab thief would have a heck of a time making a quick getaway with the Titan, plus all of its power accoutrements.
Testing the Titan: Battle of the Heavyweights
And so, off to PC Labs’ benchmarking. I picked the biggest and baddest laptops we’ve tested to go against the GT76 Titan DT in our benchmarks. Let’s scope out their basic specifications…
The Alienware Area-51m is the Titan’s archrival, and the only other notebook here with a true desktop CPU. The Core i7 chips in the other notebooks are six-core, 12-thread parts, which aren’t even close in overall processing power, but they have potent-enough graphics, especially the MSI GE75 Raider and its 8GB GeForce RTX 2080.
Productivity, Storage & Media Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet work, web browsing, and videoconferencing. The test generates a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.
PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a Storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the boot drive. This score is also a proprietary numeric score; again, higher numbers are better.
The GT76 Titan DT took a back seat to the Alienware in PCMark 10 mainly because it has a higher native screen resolution. (All else being equal, a higher resolution will suppress scores on this test a bit.) Differences aside, the desktop CPUs in both machines put them in a different league than the others. Meanwhile, the PCMark 8 Storage test scores top off around the 5,000-point mark we usually see for systems with fast PCI Express-bus SSD boot drives. The RAID 0 SSD array in the GT76 Titan DT doesn’t help (or hurt) it there.
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
Topping or even approaching 2,000 points in this test isn’t something most desktops can do. The GT76 Titan DT edges out the Alienware, though not by enough to say it’s definitively faster. The Core i7-9750H processor in the Digital Storm Avon is the best of the rest—which is to say, not even close.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time. Lower times are better here. The Photoshop test stresses CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.
The desktop CPU grunt in the GT76 Titan DT and the Area-51m again vaults them into the lead, the former leading by a few seconds. The others are still quite fast, but not fast enough to top the two brutes that lead this competitive set.
3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario than 3DMark and a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess.
The desktop processors in the GT76 Titan DT and the Area-51m give them extra-high scores in 3DMark Fire Strike. The Superposition benchmark at the 1080p High setting is a purer GPU-performance measurement, where the two go head-to-head and slightly outperform the MSI GE75 Raider, which has the same GeForce RTX 2080 card. The Digital Storm Avon and the Razer Blade Pro look slow here, but bear in mind that those two are normally chart-toppers next to “normal” gaming notebooks. The GT76 Titan DT and the Area-51m are anything but normal.
Real-World Gaming Tests
The synthetic tests above are helpful for measuring general 3D aptitude, but it’s hard to beat full retail video games for judging gaming performance. Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider are both modern, high-fidelity titles with built-in benchmarks that illustrate how a system handles real-world video games at various settings. These are run on both the moderate and maximum graphics-quality presets (Normal and Ultra for Far Cry 5, Medium and Very High for Rise of the Tomb Raider) at native resolution to judge performance for a given system. Far Cry 5 is DirectX 11-based, while Rise of the Tomb Raider can be flipped to DX12, which we do for the benchmark.
I had to adjust both charts above to accommodate the sky-high numbers from the GT76 Titan DT and the Area-51m. The MSI machine is a little behind the Alienware in places, but the difference isn’t big enough to fret over. It could be attributable to the MSI machine being tested with different GPU drivers and game patches. It could also be down to CPU thermals, as at 1080p the vagaries of the CPU cooling might be the limiter here.
Indeed, one takeaway from these results is that the CPU can be a significant driver of overall gaming performance at lower resolutions, which we’ve seen borne out time and again in the testing of CPUs and GPUs as singular components. Example: The MSI GE75 Raider trails the GT76 Titan DT and the Area-51m by a large margin despite using the same basic RTX 2080 GPU.
You’ll note that the charted gaming tests above were run at 1080p, which is the native (and maximum) screen resolution for most gaming laptops. I did additional benchmarks on the GT76 Titan DT at its native 4K screen resolution. It averaged 63fps in Rise of the Tomb Raider at the Very High preset and 55fps in Far Cry 5 at the Ultra preset, with little deviation from those numbers during the benchmark. This is one of the few gaming notebooks that can comfortably perform at 4K without compromising on the visual settings.
Battery Rundown Test
After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop in Airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system conks out.
I did a double-take at these results, though they made sense once I thought about it. With the same caliber of hardware, the GT76 Titan DT manages nearly three times the unplugged life of the Area-51m. We consider around six hours a good stat for any gaming notebook, let alone one wielding a fire-breathing desktop CPU. Nvidia Optimus deserves a lot of credit here, which the Alienware lacks due to its inclusion of G-Sync. Clearly, the GTX 2080 chip was napping during the video playback.
It’s furthermore notable that our GT76 Titan DT review configuration is a worst-case scenario for battery life because of its power-hungry UHD/4K display. It should last even longer when equipped with one of its 1080p panel choices. However, note that like most gaming notebooks, the GT76 Titan DT isn’t capable of its full performance potential without being plugged in. It’s still possible to play games on battery, but with greatly reduced performance. (That’s not to mention the battery won’t last nearly as long.) The battery simply isn’t up to the demands of the power draw required by the components.
Brace Yourself: Fan Noise
The cooling fans in the GT76 Titan DT are whisper-quiet for mundane tasks like office productivity. Once you fire up a game, though, be prepared for an audible assault.
The fans don’t emit whine or motor whir, but the sheer volume of airflow jetting through the numerous vents creates a high-pitched airflow noise that’s impossible to ignore. It’s loud to the point that I felt compelled to put on sound-isolating headphones or earbuds to get an immersive experience in games. Spouses, roommates, and others in earshot might be tempted to sabotage your Titan, or at least hide the power adapters, when you step away for a snack.
The noise is not for naught, though, as the cooling is effective at keeping the chassis and internal components running at reasonable temperatures. Here’s the keyboard area under our FLIR One Pro during a gaming session in Shadow of the Tomb Raider…
It’s a little warm (115 degrees F) at the top right, but the keyboard area and palm rest are cool enough.
Moving inside, here’s a chart showing how the GeForce RTX 2080 performed during the session…
An average core temperature of 86 degrees C isn’t exactly cool, but it was stable, and it allowed the GPU to maintain its clocks. The full-power GeForce RTX 2080 is rated for a 1,755MHz boost clock, but it averaged 1,813MHz during this session. Meanwhile, the Core i9-9900K hovered between the upper 70s and low 80s (in degrees C), which is comfortably under its rated maximum. A processor of this caliber and heat output is usually liquid-cooled in a desktop setup, so the fact the GT76 Titan DT can air-cool it in such a confined space is impressive.
Crank Those Clocks!
The “K” in the Core i9-9900K indicates it has unlocked multipliers for overclocking. For tweaking, MSI provides dedicated controls in its MSI Dragon Center app…
The processor’s default multiplier is 48x, which means it will run up to 4.8GHz. I bumped up all eight cores to a 50x multiplier for its full 5GHz potential. MSI advised using the maximum fans button while the CPU is overclocked. I don’t think it’s worth overclocking the GT76 Titan DT for that reason alone, as it’s just too loud, but it’s fun to chase benchmark records every now and then.
With the 50x multiplier, I observed performance increases of 1 percent in PCMark 10 (from 6,570 to 6,666 points), 2 percent in 3DMark Fire Strike (22,052 to 22,464 points) and 5 percent in Cinebench R15 (2,003 to 2,101 points). The Cinebench improvement is as much as you could hope for with this overclock, as it’s roughly the increase of going from 4.8GHz to 5GHz. These gains wouldn’t be noticeable in real-world usage, but it’s effectively something for nothing (apart from more fan noise). Chasing those last few percentage points is what machines like this do best, anyway.
Bottom Line? It’s a Wild Ride
In time-tested supercar fashion, MSI’s GT76 Titan DT doesn’t provide maximum value or much in the way of practicality. Instead, it’s all about the thrills. Its massive chassis and RGB lighting from every angle guarantee that it will be the focal point of any gaming gathering, while its overclockable Core i9-9900K CPU and GeForce RTX 2080 GPU in our tested configuration outperform most gaming desktops.
Naturally, all that muscle and moxie comes at the price of a half-decent used car. Its main rival, the Alienware Area-51m, poses a similar calculus about “value”. Both are huge, loud, and expensive, as well as, arguably, better at pretending to be desktops than being laptops. Our testing shows that neither gives ground when it comes to gaming performance, although the Titan did last about three times longer off the plug in our testing, a big plus if you decide to lug it around and use it for nongaming tasks, too.
It’s a close call, but our nod goes, ever so slightly, to the Area-51m for its inclusion of Nvidia G-Sync. To the GT76 Titan DT’s credit, it’s the only one that offers a UHD/4K screen option. They’re startlingly close competitors outside of that, leaving you with a supercar fantasy: No matter which one you buy, it’ll be exclusive, fast, and wild fun.