REVIEW: The MSI Katana GF76 Performs Great For The Price
MSI have relaunched their Katana GF76 range of gaming laptops for 2022, boasting quite an impressive list of specs. MSI are one of the titans of gaming hardware, and an industry leader when it comes to developing laptops, so it would be hard to find a company more suited to developing a gaming laptop
While it won’t be breaking any frame-rate records and will be beaten out by a high end desktop or a top of the line gaming laptop such as the over $7,000 Razer Blade, MSI’s GF76 range have an accessible price tag, and are powerful enough to play the latest games at high settings.
Now is an especially good time to buy too, as MSI have just launched an EOFY sale, with the range starting at $1,499 AUD (May 9 ~ May 29).
When I first got my hands on the GF76, I was immediately hit by things I loved and things I was not so sold on. The weight, sitting at 2.6kg, is light for a gaming laptop which was a nice surprise, although the laptop itself is rather big in stature. The finish and build quality were also smooth and solid, making it an obvious gaming bit of gear without looking tacky.
However, once I opened the lid, my mind changed a little. I loved the real estate around the track pad, but the glowing red keyboard looked out of place on an otherwise black and basic laptop. On an Alienware M15, you have more of a sense that it’s a fully fledged gaming device, with the little glowing alien head button and the vents that don the top of the keyboard area. While I think gaming design aspects can look rather tacky, the MSI seems like it just needs to either jump right into it, or back off. The design currently seems indecisive.
The GF76 has been fitted with a 144Hz, 17.3-inch FHD (1080p) display with an IPS-level panel. While it would be easy to be disappointed with a 1080p display in a world of 4K gaming, I actually think MSI, as many other companies offering gaming laptops, have been very smart by going with the lower resolution.
At 17.3”, a 1080p display has a greater pixel density than a 1440p display at 27”, which is a common monitor size. As a result, the picture you’re getting is clearer than the larger monitor. Having a high resolution on a laptop, where the pixel size is small anyway, seems rather pointless, and when playing games, an unnecessary way to put more load on the GPU. Running a game at 1080p, you’re going to get a higher frame rate than at 1440p or 4K of course, so if the display is clear anyway, why bother?
The model of GF76 I received for review was the 12UC, meaning it boasted a NVIDIA® GeForce RTX™ 3050 Laptop GPU with 6GB of GDDR6 memory. While this puts it right at the bottom of the GF76 range, it still has ray-tracing capabilities and graphics power that packs a punch. Paired with a 12th-gen Intel Core i7 (specifically an i7-12700H in my case), and 16GB of DDR4 RAM, the 12UC model has plenty of power for gaming. As all gaming laptops do when under stress though, the fan gets rather loud. Although I never found the laptop itself to get hot as other gaming laptops seem to do.
Being one of the most popular and successful games released recently, Elden Ring was a must when testing performance. With the settings set as high as possible, gameplay was super smooth, with frame rates sitting comfortably above 60FPS. However, once I reached the first open area of the game, Limgrave, those numbers started to drop. Limgrave is a massive open area with assets rendering from quite a distance. As a result, my frame rate started to dwindle to the high 30s, flickering between 50 and 38. While I’m not a stickler for exact frame rates, and I found this rather playable, lowering a few settings brought the frame rate up. However, in those all-important boss fights, the game was massively responsive, and framerate was stable and high.
Forza Horizon 5
Boasting gorgeous graphics and a massive open world, Forza Horizon 5 is not the easiest game to run on max settings. Racing games are usually not too hard but the open world and the need to render things quickly makes this one quite demanding. An auto-detect feature recommended that I set the graphics to ‘High’. I quickly ignored this and ramped everything up to Extreme. It is worth noting that graphics don’t look overly different other than anti-aliasing in the different presets.
Once I had loaded in, I found that framerates sat at around 40FPS on ‘Extreme’, which as I previously mentioned was still playable, but something over at least 60FPS would be nice. So, as per the game’s recommendation, I set the graphics back to high.
Things looked almost identical; however, I was getting much smoother framerates, sitting at around 70FPS most of the time.
I didn’t expect much from a laptop in terms of built-in audio. However, the dual 2W speakers are surprisingly impressive, with audio that is clear enough for videos and games, and perfectly loud enough. Most people playing games, particularly competitively, will opt for headphones anyway. Despite this, I would not be totally opposed to browsing through YouTube or watching Netflix with these speakers.
The biggest issue I had with the GF76 is by far the storage. The model I was reviewing (12UE) was only fitted with a 512GB NVMe SSD. While the higher models in the range, inclusive of the 12UE do have 2 M.2 SSD slots, and some models are fitted with a 1TB SSD, only having 512GB of storage was simply not enough. As a result, the lower models with the smaller SSD and only one storage slot are going to be hard to live with.
By the time I had installed Elden Ring and Forza Horizon 5, I was sitting on very little storage, and the installation of small games meant I was quickly being notified that my SSD’s full capacity would shorten its life.
Storage options do vary on specific models in the range.
The 3-Cell 53.5Whr battery fitted to the GF76 is substantial enough to get you around an hour of gaming, or a few hours without gaming. It’s a small battery considering the specs, but most gamers are going to be using it at a desk plugged in anyway. While laptops are designed to be portable, in my experience, I have taken gaming laptops to friends houses or other places where I can still plug it in, so this wasn’t too much of an issue. Higher models in the range get a 240W charger while the lower models get a 180W charger.
Options and Pricing
The GF76 range offers five different configurations which range from the 12UC with an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050, to the 12UGS with an RTX 3070 Ti. The entire range is the same other than the GPU, storage capability and charger, meaning the experience will be somewhat universal. Prices and retailers can be found on the MSI website.
The MSI Katana GF76 is a solid option for gamers on a budget, boasting competitive specs with other laptops in the price range. For those looking for a portable device that can handle any game thrown at it with reasonably high graphics, who don’t mind a short battery life, the GF76 range is a great option. However, those who are determined to top out FPS at max settings might need to bump up their budget.
- Light and sturdy build
- Fantastic price tag
- Good audio for a laptop
- Able to run brand new games at high framerates and graphics settings
- Somewhat basic design
- Tiny storage
- Small battery and short battery life.