With a good display and ergonomic keyboard, the GT740 has the main external ingredients for a decent gaming machine, but how do its internals hold up? Like every other Core i7 laptop we've looked at, the GT740 has the relatively low-end 720QM, whose core clock speed is just 1.6GHz. However, depending on load and how many cores are in use, this CPU will turbo clock all the way up to 2.8GHz, so that default speed is somewhat misleading. In reality the 720QM won't have the slightest trouble with any game currently on the market or available in the near future.
It's backed up by the usual 4GB of DDR3 RAM, though unfortunately MSI is still supplying a 32-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium that won't take full advantage. On the other hand, hard drive provision is unusually generous with a single 640GB drive. We're guessing this is a recent addition to this laptop, as MSI's website still lists the maximum capacity on the GT740 line as 500GB. Unfortunately, though, this does mean the drive spins at 5,400rpm rather than the speedier 7,200rpm common to gaming laptop hard drives.
As ever, the single most important consideration on any gaming machine is its graphics card. Regrettably, in the minds of most manufacturers, sticking in a Core i7 CPU apparently excuses using a relatively low-end graphics card - the most popular choice being a 1GB nVidia GeForce GTS 250M, as also found in the Toshiba Qosmio X500-10T.
As we've seen several times before, the GTS 250M doesn't really provide the out and out gaming performance one would like from a gaming laptop. This deficiency is reflected in the price, of course, but in some respects the GT740 is better classed as a multimedia laptop that you can play games on than a thoroughbred gaming machine.
This isn't to say it's incapable, though. Our entry-level gaming test, Trackmania Nations Forever, posed no particular hurdle, registering 117fps in our standard run-through. The more demanding S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Call of Pripyat benchmark, meanwhile, produced a reasonable 46.8fps average across its four tests. However, so we can compare results, these tests are run at a lower resolution than the native one of the GT740 and at only medium detail settings, highlighting the compromises required to play modern games.
To reinforce this point we tested the GT740 using Crysis and it didn't cope well. In DirectX10 on medium detail and at the native 1,680 x 1,050 resolution, for example, the GT740 only managed a barely playable 23.5fps - we needed to knock this down to 1,280 x 1,024 to get above 30fps. To put things in perspective, the Scan 3XS i3 OC PC, which cost close to half the price when we reviewed it in January, offered such frame rates at High Detail and with anti-aliasing enabled. If gaming is what you're after, laptops still represent poor value for money.