MSI’s GS66 Stealth hands-on: gaming is better with the RTX 3080 and QHD


I had hoped that MSI’s GS66 Stealth for 2021 would look and feel a little different than last year’s model — not that the 2020 version was particularly busted in any major way. In fact, the previous model was a few nips and tucks shy of reaching Razer’s high bar for gaming laptop design. But while the outside shell of this year’s model is exactly the same as last year’s, I can live with that because what’s inside is mostly all-new.

The review unit we were sent was kitted out with the current pinnacle of mobile graphics tech: Nvidia’s new RTX 3080 Max-Q graphics chip, with 16GB of video memory (Nvidia also makes an 8GB variant). MSI also added a gorgeous canvas of a display: a 15.6-inch 1440p (QHD) IPS G-Sync screen with a fast 240Hz refresh rate.

The other specs in the review model are good, too, but not necessarily cutting-edge. It has 16GB of RAM, a 1TB NVMe SSD, and the same big, four-cell 99.99Wh battery that was in the previous iteration. It is equipped with an Intel Core i7-10870H processor, which on paper is a slight step down compared to the Core i7-10875H in the previous model I tested, but I didn’t notice a difference in performance.

Everything from games and websites to desktop backgrounds look so crisp in QHD.

Other minor tweaks worthy of mention include a bump up to Wi-Fi 6E compatibility and Bluetooth 5.2. This laptop has an HDMI 2.0 port, so it’s limited to outputting 4K resolution at up to 60 frames per second. Of the things MSI updated in this year’s GS66, the HDMI port should have been a little higher on the list than Wi-Fi 6E. Razer’s new Blade 15 and 17 Pro each feature HDMI 2.1, allowing 4K output with up to 120 frames per second to really take advantage of the hardware while connected to an external monitor.

The refreshed GS66 Stealth lineup with RTX 30-series chips and either a 1080p or 4K display will be shipping in February, but unfortunately, the model with the QHD display won’t be available until sometime in Q2 2021. MSI doesn’t have a price nailed down for the review configuration, either. Given that assessing value is an important part of the review process, we’re reserving a score until the cost is available.

I’ve been testing the flagship configuration of the new GS66 Stealth for a week. General performance outside of gaming felt similarly snappy to last year’s model. A big stack of tabs in Microsoft Edge, alongside Slack and Spotify, didn’t slow this machine down. It didn’t perform nearly as well in our Adobe Premiere Pro export test, though. Tasked with exporting a five-minute, 33-second 4K video, the laptop took six minutes, 30 seconds, compared to the three-minute, 14-second export time that we got with last year’s model. (It wouldn’t be fair not to mention that this configuration has 16GB of RAM versus 32GB in last year’s model, but I plan to retest this once final drivers are released for the GPU.)

MSI GS66 Stealth

Cyberpunk 2077 performed the worst of any recent AAA title I tested, but the numbers are still impressive.

But the real question is: was Nvidia’s latest high-end graphics chip worth the wait — and can it keep up with a QHD display? The short answer is that, like my colleague Tom Warren saw on the desktop version of the RTX 3080, this mobile variant is a big leap over what the last-gen RTX 2080 could provide. Since this is also the first generation of gaming laptops that offer QHD screens, it’s a little hard to compare the two, but there’s no question that games look great.

The RTX 3080 with 16GB of video memory is capable of running some of the most demanding games in QHD well beyond 60 frames per second — with all graphical settings adjusted to max, and with ray tracing and other RTX settings activated, when applicable. That’s an incredible achievement. And if you’re someone who doesn’t always play the latest games as they are released, these specs will afford you even more headroom to power through your backlog, with a fantastic display to enjoy them on to boot. The IPS screen that MSI opted to use is rich with contrast and better viewing angles than I expected, and its G-Sync adaptive sync does a great job of keeping visuals free of artifacts.

I was able to spend time playing Horizon: Zero Dawn, Cyberpunk 2077, Death Stranding, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and Control, most of which have ray tracing and / or DLSS (deep-learning super sampling) graphical options to take further advantage of this powerful graphics chip. I tested it by running brief snippets of these games at 1440p and 1080p in order to see the gains from playing games at a slightly less demanding resolution.

MSI GS66 Stealth with RTX 3080 (16GB) performance

Benchmark (set to highest possible settings) Average results running at 1440p Average results running at 1080p
Benchmark (set to highest possible settings) Average results running at 1440p Average results running at 1080p
Horizon: Zero Dawn 76fps 88fps
Red Dead Redemption 2 58fps 72fps
Shadow of the Tomb Raider (RT shadows and DLSS on) 62fps 78fps
Cyberpunk 2077 (RT and DLSS on quality mode) 40fps 56fps
Death Stranding (DLSS on) 100fps 130fps
Control (RT and DLSS on) 56fps 80fps

Since Cyberpunk 2077, Death Stranding, and Control don’t ship with built-in benchmarking tests, I simply ran around a variety of locales to stress-test the hardware (the other games have scripted methods for gathering performance metrics). As someone who’s used to playing games on a 1080p display, I was impressed to see such graphically intensive games run this fluidly, especially at a higher native resolution. (If you’re a gamer who wouldn’t be totally happy with some of the numbers above, you could probably improve the frame rate by knocking down a few graphical settings.)

As I mentioned up top, the design of the 2021 GS66 Stealth is note-for-note the same as last year’s model. The overall look is stellar, though, and I wish every gaming laptop had a trackpad this generously large. It has backlit keys that can be programmed to dazzle with RGB splendor through SteelSeries software, but that’s really the only element that reveals this is a gaming laptop.

Well, aside from the very loud fans. I noted that last year’s model was relatively quiet, even under pressure. I’ve heard laptops louder than this new RTX 3080 version, but the decibel level went high enough so that at times I felt I needed headphones to hear all of the in-game details. Of course, that differed depending on the game. Cyberpunk 2077 made this laptop whir the loudest of the games I tested, while Control actually ran fairly quietly by comparison.

MSI GS66 Stealth

This QHD screen is pin-sharp, but importantly, it’s really vibrant, and the viewing angles are generous.

I found other flaws with the design. The keyboard layout is still crowded, with the important function key placed awkwardly next to the control key, making it cumbersome to do simple tasks like adjust the volume and brightness. Also, the bottom of the laptop chassis still flexes in a slightly worrying way. I don’t think it’s liable to break under normal use, but for a pricey machine like this, the design doesn’t inspire confidence.

Nvidia says that QHD-equipped laptops featuring RTX 30-series graphics chips will begin launching today, with systems from Razer, Asus, and Eluktronics launching first. For example, Razer’s Blade 15 with a 165Hz QHD screen and the RTX 3070 will price out at $2,199.99. We haven’t gotten our hands on it yet, but we expect to find similar performance in models with similar specs. However, since not all QHD panels are created equally, it will be interesting to see how the others compare to the excellent display in MSI’s review unit.

MSI GS66 Stealth

I couldn’t stop holding my eyeballs this close to the screen.

If you’re looking to buy one of MSI’s non-QHD models today, there is a number of options. You can get a system equipped with a less powerful RTX 3060 chip starting at $1,799.99, one with the RTX 3070 for $2,399.99, or with the new RTX 3080 chip starting at $2,699.99. The specs start with a 1080p IPS display with a 240Hz or 300Hz refresh rate. MSI’s product landing page indicates that it will be possible to upgrade to a 4K 60Hz IPS display.

Meanwhile, if you’re curious about how the RTX 3070 is shaping up while running alongside an FHD display, my colleague Monica Chin has our review of the MSI GP66 Leopard. We’ll have a lot more coverage of laptops built with the latest RTX graphics chip in the coming weeks and months.

But the TL;DR is that the RTX 3080, working in tandem with the QHD display and everything else that this GS66 Stealth is packing, has fantastic graphics performance, reaffirming that a display like this really is worth spending extra for (if you can swing it). The sharpness of the 1440p display makes pictures and text more enjoyable and pleasant to look at — both in-game and with everyday tasks.

Photography by Cameron Faulkner / The Verge



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MSI’s GS66 Stealth hands-on: gaming is better with the RTX 3080 and QHD

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