MSI Pulse GL76 (2022) 12UGK Review

MSI Pulse GL76 (2022) 12UGK Review

MSI’s latest design philosophy pays off in its latest Pulse GL76 gaming laptop. The partnership with 3D graphic designer and artist Maarten Verhoeven does something unusual in a product. 2022’s Pulse GL76 comes with a backstory. Its bare, gunmetal cover reflects the confidence of a sentry. Powerful specs can hit hard yet hold back to serve productive users. A familiar clamshell design adds an unwavering presence for users. Radiating RGB hues visualize a unit ready to adapt for any kind of (virtual) battle. The Pulse GL76 is ready to help users when it counts.

I might be looking too deep into a computer. But this is MSI’s intended goal for adding personality back into gaming laptops. The company has drawn plenty of inspiration from its menacing “Dragon Warrior”. But it’s a brilliant direction which accentuates hardware features to make the Pulse GL76 look and feel as cutting-edge as ever. Much of its best qualities shined in my first month of use. The Pulse GL76 offers solid performance as an all-in-one workhorse. It soldiers on through non-stop gaming with a 12th Gen Intel Core and RTX 3070 combo.

At face value, the Pulse GL76 still meets expectations as a clamshell laptop. It’s a larger unit sitting on laps at over six pounds. Thanks to a beefy RTX 3070 GPU, the laptop might have a harder time keeping up with users on the move. Surprisingly, most of its weight was tucked away in the body itself. This made opening the display an easy, one-handed affair. But those willing to lug the hulking Pulse GL76 can still find a closer desktop experience, anywhere and anytime. I grew to appreciate the Pulse GL76’s form factor as it was sturdy with hard-coated plastic for extra protection. This made taking the Pulse GL76 less worrying around coffee shops, countless table surfaces and my ever-shifting backpack. At a steep price point, MSI more than delivers on a tough gaming laptop.

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I especially enjoyed the Pulse GL76’s identity as a laptop on its cover. The MSI shield easily marks a gamer in public. Its breastplate-inspired lines are engraved for added measure. There is a less intimidating design without an all-black chassis that other competing gaming laptops lean towards. But users can appreciate the Pulse GL76’s ability to blend in for work and play. Its elegance extends to Windows 11, now packed-in for free. I had no problems transitioning into Microsoft’s new OS after what seemed to be a lifetime with Windows 10. But a clever slew of options drives the classic experience home. For the Pulse GL76’s desktop-like scale, Windows 11 is a wonderful and updated refresh that fits like a glove. Users caught in the excitement of their new laptops won’t take long to adapt to the cleaner interface and less intrusive notification system.

The Pulse GL76’s wider form factor has extra advantages for typing. MSI makes wonderful use of the surface for a full keyboard. Typing feels like a breeze through larger standard sized keys. While my hands had plenty of space to dance around and avoid typos. MSI brings back the num-pad, though it’s smaller and trickier to use at first. I had a harder time using the sole FN key, hiding out of sight under my right hand. It’s an inconvenient spot that makes it harder to simply adjust the volume or other components. Fortunately, a large trackpad feels easy to use. MSI coats the pad with a smooth surface for easy gliding. The larger form factor means my hands can easily rest in open space without cramping.

“The Pulse GL76’s wider form factor has extra advantages for typing. MSI makes wonderful use of the surface for a full keyboard.”

Gamers expect nothing less from a vibrant RGB backlight, which can be fully customised with breathing patterns and colour shift. The Mystic Light function works in tandem with MSI Center, essential for tweaking hardware. I didn’t mind the bundled-in software to occasionally edit my FN keys. While some might gloss over the Crosshair Display, which smacks a large target in the middle of your screen for improved accuracy in games.

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Internally, the Pulse GL76 kicks off 2022 with updated specs. MSI appropriately ties into Intel’s 12th generation of processors. My 3070 edition sports a hefty i7-12700H, which takes a bold leap in performance. Intel’s new chip packs a whopping 14 cores into a mobile desktop experience. Under heavy gaming loads, its 4.70GHz frequency manages to hold up impressively with fast loading times. Draw distances and rendering also benefit from Intel’s own Max Turbo feature, which draws power evenly on cores. In turn, the Pulse GL76’s CPU leaves plenty of headroom for games and a dozen Chrome tabs on the side.

This works especially well for content creators exporting larger file sizes. It’s amazing to see MSI distinguish the GL-series of laptops by matching its CPU with parts which bottleneck less and push performance more. On paper, the CPU runs at an efficient 2.70GHz clock. Its mobile version still draws significantly more power for users. But throttling under heavy loads keeps the Pulse GL76 from shorting out or overloading.

“It’s amazing to see MSI distinguish the GL-series of laptops by matching its CPU with parts which bottleneck less and push performance more.”

I especially loved MSI’s future-proof pairing with a timely RTX 3070 graphics card. The GPU doesn’t compromise by having solid Ray-Tracing capabilities on-the-go. It’s easily a step-up from MSI’s previous 2000-series laptops. As Nvidia’s game drivers improved with DLSS and reduced RTX stress, the Pulse GL76 manages to barely break a sweat for visuals. The Pulse GL76 takes full advantage of its 8 GB VRAM. It was an absolute joy to see the 3070 handle most games at Max Settings.

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Graphics on the Pulse GL76 will blow players away in titles like Forza Horizon 5. Our stress test maxed the racing game out at Extreme settings. Impressively, the i7 and 3070 combo pushed an average of 65 frames with RTX On. Forza Horizon 5 hit heavy with foliage, draw distance, and terrain. This dragged frames down as low as 57 frames. Here, Forza was no match for the i7-12700H, which kept usage at just under 50 percent across all cores. With dynamic resolution on, Forza Horizon 5 ran at a steady 72 frames in the opening segment and first free roam. Surprisingly, turning RTX off would keep up with Forza’s heavy draw distances, which boosted frames to a minimum of 70 frames and beyond.

343’s latest magnum opus, Halo Infinite, impressed us with Ultra settings on textures and environments. But we also compromised with High settings on shadows, lighting, and effects. During Halo Infinite’s indoor missions, the Pulse GL76 maintained 109 frames per second on average. Cutscenes and facing groups of enemies dipped things to 85 at the lowest. Gamers satisfied with 60 frames and above should be more than satisfied with the laptop’s headroom for graphics. The Pulse GL76 started to sweat as players head into Zeta Halo’s open world. Without dynamic scaling, our test saw a 60-frame average across all boards. But it would continue to stay afloat with low dips to 52 frames when facing large structures and on-screen enemies.

“Graphics on the Pulse GL76 will blow players away in titles like Forza Horizon 5.”

Of course, the Pulse GL76 can clean up the missed frames at a minimum resolution. But given the small differences, scaling down the real-time visuals for performance is hardly a trade-off. In fact, I highly recommend Pulse GL76 owners to enable max settings with DLSS for a bang-for-your-buck experience.

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Without DLSS, the Pulse GL76 can start to stumble without giving up some Ultra settings. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy bottlenecked the mobile i7-12700H. Of course, I tempted fate by maxing out on Ultra graphics with RTX and reflections on High. Unfortunately, I saw frequent dips to 48 across outdoor environments. Lighting, bloom, and shadows bogged down the CPU. It also struggled to keep up with the RTX 3070, which was fully utilised at a respectable 77 degrees. The Pulse GL76 impressively held its own at 51 frames across the game’s opening level.

Much of the performance gains are as easy as switching DLSS on. Performance mode in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy almost doubled our frames. Here, the Pulse GL76 took every advantage of DLSS. The CPU and GPU toned down draw distance and background quality. In return, users can maintain an average of 87 frames during combat. Then a high of 97 frames and higher during exploration in the corridors. We saw the lowest dip to 63, anchored by DLSS, which uses A.I. to maintain smooth performance. MSI clearly implemented the RTX 3070 with DLSS in mind. Pulse GL76 owners can enjoy a high-calibre gaming experience without wasting too much time in the settings.

MSI has also done more than enough to preserve high-fidelity gaming on older titles. It’s safe for players to enjoy 2016’s Overwatch at maximum settings. Then seeing higher frames match the Pulse GL76’s 144Hz refresh rate. Competitive gamers can also feel comfortable with extra headroom in Valorant, CS: GO, and League of Legends. A go-to test for Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order at maxed Epic settings saw an average of 108 frames. The 2019 game was able to keep a minimum of 88 frames during intense moments. On average, players can even reach and pass 144 frames without Vertical Sync enabled across some indoor sections.

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Unfortunately, the Pulse GL76’s CPU hits hard on cooling. A larger power draw and low-profile distribution keep the Pulse GL76 unusually hot. Core temperatures can hit from 90 to 97 degrees under a heavy gaming load. Sadly, this takes away a level of comfort when laptops are resting on legs. It doesn’t help that MSI has tried to preserve a cleaner design by hiding its cooling vents underneath the device. The unit’s Cooler Boost 5 design sports two fans for its CPU and GPU. But thinner pipes from MSI’s previous laptops are far from a solution. This was apparent in Guardians, as CPU temps reached a concerning 98 degrees, with additional warnings from Rivatuner and MSI Afterburner. More problems were heard loud and clear with the Pulse GL76’s fan. At automatic settings, both the CPU and GPU fans struggle to expel heat from the bottom. This drives the speeds up even further for a noisy experience. Gamers in public should be extra careful in Quiet Zones. It’s that loud.

My thighs started to quickly heat up 10 minutes into a gaming session. Adding to my concerns for the Pulse GL76 was feeling most of its heat vents blocked by just about any flat surface. This uneven cooling system made its left side vent work overtime. Higher temperatures also forced my CPU and GPU to throttle. Unsurprisingly, I eventually kept the Pulse GL76 elevated on a stand to expel any trapped heat underneath.

Given the Pulse GL76’s 16 GB RAM, the new i7 has earned its spot at the desktop table. Its whopping 17.3-inch monitor comes standard. While the larger screen started to grow on me as I started multitasking on Chrome. Users will especially love the 144Hz refresh rate and large brightness, which made hours of navigation soothing for my darting eyes. The Pulse GL76 easily packs enough on-screen room for bigger productivity jobs. Naturally, I could open a Google Doc with another window for research. Or keep my image folder handy on one side as I picked a playlist on Spotify.

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At an expensive price point, the Pulse GL76’s screen holds back in 1080p territory. Its larger size over 15-inch screens barely makes up for the resolution. But the Pulse GL76 offers enough deep blacks to easily tell apart shadows and text alike. This was best shown in a tear-jerking movie test with West Side Story and my Halo review screenings. Movie-goers at home will be happy to hear the bigger display works well with IMAX-formatted films over Disney+. On-the-go, MSI’s Pulse GL76 adds more versatility as a fun mini theatre. This is a clear step-up from my Stealth 15M review last year. MSI improves on its predecessors by adding more vibrancy and sharp contrast to make the bigger 17.3-inch presentation enjoyable.

Audio is a surprisingly immersive feature on the Pulse GL76. Much of its magic is powered by Steelseries’ Nahimic driver. The pack-in software carefully tunes the laptop’s surrounding speakers for a deep listening experience. I was pulled in by the angelic sounds of Ansel Elgort, which was clearly separated from West Side Story’s orchestra. Thankfully, the Nahimic Driver lets users customise their own profiles. Down to setting louder voices treble and a rumbly bass. For larger scale IMAX movies, the immersive audio brings Pulse GL76 closer to a portable cinematic experience. This is an audio driver that works best with the laptop’s external speakers and will win over first-time users.

“Audio is a surprisingly immersive feature on the Pulse GL76. Much of its magic is powered by Steelseries’ Nahimic driver.”

The Pulse GL76 won’t exactly impress users with its battery. It follows a long line of MSI laptops which rely on higher power draw to push performance. The 3070 version almost doubles the draw and capacity over the 3060 option. This is a given considering its ability to replace desktop computers. In our standard gaming tests, newer titles at max settings can drain the battery to 15 percent in 90 minutes or less. Fortunately, the battery is less of a worry for productivity. In our Google Doc and Spotify test, the Pulse GL76 dropped from 100% to 46% after four hours. A two-hour binge of the Halo series saw a steeper 41 per cent drain on max brightness. Much of these rates can change with battery saving on, which let me enjoy six to seven hours of usage on light Chrome surfing.

Users are likely to keep the Pulse GL76 juiced on a 240W AC adapter. Of course, the laptop can be further domesticated with peripherals. The Pulse GL76 packs two USB 3.2 ports and a standard 2.0. Users can also plug in one USB-C device, which comes handy for hi-speed hubs. The fabled HDMI port comes as a staple for all Pulse GL76 laptops. As a bonus, the output supports 4K at up to 60Hz. This makes loading up on movies easier for road trips and hotel stays. Bluetooth v5.2 worked with ease, thanks to instant pairing. The Pulse GL76 falls into a trap with a decent webcam which caps at 720p at 30 frames. It’s standard for Zoom dates and remote work meetings. Fortunately, the webcam holds its own under low-light settings, and HDR Pro setting cleans up some graininess for a smoother portrait. This doesn’t let MSI’s Pulse GL76 off the hook for a serviceable webcam, however.

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Adding to the $2000+ perks are a LAN port for old-school gaming parties and faster download speeds. That’s assuming Pulse GL76 owners aren’t satisfied with the dual-band Wi-Fi 6 and 802.11 ax capabilities. MSI has thoughtfully kept a Wi-Fi 6 card ready to go. While it can also be replaced with an easy-to-access bottom cover. This includes the RAM and hard drive, which can easily be upgraded or replaced. It’s a bonus which goes a long way for Pulse GL76 owners who can stay a step ahead. Ironically, users don’t have much space to play around with. It’s disappointing to see MSI bundle a small 512 GB NVMe SSD which can get chewed up. It only took a handful of games to quickly see red in File Explorer. The only saving grace comes with an extra NVMe slot but increasing overhead costs for users. For a laptop crossing over the $2000 mark, the low capacity comes as a shocker.

The best version of MSI’s Pulse GL76 comes with a big investment for wallets. Its unparalleled mix of Intel’s 12th gen i7 and RTX 3070 gets players up to speed with the latest games. High frame rates are safeguarded by a DLSS that makes all the difference. But users on Max settings across recent titles can start to see the Pulse GL76’s limits ahead of more demanding titles to come.

For its exorbitant price point, over $2000 CAD, users deserve more packed-in storage to bring an expanding game collection on the go. MSI delivers on a worthy replacement for a laptop. Until users start to worry about the Pulse GL76’s underwhelming cooling and high temperatures, these are all flaws I’m happy to live with. MSI has more than enough gaming and multimedia horsepower to keep me satisfied beyond the desktop. The Pulse GL76 stays current in 2022, but keeps owners upgraded for years to come through its biggest, fastest, and most versatile high-end laptop to date.