It didn’t take very long to notice that MSI’s new GS65 Stealth Thin was different from the other thin-and-light gaming laptops I recently tested. Though it has the same basic specs as the others — 3.9-GHz, six-core Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB RAM, and a GeForce GTX 1070 Max-Q graphics card — this laptop is a better overall experience for myriad reasons.
The rest of the $1,899+ GS65’s features include extremely narrow bezels (but room for a webcam on top) around a 144Hz full HD display, SteelSeries backlit RGB keyboard, and MSI’s suite of hardware management software (fans, graphics tweaking, battery profiles, etc.). But the real magic behind the GS65 isn’t found in the specs — it’s in the experience where everything works while not getting in your way.
Regarding MSI’s nomenclature, saying “GS65 Stealth Thin” is a mouthful and a bit dramatic, but it makes up for that with an admiringly simple and sharp design. The laptop is all black, with copper highlights near the fan vents, touchpad, and power button. The logo on the lid is simply the MSI gaming dragon, also done in copper — it looks great, or at least better than the glowing logos on Asus and other laptops.
The GS65 weighs just 4.14 pounds and is 0.69 inches thick, making it thinner and lighter than other thin-and-light gaming laptops. It has a smaller overall footprint, thanks to the lack of a numpad and those thin bezels, while the demure paint job and copper trim help visually mask its dimensions.
Touch the GS65 and you’ll find that it feels more like plastic than the actual aluminum it’s made out of. While I would describe the build quality as good, it’s not stellar: the keyboard, touchpad, palmrest, and screen all have noticeable flex if you apply moderate pressure. However, it doesn’t look cheap, which isn’t something I can say for all MSI laptops I’ve used. You could argue if it can flex like it’s cheap, then it is, but the GS65’s build quality doesn’t mar the experience for me.
During my test, I had a few keyboard hotkey issues (using the Fn + SteelSeries or MSi Dragon Center) where they wouldn’t register, but downloading a SteelSeries keyboard update resolved the issues.
Playing games is what the GS65 was designed to do and it rips. It takes whatever game you throw at it and crushes it. Ultra settings, high refresh rates — it doesn’t matter, the GS65 can handle it better than any other Max-Q-equipped laptop I’ve used.
The specific MSI GS65 I’ve tested is a $1,999 Best Buy exclusive; this includes a 512GB SSD, the six-core Intel Core i7-8750H processor, 16GB RAM, and the GTX 1070 Max-Q GPU. On Amazon, MSI has a $1,899 model with a GTX 1060 Max-Q chip and 256GB of storage, while more expensive models have the GTX 1070 and faster storage.
Asus’ Zephyrus M handles heat better than the GS65, has better a response time ( 3ms compared to the MSI’s 7ms), and has a full GTX 1070 mobile graphics chip instead of Max Q. But that comes at a cost, both in convenience and in size: the Zephyrus M weighs more (5.5 pounds), costs $200 more ($2,199), and has huge unsightly bezels. Meanwhile, Gigabyte’s Aero 15x and the Digital Storm Equinox have identical spec sheets, but the overall experience of using them for productivity and games is not as refined as MSI’s.
Some of the games that run without a sweat at their pre-set ultra / high settings include Rainbow Six: Siege, League of Legends, PUBG, Fortnite, and Destiny 2. But the finesse doesn’t end there, because heat management is surprisingly good for a laptop of this size and material.
Under high strain, you can hear the fans pushing hot air from the sides and back, but heat never migrates to the palm rest — at most, the function row at the top of the keyboard gets warm to the touch. Underneath the laptop is no different: it’s never an uncomfortable experience, but you can notice the heat if you look for it.
As a laptop for work, the MSI functions admirably. Because the GS65 goes without the flashy design that many (if not most) gaming laptops have, it looks like a normal laptop in a business meeting. The rainbow keyboard might capture some attention, but you can turn it off, adjust the color per key, or just find a single color and stick with it. Typing on the keyboard is fantastic; I really enjoy the switches, which provide some tactile feedback but aren’t noisy. The Precision touchpad is bit smaller than the ones in similar 15-inch laptops, but it’s accurate and smooth, and supports Windows 10’s multifinger navigation gestures.
I was pleasantly surprised with the GS65’s 5 to 6-hour battery life while doing productivity tasks (read: not gaming), which is not only acceptable for a mainstream laptop, but exceptional for a gaming-focused laptop. It’s far better than any of the six-core systems I previously tested, cementing it as the most viable as both a productivity tool and a gaming system.
The display is a treat to look at: it has thin bezels, vibrant color and contrast, a wide color gamut, and a fast refresh rate. Colors are vivid, with sharp contrast, deep blacks, and accurate color reproduction. The 144Hz refresh rate enables smoother interface interactions for the user, which is noticeable even when you move your cursor around. In games, it will translate to smoother frame rates and more detail per frame.
While I would have appreciated less flex in the lid and even stiffer hinges, the GS65’s display works very well for the gaming tasks it was designed to handle.
Also, Dell, Gigabyte, and others can take note from MSi here: there’s barely any bezel at the top of the screen, but there’s enough space for a webcam. This is ideal compared to bezel-less displays that shove camera sensors below the screen, resulting in unflattering angles on video calls.
The speakers are not as impressive as the rest of the hardware: they lack any sort of bass that gives the sound presence. You can fill a small room with GS65’s speakers and they can reproduce lots of small details, but they will not bring the house down or otherwise sound as good as wearing a comfortable pair of headphones.
MSI provides every port you’d need, except a full size SD card slot, which is a little surprising, given how well this system can work for photo or video editing. What you do get on the GS65 includes three USB 3.1 ports, an Ethernet port, and dedicated mic and headphone jacks. There’s also a Thunderbolt 3 port (with a full four lanes of bandwidth for using an external GPU), HDMI, and DisplayPort, which allow you to use three external monitors at once if you desire.
Tally up all of the GS65’s wins and it’s hard to find a better laptop that combines portability, power, and general usability, while still maintaining the ability to power through basically any AAA game you throw at it. And while it’s not the least expensive option in this group, it’s still hundreds of dollars less than a comparably equipped Razer Blade.
While I do wish the GS65 had better build quality and better speakers, it has a lot of other new thin-and-light gaming laptops beat for both gaming and productivity needs. Simply put, it is one of the best gaming laptops you can buy right now.
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