With the launch of the new Comet Lake CPUs, we all knew that new laptops were on their way. At the same time, refresh rates have been going up, and have become a parameter more and more interesting for those that wish to purchase a new laptop for gaming as well as the new generation of 'Super' versions of Nvidia graphics cards. Enter the MSI GS66 Stealth. On paper, it has all that you want in a modern laptop.
It's all black, sleek metal body houses the latest and greatest, the Intel 10th gen i9 10980HK CPU, an Nvidia RTX2080 Super Max-Q graphics card, and in the case of the sample we got, 32 GB DDR4 Ram and a 2 TB NVMe drive from Samsung. Yes, it's a Max-Q design for the graphics card, so the performance is slightly lower, yes, but spoiler alert - it does sooo much good for the cooling. It also comes with Win Pro.
On the other hand, I do not like the big chin bezel; it doesn't seem to serve any other purpose than displaying a logo and making sure the lid is the same size as the chassis.
The new i9 109875HK is claimed to yield a 50% performance increase due to two extra cores and a massive 5.3 GHz Turbo clock on a single core. This is quite a claim over the old i7-9750H that was the standard for most laptops last year.
And yes, the matte black colour of the laptop makes it extremely subtle and discreet; I guess there is a reason why this product line is called "Stealth". It is extremely nice to touch, and the surface feels smooth and industrial. The mousepad follows in its track, is easy and fluid to use, and simply fantastic under your finger.
The display is 300Hz, because 240Hz is so last year. It makes a bit more sense for me personally, while the jump from 144Hz to 240Hz is noticeable, it is a lot more apparent with the 300Hz screen.
MSI has a bunch of different colour configurations via the True Color system, and while I prefer just one-size-fits-all, something that enhances especially dark areas can be good for gaming. The colours, contrast and black-levels are some of the best I have ever seen on a TN panel, but it is not competing with a real IPS display, but that means less for gaming, especially as we were wowed by the fluidity of the 300Hz panel.
Some upgrades are also possible, both for the SSD and the memory. However, as ours had 2TB NVMe and 32 gigs of RAM, the only logical upgrade down the line would be adding another SSD. 2 TB does go a long way when it comes to pure gaming.
If you want to save some money, a 240Hz model is also available as the tested model is the 10SGS-017NE version which sets you back £3,399 / €3,899 / DKK 28,999/ NOK 38,999 / SEK 38,999, with less powerful models going all the way to almost half this price.
The battery is 99.9Whr, and the power brick is relatively small and compact. The reason for the odd number is simple, legality when used onboard modern flights. This is extremely irritating for me personally, but it is only logical that you don't sell a product meant for mobility that the customer can't use on a plane. It fits perfectly with the 2.1kg of the computer that is a part of a product line MSI calls "ultra-portable". Battery life is pretty ok at 5.3 hours, but if you use it for gaming, it won't last long.
Cooling-wise the usual Cooler Boost that we at Gamereactor have known for years has now been upgraded to the newest version, Trinity+. That uses extremely small fins for the cooling fans, combined with a fresh air intake underneath the chassis. It has three fans and uses seven heat pipes to transfer heat away from the CPU and GPU.
For those that anticipated great sound, MSI writes on the GS66 Stealth product-page that we can expect to "experience the superior sound with duo wave speaker". I think that what they mean to communicate is that they are using stereo dipole speaker drivers with a passive radiator in a sealed chamber construction, which is better sounding than most other laptop sound solutions. Otherwise, the sentence would be pure nonsense.
And the sound is vastly superior to almost all other built-in speakers of laptops previously tested here at Gamereactor, but the bar for that is still pretty low. However, credit to MSI/Dynaudio for making speakers that don't make my ears bleed within five minutes.
Speaking of other brands: the keyboard with an extremely nice touch-feel to is from SteelSeries and offers per-key RGB, a lot of presets, it's compatible with a number of games if you want full integration, and for the younger audience, it can light up in sync with your favourite music. Just because you can, doesn't mean you always should - said no PC manufacturer ever. The keys are short-travel, responsive, and despite the PC itself getting a bit warm, there are no problems with a heated chassis or mousepad.
In the connectivity department, a Thunderbolt 3 port is the most important, allowing you to charge your laptop via USB-C connection from another adapter or a power bank. Be aware that there are minimum requirements for this, and it cant charge from both AC and Thunderbolt at the same time. But the ability to charge from a power bank certainly does add to the mobility factor. Besides the Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port, there is DC in, a non-Thunderbolt USB 3.2 USB-C, three USB 3.2-A ports, Bluetooth 5, Ethernet and HDMI. While a mini display port or full-size mini display port would have been nice, I'll survive since there is Thunderbolt and HDMI... eh, well, as usual, MSI refuses to write what sort of HDMI they use, which is extremely frustrating, but at least it supports 165Hz monitors and 4K, meaning its at least HDMI 2.0 of some sort, but most likely not 2.1.
The headphone output is pretty powerful for a laptop; I had no problems running a pair of Hifiman Planar magnetic headphones via the socket, and the built-in DAC supports up to 24 bit /192Khz audio natively. While the DAC is specified as being from the ESS Sabre series, no information is available to as which model, same goes for the headphone amplifier chip.
The Dragon Center software does its job, although I had a few problems updating the Intel Storage driver (everything else worked as intended). Besides monitoring all of your hardware, it is your go-to place for switching between profiles (I do recommend checking the Windows Power settings as well). All tests were done using "Extreme Performance", and Super Battery for the battery test.
In the Wifi department, it comes with Killers xTrend extender- and prioritising, DoubleShot Pro and Wifi 6. I have very low ping where I live, and a rather high bandwidth broadband connection, and didn't experience any signal degradation while using the GS66.
So, has the new hardware made a quantum leap or has the 300Hz panel eaten up all the FPS?
While there is an improvement, the MAX-Q models are less powerful than their non-MaxQ brothers. This is someone negated by using a Super RTX card over the regular kind.
And while 300 Hz panels do eat up some FPS at lower settings, the difference between 144Hz and 300Hz on ultra was in most games only 1 FPS.
In regards to noise and thermals, let's just say the 10th gen CPUs run hot. As in really hot, and slim-line laptops have always had a cooling problem. This isn't that much different, and while the GPU does nicely with a 50-degree average temperature and a maximum that never went beyond 70 degrees, the CPU fared a lot worse. 59 degrees in idle, and 97 degrees under load; that is too toasty, even for a low profile chassis.
This also affects the noise levels, and while the silent mode is silent, having the computer idling in Extreme Performance mode yields a noticeable 26.1 dB of fan noise, going onwards to 44.6 dB under load. While it isn't fully roaring, nor as treble intensive as some fans, it is still something you can clearly hear unless you use a headset.
All Benchmarks are at 1080P, 300Hz.
Assassin Creed Odessey:
Ultra: 57 FPS
High: 77 FPS
Far Cry 5:
Ultra: 102 FPS
High: 109 FPS
The Division 2
Ultra: 71 FPS
High: 92 FPS
Total War: Warhammer 2
Ultra: 71.5 FPS
High: 82.2 FPS
Middle Earth: Shadow of War
Ultra: 96 FPS
High: 121 FPS
Medium: 152 FPS
Red Dead Redemption 2
Ultra: 73.1 FPS
3D Benchmark, synthetic score
Time Spy: 7461
Time Spy Extreme: 3451
Port Royal: 4522
Fire Strike Ultra: 4604
Fire Strike Extreme: 8747
Fire Strike: 16812
The gaming performance is better, but not a massive jump from the last generation's comparable machines with MaxQ cards, at best we're talking about 10-12% better in very specific cases. The odd thing is that the cooling of the graphics card seems to work perfectly, and therefore a non-maxQ version of the RTX2080S would seem more logical and provide the customer with even more performance. It is, however, important to notice that the 10th gen CPUs from Intel are extremely new, with better-optimised drivers, and their cooperation with the graphics card should be expected. That being said, most titles running in +60 FPS on Ultra using a 300 Hz panel seems to suggest that you still get an extremely versatile and powerful machine you can bring to a business meeting without it screaming "gamer" to the entire room.
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