If you’ve spent even a little while on the hallowed gear pages of PowerUp, you’ll know that I have an insatiable fetish for gorgeous tech that hides a ton of power behind a veneer of baroque industrial design. When it comes to gaming laptops, few look better than the MSI GS66 Stealth — the Razer Blade 15 and Alienware M15 r3 are the only ones that come to mind.
So I was excited to finally get my hands on this power-business-suit, $5,800 monster from MSI. This top of the line model comes with a beastly Intel Core i9-10980HK, 32GB of RAM and a 300Hz refresh display powered by an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Super. All this raw power wrapped nicely in a smokey black metal chassis that looks like the kind of laptop the Dementors from Harry Porter would use for Twitter.
After two weeks of daily use, the Stealth(like it’s name suggests) vanished into the background of my workflow, where I only noticed it when I needed it to scan my face to sign in to Windows.
MSI GS66 Stealth review
I can’t lie. The GS66 Stealth is far from perfect and let me get the first real gripe out of the way. It isn’t nearly as sexy in person as it is in its pictures. Sure, it looks good but the Core Black metal body doesn’t look as smokey or mesmerising nor does the texture feel as premium as I’d imagined.
It certainly doesn’t feel cheap or flimsy — just not special in anyway. The chassis has hard edges and straight lines with small vents on the sides and back provide airflow with a larger grill on the bottom. MSI has kept the chassis to just 18mm or 0.7-inches thick and it weighs 2.1Kg, alerting you to the serious business inside. Some rubber feet at the bottom give just enough clearance for the air intake while keeping it fixed on whatever surface it’s on.
The display hinges are solid with no wobble and I didn’t see any flexing in the build anywhere; something typical of skinny laptops. Overall, it’s an ok looking machine that won’t alert anyone as to your gaming intentions but I do wish MSI had kept the gold accents from previous models. Or at least a different surface texture like the Huawei Matebook 14 that would give it some extra character.
Keyboard and I/O
One thing that does feel excellent about the GS66 Stealth is the keyboard. I’m not sure what magic MSI and Steelseries did here but typing on these keys is a delicious experience. Even my wife who borrowed it for a quick email immediately remarked how this is the best laptop keyboard she’s ever used and I agree. The keys have just the right amount of travel with a smoothness and gentleness your fingers will appreciate.
I love the texture and size of the keys though I’m not so much a fan of MSI’s use of the PlayStation 3 inspired font. Nevertheless, they are easily legible and allow for a good amount of light to passthrough for nice RGB. This of course is provided by Steelseries and you use the Steelseries Engine to adjust the profiles as well as reassigning functions and adding macros.
The touchpad is oddly shaped being almost twice as wide as it is tall – and it isn’t very tall which makes it so easy to tap outside of it or even fail to complete gestures. Like most gaming laptops, you’ll be using an external mouse anyway but if you have to use the touchpad, it’s actually pretty good. The surface is smooth and precise with great response for navigating and scrolling.
Speaking of external mice, the GS66 has all the key ports you need. I’m so pleased to see USB-C with Power Delivery which allows you to charge the laptop via USB-C cable. It’s also a DisplayPort for connecting to an external monitor but you can use the HDMI that supports 4K60. There are 3 USB-A ports for all your external peripherals and an RJ45 Ethernet port for fast Gigabit LAN connections. WiFi 6 and the latest Bluetooth 5.1 are also available for a multitude of fast connections.
Open the lid and you’re greeted by a 15.6-inch IPS-level display with a 1920×1080 FHD resolution and an extraordinary 300Hz refresh. The display looks great whether you are browsing the web or picking out the Hive in Destiny 2’s dark corners. The colors pop with vibrancy and the viewing angles are great. Contrast is nowhere near OLED but it’s good enough here. MSI also offers a 1080p 240Hz and a 4K 60Hz panel which is better suited to those doing creative design or video work.
MSI True Color gives you preset color profiles for different use cases. There’s five including Gaming, Movies, Office work, sRGB and Anti-Blue Light which is great for those of us who stare at computer screens late into the night. I’m not usually a fan of these color profiles, much preferring to set them to my specifications but they can be handy for less nerdy folks.
But let’s talk about that 300Hz refresh for a second. I’m getting too old to perceive such high speeds, in fact I probably top out at 165Hz. That said, I appreciate the level of fluidity and response that these panels offer. Even outside of gaming, there’s a noticeable improvement to scrolling long webpages and just moving Windows around the desktop.
However, unless you are a pro-gamer, 300Hz refresh is entirely superfluous if for no other reason that laptop GPU’s can’t run most modern games at those framerates. Even in games like CS:Go that are optimized for speed, I couldn’t get the GS66 to render more than 250 FPS at medium settings. I didn’t even bother with CoD: Warzone which topped at 150FPS. So really, I’d advise most people to stick with the 240Hz display and save some money.
Above the display is a very welcome webcam — something I’ve noticed several gaming laptops seem to be dropping by the wayside. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that a webcam is an absolute necessity. The quality won’t blow you away – it’s only 720p 30FPS but that’s quite adequate for Zoom calls. But equally important is the built in Infrared Camera that allows for Windows Hello facial recognition. A quick scan of your face and the GS66 will sign you into Windows, saving you from typing annoying PIN’s or passwords every time.
Now when you spend close to $6000 on a laptop, you expect nothing short of mindblowing performance, am I right? And yes, the GS66 certainly performs like a champ and no, it will not blow your mind. To get a good benchmark comparison, I pit the GS66 against the similarly powerful Asus Zephyrus Duo 15 and the results are rather interesting. In Geekbench the GS66 trumps the Zephrus Duo but in 3DMark, it doesn’t perform nearly as well.
In saying that, gaming performance had the two duking it out with each one taking the win depending on the game, but not by much. Both easily managed to average 100FPS in AAA games with Max settings. You can drop that to Medium settings to get a small boost in framerates but that still depends on the game. Either way, your experience will be very smooth with nary a sign of screen tearing.
THis performance does come at the cost of heat and fan noise. The i9 in here can run very hot, reaching 99C in CPU heavy tasks but not to worry. The GS66 more often maintains a 70-80C average during long gaming sessions. In as much as MSI touts its new fan design and cooling system, a skinny laptop with a beefy processor and GPU will still get really hot.
This means high fan use to keep things cool, and not just under load either. The GS66 kept spinning up the fans periodically even when it was just sitting idle on my desk, much to the irritation of my wife. This is where the GS66 Stealth fails to live up to its name because everyone will be aware of it thanks to the fan noise.
Which brings me to battery life. The GS66 comes with a 99.9WHr battery which is currently the largest, legally allowable battery. However, despite its size, our review unit drained in under 5 hours of regular productivity work and that’s with power saving mode on. This is still pretty good for a gaming laptop but we’ve seen much better from smaller batteries.
Obviously your mileage will vary depending on what you are doing but if you want more endurance, I suggest picking a model with a lower refresh display and a more frugal processor like the i7-10875H. Whichever model you go with, there’s no escaping that charging that massive battery takes ages, almost 3 hours.
The MSI GS66 Stealth is definitely a top-tier gaming laptop that holds its own against the likes of Razer Blade 15. It doesn’t beat it in overall presentation, style and quality but with one or two more iterations, it will likely get there. The machining just doesn’t feel as premium as the Razer Blade.
Starting at $3,099 in Australia, you can find a configuration that suits your wallet. However, our review unit costs a whopping $6,999 which is immediately unnecessary — unless you happen to be a pro esports player who does AutoCad visualisations at night.
However, I should note that at the time of writing this, MSI is running an end of year special that shaves up to $1,400 off the RRP on the GS66 Stealth. This brings our review unit down to $5,799 which is a massive saving. So head on over to https://au.msi.com/Promotion/massiveendyearsale20 and score some savings.
But let’s be real here; that’s still a lot of money to spend on a laptop. If you just swap out the i9 for the i7-10875H, you’ll immediately save over $1,000 dollars with minimal drop in performance. And, if you change the display to 240Hz with an RTX 2070 Super and you can get a fantastic GS66 for about $3,600. Much more reasonable and it likely won’t be as noisy because of the cooler processor.
The MSI GS66 Stealth was loaned to PowerUp by MSI Australia for the purpose of this review.