Gaming laptops seem to be in a constant state of evolution. Balancing thermals, frame rates, and acoustics is no easy task, especially as design trends push these mobile power houses into thinner and lighter form factors. Often, it’s a game of sacrifice to take your game on the go. Will that remain the case now that the RTX 30-Series has made its way into laptops?That’s the question I’m out to answer with today’s review of the MSI GS66 Stealth. It comes equipped with the latest RTX 3080 Max-Q graphics processor and a 1440p (QHD) IPS display that runs at 240Hz. This particular configuration won’t be out until Q2 of this year, but will land near the cutting edge of mobile gaming performance. Let’s take a close look and see what it has to offer.

MSI GS66 Stealth Review

The model I’m reviewing came configured with the following specs:

  • Model: MSI GS66 Stealth 10UH-290US
  • Display: 15.6-inch IPS 240Hz at 2,560 x 1,440
  • Processor: 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-10870H processor (8 core/16 thread, 5GHz Boost)
  • Graphics: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Max-Q GPU (16GB GDDR6 VRAM)
  • Memory: 16GB DDR4 3200MHz
  • OS: Windows 10 Pro
  • Storage: 1TB Western Digital SN730 NVMe SSD
  • Audio: MSI Duo Wave Stereo Audio
  • Webcam: 720p
  • Ports: 3 x USB 3.2 Type-A, 1 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C, 1 x Thunderbolt 3, 1 x Headphone/Mic Combo Jack, 1 x HDMI 2.0, 1 x Ethernet, 1 x A/C Power
  • Connectivity: 2.5GB Ethernet, Wi-Fi 6e, Bluetooth 5.2
  • Battery: 99Wh
  • Dimensions: 14.2″ x 9.7″ x 0.7″
  • Weight: 4.6 lbs

MSI GS66 Stealth – Design and Features

MSI’s Stealth moniker for the GS66 fits this notebook to a tee. At first glance you would be hard pressed to tell that it’s a gaming laptop at all. It’s outer metal shell is dark matte grey with a small blacked out logo in the center. The only RGB you’ll find is behind the keyboard, but since it’s SteelSeries per-key programmable, you can easily change this to match whatever look you’d like. This is a computer you could take to class in the morning and frag enemies with in the afternoon. Admittedly, it’s not the thinnest or lightest laptop, but it’s certainly a respectable size considering what’s inside.

The GS66 Stealth represents a new generation of gaming laptops. Desktop gamers have known for years the sweet spot that is 1440p gaming. Offering 78% more pixels than 1080p while only 44% that of 4K, it is far easier to drive than 4K while still looking much crisper than Full HD. It is a resolution that exists squarely in the middle between visual fidelity and performance cost, with many gamers finding it to be the best of both worlds — myself among them. Until now, mobile gamers were mostly forced to choose between 1080p and 4K resolutions for their gaming laptops, but with the release of the RTX 30-series Max-Q graphics cards, that is finally changing. The GS66 Stealth is at the forefront of that change.As you might imagine, that makes this quite the premium laptop and MSI has outfitted it as such. It features a 15.6-inch IPS display that clocks in with an impressive 240Hz refresh rate and supports Nvidia G-Sync. It uses an Intel i7-10870H CPU with eight cores, sixteen threads, and a maximum boost clock of 5GHz. It runs hot, but also offers excellent performance both in games and when multitasking or working in creative apps like Adobe Premiere Pro.

It also features 16GB of DDR4 memory clocked to 3200 MHz and a 1TB SN730 NVMe SSD capable of read and write speeds of 3,400 MB/s and 3,100 MB/s respectively. Each of these elements are objectively “high performance” and compete with desktop gaming PCs on paper. Temperatures can make a big difference in performance in any notebook, however, so it’s always worth keeping thermal performance in mind when looking at hardware rundowns like these.

The crowning jewel of the laptop is clearly its graphics card, the RTX 3080 Max-Q. Like most mobile variants of desktop chipsets, it’s not a one-to-one translation of the desktop RTX 3080. The CUDA count is more sparse at 6144 (versus 8704) but it’s certainly no slouch. The clock speed also has a wider swing to accommodate different temperature scenarios.

Nvidia has it ranging from 1245 – 1710 MHz. In my testing, the card well exceeded that lower benchmark and tended to hover around 1500MHz with occasional peaks and valleys depending on what was happening in the game. It’s absolutely an improvement over last generation’s RTX 2080 Super Max-Q but lands closer to the desktop card of the same name in sheer FPS in the games I tested.

What’s especially interesting here is that the laptop uses Nvidia’s new Advanced Optimus system to swap between integrated graphics and the dedicated GPU to save battery. When you’re browsing the web, the laptop is able to determine that you’re performing a less intensive task and reverts to the integrated graphics on the i7-10870H. When you load a game, it automatically swaps to the dedicated GPU. It’s a good system for enhancing battery life, but it’s not without its hiccups. With integrated graphics, you’re limited to a 60Hz refresh rate, which is a noticeable drop in fluidity even when moving the mouse. I often opted to use the RTX 3080 when running on battery, but this had its own issue: if I left it on “Nvidia GPU Only” the laptop’s display would often not turn on following a reboot, forcing me to restart it a second time.

A common pain point for gaming laptops is their limited upgradability. The Stealth mitigates that somewhat with user-replaceable memory and a second M.2 NVMe slot. It will mean popping the backplate off the laptop, but that’s not a difficult task if you’re handy with a screwdriver. In total it can support 64GB of DDR4 RAM across two slots.

In addition to sheer performance specs, the GS66 also sports several other features targeted toward gamers. The keyboard is powered by SteelSeries and features full per-key illumination. More importantly, every key is remappable and macro programmable with delay-free macros just like a dedicated SteelSeries keyboard. The touchpad is spacious with nice tactility. If you’re using a touchpad for casual games it will work well, but I found it too large and would occasionally send gestures I didn’t intend. It also comes equipped with a 720p webcam that’s decent but nothing to write home about.

Much more impressive is the new Duo Wave audio system. Rather than place two tiny speakers to the rear of the keyboard, the laptop now uses this space for ventilation and places two front-firing speakers to either side of the palm rest. They won’t replace a dedicated gaming headset but are easily the best speakers I’ve ever heard on a laptop. While you can only expect so much from such small speakers, I was genuinely surprised at the fullness of their sound. You could easily use them for an impromptu Warzone match or Netflix binge. The only thing worth noting is that the positioning of the speakers works best if you’re leaned back or sat away from the notebook. Leaning in directly over top of them tended to make them sound too bassy and less clear.

My overall impressions of the build and specs are positive, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what a fingerprint magnet the metal shell is. The matte black finish is terrible for showing everywhere it’s been touched. The picture above was taken with just two days of use after its last wipe down. My hands were clean and dry, but even normal finger oils show up as dark smears.

MSI GS66 Stealth – Software

The GS66 also applies the “stealth” theme to its software, coming delightfully light on bloatware. In fact, apart from the important configuration tools and a small selection of content creation software, it comes fairly clean. The most important tool is MSI’s Dragon Center, which is still somewhat clunky, but gets the job done for changing performance modes and other basic settings.

Dragon Center has never been my favorite program, but it’s gotten better over the years. I found myself using it frequently to change performance mode between Balanced, Extreme Performance, and Silent, and it was mostly painless. It also allows you to change some basic settings, like disabling the Windows key. MSI hides a particularly useful setting in the Tools menu, however, that allows you to set your battery scenario to prolong battery life, as well as a calibration option for the meter, so it’s worth digging around a little bit to see everything it has to offer.

Along with Dragon Center, you’ll find a selection of other programs to customize different elements of the PC. SteelSeries Engine 3 allows you to customize your keyboard. Nahimic and KillerLAN are MSI staples and allow you to customize your audio and networking optimization. There’s also a handful of CyberLink apps for editing photos, video, and audio. Usually I would consider these unnecessary, but with a laptop so suited to content creation, including them here is a good fit, especially for new creators who don’t want to buy additional software.

MSI also pre-installs the Microsoft Office suite, but it wasn’t activated on my unit. Given that this laptop is likely to cost upwards of $3,000, that feels a little stingy to me.

MSI GS66 Stealth – Performance and Gaming

With that out of the way, it’s time to take a look at gaming benchmarks. It’s important to note here that gaming performance can vary widely between manufacturers, even among machines using the same hardware. This frequently has to do with how each company has managed the thermals of its unit and whether they’ve balanced for heat or noise level.

It’s important, then, to compare machines against each other to really get a perspective on comparative performance. Since these laptops are still releasing, and even this PC won’t be out for some time, it’s difficult to do that. As a result, I’m comparing the GS66 against our recent review of the Asus ROG Flow X13 with its mobile RTX 3080 unit, as well as a slightly older laptop running an RTX 2080 Super.

All games were tested at Ultra settings with RTX and DLSS enabled (Quality Preset) wherever available. The GS66 was tested at both 1080p (FHD) and 1440p (QHD), while the competition was only tested at 1080p.

BENCHMARKS

MSI GS66 Stealth

MSI GS66 Stealth (QHD Perf)

Asus ROG Flow X13 (w/eGPU)

Razer Blade 15 Advanced

Price as tested

TBA

TBA

$3,299

$2,799

CPU

Intel Core i7-10870H

Intel Core i7-10870H

AMD Ryzen 9 5900HS

Intel Core i7-10875H

GPU

Nvidia RTX 3080

Nvidia RTX 3080

Nvidia RTX 3080

Nvidia RTX 2080 Super

3DMark Time Spy

9623

N/A

10146

7680

3DMark Fire Strike

19725

N/A

23079

16593

3DMark Night Raid

40996

N/A

44307

35805

Total War: Three Kingdoms

83

53.1

80

64

Borderlands 3

89

64.5

88

65

Metro Exodus

64

56.1

66

48.98

Unigine Heaven 4.0

124

78.1

136

103

PCMark 10

5892

N/A

6823

5467

PCMark 10 Battery Test

5:44

N/A

9:05 (no eGPU)

6:14

As you can immediately tell, the RTX 3080 Max-Q offers a significant improvement over the RTX 2080 Super in the Razer Blade 15 Advanced. Taking the three games, as well as the FPS in the Unigine Heaven benchmark, the average improvement clocks in at a respectable 30%. In 3DMark’s synthetic benchmarks, the results are slightly closer at an average of 20% uplift. Compared against the XG Mobile RTX 3080 in the ROG Flow X13, the results are within 1% of one another overall.

For those looking for sheer gaming performance, here is a rundown of all of the games I tested and the results.

MSI GS66 Stealth

MSI GS66 Stealth (QHD)

CPU

Intel Core i7-10870H

Intel Core i7-10870H

CPU

Nvidia RTX 3080

Nvidia RTX 3080

Total War: Three Kingdoms

83

53

Control

97

69

Battlefield V

58

83

Dirt 5

54

45

Gears Tactics

104

80

Wolfenstein: Youngblood

119

110

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

81

66

Borderlands 3

89

65

Metro Exodus

64

56

Gaming on the G66 Stealth is a treat. The IPS screen is color rich and the pixel density at 1440p really makes games look crisp. Combined with G-Sync, it made for a fluid experience, even in high intensity shooters like Apex Legends and Valorant. The results also demonstrate how meaningful DLSS is, especially on this mobile platform. With it, it’s entirely possible to play ray traced games at ultra settings at playable frame rates. The only exceptions above are Total War: Three Kingdoms, which seemed to be CPU bound, and Dirt 5, which is heavily optimized toward AMD.

Without other RTX 3080 Max-Q laptops to compare against, it’s difficult to get a bead on how competitive these frame rates actually are, but the lack of thermal throttling on the GPU leads me to believe that it will be competitive. In my testing, the graphics card peaked at 77C and spent most of its gaming time comfortably between 72-75C. As a result, GPU Boost was able to automatically overclock the card to hover around 1500 MHz. There were frequent times when this would drop closer to 1300 MHz but it never appeared to be the result of thermal performance and often occurred when there was less demand on the card. At times, it spiked up to 1700 MHz but these usually only lasted 1-2 seconds before dropping back down.

I only wish the processor had such reasonable temps. During games, it would quickly heat all the way to 95C and would sometimes spike to 99C in short bursts. Intel’s documentation states that the maximum safe temperature is 100C but this is still far too close for comfort. What happens in a year or two as dust makes its way into the system or if you accidentally block a vent?

Despite this, I was pleasantly surprised at the overall noise of the machine. When browsing, it was quite quiet. When fully ramped up, it could get loud but not obnoxiously so. Still, the thin form factor has the same wind tunnel effect as many gaming notebooks, so I’d recommend having a set of headphones nearby if you’re hoping to make out directional audio when it’s fully ramped up.

MSI GS66 Stealth – Battery Life

The GS66 comes equipped with a large 99WH battery. This is the largest legally allowable battery for air travelers and it’s put to good use here. In PCMarks 10’s Modern Office battery life test, it lasted 5 hours and 44 minutes. This is largely due to Advanced Optimus utilizing the integrated GPU on the processor. To test battery life while gaming with the RTX 3080 Max-Q, I let Unigine Heaven run on a loop. In that scenario it lasted 1 hour and 34 minutes. Mixed use will place live time between these two figures.

Best Gaming Laptops

Purchasing Guide

The while the MSI GS66 Stealth we reviewed won’t be available until later this year, it’s available in several other configurations with 1080p displays. The most affordable ships with an RTX 3060 at 240Hz for $1,799. A 300Hz variant is available with either a RTX 3070 or RTX 3080, for $2,399 and $2,999 respectively. The model tested here does not have pricing at the time of review but given the flagship 1080p model lands at $2,999, it’s likely this configuration will land nearby or slightly higher in price.

By tracy