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MSI GE76 Raider review: Alder Lake is good, with caveats

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Well, it’s that time of year again. Intel has come out with a new line of mobile processors, and we’re all on the edge of our seats wondering whether they’ll be able to stay afloat in a field that includes AMD’s powerhouse Ryzen chips and Apple’s monstrous M1 Pro and M1 Max — or even take back the crown.

Alder Lake might’ve been Intel’s most promising prospect yet, representing a new architecture and a major strategic shift for the company. Intel processors have struggled with battery life in recent years, with comparable AMD systems lasting hours longer between charges. Alder Lake’s architecture is a shot at fixing that. These chips, like Apple’s M1, are hybrid chips. They have a whole bunch of cores, including both performance cores and efficiency cores. The desktop ones have been out for a while, and they’re pretty good.

So here we are with the first Alder Lake laptop I’ve been able to test. It’s an MSI GE76 Raider, one of the flashiest and most premium gaming laptops you can buy. Inside this system, in addition to Nvidia’s brand-new mobile GeForce RTX 3080 Ti, 32GB of RAM, and a 2TB SSD, is the Core i9-12900HK. This is the most powerful chip — not just in the Alder Lake line, but in Intel’s entire mobile history, the company has claimed. It has a 5.0 boosted clock speed, 14 cores (six performance, eight efficiency), 20 threads, and a base power of 45W.

It’s unsurprising that Intel chose the GE76 to show off these components. Its 17.3-inch chassis is just over an inch thick and 6.39 pounds. There’s plenty of room for some heavy-duty cooling, including MSI’s “phase-change liquid metal pad”, which the OEM claims can increase a system’s performance by up to 10 percent. There’s a big display, an LED light bar, a colorful keyboard, and no shortage of ports. If you are the most powerful chip on the market trying to show off your full potential, the GE76 Raider is where you want to be. And the good news for Intel is that in the GE76 Raider, the Core i9-12900HK is performing truly, exceptionally well.

But the important caveat for you, the prospective laptop buyer, is that this system gives Alder Lake some serious power and aggressive cooling, where it’s thrived so far. It doesn’t necessarily tell us how the chip will perform in more portable and more affordable categories.

Right, let’s get this out of the way. The GE76 Raider model I tested is priced at — and I am not making this up — $3,999. Woof. For that high of a price, you must be getting a pretty gorgeous 4K display, right? Or at least a QHD screen? Guess again! This model has a good old 1920 x 1080, 16:9 panel. And it’s being sold for $3,999. It’s one of the most expensive products I’ve ever reviewed, and it has a measly 1080p resolution, though it does have a very fast 360Hz refresh rate. (These 12th-Gen models won’t hit shelves until early February; I’ve linked an 11th-Gen model here in case you just can’t wait.)

Just for a little more context around this price, you can get a 4K Alienware X17 with these same specs for a good $300 less than this — and that’s a really nice laptop. You could also buy literally two models of the most expensive Lenovo Legion 5 Pro, one of our favorite gaming laptops on the market, and still spend less than you would on one of these Raiders. Heck, this is even a bit more expensive than a top-end MacBook Pro — and we rip into those for being absurdly expensive every year.

Now, there are a whole bunch of configurations for sale, and, confusingly, the sheet MSI gave me seems to indicate that there’s also a GE76 with a 240Hz QHD screen and 64GB of RAM selling for the same price. I’m not sure why you wouldn’t just buy that one, unless you really need the extra frames for esports or something. But this 1080p one is the one I got, so that’s what I’m going to go ahead and review.

So what are you paying all this money for? Frame rates. Pure, simple, raw frame rates.

The MSI GE76 Raider on a wooden table, half open, seen from above.................

If you’ve seen one Raider, you’ve seen them all.

The MSI GE76 Raider open on a wooden table seen from the right. The screen displays The Verge homepage.

MSI calls it “panoramic aurora lighting”.

Red Dead Redemption 2, at its highest preset, ran at a solid 92 frames per second. With all sliders manually maxed (the preset leaves some down a bit — sneaky Rockstar) that number dropped to 80 frames per second. Needless to say, that is a very, very high score for that game.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider was even more mindblowing. We got an average of 104 frames per second with ray tracing on Ultra, and a whopping 143 frames per second with ray tracing off. (This, and all other games, were run at their highest possible settings at native resolution.) That is the best I’ve ever seen a laptop perform on that title, hands-down.

I ran the CPU-heavy CS:GO just to see how badly the Raider would murder it and got a hilarious 415 frames per second. And on the more recent Cyberpunk 2077, the Raider put up 102 frames per second with ray tracing off and 46 frames per second with ray tracing maxed out.

The MSI GE76 Raider keyboard seen from above on a wooden table. The screen displays The Verge homepage.

You can customize the keyboard in the preloaded SteelSeries software.

In conclusion, putting a 1080p screen on this system is like sticking an MLB player in a Little League game. Sure, he’s gonna look impressive, but what is the point? These are 4K chips, and I’m not just referring to the price of this unit.

My principled quibbles aside, those are some of the best gaming results you’re going to see from a laptop this year. And in fairness, if you’re paying four grand for a gaming laptop, you’d better be getting the best gaming results of the year. The more interesting question is how well this Core i9 can handle heavy workloads, because that’s where Apple really shines.

The GE76 Raider held its own in our Adobe Premiere Pro test, which tasks devices with exporting a 5-minute, 33-second 4K video. The Raider completed that task in one minute and 56 seconds. The only laptop I’ve ever seen beat that time is — as Verge readers can probably guess — the 16-inch MacBook Pro with the M1 Max (and the scores are pretty close).

Our export test isn’t exactly apples-to-apples, as different versions of Premiere Pro can deliver different scores. But the GE76 also dominated on the synthetic Puget Systems benchmark for Premiere Pro, which tests live playback and export performance at 4K and 8K, stressing both the GPU and the CPU. The GE76 actually beat the M1 Max here, displacing that MacBook as the highest PugetBench performer I’ve ever tested. And the MacBook was already head-and-shoulders above all kinds of gaming laptops. For perspective, the GE76 Raider got a 1363 on PugetBench, while the M1 max got an 1170, and the Razer Blade 15 Advanced got a 784.

The webcam on the MSI GE76 Raider.

There’s no Windows Hello or fingerprint authentication.

The GE76 itself adds a few nice touches to the experience. Audio, in both games and music, was a pleasant surprise. The Raider’s speakers have some serious bass and excellent volume, with clear vocal textures. The keyboard, while not the fastest or sturdiest I’ve ever used, has a really satisfying click (and, of course, is full of pretty colors). The webcam — a full 1080p, rather than the 720p shooters that are still standard on many gaming laptops — looks great, and delivered a clear picture in my low-lit apartment. And I didn’t have any trouble with the microphones, which support two-way AI noise cancellation.

The chassis is well made, picking up some, but not too many fingerprints (which is a miracle, considering… every other MSI laptop). And the port selection is generous, including two Type-A USB 3.2 Gen 1, a full-size SD card reader, an HDMI, an RJ45 Ethernet jack, one Thunderbolt 4, one mini Display 1.4, one Type-A USB 3.2 Gen 2l, one Type-C USB 3.2 Gen 2, and one audio jack. I wanted for nothing while testing this; I never needed to fish for a dongle or unplug something to make room for something else. That’s a rarity when I test laptops.

The vents on the left side of the MSI GE76 Raider.

There was always noticeable air blasting out of these vents.

These results are all pretty phenomenal (if, again, not unexpected, considering everything else about this system). But I did see a few surprising glitches during my real-world performance. Windows 11’s File Explorer crashed a couple times while I was searching for folders, and things occasionally felt slow to open in general. The GE76 actually ran out of memory once, which I almost never see. Sure, I was working when all of these things happened — I was copying a ton of files over from multiple external drives, streaming a Spotify playlist, messaging on Slack, downloading a couple updates, and running a boatload of Chrome tabs at the same time. And it’s not clear how much of this is Intel’s fault vs. MSI’s vs. Microsoft’s. But still, I will remind you, this product is $4,000.

(I will also note that the fans did seem to be working. They kept themselves quiet enough, but I could pretty much always feel them vibrating under my palms while I typed, which was… interesting.)

The ports in the back of the MSI GE76 Raider.

Ports in the back are becoming more common on gaming laptops of this size.

The ports on the right side of the MSI GE76 Raider.

The ports are very well distributed on each side.

And then, of course, there’s the elephant in the room: battery life. Ho boy, the battery life is not great. I got just over four and a half hours out of this machine when I was just multitasking in Chrome, and that was with Battery Saver on and the GPU off. In complete fairness to MSI here, these aren’t terribly unusual results to see among 17-inch gaming laptops with this level of performance. On the other hand, this Raider is only running a 1080p screen and also, I will reiterate, is $4,000. Exceptional battery life was supposed to be the whole point of moving to a hybrid architecture. This was a test of Alder Lake’s e-cores, and they didn’t do very well — this is nowhere near what the M1 can deliver.

Battery life aside, my only real complaint about the GE76 Raider is the display. 1920 x 1080 on a 17-inch panel is… well, you’re talking about some big pixels. While I’m sure it’s something you’d get used to, everything looked a bit grainy to me as I surfed the web. The screen also isn’t especially bright, maxing out at 306 nits, or exceptionally accurate, reproducing 96 percent of the sRGB gamut, 72 percent of Adobe RGB, and 71 percent of P3. My games didn’t necessarily look bad, but a solid QHD panel really makes a difference on something this big.

The MSI GE76 Raider seen from the right on a wooden table.

Not the thinnest laptop around.

The MSI logo on the GE76 Raider lid.

Don’t worry, the dragon is here.

If you close your eyes and look away from the price tag and battery life, this is one of the gaming laptops of the year. When it comes to Intel machines, I can’t imagine it won’t be a top performer.

But scoring Alder Lake as a line is more difficult, and certainly beyond the scope of this review. What I will say is that in the GE76 Raider, specifically, Intel’s new flagship did what it needed to do to keep its manufacturer in the gaming race. (Here I will provide the usual caveat that a chip doing well on one game or benchmark means it’s good at that game or benchmark, not that it’s good at any other game or benchmark, and we can never make too many broad inferences outside of the tasks we tested here, etc. etc.). When it comes to raw power, it’s outperforming every Intel machine we tested last year. It’s outperforming the M1 Pro, and it’s close to the M1 Max on the real-world tasks we ran.

But that comes with some heavy caveats. First, the Raider is more expensive than a comparable Apple machine (which also pairs those specs with a stunning high-resolution screen that makes this one look like it belongs on a Fisher-Price Laugh and Learn). And second, this device is guzzling desktop-level wattage in order to achieve the same results that the M1 Max doesn’t even really need to try for. Not only did our 16-inch MacBook Pro last over twice as long on battery as the Raider did, but it can also reproduce those benchmark results while it’s running on battery. Again, this Apple comparison likely won’t matter to the Raider’s target audience, but it matters in terms of placing these results in the broader context of Intel’s path forward.

Overall, what we’ve learned here is that (when it comes to raw performance, not battery life) Alder Lake shines when the all conditions are right. The GE76 Raider demonstrates that if you give Intel all the cooling and all the power it could possibly want, and you pair it with Nvidia’s top-of-the-line, you get a damn powerful machine. Gold star for Intel! Now, let’s wait and see how well these chips do in a computer that has significant constraints. The ones where battery life matters a lot. And the ones that, you know, we might all actually be able to buy. I’m not super optimistic.