Gaming laptops have long been associated with big, hulking machines which can weigh as much as a full-sized desktop and come dressed up in flashing lights. For the longest time, laptop companies have stuck to this formula since that was the perception of what 'hardcore gamers' want. While this is true to an extent, there are many who would prefer a more subtle look - something that can be carried to a business meeting, while still being able to handle a few rounds of Doom after work.
Razer has long been an advocate of slim and light gaming laptops with its Blade series, and it seems as though others are warming up to the idea as well. MSI recently unveiled its 2018 lineup of gaming laptops in India, refreshed with new 8th generation Intel 'Coffee Lake' CPUs. Among the new launches, the GS65 Stealth Thin 8RF was one laptop which got our attention during the preview session MSI held about a month ago. The company claims it’s the first laptop with a 144Hz display and such narrow screen borders, but what’s really interesting to us is the slim profile and the lack of any LEDs on the exterior.
However, all of this comes at a steep price, which we’ll get into later in the review. First, let’s see what MSI’s new kid on the block has to offer.
With the lid closed, it’s hard to tell that the GS65 is in fact a gaming laptop. It has very understated looks thanks to the matte finish of the metal on the lid and the rest of the chassis. At 17.9mm in thickness, it’s quite slim as far as gaming laptops go and we found the weight to be pretty manageable during our daily commute to work. The body doesn’t attract too many fingerprints, which is nice. The new soft gold trim around the edges of the lid and the logo will be quite appealing to some people.
The lid is a bit heavy so it does wobble if you’re using the laptop on the move. However, the dual hinges offer good support, and can open all the way to 180 degrees. The 15.6-inch IPS display has very good brightness and produces vivid colours. The matte finish of the display helps prevent reflections. Along with a 144Hz refresh rate, you get a 7ms response time to boot. Nvidia's G-SYNC is missing, which would have a nice feature to have. The borders on either side of the screen measre just 4.9mm in thickness, which gives the effect of immersion when gaming or watching movies. The strip above the display is slim too, and yet MSI has managed to squeeze in an HD webcam.
The keyboard deck of the GS65 Stealth Thin is made of a single piece of metal, and there’s no discernible flex when you type. We liked the spacious palm rest and the large trackpad. For the latter, we found the tracking to be smooth and precise, but the button feedback was quite stiff. There's a single physical button for left and right clicks, which is no-go for a gaming laptop in our books. The chiclet keyboard has per-key RGB backlighting and is designed by SteelSeries.
The keys have comfortable travel for typing and gaming. We like the fact that MSI hasn’t compromised the size of the direction keys, although we could have used a bit more separation from the rest of the keyboard. There’s an isolated power button along with an LED for indicting which GPU is in use (white for integrated graphics, orange for discrete).
Being a premium gaming laptop, MSI hasn’t compromised on the type or number of physical ports you get. There are three USB 3.1 (Type-A) ports, one Thunderbolt 3 (Type-C) port, Ethernet, HDMI, and a Mini-DisplayPort. You also get separate headphone and microphone sockets. Both sides of the laptop have vents for air circulation, and there are soft gold accents added here too. There are also vents between the two hinges at the back, and plenty more on the bottom of the laptop. The Stealth Thin doesn’t have any quick-release hatch for easily swapping out the RAM or SSD, which means you’ll have to take it down to a service centre to make any modifications.
The MSI GS65 Stealth Thin 8RF is a refreshing change in design and this is a trend we can totally get used to. We love the whole understated look of it, and the fact that it’s practical to carry around is a huge advantage. In our opinion, the Stealth Thin is one of the more premium-feeling laptops that we've seen from MSI in a while.
The GS65 is small in size, but still manages to pack in some pretty powerful components. We have a hexa-core Intel Core i7-8750H CPU with support for HyperThreading, giving you 12 threads. There’s a total of 16GB of DDR4 RAM running in dual-channel mode, so if you wish to upgrade, you’ll have to swap out the existing modules (up to 32GB is supported). You get 512GB of storage, which is comprised of two 256GB NVMe SSDs in RAID 0. Having two drives in a RAID 0 configuration improves the read/write speeds, and generally offers better performance than a single large drive, but if either one fails there's no way to get data off the other.
Due to space constraints within the chassis, a regular Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 probably wouldn’t have been the ideal choice, which is why MSI has gone with an Nvidia GTX 1070 with its Max-Q optimisations The Max-Q moniker indicates that the GPU has been tweaked to stay within the sweet spot of performance and power efficiency by lowering clock speeds whenever possible. This Max-Q GTX 1070 runs at a base speed of 1,101MHz, compared to the 1,506MHz of a standard GTX 1070. This would be a slight compromise in performance but in return, you get to use a much slimmer chassis. Other specifications include Gigabit LAN, Wi-Fi 802.11ac, and Bluetooth 5 by Killer Networks and two bottom firing stereo speakers that are placed underneath.
Windows 10 runs well, and like most laptops, this one ships with a bunch of preinstalled software including a 60-day trial of Norton Internet Security, a 30-day trial of Norton Online Backup, a one-year licence for Xsplit Gamecaster, and a 30-day trial of Microsoft Office 365. MSI also has its own utilities such as True Colour for switching between different colour profiles, a battery calibration app, and an SCM app, which gives you quick toggle switches for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc.
The main MSI app is called Dragon Centre, and this has gotten a major overhaul for 2018. First off, it looks a lot slicker than before with a nice transparency effect for the background. System information is also a lot easier to get to thanks to the cleaner layout. The ‘System Tuner’ tab lets you set custom power profiles, fan speed and display colour profiles. To switch between these, you still have to launch the app, which can be done via a keyboard shortcut.
It also offers an option for boosting the audio level when you use a VoIP program and the ability to check your system status through the MSI smartphone app, provided you’re on the same Wi-Fi network. The big 'G' button in the middle is ‘Game Mode,’ which lets you set customised lighting effects, display profiles, etc for a supported game when you launch it via Dragon Centre. Currently, only about 10-15 games are supported.
Given the powerful components inside, the Stealth Thin has very good boot times and has no trouble with multitasking and usage in general. When running on battery power, the laptop defaults to the ‘Eco’ mode which keeps clock speeds down in order to give you the best battery life. Streaming videos in a Web browser does make the fans ramp up a bit, but they are still not audible.
In an air-conditioned room, the laptop ran fairly cool with general browser and Office document usage. However, in an open room during the current Indian summer, the laptop got hot quickly. Even streaming video caused the metal area near the vents to get very hot, very quickly. We would strongly advise using this laptop on a flat desk or similar surface so that the vents on the bottom don't get blocked.
Fire up a game, and the laptop gets very hot, even if you’re in an air-conditioned room. MSI uses what it calls the Cooler Boost Trinity cooling solution, which uses copper blocks, heat pipes, and three fans to keep the temperatures under control. However, it simply isn't enough to handle the heat this laptop puts out. We would have liked to see something more capable, like a vapour chamber solution.
Thankfully, the heat is kept away from the palm rest area and most of the keys you’d typically use for gaming. The base of the laptop, near the vents, got too hot for us to use this laptop on our laps. The fans are also noisy, so make sure you have a pair of headphones handy when gaming.
Games, and even Windows, feel buttery smooth thanks to the high refresh rate. This does mean a slight overhead, which we noticed as a dip in framerates in some games. For instance, in Rise of The Tomb Raider, we recorded 87fps in the built-in benchmark at 144Hz (Very High preset) versus 89fps at 60Hz. It’s not a big difference when you’re pushing a 60fps+ framerate, but it’s there.
In Doom, we managed to average 100fps in the Foundry level. This was with the settings cranked up to Ultra, anti-aliasing set to SMAA (1TX) and at the native resolution of 1080p. In Metro: Last Light Redux, we averaged 63fps with the Very High graphics preset, 16X anisotropic filtering, and the motion blur and tessellation set to Normal. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is another stressful game for any GPU, but it avenged a healthy enough 40.1fps with the settings at Very High and with 2x MSAA enabled. Last but not least, we also tested everyone’s favourite open-world game, GTA V. Here, with nearly all the sliders pushed to their limit and at 144Hz, we got a benchmark score of 67fps.
The two SSDs in RAID make a big difference in the load times and general speed of running Windows programs. We averaged a sequential read speed of 2.89GB/s and write speed of 2.26GB/s in SiSoft Sandra, when we’ve typically recorded speeds of around 1.7GB/s and 1.4GB/s on average for the same test with a single SSD.
The SteelSeries keyboard lighting is smartly implemented. Pressing the Fn button only lights up those keys which have a second function, so they're easier to get to. You can select some of the presets or customise one of your own with an RGB palette. Switching profiles is as simple as hitting a shortcut key on the keyboard. The intensity of the lighting can also be varied. The SteelSeries app has a section called ‘Engine Apps’ which lets you use the keyboard lighting in creative ways, like for displaying a graphic equaliser while a song or video plays for instance.
Audio performance from the two stereo speakers is not bad. Sound can get pretty loud and you can add vocal effects and tweak the bass and treble levels through the Nahimic program.
MSI claims that the GS65 Stealth Thin 8RF can deliver 8 hours of battery life but this seems a little ambitious. In our experience, with regular usage, we averaged at the most 4-4.5 hours while using the onboard GPU. The power adapter is fairly slim, which is good as there’s less weight to lug around. In the Battery Eater Pro test, which is designed to stress the battery, the laptop ran continuously for 1 hour and 10 minutes.
The top-end version of the MSI GS65 Stealth Thin 8RF that we reviewed today retails for Rs. 1,89,990 and comes with a backpack, plus you get a two-year warranty. This is a lot of money to sink into a laptop designed for recreational needs (unless you’re a professional gamer) but given the configuration, there’s no avoiding this sort of pricing. You could get other similarly configured laptops with GeForce GTX 1070 GPUs for a similar price but finding one that’s as slim and light as the GS65 is tough.
Besides the compact form factor, the laptop also has a good quality display, a comfortable keyboard with endless lighting customisation options, good set of physical ports, speedy hard drive performance and for the first time, in a long time, a genuine premium feel. With that said, the the MSI GS65 Stealth Thin 8RF runs hot very easily and the trackpad buttons are quite stiff, which is something we didn't like.
Slim gaming laptops with Nvidia's Max-Q optimisations have only just started trickling into our market, and this year, we’ll be seeing a bunch of similar new laptops. Among these, we feel the Asus Zephyrus M (GM501) looks particularly interesting and should compete well with the GS65 Stealth Thin 8RF when it hits India. Plus, Asus’s option also has a 144Hz panel but with G-SYNC, something that's missing on MSI's offering.
We're only just seeing the first of a new wave of slim and light gaming laptops that don't have to compromise much on performance. Sure, these will cost and arm and a leg initially, but so do standard gaming laptops. We hope that over time, they will become a lot more affordable.
Price (MRP): 1,89,990
Ratings (Out of 5)