MSI GS65 Stealth review

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For the price, the MSI GS65 Stealth is one of the best gaming laptops you can buy today. This is officially the most impressive Nvidia Max-Q gaming laptop that we’ve tested to date, outclassing most rivals by trouncing them in design and style.

Attractive, subtle design
Gorgeous, fast display
Excellent performance
Effective thermal management

Underside gets burning hot
Forthcoming biometric login
Poor native audio

With the MSI GS65 Stealth (2018), MSI has at long last elevated its leading line of laptops to elite status, making the absolute best of the technology afforded it. The result is a sleek, portable 15-inch laptop fitted in a 14-inch device that sees you through high-end gaming as well as intensive productivity work without breaking the piggy bank.

The MSI GS65 Stealth (2018) gaming laptop has brought immense power in an understated yet attractive package unlike never before, earning our coveted Editor’s Choice award. But, we like it so much that we’ve also named it the best MSI gaming laptop of 2020.

If you’re looking for the ultimate crowd pleaser laptop, you’ve just found it in the MSI GS65 Stealth (2018) – and for cheaper than key competitors.

Price and availability
When it launches later this year, MSI will ask for $1,799 (about £1,289, AU$2,349) to start for its GS65 Stealth. That price includes everything you see on the right save for a lower-tier GTX 1060 and half as much solid-state storage (SSD) capacity in the NVMe format.

For the configuration you see to the right in full, that will cost you $1,999 (about £1,429, AU$2,609), meanwhile the highest-end model simply doubles the memory to 32GB and maxes out the storage to two 512GB NVMe SSDs for $2,999 (about £2,139, AU$3,919). This puts the GS65 Stealth pretty close to its main competitors, like the Asus ROG GX501 Zephyrus and Gigabyte Aero 15X.

Asus’s laptop calls for $2,299 (about £1,639, AU$3,000) when not on sale for similar hardware inside, albeit a somewhat slower, 120Hz 1080p display that to its merit is an Nvidia G-Sync panel. It also brings half as much storage to the table and doesn’t yet feature Intel’s latest H-series processor.

Meanwhile Gigabyte’s Aero 15X requires $2,199 (£1,999, AU$3,199) for nearly identical hardware inside, save for an older Kaby Lake Intel processor.

For all intents and purposes, the GS65 Stealth handily outclasses its closest competitors from a value standpoint. This laptop delivers the same or more within its admittedly gorgeous chassis for less money than the rest – plain and simple. Speaking of which, let’s talk about that design.

MSI has thankfully gone in a different direction regarding the look and feel of its flagship thin-and-light gaming laptop, focusing on a device with far wider appeal. You won’t find stark angles or red LEDs all over this laptop – rather, you’ll find a sleek, all-black device with subtle gold accents on its lid, within its dual hinges and surrounding its touchpad.

Those gold accents are also found highlighting the laptop’s heat vents, but nowhere else on the brushed, black aluminum frame. The result is one of the most understated gaming laptops we’ve seen to date – one that we would have no problem whipping out in a coffee shop much less at a eSports tournament.

As for how the laptop feels, the GS65 Stealth weighs just 4.14 pounds (1.88kg) and measures a measly 0.69 inches (17.53mm) thin. The laptop fits just fine in our backpack and doesn’t weigh us down, which is impressive considering MSI tells us it could have gone even thinner and lighter but opted for an Ethernet port and the goal of eight hours of battery life.

That said, while MSI clearly made an effort to improve the size of its charging brick, its size negates a bit of that hard work. Regardless, this is still one of the most portable gaming laptops around.

Being just thin enough has afforded the laptop not only room for plenty of ports, but also a SteelSeries keyboard with plenty of travel and forceful feedback. Plus, the keyboard is RGB backlit with 16.7 million color options and SteelSeries’s GameSense, which changes the lighting behavior to sync with gameplay in supported games.

The glass-coated touchpad feels just fine, and doesn’t trigger movements when typing, telling us it has strong palm rejection.

Now, another reason we suspect MSI went a little thicker with the GS65 Stealth’s frame and heavier with its weight was to make room for its three-fan Cooler Boost Trinity thermal system. More on that in a bit. However, with that extra room, MSI didn’t loan much of it to the tiny and tinny speakers, which fire down from beneath its base. Just bring a headset and you’ll be fine – especially considering the amount of tuning MSI has done to improve that experience.

On the other hand, we have little to no complaints about the brilliant, nearly bezel-free display MSI has embedded into the lid of this laptop. Specifically, the display achieves an 82% screen-to-body ratio with bezels just 4.9mm wide, cramming a 15.6-inch display into a 14-inch frame.

Even still, MSI managed to maintain a normal webcam position with a decent resolution of 720p, but back to that screen. Sadly there’s no Windows Hello facial recognition technology built into the webcam, there is a fingerprint reader built into the power button, and MSI tells us that its functionality will be unlocked in a future update.

Refreshing at 144Hz and with a 7ms response time and in-plane switching (IPS), this screen makes games like Warhammer: Vermintide 2 look simply sublime, producing little to no screen tearing when whipping around corners.

The screen is awfully bright as well, revealing the contents of dark corridors in games just fine at even 50% brightness. Plus, MSI’s True Color 2.0 produces color gamuts that meet 100% of Adobe RGB and close to 100% of sRGB standard, and also supports game-specific color modes as well as anti-blue light modes.

Another neat addition is the ability to turn the display contents upside down when the screen is bent 180 degrees. This should come in plenty handy for screen sharing during meetings or other collaborative endeavors.

Ultimately, this is the brightest, fastest and most color-rich display we’ve seen on an Nvidia Max-Q laptop yet. However, the lack of Nvidia G-Sync is a miss, as we’d love for the guarantee of silky smooth motion in games, though that is rarely – if ever – a problem we’ve found with the rig.

Of course, the main driver behind the purchase of a gaming laptop is how it performs when the going gets rough. The H-series Intel Core i7 processor, paired with that Nvidia Max-Q GTX 1070, make quick work of everything we throw at the GS65 Stealth.

As you can see by our benchmark results, the GS65 Stealth absolutely tore through every intense test we could throw at it, putting up general performance numbers that either crush, or maintain parity with, its closest rivals. Clearly, this is a rig that’s equally ready to churn out massive spreadsheets or render video files as it is to deliver your next epic game session.

The same has been the case when it comes to gaming, with the GTX 1070 pushing the laptop through the aforementioned benchmark games and the latest games, like Warhammer: Vermintide 2, like a hot knife through butter. However, this is the only area in which we expect the Asus laptop mentioned here to outperform the MSI machine on account of the former’s GTX 1080 graphics chip.

By all rights for what this laptop costs, you should expect to simply glide through the latest games at all but the absolute highest settings of detail and polish. With it quickly refreshing display with supreme coloration, this gaming laptop is ideal for all types of games, from twitch shooters to vibrant, story-driven adventures.

That said, watch out for how hot this laptop can get on your lap while under load. While MSI’s latest Cooler Boost Trinity system – with three, 0.2mm fans each with 47 blades and five heat pipes – keeps all of the heat away from our fingers while playing, we definitely cannot say the same for the bottom of the base. We guess the heat has to go somewhere, right?

Battery life
Unless this is your first time looking for a gaming laptop, you should know that almost none of these devices bring decent battery life to the table. That said, these thin and light models have turned the corner on that assumption, but there’s still room to grow.

For instance, while MSI promises up to eight hours on a charge from this laptop, our tests don’t come very close to that figure. However, the times we’ve recorded are far better than, say, 90% of gaming laptops out there, with almost four hours of juice in the PCMark 8 test and nearly 5 hours in our own battery rundown test. That’s not too bad for a gaming laptop – and one this thin.

Meanwhile, the Asus laptop doesn’t even come close to either number in the same tests – though, the Gigabyte machine far outclasses them both by a few hours.

Still, you can, at the very least, expect to survive for a few hours away from an outlet with this laptop, and see it survive on flights between several major cities in the US, Europe and Australia.
Software and features

MSI has admittedly packed the GS65 Stealth with lots of pre-loaded software, but it artfully avoids ‘bloatware’ status by providing functionality that’s actually useful. (Well, except for the antivirus.)

Particularly, MSI’s Dragon Center 2.0 brings with it lots of system diagnostic and performance improvement tools, like component load levels and the ability to free up memory space. Plus, with supported games, you can use MSI’s new Gaming Mode to automatically tune up system components to perform best within said game.

Finally, this software can boost your voice output in games at the software level to improve output when chatting, so that you no longer have to shout to compensate for poor mic gain.

As for connectivity, the Killer Network radio and software within the laptop accounts for up to 50% more stable connections and lower ping rates when gaming. However, the difference is tough to witness or measure between our home and office Wi-Fi connections.

Final verdict
The MSI GS65 Stealth is officially the most impressive Nvidia Max-Q gaming laptop that we’ve tested to date. The laptop meets or outclasses its most performant rivals and arguably trounces them all in terms of design and style.

That said, we wish for a few more niceties given the price, like Nvidia G-Sync and better native audio, and the laptop tends to get a little hotter than we’d like on our laps while under load.

All told, for the price, the GS65 Stealth is one of the best gaming laptops you can buy today. While you’ll have to make some compromises in audio, and there’s no biometric login available yet, those are small conceits to make for a laptop you can confidently both take into work and into your next gaming session.