MSI sells so many gaming laptops that identifying a flagship among the lot is nearly impossible. If you had to try, though, a good candidate would be the GE66 Raider. It’s a classically (i.e., aggressively) styled 15-incher that boasts both excellent features and stellar build quality, as well as some seriously powerful components. The laptop starts at $1,899, but our $2,999 review unit is decked out with an eight-core, 10th Generation Intel Core i9 CPU, as well as an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super Max-Q graphics chip and a 300Hz full-HD (1080p) display. Its roaring cooling fans might dampen your enthusiasm, but otherwise this is an excellent machine for hardcore, deep-pocketed gamers.
The Raider Revised: A More Subdued Design
The GE66 and its more diminutive cousin, the GS66 Stealth, are both revamped for 2020, though they’re not clean-sheet designs. The GE66 replaces last year’s GE65 Raider, bringing many external and internal changes and improvements. The most visually obvious changes include an additional measure of design restraint in the display lid, which ditches the red-striped ridges in favor of a completely smooth surface. It’s a welcome improvement for people who cringe at the gamer aesthetic. MSI also toned down the shield logo on the display lid, removing its color so it blends in with the dark silver surface.
The “Raider” moniker is gone from the laptop’s rear edge, giving way to some more sensible and useful I/O ports instead. They include the power port, an HDMI output, an Ethernet jack, a USB Type-C connector, and a mini DisplayPort 1.4 output. The DisplayPort jack is especially useful for connecting VR headsets.
The front edge of the GE66 is anything but subtle, meanwhile. It’s occupied by a giant light bar that runs the entire width of the laptop’s chassis, offering 16.7 million colors that are customizable using the same SteelSeries Engine app that adjusts the per-key lighting on the GE66’s keyboard. Ostentatious, to be sure, but when it’s turned off, the light bar is well integrated enough that you’ll hardly notice it.
The GE66’s chassis measures 0.9 by 14.1 by 10.5 inches and weighs 5.2 pounds. Those used to be admirable dimensions for such a powerful 15-inch laptop, but now they’re rather run-of-the-mill. Plenty of laptops with 15-inch displays are smaller. The GS66 Stealth weighs 4.4 pounds and is only 0.7 inch thick, similar dimensions to those of the Razer Blade 15. But neither of these more svelte machines can match the GE66’s graphics performance, as you’ll see below.
The Raider’s additional thickness lets it accommodate larger cooling grilles. The left and right edges each have one, while two flank the I/O ports on the rear edge. Along with six heat sinks and two truly deafening fans, they cool the GE66’s powerful CPU, GPU, and other internal components. The fans have nearly half again as many blades as the ones in the GE65, which we found to be plenty noisy themselves.
The fans can be adjusted via modes in the MSI Dragon Center App. If you enable Extreme Performance mode, be prepared to put your headphones on and apologize to anyone within 10 feet of you. On the other hand, the fans are reasonably good at knowing when they’re not required. When I switched the laptop to Balanced mode and started watching a movie (a task that requires little computing effort), the fans were nearly silent.
In addition to the rear ports, the left and right edges of the GE66 also contain three USB Type-A ports, a full-size SDXC card reader, a second USB Type-C port, and a headphone jack….
Support for Thunderbolt 3 is noticeably absent, but most gamers will overlook that. They’ll care more about the networking capabilities, which include Killer wired and wireless chipsets that enable Gigabit Ethernet connections, as well as support for 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) and Bluetooth 5.1.
Do You Need the GE66’s 300Hz Display?
Our GE66 review unit boasts a full HD (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) display. The image quality is decent, the maximum brightness level is perfectly adequate for a dimly lit gaming den, and the matte finish does a good job of reducing glare from ambient lights. But the display’s signature achievement is its lightning-fast 300Hz refresh rate, a new optional feature for the GE66. If you can get your game to display 300 frames per second (fps), this screen can show every single frame. It’s a vast improvement over the 100Hz-plus displays that typically qualify as having a high refresh rate.
But do you actually need a 300Hz panel? It depends on your style of gameplay. If you’re an ultra-competitive esports type playing a low-impact game like CS:GO, you’re probably doing everything you can to display as many frames as possible, so you might actually be able to make use of the Raider’s blazing-fast display. More casual gamers, especially those who play demanding AAA titles with the graphics quality turned up to the maximum settings, probably won’t reach anything close to 300fps, rendering the display overkill.
MSI also offers 144Hz and 240Hz panels on other GE66 configs, all with full HD resolutions and 3ms response times. Any of these are vast improvements over the 60Hz that is the standard for mainstream laptop and monitor screens, and the benefits are apparent even when you’re not gaming. I noticed silky-smooth cursor movements and Windows Start menu animations.
While there’s no support for Nvidia’s G-Sync technology, which synchronizes the refresh rate of the display to the frame rate output of the GPU, you can always use in-game features like V-Sync (which manages frame rates at the GPU end, rather than at the display) to prevent the tearing that is common when things get out of sync.
A Solid Keyboard and Touchpad
The GE66’s SteelSeries-designed keyboard offers an excellent typing experience. Key presses land with satisfying thuds, and there’s no flex anywhere on the keyboard deck. The touchpad is supremely sturdy as well, with a uniform clicking sensation everywhere except the very top edge of the pad.
In addition to customizing the keyboard lights with the SteelSeries Engine app, you can also increase, decrease, or disable the backlight using the F10 and F11 keys. Other function keys offer quick access to the MSI Dragon Center and the ability to enable or disable the cooling fans’ maximum speed.
The keyboard layout is improved from that of the GE65. The new version ditches the number pad, which is no great loss since the pad’s keys are cramped and awkward to use, at two-thirds the size of normal ones. The Windows key, absent on the GE65, has returned. Its absence on the GE65 was ostensibly to appease gamers worried about accidentally hitting it in the heat of battle. If this is a concern for you, just disable the Windows key in the Dragon Center settings app.
As you can probably surmise, you’ll end up using Dragon Center and SteelSeries Engine frequently, especially as you tweak settings for the first time to get the laptop set up to your liking. Unfortunately, neither is intuitive or free of bugs. Many of the settings in Dragon Center require the app or even the entire system to be restarted when you change them. But the app simply crashed without warning about half the time I tried to change these settings, including turning on and off Gaming Mode, which a tooltip vaguely describes as an “auto-tuning function for the game you are playing with the best possible visual & audio lighting settings.” That said, once I restarted the app after the crash, I could see that the changes had, in fact, been applied.
Meanwhile, the SteelSeries Engine has separate Undo and Revert buttons, each of which rolls back tweaks to different categories of settings (of which there are many). If you simply want to disable the keyboard lighting, that’s an obscure option under the “Effects” drop-down menu.
Above-Average Speakers and Camera
The MSI’s camera and audio quality are above average. The addition of a 1080p webcam offers reasonable video quality to allow some gamers who like to stream their gameplay to forgo the use of a standalone webcam. The older GE65’s webcam offered a lesser 720p resolution that is the norm for laptop cameras.
Audio quality from the GE65’s four speakers was already very good, and the GE66 adds an additional 10 decibels to the maximum volume level, which should help you drown out the roar of the cooling fans. MSI also says that the GE66 offers 15 percent more bass than its predecessor does.
The company offers a one-year warranty for all configurations of the GE66.
A Cutting-Edge CPU and GPU
Our top-of-the-line review unit features an Intel Core i9-10980HK CPU, whose eight cores can each handle two software instruction threads, for a total of 16. The RTX 2080 Super Max-Q has 8GB of video memory, in addition to the 32GB of system memory and a 1TB NVMe solid-state drive that serves as the boot drive.
Lesser configurations of the GE66 Raider aren’t necessarily a big step down from our Core i9-based tester. They make use of a 10th Generation Core i7-10875H (which is also an eight-core/16-thread CPU), a GeForce RTX 2070 Super GPU, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. It’s clear that the GE66 is a serious gaming platform no matter what configuration you choose.
The main thing missing is additional storage configurations. The option to add a second storage drive would be nice, since 1TB will start to fill up if you own a handful of the latest AAA games and their expansion packs. While MSI doesn’t offer dual-drive configurations shipped from the factory, the laptop does have an empty M.2 “combo” drive slot. You can install an additional SSD yourself in that vacant slot, which accepts an M.2 drive based on either the PCI Express or SATA bus.
To see how well the GE66 can handle intense computing workloads like 3D gaming, I compared its performance on our benchmark tests with that of a few other similarly priced gaming rigs. They include the Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED XB, the Origin EVO16-S, and the Razer Blade 15. (The Aero 15 is aimed more at creative pros with its OLED screen, but its other components and the rest of the features list scream “gaming laptop.”) I’m also comparing performance with the GS66 Stealth. The Stealth is the only other machine in this lot (beside the GE66 Raider) with a GeForce RTX 2080 Super Max-Q GPU; the other systems all have lesser RTX 2070 Super or RTX 2080 GPUs.
Obviously, the GE66 and all of its competitors can handle basic productivity workflows without breaking a sweat. In my testing, I never once experienced sluggishness or slowdowns, even with more than a dozen browser tabs opened at once. We typically use the PCMark 10 test to quantify such everyday performance, but an unidentified bug kept both MSI laptops from completing it. The GE66 did score above the 5,000 mark on our PCMark 8 storage test, suggesting its NVMe SSD offers excellent performance.
When it comes to more intense workflows like multimedia editing, the GE66 also acquits itself nicely. It’s the quickest among its peers to convert a 12-minute clip of 4K video into 1080p in Handbrake and render a 3D image using Maxon’s Cinebench.
Meanwhile, the GE66 comes in second while applying a series of 10 filters and effects to an image in Adobe Photoshop. But its time of just over two minutes in this test is still plenty competitive.
Gaming Without Breaking a Sweat
While all of these results are impressive, the GS66 really shines when it comes to graphics performance. It aced every single one of our gaming tests, from synthetic benchmarks like 3DMark to demanding AAA games like Far Cry 5.
3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The GE66 was the fastest at both.
It was the fastest in the Superposition test, too, which also renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario than 3DMark for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess.
When it comes to real-world gaming tests, the GE66 is again on top, but its results help identify why the 300Hz screen might be overkill for many types of games. While the ability to complete Far Cry 5’s in-game benchmark at an average of 116 frames per second at Ultra quality settings is quite impressive and should satisfy all but the pickiest of hardcore gamers, it could just as easily be done on a 144Hz display.
Performance in Rise of the Tomb Raider’s in-game benchmark was a bit better, in part because this is a slightly less demanding title. The GE66 achieved an average of 136fps, better than both the RTX 2080 Super Max-Q in the Stealth and the RTX 2080 Max-Q GPUs in the Origin and the Razer. Indeed, the performance of the RTX 2080 Super in the GE66 Raider versus what the same GPU does in the GS66 Stealth shows that this machine is a more forgiving thermal environment.
Despite the voracious power appetites of its components (the Core i9 alone consumes up to 45 watts of power), the GE66 still manages to offer decent battery life, at least when you’re not gaming. Helped along by its massive 100WHr battery, the laptop lasted for more than seven hours in our battery rundown test, which involves playing a locally stored 720p video at 50 percent screen brightness with airplane mode turned on.
On the Whole, Lots of Power in a 15-Inch Package
Following in the footsteps of its GE65 predecessor, the GE66 pulls off some impressive feats for a 15-inch-class gaming laptop. It’s one of the few notebooks of its size to offer an Intel Core i9 eight-core processor and a top-shelf Nvidia GeForce RTX graphics processor. This cements its status as one of the best-performing 15-inch gaming laptops money can buy. It does all this at a price that’s slightly higher than the $2,699 version of its predecessor that we tested, but still comes in under $3,000.
There’s just, inevitably, the noise factor. Despite the stellar performance, improved feature set, and good build quality, the GE66 still suffers from those extremely loud cooling fans. Its at-times-buggy customization software is also unbecoming of a laptop that costs this much.
To our eyes, the Aero 15 is a slightly better choice for around the same money, if you’re willing to go with its similarly neutral-looking design. And if money is a major concern, and you can come down the GPU ladder a couple of steps, in the $2,000 range you’ll find the Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX502, our current top pick for high-end gaming laptops. That said, the GE66 Raider does a lot right, and if you want the raw power of a GeForce RTX 2080 Super in a reasonable-size package, it’s hard to top.
MSI GE66 Raider Specs
|Processor||Intel Core i9-10980HK|
|Processor Speed||2.4 GHz|
|RAM (as Tested)||32 GB|
|Boot Drive Type||SSD|
|Boot Drive Capacity (as Tested)||1 TB|
|Screen Size||15.6 inches|
|Native Display Resolution||1,920 by 1,080|
|Variable Refresh Support||None|
|Screen Refresh Rate||300 Hz|
|Graphics Processor||Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super (Max-Q)|
|Graphics Memory||8 GB|
|Wireless Networking||802.11ax, Bluetooth|
|Dimensions (HWD)||0.9 by 14.1 by 10.5 inches|
|Operating System||Microsoft Windows 10|
|Tested Battery Life (Hours:Minutes)||7:31|