The MSI GS65 Stealth was one of our favorite gaming laptops last year, a stylish thin-and-light premium machine at a fair price. The new GS66 Stealth (starts at $1,499; $2,699 as tested) is a sturdier build with more power, but it loses some of the sleekness and unique flair of its predecessor. Internally, the brand-new Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super (Max-Q) GPU and Intel Core i7-10750H processor power the GS66 to super-high frame rates, shown on a blazing 300Hz display. But considering the expectations raised by our test unit’s price and parts, it doesn’t quite blow away the competition—between our performance and design nitpicks, the Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX502 remains our high-end gaming Editors’ Choice. We’ll wait to see other systems with these flashy new components before possibly picking a new favorite.
A Sturdier, But Plainer, Look
As mentioned, the build of the GS66 Stealth is markedly different from the GS65. At a glance, the two look the same, but they diverge in size, feel, and color scheme. Starting with the aesthetics, MSI opted for an all-black look here, ditching the gold accents on the lid, vents, and touchpad. I personally liked the gold scheme, as it looked sharp and stood out from others, but I suppose this sandblasted “Core Black” look has a wider appeal and can blend in in more professional settings.
Physically, the build is a lot sturdier this time around, and just slightly thicker. After an industry-wide obsession with thinness, we’ve seen multiple manufacturers pull back slightly, at least on gaming laptops. Vendors have seemed to realize that the performance and feature gains provided by an extra tenth of an inch or so outweigh the benefits of an imperceptibly thinner design.
Thus, the GS66 Stealth measures 0.71 by 14.2 by 9.7 inches, compared to the GS65’s 0.69 by 15.1 by 10.2 inches—slightly thicker, but almost an inch less wide, so you’re still saving space. Even with the changes, this puts it right on par with a top competitor like the Razer Blade 15 (0.7 by 14 by 9.25 inches).
The original laptop in this line, 2018’s GS65 Stealth Thin, had an uncomfortable amount of flex in its lid and around its keyboard when pressure was applied. The 2019 GS65 Stealth remedied this with some reinforcements in key places, reducing but not eliminating the flex. Its metal alloy kept it extra light, but it felt flimsier than, say, the all-aluminum Razer Blade 15.
MSI doubled down on the sturdiness with the GS66, both with reinforcements to the chassis and an overall blockier shape. There is virtually no flex in the chassis (I found a slight amount in the thin strip between the touchpad and the keyboard, but you shouldn’t really be pressing there normally), and it feels much more solid overall.
That comes at a cost of slightly more weight, but not as much as I expected. The GS65 weighed in at 4.4 pounds, while the GS66 weighs 4.63 pounds. It’s a measurable difference, and you can feel it, but I expected the gain to be larger when I first lifted the GS66. With the additional weight and sturdier build, it has an added heft that makes it that much less portable, whereas I probably would have recommended the GS65 as the most portable 15-inch gaming laptop.
Frames as Far as the Eye Can See: The New 300Hz Display
Moving on, let’s talk about the display, because there’s plenty to discuss. It’s a 15.6-inch panel with full HD or 1080p resolution, which is normal enough. The real head-turner is the 300Hz refresh rate, far higher than the increasingly common 144Hz rate and the already sky-high 240Hz panels. This means the laptop can display up to 300 frames per second (fps), which roughly translates to how smooth a game will look in motion. That’s five times the 60Hz refresh rate of most laptop panels, so this is quite a leap.
Does anyone need a refresh rate that high? It depends who you ask. The average user, and even the average gamer, will be content with 60Hz, and may very well never notice higher frame rates at all. Even hardcore players who generally play big-budget story-based games may be content with 60fps. Consoles currently top out here, too.
Where high refresh rates really shine are competitive multiplayer genres, like shooters and MOBAs—think Counter-Strike, Fortnite, Apex Legends, Rainbow Six: Siege, League of Legends, and DOTA. With your screen refreshing more often, the action is being updated for your eyes more frequently (and physically looks less choppy), giving you a competitive edge. These games are, intentionally, not very visually demanding so you can actually push frame rates that high, even with the image quality settings turned up. It’s virtually impossible, meanwhile, to get frame rates that high in photo-realistic AAA titles on most consumer PCs.
A 300Hz refresh pushes that concept to an extreme. I play a lot of these multiplayer games, and am content with the 144Hz monitor of my home desktop, but the 300Hz display on this laptop is still nice. In testing Rainbow Six: Siege, it certainly felt buttery smooth, even if I didn’t quite hit the refresh rate ceiling. In the in-game benchmark, the GS66 Stealth averaged 193fps at the Medium preset (many competitive players use moderate quality settings for higher frame rates) and peaked as high as 293fps. How much you actually notice depends on each person, but I could tell it was higher than my usual 144fps. If you take your multiplayer success seriously, the advantage could be worth it.
As for the rest of the build it’s good, but not remarkable. The keyboard is designed in concert with SteelSeries and features customizable per-key lighting. The keys are responsive, but a little shallow for my liking—it feels like you’re hitting bottom quickly, giving a flat sensation, particularly with the space bar. Still, it’s mostly good enough, and I have no complaints about the touchpad—it’s a bit wider than average, which is nice, and tracks smoothly.
Ports, Configurations, and Component Concerns
The chassis includes plenty of physical connections, including one USB-C port with Thunderbolt 3, three USB 3.1 Type-A ports, and an HDMI port. The thicker chassis also allows it to include an Ethernet jack, a boon to gamers who want a faster, more stable connection while playing or downloading games.
There are many ready-made configurations of this laptop, some of which are available outside the U.S. Our test unit is the second most expensive SKU, priced at $2,699. For that, you get the 300Hz display mentioned, as well as an Intel Core i7-10750H processor, 32GB of memory, the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super (Max-Q) GPU, and a 512GB solid-state drive. Other versions span from $1,499 to $2,999, with CPU choices going up to the Core i9-10980HK and GPU options running down to the RTX 2060. There are 1TB SSD options too, which might be smarter buys: I think 512GB is a bit cramped for modern games, especially at our model’s price.
Both the processor and graphics chip in our unit are brand-new components, and this is one of the first laptops we’ve tested with both (following right after the Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED XB). On the CPU side, Intel just launched its 10th Generation “Comet Lake-H” mobile processors, a series of chips that will empower premium laptops (mostly gaming machines) to push higher performance levels. The i7-10750H is one of these, a six-core, 12-thread processor, and we ran some early tests with it and others to see how this new series would perform generally (but read on for a deeper dive into this laptop’s specific performance below).
The other new kid on the block, the RTX 2080 Super (Max-Q), is one of the most powerful GPUs you will find in a laptop. We’ve seen RTX 2080 laptops before, but as it did on the desktop, Nvidia released “Super” versions of it and the RTX 2070, offering slightly better performance at better prices. We also did some initial testing of the first mobile Super GPUs we got our hands on.
The Max-Q suffix adds some complexity. If you aren’t familiar with the term, you can read more about it here. In short, it’s Nvidia’s approach to squeezing its more powerful GPUs into slim laptops by slightly throttling or down-tuning their power potential to restrict thermal output. In initial testing, we found that Max-Q somewhat muddies the on-paper Nvidia GPU hierarchy, and the down-tuning seems to impact the RTX 2080 more than the RTX 2070. This explains some of the results below, which aren’t as cut-and-dried as you’d hope, as there are so many factors affecting frame rates.
This is why reviewing each laptop as a finished product and not just the sum of its parts is important, so let’s head on to the results.
Performance Testing: Powerful Parts (Mostly) Deliver
For testing, I’ve put together a batch of similar gaming laptops to compare to the GS66 Stealth. They’re all relevant to the GS66 in some combination of price, size, components, and performance, so here’s a table to help you come to grips with the differences.
The Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 is the odd one out, for a few reasons. It’s the least expensive ($1,449.99 as tested), has a 14- instead of 15.6-inch screen, carries the only AMD processor here (the new, very efficient Ryzen 9 4900HS), and has a GPU a tier below the rest. It won’t compete on the pure graphics power front, but is still valuable to have included as a comparison. The rest are pretty straightforward, including a variety of Max-Q, Super, and non-Super GPUs. (See how we test laptops).
Productivity, Storage, and Media Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet jockeying, web browsing, and videoconferencing. PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the system’s boot drive. Both tests yield a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.
In an issue I was unable to solve, the GS66 Stealth would not complete the PCMark 10 test. Occasionally some benchmarking software will crash on a particular system, and it’s not really an indictment of either, just an unseen conflict. Rest assured the MSI can (and did, in my use) handle everyday workloads and multitasking without slowdown. As for the storage test, all of these SSDs hung together closely, providing fast boot and load speeds.
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video editing trial, another tough, threaded workout that’s highly CPU-dependent and scales well with cores and threads. In it, we put a stopwatch on test systems as they transcode a standard 12-minute clip of 4K video (the open-source Blender demo movie Tears of Steel) to a 1080p MP4 file. It’s a timed test, and lower results are better.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and add up the total execution time. As with Handbrake, lower times are better here.
The GS66’s processor didn’t end up leading the group in any of these tests, mostly sitting in the middle of the pack. Unsurprisingly, it was better than the older Core i7 chips of the HP Omen X 2S and the Blade 15. Also unsurprisingly, the Aero 15’s superior CPU (an eight-core chip in the new Core H series) and the Ryzen CPU (a platform that’s generally outperformed Intel’s at media tasks) topped the charts.
The i7-10750H hung closer to (or did better than) those two in our Photoshop test, which involves shorter bursts as opposed to longer, sustained workloads; the Ryzen chip cleaned its clock in Cinebench. Still, the GS66 makes for a pretty good multimedia laptop, able to handle photo or video workloads decently well.
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 midrange PCs while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario for a second opinion on each laptop’s graphical prowess.
The fresh RTX 2080 Super (Max-Q) mostly does its job here, proving superior to its older, non-Super version, as well as the RTX 2070 and 2060. What’s curious, as outlined in our preliminary testing piece, is that the GS66 Stealth and its GPU failed to outrun the Aero 15 and its RTX 2070 Super (Max-Q), which it should logically be superior to. (Both systems were updated to Nvidia’s latest driver.)
The Aero 15 does have a better CPU with more cores and threads, so it’s possible that is making up the difference. Otherwise, barring some funky software behavior, it has to be chalked up to the thermal differences and designs of each laptop. It’s almost impossible to “unbake” the parts of the laptop cake to determine the effect of each factor, but again that just stresses the importance of testing each machine, and in this case the GS66 Stealth trails the Aero 15.
Real-World Gaming Tests
The synthetic tests above are helpful for measuring general 3D aptitude, but it’s hard to beat full retail video games for judging gaming performance. Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider are both modern, high-fidelity titles with built-in benchmarks that illustrate how a system handles real-world gameplay at various settings. We run them at 1080p resolution at the games’ medium and best image-quality settings (Normal and Ultra for Far Cry 5 under DirectX 11, Medium and Very High for Rise of the Tomb Raider under DirectX 12).
The same trend from the synthetic tests continued in Far Cry 5, but the Aero 15’s oddly low performance in Rise of the Tomb Raider put the GS66 Stealth on top. This shows the variance on a per-game basis, in addition to the other factors. Regardless of how it stacks up against these systems exactly, these are very good frame rates for a laptop in demanding games. The GS66 is far above the 60fps target, ensuring smooth gameplay with few (likely no) dips below that number. Only non-Max-Q GPUs in larger, thicker laptops (mostly those with 17-inch screens) are going to perform noticeably better.
Battery Rundown Test
After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) where available and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop in airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the same Tears of Steel short we use in our Handbrake test—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system quits.
The MSI’s battery result was good enough. It’s on the shorter end among these machines (which are relatively long-lived for gaming laptops), but still long enough to give you a good amount of time off the charger. Unlike some other laptops, the battery life isn’t short enough to undermine the system’s portability, even if it’s not setting any records.
Given that MSI made sure to note that it included a big 99.9-watt-hour battery (the largest allowed for plane travel) in this laptop, you could view the result as disappointing. With the solid, but not stellar runtime, I can only assume the high-end components we have (300Hz display, powerful GPU) drained the battery more quickly than some more modest parts might have.
A Powerful, Pricey Machine
The MSI GS66 Stealth is a strong contender in this field, with a nice build and high-end features that match its high price. It’s a wholly different proposition from the GS65 we tested, which was a much less expensive configuration—and was also a lighter, slimmer machine, with a few more unique features to separate it from the pack. New components aside (since those will also be coming to competing laptops and aren’t unique to the GS66), this laptop has less of an identity than its predecessor. It’s a reasonably portable, high-performing machine, but the design is more run-of-the-mill, and the performance, while great, isn’t quite what we expected considering the GPU.
Don’t get us wrong, though: The GS66 Stealth has plenty of advanced features and will perform at very high frame rates in all games. Even if the design is more standard, it’s still good quality, and the fancy extras like the 300Hz screen will leave some salivating. The price tag is quite high, though, and the storage capacity is a bit low for gaming. I can only recommend it to hardcore enthusiasts with big budgets, but they likely won’t be disappointed. The Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 is our most recent gaming laptop Editors’ Choice for its tremendous value, and the ROG Zephyrus S GX502 is our reigning premium pick. We’ll wait and see how competing flagship laptops implement these fresh parts before awarding a new winner for the high-end tier.
MSI GS66 Stealth Specs
|Processor||Intel Core i7-10750H|
|Processor Speed||2.6 GHz|
|RAM (as Tested)||32 GB|
|Boot Drive Type||SSD|
|Boot Drive Capacity (as Tested)||512 GB|
|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)||0.71 by 14.17 by 9.65 inches|
|Operating System||Windows 10 Pro|
|Tested Battery Life (Hours:Minutes)||6:03|