MSI GS66 Stealth (2021) Review: Peak 1440p Gaming
"The MSI GS66 Stealth brings faster, sharper 1440p gaming to laptops."
Incredible gaming performance
1440p 240Hz gaming is an achievement
Solid design and build quality
Good choice of ports
Solid battery life
Dull keyboard and touchpad
Switching from 1080p to 1440p is not an easy task. Playing games at higher resolutions without sacrificing frame rates requires a massive increase in graphical performance. This is exactly what the new mobile Nvidia RTX 3080 GPU is designed for.
The MSI GS66 Stealth is one of the first gaming laptops to support not only these new graphics, but also a 1440p 240Hz display. Lightning fast updates and high resolutions? Sign me up.
This is a sneak peek as the updated GS66 Stealth has not yet been launched in North America. But even without a confirmed price, my time with the updated GS66 Stealth got me excited for the potential of 1440p gaming laptops.
Internally, the display is the biggest change to the MSI GS66 Stealth this year. There is now the option for an IPS screen with a resolution of 2560 x 1440, measured diagonally at 15.6 inches. While 1440p screens are still a rarity on laptops, this is even more true of gaming laptops. The main reason, of course, is that the older GPUs were never capable of moving as many pixels around at frame rates fast enough to please gamers. A refresh rate above 60 Hz would never have made sense.
The MSI GS66 Stealth handles 1440p excellently in most games. 240 Hz is a bit over the top, but much more versatile than the 300 Hz 1080p models.
Since this is a new panel, I also wanted to test the image quality and make sure MSI wasn't cutting corners. There have been some surprises to say the least.
The color saturation is the real shock. With 100% sRGB and 98% AdobeRGB, this panel is significantly more colorful than your average 1080p gaming screen. Without the poor color accuracy, this would be a good photo and video editing machine. However, with a Delta E of 6.67, it is better calibrated for bold and bright colors in games than for precise color corrections.
I wish it was a little brighter which would help with the contrast as well. With 291 nits of brightness and a contrast ratio of 870: 1, it is a bit behind competitors like the Razer Blade.
A faster screen is great, but without components to use it, it's useless. The GS66 Stealth has the Intel Core i7-10875H processor and the Nvidia RTX 3080 as well as 32 GB RAM and a 512 GB SSD. How does this deal with the promise of 1440p games? Let's just say there wasn't a title in our series of test games that I preferred to play in 1080p.
I saw some great results testing the game in the 3DMark Time Spy benchmark. The system achieved 9,907 points, which is a solid 18% ahead of the previous year's model with the RTX 2080 Super. This goes far beyond a normal increase in performance compared to the previous year. It was also only 8% behind the desktop version of the RTX 2070 Super that I tested in 2020. This is because the mobile RTX 3080 is technically the same GPU as the desktop RTX 3070.
At 1440p, it even beats the desktop RTX 2070 Super in some games.
I tested the game Battlefield V Next up, the GS66 Stealth impressed again, especially at higher resolutions. In this game, last year's model has already surpassed the Razer Blade. Now an average of 94 frames per second (fps) is displayed with 1440p Ultra settings or 126 fps with Medium. At 1440p, it even outperforms the desktop RTX 2070 Super – and keep in mind that this is a 215-watt desktop graphics card that costs $ 500 alone. This comparison did not apply to all games, especially CPU-bound games like Civilization VI. But Battlefield V was a notable high point for the GS66 Stealth.
The advantage in Fortnite wasn't that big, at least not compared to the desktop RTX 2070 Super. But take that comparison out of the equation for a moment and enjoy the glory of 1440p games at well over 60 fps. The MSI GS66 Stealth achieved an average of 81 fps in Epic settings and 115 fps in high with 100% 3D rendering. If you lower the resolution to 1080p, you get an additional 30 to 60 fps. Regardless, you never have to settle for less than 60 fps.
That was true of all of the games I tested, with the exception of Assassin's Creed Valhalla. With the in-game benchmark, Valhalla reached a top speed of 55 fps in Epic 1440p. The gameplay still looked smooth, but it barely fell below the 60 fps threshold. But in a game more known for immersive worlds and storytelling, I still preferred to prefer the sharper experience of playing in 1440p.
During long gaming sessions, surface temperatures remain manageable, resulting in a more comfortable gaming experience than on laptops like the Razer Blade. In contrast to this laptop, the MSI GS66 Stealth keeps the palm rests and keyboard cool even under less load. On the other hand, like the Zephyrus G14, the MSI GS66 Stealth always runs with a slight hum.
Ray tracing performance
Much has been said about the ray tracing capabilities of this new RTX 3080 graphic, but the performance loss is still too high in the two games I tried. Fortnite has a number of robust ray tracing features, including global lighting and shadows, each with different levels of detail. Unfortunately, despite the low setting, the game struggled to get smooth frame rates.
Heavy ray tracing effects aren't ready for prime time on gaming laptops just yet.
Of course, I also tried ray tracing along with DLSS, Nvidia's upscaling feature, to improve frame rates. DLSS helps a lot, even though I couldn't achieve the average frame rate over 60 fps even in performance mode. That was tested at 1080p Epic settings. In 1440p the situation is even worse.
I also wanted to try some ray tracing that was a little more subtle. Battlefield V was one of the first games to announce support for ray tracing and DLSS, and the effect isn't nearly as pronounced as it is in Fortnite. The MSI GS66 Stealth did a bit better here, but reaching 60 fps at 1080p Ultra was still unattainable without resorting to lower graphics settings. Story-driven or exploration games like Cyberpunk 2077 or Minecraft are slightly better suited for this performance compromise, but even there, strong ray-traced effects on gaming laptops aren't ready for prime time.
The MSI GS66 Stealth uses a thoroughly boring, but satisfactory 10th generation Intel processor. The Core i7-10870H has eight cores and 16 threads with a boost clock rate of 5.0 GHz. Of course, the chip usually runs closer to its base clock of 2.2 GHz, except for burst workloads. As a gaming processor, it's more than capable and happy to leave the heavy lifting to Nvidia. However, this is a slightly slower processor than the Core i7-10875H used in the previous GS66 Stealth I tested in 2020.
Despite the high clock rates, the system doesn't look good in single-core benchmarks. In Cinebench R23, almost all 25-watt Tiger Lake processors beat the GS66 Stealth and show how inefficient the old 14 nm processors from Intel are in comparison. This discrepancy was even shown in PCMark 10's Essentials test, which rates simple tasks such as surfing the Internet, video conferencing and word processing. Even these smaller and more efficient laptops – like the Razer Book 13 or the HP Specter x360 14 – outperform it.
The GS66 Stealth makes up for it in multi-core tests, scoring 6,133 in Cinebench R23 and 6,140 in Geekbench 5. You can thank the eight cores for that. The additional cores also mean this laptop does well on multithreaded tasks like content creation. The CPU-only video encoding performance in Handbrake is good, but does not get any advantage over previous iterations of the laptop. Laptops like the Dell XPS 17 or Ryzen-based system are even faster in this test.
If you really want to edit or stream video on the MSI GS66 Stealth, the performance of the RTX 3080 can save the day. The 7,949 points are a great score on the PCMark 10 Creation test, a big step up from what was possible with older gaming laptops.
Like many of its competitors, the GS66 Stealth is running hot.
Like many of its competitors, the GS66 Stealth is running hot. It's not uncommon for 97 degrees Celsius to be reached on cranking, resulting in an inevitable thermal throttling. If you want to avoid this problem, consider opting for a bulkier chassis with better airflow.
Fortunately, this isn't a huge problem in most games as the processor shares more of the available power with the GPU.
The MSI GS66 Stealth was an early adopter of the thin-and-light gaming laptop trend. When the design first hit the market, the 4.6 pound weight and 0.71 inch thickness were revolutionary. In 2021, it's a little more common. The Razer Blade is a bit lighter, as is the Asus ROG Zephyrus G15. There are now new ultra-thin gaming laptops such as the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 or the Acer Predator Triton 300 SE, which are the maximum for the RTX 3060.
The look of the laptop itself doesn't attract too much attention. It's a black aluminum plate with very few flourishes. Even the dragon logo on the lid is only visible when light is reflected from it.
However, MSI has cut a few more vents in the case than in the Razer Blade. There are some on either side of the laptop as well as on the top. That makes for a slightly less elegant appearance, although it certainly helps to keep temperatures lower.
The touchpad and keyboard are some of my least favorite aspects of the laptop. In an attempt to maximize the size of the touchpad, MSI made it significantly wider than normal. I would normally welcome this attempt. But, like in the past, it is unsettling when most of your palms are resting on the touchpad. I have encountered the problem of accidental touchpad clicks more than once.
The keyboard has some usability problems for me too. The layout is abnormal and changes the default positioning of the Fn, Ctrl, Atl, and Windows keys. Fiddling with the keyboard is never fun, and I've done that quite a bit here.
The buttons themselves are fine, but the action is a bit sloppy. The keystrokes lack the precise speed that many modern keyboards have assumed, although this style is still common on gaming laptops.
As for the ports, the MSI GS66 Stealth throws in the sink. These include HDMI 2.0, USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 (Thunderbolt 4), USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 and three USB-A 3.2 Gen 2 ports. The Thunderbolt 4 port can be used for both display input and charging. However, while you're playing, you'll want to take advantage of the full power of the old-school keg plug. The laptop even manages to push in an RJ45 Ethernet socket.
Unfortunately, the bandwidth of HDMI 2.0 is limited to 144 Hz at 1440p. So if you are planning on docking with a gaming monitor, this is something to consider. Currently there are very few monitors and laptops that support HDMI 2.1, which increases this bandwidth significantly.
I never go into a gaming laptop review with high expectations for battery life. However, the MSI GS66 Stealth always had the best battery life of any gaming laptop I have ever tested. The introduction of a higher resolution screen made me fear that he might lose that crown.
Instead, the opposite happened. This year's model improved battery life in both tests, despite having the same 99 watt hour battery. With local video playback, the system lasted just under eight hours, which is almost an hour and a half longer than the previous model. That also beats the Razer Blade by half an hour.
For a more realistic workflow, I used a macro to automate light web browsing. In this test, the GS66 Stealth stayed alive for seven hours and 12 minutes, once again overtaking both last year's model and the Razer Blade. That easily makes it the 15-inch gaming laptop with the best battery life.
Laptops without powerful discrete graphics cards naturally have a much better battery life. However, I'm encouraged these high refresh rate 1440p screens don't take an even bigger toll.
There is no doubt that 1440p is the future of laptop gaming. More than ray tracing, higher fidelity makes every game you play look sharper, smoother, and more immersive. The MSI GS66 Stealth is finally a gaming laptop that can run at 1440p at reasonable frame rates. It might not be my favorite gaming laptop design, but the combination of a super fast, high resolution screen and great gaming performance makes it one of the best gaming laptops you can buy.
The price remains the last important piece of information in evaluating this laptop. I will update this review once pricing is confirmed.
Are there alternatives?
Few gaming laptops have announced 1440p models, and only the Razer Blade 15 matches the MSI in refresh rate. The right configuration of the Razer Blade costs $ 2,900. So, you can expect the MSI model to be just a few hundred dollars below if it follows historical pricing patterns.
The Asus ROG Zephyrus G15 combines its 1440p screen with a Ryzen processor and its refresh rate is limited to 165 Hz. Based on the games I tested, 165 Hz is very fast when playing in 1440p. This means that 1080p gaming is a little more limited, but it's likely fast enough for everyone but the most serious competitive gamers. At $ 2,500, the Zephyrus G15 may be a bit cheaper than the MSI GS66 Stealth.
How long it will take?
As with most laptops, you can expect the MSI GS66 Stealth to last four to five years. The high-end graphics card and the higher-resolution screen are future-proof, as are the Thunderbolt 4 ports. The lack of HDMI 2.1 is the only flaw in this regard.
Should you buy it?
Yes. As one of the few laptops with a 1440p screen and a refresh rate of 240 Hz, it offers one of the best gaming experiences you can get with a laptop.