The MSI GS65 Stealth Thin (starts at $1,799; $1,999 as tested), built with Nvidia’s Max-Q technology, is a solid HD gaming laptop with a long-lasting battery. It’s thin and light, and is proficient all around thanks to the eighth-generation Intel “Coffee Lake” processor it packs inside. The GS65’s build quality isn’t the most impressive compared with its competition, but it looks sharp, especially given that this is the least expensive Max-Q system we’ve tested. The pricier Origin PC EVO15-S remains our Editors’ Choice for its higher-quality build, similar gaming performance, and huge storage capacity.
All That Glitters Is Gold
The GS65’s style is immediately noticeable. The matte black laptop frame is edged in gold, as is the touchpad, with accents on the hinge, ventilation, and MSI logo on the lid. It’s tasteful, unlike the aggressive red and black combination you see on many gaming systems, and can be used in a more professional setting without fear that you’ll stick out like a sore thumb. It may, instead, draw some envy—a few of my colleagues commented positively on the design.
Build quality isn’t as solid as some of its pricier competition. The GS65 is made of a plastic-like alloy rather than metal, but it doesn’t feel too flimsy. There’s a bit of flex in the center of the keyboard as you type, and a little along the ventilation grille at the top. That may be a bit more than you would like in a $2,000 machine, but it shouldn’t be enough to dissuade you. The Razer Blade’s all-metal build is sturdy and premium-feeling, if build quality is one of your top concerns. Among other Max-Q laptops, we also saw some similar flex on the (much pricier) Asus ROG Zephyrus, mostly on the bottom panel, while the Origin PC EVO15-S is much sturdier overall.
MSI is a gaming-centric company, and as such, virtually all elements of the GS65’s design have some sort of game-focused feature. This begins with the display itself, a 15.6-inch screen with a 1,920-by-1,080 (HD) resolution and a 144Hz refresh rate. Its matte finish dulls the picture somewhat, but the colors are vibrant (with a claimed “close to 100 percent” of the sRGB spectrum). It looks clear and smooth while gaming. The screen is appropriate given the graphics card inside: A Max-Q GTX 1070 is capable of gaming beyond HD, but frame rates will suffer and threaten to dip below 60 frames per second (fps) at higher resolutions on some titles. Additionally, the high refresh rate can be utilized for smoother-looking gameplay. (Most screens have a refresh rate of 60Hz.)
Finally, though less game-focused, the GS65’s bezels are very thin, allowing for a larger display in a smaller chassis. Crucially for some, the camera is squeezed in along the top bezel, rather than the below-the-screen nostril cam we’ve seen on other laptops. The screen can also rotate flat to 180 degrees, which could be helpful to display it to a gathered group, an admittedly fairly niche use case.
The SteelSeries keyboard doesn’t particularly stand out in terms of the typing experience—there’s a decent amount of travel, but the keys border on the mushy side. It does have per-key RGB backlighting, though, which you can easily customize through included software with a variety of effects and colors. The system sound is provided by Dynaudio, but the quality is a bit lacking. At maximum volume there’s a noticeable tinny sound—it’s loud, but doesn’t have the best fidelity.
Features and Configurations
Inside the GS65, there’s a 512GB M.2 SSD, which is quick to load and boot the system. There’s no secondary storage for large game installations, however, which these days can take up as much as 30GB of space or more per title. Further, the 512GB is split into two drives, with Windows taking up about half of one 299GB drive. The other drive is free, but this setup lessens the already lower-than-average capacity. The Origin EVO15-S that we tested costs about $400 more, but it packs a 512GB SSD and a huge 2TB hybrid drive, which is more in line with expectations for a gaming system. All of that said, you can mitigate the capacity’s impact by just keeping the handful of games you’re currently playing installed.
It’s worth noting here that there are multiple configurations for the GS65 Stealth Thin. Our configuration is available at Best Buy, but other models can be ordered from Newegg, Amazon, and other retailers. SKUs range from $1,799 to $2,999, all bearing the same resolution and processor, but some with a GTX 1060 and differing amounts of RAM and storage. There is, for example, a GTX 1060 model that includes a 2TB hard drive if you want more storage, but there’s no such option for a GTX 1070 version. This is all to say there is some degree of choice to suit your needs, but it’s far from fully customizable.
The GS65 is stacked with ports for such a thin laptop. The left flank holds an Ethernet jack, two USB 3.0 ports, and headphone and mic jacks. On the right, there’s another USB 3.0 port, a USB-C port with Thunderbolt 3, an HDMI port, and a Mini DisplayPort connection. The Ethernet is provided by Killer and includes the E2500 chipset and DoubleShot Pro, which will prioritize your gaming network traffic to prevent lag and lower ping. The laptop is supported by a one-year warranty.
On the software side of things, MSI has a new version of its Dragon Center control panel, where you can monitor and alter PC performance. Some of the changes are cosmetic, like a new interface and a transparent design. Others are focused more on function, like a one-click button for freeing up memory. Within Dragon Center, you can check CPU, GPU, memory, and disk usage; alter display coloration settings; set fan speeds; and more. Not everyone will feel the need to tinker, but it’s appealing to gamer crowds who tend to enjoy customization options and performance monitoring. Dragon Center also includes voice boost to increase your VOIP volume and balance it against game audio across multiple applications (including Skype and Discord).
For those who are less inclined to mess with software controls, Dragon Center also has a feature called Gaming Mode, which can automatically tune settings on a per-game basis to attain the highest frame rates with the best visuals for your hardware. At launch, there’s a small list of games it works with, with more to come: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Rainbow Six Siege, Dota 2, World of Warcraft, Rocket League, and Need for Speed Payback. Here, you can also set the keyboard lights to serve as in-game notifications.
The star of the show on the performance side is the Intel “Coffee Lake” processor, in this case the Core i7-8750H. The big benefit of this processor compared with its “Kaby Lake R” predecessor is the addition of two more cores, which mainly impacts straining multicore tasks like media projects. MSI estimates a roughly 20 percent performance increase over Kaby Lake chips for gaming, which mostly bore out in our testing. The GS65’s PCMark 8 score, which measures general productivity aptitude, was one of the highest we’ve recorded on the test, a testament to its overall speed.
It also scored very well on the multimedia tests, dropping below the 1-minute mark on the Handbrake encoding test (rare for all but the most powerful laptops) and posting strong scores on our Cinebench and Photoshop tests. The EVO15-S includes a seventh-generation processor and, even with a higher clock speed, comes in behind the GS65 across the board. It’s not a huge gap, but the difference is noteworthy, and the trend holds compared with other competition. While “Coffee Lake” will bring a price jump to new systems, it looks like it has the performance to justify it.
On the 3D side, the effects of both the GTX 1070 and Max-Q tweaks are clear. This high-end card performs very well in HD. As a Max-Q version of the card, though, it’s not quite as powerful as the standard GTX 1070. As is the case with other Max-Q GTX 1070 systems, it performs a bit closer to a laptop with a standard GTX 1060. Its scores on the 3DMark tests were high, showing general proficiency at 3D tasks if you need to use the GS65 for media or modeling projects on the side. For gaming, the more obvious focus of this model, 60fps in HD at maximum settings is an easy task. On the Heaven and Valley gaming tests set to HD resolution and ultra-quality settings, the GS65 averaged 88fps and 91fps, respectively. As you can see, “Coffee Lake” didn’t offer too much of a boost on the 3D and gaming side; it’s still mostly about the graphics card.
That aside, those are great results, and you don’t need to worry about how it scales to higher resolutions since the monitor maxes out at HD. The EVO15-S uses the same card and netted slightly lower frame rates, while the Zephyrus’ Max-Q GTX 1080 crept higher than 100fps on these tests. The Max-Q-tuned GTX 1070 is safely above the hardware floor for VR—and it didn’t run too hot or get especially loud during testing.
See How We Test Laptops
Battery life is a big win for the GS65, lasting 7 hours and 14 minutes on our rundown test. That’s long for gaming laptops in general, but especially good for Max-Q systems. The Zephyrus lasted for just 2:31, the EVO15-S for 4:27, and the MSI GS63VR 7RG Stealth Pro for 4:29. Not having a long-lasting battery is somewhat contradictory to the thinner, more portable Max-Q designs, so it’s nice that you can actually use the GS65 off the charger for an extended period. Outside of Max-Q competition, the Razer Blade still rules the roost at 10:36.
Slim, Long Lasting, With a Single Flaw
The GS65 looks slick, performs well, and has a long-lasting battery. The build quality doesn’t quite match its appearance, but it’s not egregious and keeps the system light. If you can overlook this, compared with other Max-Q models, it’s the least expensive option for getting a high-performing graphics card in a thin and light design. “Coffee Lake” will quickly arrive in more laptops, so you don’t need to run out for the GS65 to get its benefits if that’s the main draw for you. The Origin EVO15-S remains our Editors’ Choice for its sturdy build, high performance, and tons of storage, even if it costs $400 more.