The MSI Katana GF76 (12th Gen) is the first high performance laptop we’ve seen to wield a 12th generation Intel processor. Naturally we were particularly keen to see how this brand-new, mid-range, 17-inch gaming laptop performed… and boy were we impressed!
Key Specs of the MSI Katana GL76 (12th Gen)
17-inch, matte, 144Hz, 1920 x 1080 IPS display; 3.5-4.7GHz Intel Core 17-12700H CPU; 16GB RAM; 1TB HDD; Nvidia RTX 3050 Ti; 53.5Wh battery; 2.6KG. SKU: GF76 12UD-029AU, Full specs here.
Design and Handling
We first saw MSI’s Katana last year when it was announced as a special edition GF76 with styling from a celebrity designer. We learned, Tsuyoshi Nagano is, “A Japanese illustrator, famous for his cover artwork on “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms” video game series since 1980s. He has dedicated on gaming series for a long time and makes him a professional creators. His art style is realism, has influenced many other series such as Dynasty Warriors.” [sic]
The Katana is twinned with the MSI Sword (one of the most popular laptops we’ve seen on this site) which is white-with-blue-lighting in most of the world but black-with-red-lighting-in Australia. The Katana is black-with-red-lighting in most of the world and here too – so basically identical to the Sword. It’s a cool, Darth Vader-ish styling with design elements that supposedly evoke feelings of dark samurai armour. However, the main evidence of this are the hexagonal cooling vents on the base.
Irrespective of its origins, the MSI Katana GF76 has got a uniformly black chassis with a red, backlit keyboard and it looks pretty cool. It does feel a bit plasticy and the screen can wobble a bit if knocked, but it’s so black (including the logo on the lid) that it’s hard to identify any shortcomings. Sort of like a ninja. We like that.
The keyboard is firm but comfortable and accurate to type upon for extended periods. The red backlighting makes it look very cool. If you turn the backlighting off in a dim room you’ll struggle to see the keys – a bit more than usual. There’s a number pad and arrow keys. These are reduced size but still usable and we’re glad they’re included.
The trackpad is smooth and accurate but the buttons are a little too firm to press comfortably. This is only really an issue when you need to right-click.
There’s an HD webcam above the screen but it doesn’t have Windows Hello compatibility.
The 17-inch LCD screen has a 144Hz refresh rate which makes game motion render smoothly. However, it doesn’t quite have the fastest pixel response time and there can be a bit of ghosting surrounding fast moving objects. It’s still good for gaming, though. It gets reasonably bright but colours aren’t as vibrant as rivals. There’s also some banding in colour transitions and monochromatic gradients can get very blocky. Contrast is reasonable but you can see more detail in dark areas than you can in bright which get washed out a bit easily. It’s all still above average though and few people would complain. The Windows Desktop is rendered crisp and clear.
The MSI Katana GF76’s twin, 2-Watt speakers get reasonably loud and there’s reasonable fidelity at the mid-range and top-end. However, there’s very little bass which is a little disappointing for a chassis this size.
Performance of the MSI Katana GF76 (12th Gen)
Under the hood is a brand spanking new 3.5-4.7GHz Intel Core i7-12700H. This new ‘Alder Lake’ architecture has 6 Performance cores and 8 Efficient cores with 20 threads of processing. These are joined by 16GB of DDR4-3200 RAM and a 512GB PCIe 4 hard drive (Note: the retail SKU has a 1TB drive). These combined to score 7344 in PCMark 10. Despite this not being Intel’s top-tier processor, this is the second-fastest score we’ve seen… just a whisker behind AMD’s best consumer Ryzen processor and well ahead of Intel’s last-generation flagships! Amazingly It performed even better in the CineBench rendering tests where scores of 2805 (R15) and 16,206 (R23) are the fastest we’ve seen on any laptop!
Unfortunately, things aren’t quite so impressive with the 3D performance thanks to the modest Nvidia RTX 3050 Ti GPU. This scored 6116 in 3DMark Time Spy which is an average of 34.5fps. It also scored 6588 (average 30.5fps) in Fire Strike Extreme and just 1036 in the (mostly incompatible) Port Royal ray-tracing test which is an average of 4.8fps.
It’s a bit underpowered for our tastes but there are many other MSI Katana GF76 SKUs which can ramp up to an RTX 3070 Ti.
We were impressed that it never ran too hot (69oC under constant load) while the fans never moved beyond a very light swoosh (unless you forced them to maximum Cooler Boost mode). This may partly be due to MSI’s new thermal technology where the heat-transfer medium turns to liquid for enhanced efficiency when heat rises – it replaces the traditional thermal paste. However, it’s also due to the low-powered nature of the 3050 Ti – we’d like to see how this technology performs on a beefier system.
Connectivity of the MSI Katana GF76 (12th Gen)
Inside is Wi-Fi 6 and BlueTooth 5.2. It’s all a bit last generation, but that’s still a very useful complement of connectivity ports.
At 2.6KG it’s not light but it’s far from the heaviest 17-inch gaming laptop we’ve tested. The not-large 53.5Wh, 3-cell battery managed to last 6hrs 20mins which is extraordinary considering that both the last generation MSI Sword and Pulse (which use the same battery and equivalent, last-gen processors) lasted nearly 3hrs less! That’s a big win for the MSI Katana GF76 and for Intel’s 12th Gen processors.
The slim power brick ads 620g to the bulk. It’s generally solid enough to survive life on the road but the lid can flex a bit when a twisting force is applied and we worry a bit about the weak, wobbly hinges. Try not to bash it.
Should I buy the MSI Katana GF76 (12th Gen)?
MSI’s GF range is supposedly one-step behind it’s GL series. But, in many ways, this Katana is just like the GL76 Pulse we reviewed a few months ago but with 12th generation Intel components (and inferior speakers and internal chassis construction). However, whereas the Pulse was always a budget-cum-mid-range laptop, the budget-cum-mid-range MSI Katana GF76 has been elevated to being one of our highest-performing laptops ever (at least for 2D performance) thanks to the 12th Gen Intel technology. That’s a huge endorsement for a 17-inch gaming laptop that costs just $2299. However, we’d rather plump for a variant with better 3D.
We’ll doubtless see some epic new performance records in the coming months as the market’s top models get 12th-Gen refreshes but they’ll doubtless come in at a hefty premium. For now, the MSI Katana GF76 can bask in the glory of being a great-value, 17-inch purchase with a very very very fast processor.
MSI Katana GF76 (12th Gen) results
- 2D Performance
- 3D Performance
A great showcase for Intel’s new processors: amazingly fast 2D performance but choose an SKU with a better 3D chip.