NOTE: This review is based on a GS66 10SFS-215 CA Stealth unit supplied by Intel, containing 16GB of RAM, an Intel i7-10750H CPU, an RTX 2070 Super Max-Q GPU, a 1TB SSD, and a 300hz display.

 

It’s a new year, and with a new year comes a revolutionary new line of Nvidia-powered gaming laptops! Nvidia’s bleeding-edge RTX 3000 Series GPU’s will now be added to gaming laptops for the first time in 2021, affording high-end PC gamers a whole new level of graphical fidelity to enjoy at home, or on the go! MSI is leading the charge on this as well, with their own all-new line of custom RTX 3000-powered gaming laptops scheduled to start hitting retailers as soon as a week or two, at the time of writing!

It’s all very cool indeed, but there is nonetheless a stubborn bit of reality that tech junkies and PC gamers alike have to swallow after the ongoing, economically devastating COVID-19 pandemic especially– Cutting-edge gaming laptops, especially those packing a whole new level of GPU behind them, are very expensive! In fact, they’re probably far too expensive for the majority of gamers at this point, with several of MSI’s first-run RTX 3000-powered gaming laptops easily commanding somewhere in the neighbourhood of $3,000 CAN or more, if you include tax! To put that in perspective for Canadians, that’s approximately the cost of five Xbox Series X’s or PS5’s, eight Xbox Series S’s, or six PS5 Digital Editions. Not exactly chump change for those who aren’t insistent on the best of the best in laptop specs on any given year!

Fortunately, if this year’s new RTX 3000-powered laptops are too rich for your blood, but you still want something that represents a marked improvement over even the next-gen console gaming arena, there is good news! That good news is the fact that MSI’s GS66 Stealth gaming laptops of 2020 are still pretty damn good, and will still chew up and spit out pretty much any PC game that you throw at them, even on maxed settings in many cases! They’ll also leave the PS5 and Xbox Series X (let alone the Xbox Series S) in their technical dust if you’re in it for sheer power, though these being laptops, that power does naturally come with a few compromises here and there.

Another caveat is that you’ll still have to shell out quite a bit of money for MSI’s GS66 Stealth laptops at this point, even if you’ll ideally be shaving around $1,000 CAN off the sum that MSI’s new 2021 gaming laptops will command, assuming you’re going through official retailers. Since MSI’s GS66 Stealth laptops are still beasts though, especially when several of them include an astonishingly smooth and speedy 300hz display, complete with ray tracing capability thanks to their Nvidia RTX 2000 line of GPU’s, 2021 might mark the ideal time to invest in them, if you still want a high-powered, ray tracing-ready gaming laptop, but also don’t want to completely break the bank in the process.

BUILT SIMPLY, BUT BUILT TO LAST

Let’s start with one of the most important elements of any gaming laptop– How it’s built. There’s definitely some stylish gaming laptops on the market that will quickly draw your eye with their fancy exteriors, with the Razer Blade and Alienware’s laptop line being particular examples of flashy, eye-catching devices. MSI’s GS66 Stealth laptops however take a different approach. They’re simple in appearance, almost plain-looking in fact.

Yes, it’s true that when you put one of MSI’s GS66 Stealth laptops next to the competition, especially the ostentatious competition, they don’t really catch your eye. They’re function-over-form machines, and to some, that will definitely be disappointing. Sure, there’s a cool-looking dragon on the back side of the display, an MSI staple, but even that dragon isn’t immediately apparent to the naked eye, almost inconceivably blending in with the polished black shell of the GS66 Stealth units. It’s hard not to feel like this wholesome, girl-next-door of a laptop isn’t really achieving its true potential on a shelf.

Like the girl next door however, the real appeal of the GS66 Stealth line is what’s not immediately apparent at first glance. A GS66 Stealth laptop may be outwardly plain, with even the shimmering light waves on my laptop keyboard being a simple, light orange by default, doing little to initially excite compared to colourful, sleek competing hardware from ASUS, HP and others, but there is a case to be made for inner beauty, which the GS66 Stealth line has to spare. Even before considering that, the simple build of these laptops does at least come with the advantage of being very reliable and sturdy as well. The GS66 Stealth laptops are compact, not overly large, and surprisingly light when you carry them, and yet despite that, if you happened to drop one down a flight of stairs by accident (or on purpose, you do you), it would almost certainly shrug off the impact.

You also get quite a few ports on such a thin machine, including three USB 3.2 ports, an additional USB-C port with Thunderbolt 3 charging capability, an HDMI port, an Ethernet port, and of course, your power supply outlet. The USB 3.2 ports can be a little sticky at times, likely due to the compact shell, so you might need to apply a bit of elbow grease if you’re frequently swapping USB devices, but that USB-C port is a great exception. It’s a very much appreciated addition that can really maximize the potential of data processing with its Thunderbolt 3 capability. The rest of the machine is rounded out by seven fan outlets, three on one side, four on the other, and more on that later.

Finally, while gamers will rarely use it, the built-in trackpad on the GS66 Stealth laptops is pretty responsive, surprisingly so! I still wouldn’t recommend trying to use it in a fast-paced video game, but if you’re just browsing the internet, taking care of office work, or perhaps clicking around a streaming service like Netflix or Disney+, it works better than you would initially think, even without dedicated mouse buttons built into it. The built-in SteelSeries keyboard is also very comfortable (Note: I’m actually typing this review on it, so that’s how much I enjoy using it!), being equally suited to gaming and typing, even during extended hours, and benefiting from these laptops’ simple outer build as much as your backpack or arms would. Many users will probably want to quickly swap out that drab default backlight font though.

FRAMES OVER FASHION – THE 300HZ DIFFERENCE

One of the biggest marketing draws surrounding several of MSI’s GS66 Stealth laptop builds are their 300hz displays, and thankfully, I got to enjoy that very display. The question that many PC gamers will have however is this– Sure, this is probably the fastest screen that you can currently enjoy in the market of gaming laptops, but how often will you actually use all of those precious hertz? Well, that really comes down to what kind of video games you play, and what you’re hoping to get out of a gaming laptop.

I tested a rather extensive variety of PC games on my GS66 Stealth laptop, using a combination of Steam, GOG, the Windows 10 Store, the Ubisoft Store, and the Epic Games Store. These games included, in no specific order: Devil May Cry 5, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Gears 5, Gears Tactics, Doom: Eternal, Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age, Cyber Shadow, Mega Man 11, Mega Man Legacy Collection, Immortals Fenyx Rising, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, The Talos Principle, and Cyberpunk 2077, among others. Needless to say, that’s a wide variety of games that delivered a wide variety of mileage out of the lightning-fast screen.

It should come as no surprise that all of those souped-up hertz were all but useless in slower-paced games like Dragon Quest XI, and retro-style games like Cyber ShadowDragon Quest XI and The Talos Principle were extra smooth for sure, but this wasn’t really anything that made a game-influencing difference, nor did it demand 300hz to achieve. During most of my single-player experiences especially, the extended 300hz capability was indeed overkill, and I rarely got much of a chance to utilize it to properly enhance my solo PC gaming adventures to any meaningful degree.

The exceptions, naturally, were Devil May Cry 5 and Doom: Eternal, which did noticeably benefit from the super-speedy screen, since those games present ultra-fast, ultra-challenging single-player experiences. Likewise, multiplayer sessions and Legendary campaign runs in Halo: The Master Chief Collection came with a sharp edge against the competition, giving me unprecedented image processing, responsiveness and overall stability, even during chaotic firefights. If you’re a highly competitive multiplayer gamer, or you crave white-knuckle single-player gauntlets like those in a Devil May Cry game, then this 300hz screen really is something else. I’ll even admit that it’s hard to go back to playing games like Halo: The Master Chief Collection or Gears 5 on my Xbox consoles now, because this 300hz laptop screen has spoiled me so much!

The 10th-gen Intel processor packed into my GS66 Stealth model complements the 300hz screen wonderfully to boot, allowing you to effortlessly crank up framerates to 120fps and beyond, without sacrificing image or gameplay quality. It’s a real thing of beauty when speed is essential to gameplay success! Likewise, the high-powered Nvidia RTX 2070 Super Max-Q GPU built into my unit allowed my gaming experiences to flourish in the other direction as well, delivering gorgeous, ray tracing-enabled visuals in games like Cyberpunk 2077 and Shadow of the Tomb Raider, even if enabling ray tracing predictably meant dealing with a lower framerate.

Fortunately, for those times when I felt like flexing graphical fidelity over frame-shredding muscle, I wasn’t disappointed, even if the GS66 Stealth laptops’ built-in display predictably limits you to 1080p resolution without linking with an external display. This concession likely won’t mean much to PC gamers that crave speed however, who are probably used to playing in a resolution at or slightly below 1080p anyway. You also don’t get any HDR support on the GS66 Stealth’s built-in display, though the Nvidia RTX 2000 line of GPU’s in these laptops can still deftly deliver 4K visuals on an external display, reaching an easy 60fps simultaneously in almost all cases.

Finally, I sampled video streaming on my GS66 Stealth unit with episodes of The Mandalorian and WandaVision on Disney+, The Boys and The Expanse on Amazon Prime Video, and The Witcher and Castlevania on Netflix, and while their images were crisp, clear and colourful on this laptop model, they also don’t manage to outclass the high-end vibrancy and clarity of my 4K/HDR Samsung Smart TV, if that’s a concern to you. This isn’t altogether surprising, but it’s worth noting all the same that the internal workings of the GS66 Stealth laptops are specifically optimized for gaming, and agile, intense gaming at that!

HOT UNDER THE COLLAR?

The GS66 Stealth laptop is a very impressive machine in terms of how efficiently it can render and respond to the visual and performance demands of even the most large-scale modern video games. There is however a big catch to packing this much speed and processing power into such an unassuming package, and that’s the fact that this laptop has a frustratingly hard time staying cool, even when it’s plugged in!

I noticed this problem early on, and to get the full scope of how much of an issue it may be, I ran some benchmark tests alongside an older HP 1070 Omen laptop with an inferior Nvidia GTX 1060 GPU and Intel i7-7700 CPU, albeit one that has a cooling unit built in. The results were sometimes downright shocking, with the HP 1070 Omen occasionally outperforming the GS66 Stealth during demanding tasks and extended gameplay, especially when the GS66 Stealth was unplugged!

This is definitely an issue, considering the GS66 Stealth has noticeably better processing power and graphical capabilities than my old, beat up HP 1070 Omen laptop. In its defense, the GS66 Stealth isn’t hot to the touch or anything, but it’s clear that the staggering processing rates in these laptops will eventually start taxing the hardware without an external power supply to rely on especially. This is also before considering that the GS66 Stealth’s poor, overworked fans get very loud, very quickly, often during gaming sessions, and sometimes for no discernible reason. If you get annoyed by noisy fans easily, you’ll definitely want to game with a good pair of headphones if you plan to game on a GS66 Stealth laptop. I actually had to move my microphone further away so that it wouldn’t constantly pick up this laptop’s fans while I was streaming PC games on my Twitch channel! Granted, this wasn’t a huge deal for me, but it’s also a real testament to how intense these fans can get!

The upside to the power distribution in the GS66 Stealth, and yes, thankfully, there is one, is the fact that this laptop’s battery is fantastic. Sure, many gamers may just opt to leave the GS66 Stealth permanently plugged into a nearby outlet, where it can best enjoy uncompromised, silky-smooth framerates in pretty much any PC game, but if you do have to disconnect, the battery flexibility in this laptop is pretty great. You can maximize performance if you wish, but if you need to do extended work without being able to plug in the power supply, for example, you can max out Power Saving mode to get the GS66 Stealth running non-stop for almost eight hours at best, and six or seven at the very least!

Obviously, the battery life will vary depending on the task(s) this laptop is performing (don’t expect those glorious, longstanding battery hours during an extended, unplugged gaming session, of course!), but for simple tasks, typing, internet browsing and creative work, the GS66 Stealth won’t require a charge for almost an entire day, if you unplug it at full power, and enable Power Saving mode. That’s fantastic, and while these secondary perks don’t exactly flex this laptop’s greatest strengths, it’s assuring to see how effectively it can adapt beyond the arena of fast-paced, triple-A PC gaming.

STILL WORTH THE COST?

Despite a more expensive, more powerful line of MSI gaming laptops being right around the corner, the GS66 Stealth holds up remarkably well in 2021, despite some of its drawbacks. Is it the prettiest laptop? No. Is it the most fully-featured laptop? No. Is it the coolest laptop? Hell no. Is it the fastest laptop? Well, it actually could be a contender for that crown.

Even if they don’t fully stand out beyond the impressive speed of their higher-end builds however, MSI’s GS66 Stealth laptops nonetheless provide a strong mix of desirable features, wrapped within an unremarkable, but nonetheless sturdy and comfortably compact build. The Nvidia RTX 2000 GPU’s within the GS66 Stealth laptops allow for visually stunning, ray tracing-ready gaming as well, even if you sacrifice frames for it, plus the battery proves to be one of the most pleasant surprises in these machines, defying their cooling problems by otherwise holding up for hours on end, again at the cost of performance, in Battery Saver mode.

Thus, if you’re primarily desiring white-knuckle competitive PC gameplay, and build quality over style, MSI’s GS66 Stealth laptops are well worth your consideration. They’re an especially solid bet if you find that MSI’s soon-launching line of Nvidia RTX 3000-powered laptops is too expensive, but you’re nonetheless willing to pay a healthy sum for mostly the same level of performance and graphical power.

Some competing laptops within the GS66 Stealth’s current $1,500-$2,000 CAN price range manage to deliver more noteworthy advantages that aren’t mostly limited to certain types of games in this case (i.e. fast-paced competitive games), but as a jack-of-all-trades machine that wants to prioritize a good build and high-powered specs alike, MSI’s GS66 Stealth laptops manage to be worth their cost. The ‘wow’ factor isn’t fully there if you’re not a competitive gamer, but you’re still getting a good machine that can run anything you throw at it at this point, and run it well. As long as you don’t mind a lot of fan noise anyway.

MSI GS66 Stealth Gaming Laptop Review
MSI's GS66 Stealth laptop line still holds up well for their cost in 2021, even if their ambitious processing speeds create some drawbacks.
THE GOOD STUFF
  • Blisteringly fast display and processor is a joy for competitive gaming
  • Solid build quality that's sturdy and comfortable
  • Strong visual specs with surprisingly great battery life
THE NOT-SO-GOOD STUFF
  • Considerable cooling/fan noise issues
  • Bland, unremarkable build appearance
  • Specs don't stand out as much for single-player gaming
82%Overall Score
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