MSI GS66 Stealth Review – Mixed Feelings
This is the MSI GS66 Stealth, one of the most requested reviews that we received alongside the Dell G15 Special Edition, which is also in the works so definitely stay tuned for that. Now you might be wondering why it take so long for us to publish this review? Well in early May, right before we were about to publish this review MSI sent revisions to both the embedded controller and the BIOS that updated both that the final versions that were being shipped inside retail units. This new update supposedly optimized fan speeds, which then lowered temperatures, which also allowed the notebook to hit high frequencies without impacting fan noise. Therefore, if we had posted this video in late April or early May it wouldn’t really show its true performance and potential. As a result, we decided to take the time to properly evaluate what this notebook is capable of and we are going to tell you all about it.
Specs & Prices
Let’s get pricing out of the way, the MSI GS66 Stealth starts at $1,600 USD and for that you get a 10th gen Core i7-10750H processor with 6 cores and 12 threads, 16GB of RAM, 512GB of NVMe storage, and an RTX 2060. The sample that we received comes with that same CPU, twice the memory, the same amount of storage, an RTX 2070 Super Max-Q GPU, Oh, and the upgraded 300Hz display instead of the 240Hz panel on the base model. This higher end model is priced at $2,249 USD. Now naturally you can go balls to the wall and spec this thing out with Intel’s fastest 8-core/16-thread processor, 1TB of storage, and an RTX 2080 Super Max-Q. However you need to be ready to pay $3,000 USD. The next question is where does the GS66 Stealth align with the competition? Well there is the Razer Blade 15 Advanced model, the GIGABYTE Aero 15, the ASUS ROG Zephyrus S15 – I really want to get my hands on that model – and pricing for all these notebooks are pretty much the same when you compare spec to spec.
Design & Build Quality
With that of the way let’s talk about exterior impressions. I’m genuinely impressed with the build quality and design of this laptop. The Stealth branding certainly fits the product design. The chassis is crafted from CNC aluminum – for the most part – but not entirely like the unibody design found on Blade 15. I love the laser etched logo on the lid, gives it a nice sleek look. I’m sure Batman would rock this as his daily driver.
The hinge is pretty solid. One of the neat things about this notebook is that you can lay this screen a 180° flat. I don’t know if this is something that you do often, but it is a feature. MSI does say that they are using metal materials inside the hinge to make it smooth, and there is less wobble which is nice. You needn’t be worried about it when you are typing or using this thing on your lap.
The thing that really bothered me the most was the plastic rail at the front. To give you a little bit of context, we treat every notebook that enters a studio carefully, but on our sample the plastic railing on the edge chipped. Now this unit could have shipped out of the factory in this condition, or it could have occurred during shipping, but I personally think that MSI’s choice of implementing this plastic rail at the front just doesn’t fall in-line with the premium notebook mantra that they are trying to go for with the GS66 Stealth. It just sticks out like a sore thumb.
Also, if you type a lot or spend hours gaming the transition from the palm rest to this plastic isn’t that smooth. It just feels like the two pieces were glued together. This might not be a huge deal breaker for a lot of people, but some people do care and I thought that it was worth mentioning. The palm rest does pick up fingerprints, but I guess it’s to be expected because a lot of these notebooks that come with an anodized black finish are prone to fingerprints. The Blade 15 is a great example of picking up fingerprints. It’s something to keep in mind.
Keyboard & Trackpad
The interior space is pretty clean with a fairly good keyboard layout. Personally, I’m not a fan of the font choice. I wish they went with something low profile. There are a few things that I need to point out, the Function and Control keys are really close to each other so you might hit one or the other by accident. Also, for some reason, there are two backslash keys on this keyboard. I don’t really get it, why would someone need two of them? Obviously there is one below the backspace key – which is the standard way – and there is another one besides the Function and Control keys. I didn’t notice it at first, Mike had to tell me that, but now you know too. The keys themselves are pretty good, MSI has always had a close partnership with SteelSeries to deliver a solid typing and gaming experience. It feels roughly the same as my Blade 15. Albeit there is just a little bit more travel distance on the GS66 which should compliment typists.
Unfortunately, the RGB lighting is not that great. It doesn’t get bright, especially when you compare it to the Blade. That laptop is the gold standard for keyboard backlighting in my opinion. Also, there is no visual indication when you are adjusting the brightness levels. They do go up in five step intervals, but you have to guess every single time when you are adjusting it to your preference. It was really frustrating for me.
The trackpad is awesome. It is a glass surface, which makes navigating through Windows a breeze. I love having this smooth surface paired with a high pressure display, it’s just a perfect combination and it’s something that you have to experience in person. The integrated trackpad buttons feel solid and tactile, nothing to complain here.
Iffy Webcam & Speakers
This is the webcam test on the GS66 Stealth. It has roughly the same video quality as every other webcam out – which means lackluster – but what’s really annoying is the microphone which picks up the laptop’s operating noises at all times. I feel like they placed a microphone in between the fans. Even when I have laptop running in the silent profile – which means the fan speeds should be spinning at a low rate, but that’s not the case – you can hear the hum of the fans. If you plan on using this for business meetings just get yourself a proper microphone, because this is totally unusable. Like how did this pass quality control? What are you doing MSI?
The built-in speakers sound pretty bad. They are technically bottom facing, but MSI has redirected the sound through this thin cut-out on the palm rest. When you are listening to something the sound resonates through the chassis and then escapes through these thin grills. And let me tell you, they sound way too harsh, especially the treble. There is also absolutely no bass, so there is no depth to the sound that you are listening to. In fact, the TUF A15 from ASUS that I checked out last week sounded way, way better than this.
Good Port Selection
Moving on to the connectivity. On the left-hand side, you have power-in, Thunderbolt 3 with support for PD charging up to 65 watts and DisplayPort 1.4 passthrough, HDMI 2.0b, and a USB 3.2 Gen2 Type-A port. Switching to the right-hand side, you have a LAN jack, two more USB 3.2 Gen2 Type-A ports, a USB 3.2 Gen2 Type-C port, and an audio jack. It’s a good selection, but unfortunately there is no full-size SD card reader so if you are a content creator that might be a bit of an issue. When you look at the competition, the GIGABYTE Aero 15 has a full-size SD card slot and the Razer Blade 15 Advanced model just got one as well. Heck, even the new Dell XPS 15 comes with a full-size SD card slot. Therefore, I think you really need to prioritize what you need and what you use and then make the purchasing decision. You should also be aware that if you have stuff plugged into the right-hand side, and if you use an external mouse, you might constantly start bumping into those cables, especially with that LAN port right over there.
The Fastest Laptop Display
Switching gears to the display, it is a 15.6-inch 1080P IPS-level panel with a refresh rate of 300Hz. It isn’t G-Sync compatible though. It is very colour accurate, it covers a 100% sRGB, 76% Adobe RGB, and 78% DCI-P3. These results are very close to my Blade 15, so if you are a content creator or photographer or if you value colour accuracy this panel will not disappoint you. The viewing angles are nice, there is good contrast, I just wish that the screen was a bit brighter because it only gets as bright as 330 nits. I think this is something that we are going to start to see among high refresh rates displays, they just won’t get brighter this generation.
Speaking of high refresh rates, this is my first 300Hz display and coming from my Blade 15 featuring a 240Hz screen I genuinely can’t see the difference. I feel like the 300Hz term is just marketing fluff to generate more sales, but realistically if you are looking for a gaming laptop you should look for a high refresh rate screen, but I don’t think you absolutely need 300Hz. I feel completely fine with 144Hz, maybe even a 240Hz display if you can pick it up at a lower price point, that would be the best bang for the buck type of option. Also, let’s just get real for a second, most visually demanding games can’t really be pushed to 300 FPS because of the current hardware situation. There are also frame rate caps for certain games as well. These are certainly some things to take into account when you are shopping around for a gaming laptop.
Under the hood you have instant access to two RAM slots, which are occupied. Maximum supported memory is 64GB. The main 512GB NVMe SSD is below the RAM slots and there is an extra M.2 slot for expansion, which is nice. That expansion capability is something that the Blade 15 Advanced lacks. The drive speeds are insanely fast, this is one of the fastest drives we have encountered with read speeds approaching 3.5GB/s. The writes are a bit on the lower side, but it’s still wicked fast.
Now MSI has been bragging about having the world’s highest capacity battery in a laptop at 99.9Wh, which is the legal limit, so naturally you would expect good results. Well… surprisingly that’s not the case because there is a lot of background applications running behind the scenes. For example, we have MSI True Color, which is the app taking care of the display, then there is the SteelSeries Engine 3 software that takes care of the keyboard, then we have the Killer LAN networking software for the Wi-Fi card, and then finally we have MSI Dragon Center, which is obviously the performance control option that lets you switch between profiles. All of these applications, when you add them together, consume about 3% to 5% of the CPU usage plus associated memory usage as well so that definitely impacts battery life. As you can see on our light load test that consists of refreshing a Chrome webpage on a loop, it only lasted for about 8 hours, which is good but it’s nowhere near the AMD-based TUF A15 that I checked out last week. The tables have really turned on Intel. The same story goes with our heavy load test, the GS66 Stealth once again achieves middle of the road results.
Let’s get into performance. To be honest with you, don’t expect too much out of this new 6-core/12-thread processor. The Core i7-10750H offers a respectable improvement over the Core i7-9750H, but it’s a joke when you compare it to what AMD offers with the Ryzen 7 4800H. I really think you need to evaluate what your needs are. For example, if you compile a lot of code or use rendering-based applications like Blender you should really look into AMD offerings. They are much faster and should save you a lot of time.
Temperatures & Frequencies
Now before we get into the results, let’s take a look at how the CPU and GPU behaves over time under heavy load. Starting things off with AutoDesk Maya, which is CPU intensive, temperatures shoots all the way up to 95°C. They stayed there for a little bit and then slowly round off to about 90°C, which is very hot for an all-core load. It actually stays that way for the rest of the test. All-core frequency start at 3.8GHz, but it was only a matter of time for it to throttle between 3.4Ghz and 3.5GHz. This is actually pretty respectable clock speeds, so it looks like MSI is sacrificing temperatures for performance in this case. During gaming, the CPU temps averaged higher than we expected, but that also made sense because the heat produced by high loads on both the CPU and GPU eventually add up. The clock speeds boosted higher too, since the processor wasn’t stressed at a 100%. We are talking 3.6GHz to 3.8GHz, and there were a few instances where it boosted to 4.1GHz, but that didn’t really help with performance. The RTX 2070 Super Max-Q ran pretty cool, actually noticeably cooler than the CPU, averaging around 70°C. We also can’t forget that NVIDIA’s boost algorithms require pretty low temperatures to be completely effective. The clock speeds start pretty high at 1,800MHz but they fell off a cliff to about 1,450MHz, which is quite a bit above the official frequencies that NVIDIA claims.
Real-Life & Gaming Benchmarks
On to the rest of the results. If you use Adobe Premiere to edit videos this notebook shouldn’t disappoint you. The new update optimizations have improved by a huge margin, leveraging the CPU, the iGPU, and the discrete graphics card in parallel. However, there is little to no reason to upgrade from the Core i7-9750H. That CPU is still pretty strong, you are not gaining a lot in that area. DaVinci Resolve ran pretty fast on this machine, but do note that this is GPU focused so the RTX 2060 Super plus the relatively higher clock speeds on the CPU comes in clutch. That AMD-based TUF A15 is not too far behind though. When it comes to video transcoding AMD is your best option if you use handbrake for instance. Wrapping things up with our WinRAR test and that fast NVMe SSD helps a lot to speed up with file compression.
Finally, gaming performance was really good. For the most part, the RTX 2070 Super Max-Q can match an RTX 2080 non-Super in frame rates. You can comfortably play at 1080P set to the high settings, but none of these games were able to leverage that 300Hz display.
Surface temperatures were pretty high, especially in the WASD keyboard zone and the exhaust on the right side blows out hot air like someone’s blasting a heater at your hand. It’s good for winter, but during summer – especially when you are using a mouse – just be prepared to have sweaty hands. I also wouldn’t leave this on my lap for longer sessions. Fan noise is pretty bad on the GS66, it just gets excessively load during heavy gaming load scenarios, so do keep note of that. Even in silent mode the fans still keep ramping up as I mentioned in the webcam test. On my sample I was able to notice coil wine as well, which is just unfortunate.
Conclusion time, I have mixed feelings about the GS66 Stealth. I will give credit to MSI for delivering a sleek and stealthy design, but there are some things that I wished were just perfect. In other words, I just wish that MSI was able to connect the dots between some elements seamlessly. For example, that plastic rail on the edge, I just can’t see myself getting over it. I really wish it was a unibody design. The keyboard backlighting is not the greatest, especially when compared to the competition. The speakers sound terrible and the microphone quality is trash, like how did this pass quality control? I just don’t get it. Also, this laptop is excessively loud during gaming workloads. Those are certainly some negative factors to consider.
Now the performance is solid for the size, but in my opinion I feel like there are better options out there, especially if you are looking for a faster CPU. AMD is definitely killing it lately. You are getting a better display on this laptop than on most gaming laptop, but do you need a 300Hz panel for gaming? Not really. I think you will be perfectly fine with a 240Hz or 144Hz display. That will save you a lot of money. In my opinion, the GS66 Stealth checks off what a gaming laptop should be. It offers great performance, but when you look at the rest of the picture there’s just a lot that’s left to be desired.