MSI GS66 Stealth (2021) review: Peak 1440p gaming
“The MSI GS66 Stealth brings faster and sharper 1440p gaming to laptops.”
- Incredible gaming performance
- 1440p 240Hz gaming is an achievement
- Solid design and build quality
- Good port selection
- Solid battery life
- Runs hot
- Lackluster keyboard and touchpad
Moving from 1080p to 1440p gaming is no easy feat. Playing games at higher resolutions without sacrificing frame rates requires a massive boost in graphical horsepower. That’s exactly what the new Nvidia RTX 3080 mobile GPU is made for.
The MSI GS66 Stealth is one of the first gaming laptops to support not only these new graphics, but also a 1440p 240Hz screen. Lightning-fast refreshes and high resolutions? Sign me up.
This is a sneak peek, as the updated GS66 Stealth has yet to launch in North America. But even without a confirmed price yet, my time with the updated GS66 Stealth has me stoked for the potential of 1440p gaming laptops.
Aside from the internals, the display is the biggest change to the MSI GS66 Stealth this year. It now has the option for a 2,560 x 1,440 resolution IPS screen, measured diagonally at 15.6 inches. While 1440p screens are still a rarity in laptops, that’s the case even more so on gaming laptops. The primary reason, of course, is that the older GPUs were never powerful enough to push that many pixels at fast enough frame rates to please gamers. A refresh rate above 60Hz never would have made sense.
The MSI GS66 Stealth handles 1440p beautifully in most games. And while 240Hz might be a little overkill, it’s much more versatile than the 300Hz 1080p models.
Because this is a new panel, I also wanted to test image quality and make sure MSI didn’t cut any corners. They were some surprises, to say the least.
The color saturation is the real shocker. At 100% sRGB and 98% AdobeRGB, this panel is significantly more colorful than your average 1080p gaming screen. If it wasn’t for the poor color accuracy, I’d say it would make for a good photo- and video-editing machine. But with a Delta E of 6.67, it’s more calibrated for bold and bright colors in games than for precision color grading.
I wish it were a bit brighter, which would help with the contrast as well. At 291 nits of brightness and a 870:1 contrast ratio, it’s a bit behind competitors like the Razer Blade.
A faster screen is great and all, but it’s useless without components that can take advantage of it. The GS66 Stealth features the Intel Core i7-10875H processor and the Nvidia RTX 3080, as well as 32GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. How does all that handle the promise of 1440p gaming? Well, let’s just say there wasn’t one title in our suite of test games that I preferred to play in 1080p.
I saw some great results when testing the game in the 3DMark Time Spy benchmark. The system scored 9,907, which sits at a solid 18% ahead of last year’s model featuring the RTX 2080 Super. That’s well beyond a standard year-over-year performance increase. It was also only 8% behind the desktop version of the RTX 2070 Super that I tested in 2020. That’s 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, where the GS66 Stealth proved to once again impress, especially at higher resolutions. For context, last year’s model was already outpacing the Razer Blade in this game. Now, it averages 94 frames per second (fps) at 1440p Ultra settings or 126 fps at Medium. At 1440p, it even beats the desktop RTX 2070 Super — and remember, that’s a 215-watt desktop graphics card that costs $500 all on its own. That comparison didn’t hold true in all games, especially not in more CPU-bound games like Civilization VI. But Battlefield V was a notable high spot for the GS66 Stealth.
The advantage wasn’t quite as strong in Fortnite, at least not compared to the desktop RTX 2070 Super. But take that comparison out of the equation for a moment and just revel in the glory of 1440p gaming at well over 60 fps. The MSI GS66 Stealth averaged 81 fps at Epic settings and 115 fps at High with 3D rendering at 100%. You’ll get an extra 30 to 60 fps by lowering the resolution to 1080p, of course. Regardless, you’ll never have to settle for less than 60 fps.
That held true in all games I tested except Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Using the in-game benchmark, Valhalla topped out at 55 fps in Epic 1440p. Gameplay still looked smooth but just barely fell short of that 60 fps threshold. But in a game known more for immersive worlds and storytelling, I still found myself preferring the crisper experience of playing in 1440p.
Throughout long gaming sessions, the surface temperatures are kept manageable, resulting in a more comfortable gaming experience than on laptops like the Razer Blade. Unlike that laptop, the MSI GS66 Stealth keeps the palm rests and keyboard cool under lighter loads as well. Then again, like the Zephyrus G14, the MSI GS66 Stealth always runs with a slight hum.
Ray tracing performance
There has been a lot of talk about the ray tracing abilities of these new RTX 3080 graphics, but in the two games that I tried, the performance drag is still too heavy. Fortnite has a robust set of ray tracing features, including global illumination and shadows, each with different levels of detail. Unfortunately, even with everything turned to low, the game struggled to produce smooth frame rates.
Heavy ray tracing effects still aren’t ready for prime time on gaming laptops.
Of course, I also tried ray tracing in tandem with DLSS, which is Nvidia’s upscaling feature to help with frame rates. DLSS does help quite a bit, though even in Performance mode, I couldn’t get the average frame rate over 60 fps. That was tested at 1080p Epic settings. In 1440p, the situation is even worse.
I wanted to also try some ray tracing that was a bit 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 in Fortnite. The MSI GS66 Stealth fared a bit better here, but hitting 60 fps at 1080p Ultra was still out of reach without resorting to lower graphics settings. Story-driven or exploration games like Cyberpunk 2077 or Minecraft are a bit more suited for this performance trade-off, but even there, heavy ray tracing effects still aren’t ready for prime time on gaming laptops.
The MSI GS66 Stealth uses a thoroughly boring, yet satisfactory Intel 10th-gen processor. The Core i7-10870H has eight cores and 16 threads, with a 5.0GHz boost clock speed. Of course, the chip usually runs closer to its base clock of 2.2GHz, except in bursty workloads. As a gaming processor, it’s more than capable and happy to leave the heavy lifting to Nvidia. This is a slightly slower processor, though, than the Core i7-10875H used in the previous GS66 Stealth I reviewed in 2020.
Despite the high clock speeds, the system doesn’t look great in single-core benchmarks. In Cinebench R23, nearly all 25-watt Tiger Lake processors beat the GS66 Stealth, showing just how inefficient Intel’s old 14nm is by comparison. This discrepancy even showed up in the Essentials test of PCMark 10, which benchmarks simple tasks like web browsing, videoconferencing, and word processing. Again, these smaller and more efficient laptops — such as the Razer Book 13 or HP Spectre x360 14 — outperform it.
The GS66 Stealth makes it up in multi-core tests, hitting 6,133 in Cinebench R23 and 6,140 in Geekbench 5. You can thank the eight cores for that. The extra cores also mean this laptop fares well in multithreaded tasks such as content creation. Its CPU-only video-encoding performance in Handbrake is good, though it doesn’t make any gains on previous iterations of the laptop. Laptops like the Dell XPS 17 or Ryzen-based systems are still faster in this test.
If you’re looking to do some actual video editing or streaming on the MSI GS66 Stealth, the power of the RTX 3080 comes in to save the day. Its 7,949 is a great score in the PCMark 10 Creation test, a big step up from what was possible in older gaming laptops.
Like many of its competitors, the GS66 Stealth runs hot.
Like many of its competitors, the GS66 Stealth runs hot. It’s not uncommon to hit 97 degrees Celsius when cranked, which causes some inevitable thermal throttling. You’ll want to opt for a bulkier chassis with better airflow if you want to avoid this problem.
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 launched, the 4.6-pound weight and 0.71-inch thickness were revolutionary. In 2021, it’s a bit more commonplace. The Razer Blade is a bit lighter, as is the Asus ROG Zephyrus G15. Meanwhile, there are new ultrathin gaming laptops like the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 or the Acer Predator Triton 300 SE, though those max out at the RTX 3060. For the components stuffed inside, the GS66 Stealth is still quite a portable gaming laptop.
The look of the laptop itself doesn’t draw too much attention to itself. It’s a black slab of aluminum with very few flourishes. Even the dragon logo on the lid is only visible when light is reflecting off of it.
MSI has cut a few more vents in the chassis than what you’ll find in the Razer Blade, though. There are some along both sides of the laptop, as well as across the top. That makes for a slightly less sleek appearance, though it certainly helps keep temperatures lower.
The touchpad and keyboard are some of my least favorite aspects of the laptop. In trying to maximize the size of the touchpad, MSI has made it significantly wider than normal. Normally, I would applaud that attempt. But as it’s been in the past, having the majority of your palms rest on the touchpad is unsettling. I ran into the problem of accidental touchpad clicks on more than one occasion.
The keyboard has some usability issues for me as well. The layout is abnormal, rearranging the standard positioning of Fn, Ctrl, Atl, and Windows keys. Fumbling around the keyboard is never fun, and I found myself doing that quite a bit here.
The keys themselves are OK, but the action is a little sloppy. The keypresses lack that precise snappiness many modern keyboards have adopted, though this style is still common on gaming laptops.
As for ports, the MSI GS66 Stealth throws in the kitchen sink. That includes 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 display input, as well as charging. While you’re gaming, though, you’ll want the full power of the old-school barrel plug. The laptop even manages to squeeze in an RJ45 Ethernet jack.
Unfortunately, HDMI 2.0’s bandwidth is limited to 144Hz at 1440p, so if you’re planning to dock to a gaming monitor, you’ll need to keep that in mind. At this point, there are very few monitors and laptops that support HDMI 2.1, which increases that bandwidth significantly.
I never go into a gaming laptop review with high expectations for battery life. But the MSI GS66 Stealth has always had some of the best battery life of any gaming laptop I’ve ever tested. The introduction of a higher-resolution screen had me worried it might lose that crown.
Instead, the opposite happened. This year’s model has improved in battery life, in both of our tests, despite having the same 99 watt-hour battery. In local video playback, the system lasted for just under eight hours, which is almost an hour and a half more than the previous model. That also beats the Razer Blade by a half- hour.
For a more realistic workflow, I used a macro to automate some light web browsing. In this test, the GS66 Stealth stayed alive for seven hours and 12 minutes, again outlasting 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 hefty discrete graphics cards get far better battery life, of course. But I’m encouraged that these 1440p screens with high refresh rates won’t take an even larger toll.
There’s 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 decent frame rates. It might not be my favorite design for a gaming laptop, but the combination of a superfast, high-resolution screen and excellent gaming performance make it one of the best gaming laptops you can buy.
Price will remain the final piece of important information for this laptop’s evaluation. Once pricing is confirmed, I will update this review.
Are there are any alternatives?
Only a few gaming laptops have announced 1440p models, and just the Razer Blade 15 matches the MSI in refresh rate. The matching configuration of the Razer Blade costs $2,900, so you can expect MSI’s model to fall just a couple hundred dollars below that if it follows historical pricing patterns.
The Asus ROG Zephyrus G15 pairs its 1440p screen with a Ryzen processor, and its refresh rate is capped at 165Hz. Based on the games I tested, 165Hz is plenty fast when playing in 1440p. It does mean 1080p gaming is a bit more limited, but it’s likely fast enough for all but the most serious competitive gamers. At $2,500, the Zephyrus G15 may be a bit cheaper than the MSI GS66 Stealth will likely end up being.
How long will it last?
Like most laptops, you can expect the MSI GS66 Stealth to last four to five years. The high-end graphics card and higher-resolution screen are good futureproofing, as are the Thunderbolt 4 ports. The lack of HDMI 2.1 is the only miss in this regard.
Should you buy it?
Yes. As one of the few laptops with a 1440p screen and a 240Hz refresh rate, it offers one of the very best gaming experiences you can get on a laptop.