The MSI GL65 is the first gaming laptop I’ve tested with Nvidia’s new higher wattage 2060 graphics, let’s check it out in this detailed review and find out if it’s something you should consider.
I’ve got the 10SEK configuration, which has some decent specs for a gaming laptop, but there are a few different configurations available. The lid is a matte black metal, the interior is the same, while the bottom is plastic. Overall build quality felt fair, and there were no sharp corners or edges anywhere. The weight is listed at 2.3kg, though mine was closer to 2.2kg. With the 230w power brick and cables for charging the total rises to almost 3.2kg, or 7lb.
The GL65 is on the thicker side for a gaming laptop with this hardware inside, however the width and depth are reasonable for a 15” machine, and this smaller footprint allows for 7.5mm screen bezels on the sides. The 15.6” 1080p 144Hz screen has a matte finish and uses Optimus which cannot be disabled, there’s no G-Sync.
By default the MSI Dragon Center software has display OverDrive enabled, with this on I measured a 5.3ms grey-to-grey response time, but this did introduce a little overshoot. With OverDrive off the response time only increases to 8ms and the overshoot was gone, it’s good that you’ve got options, most other laptops don’t give you a choice. I’ve tested the screen with the Spyder 5, and got 95% of sRGB, 66% of NTSC, 71% of AdobeRGB and 71% of DCI-P3.
At 100% brightness I measured the panel at 396 nits in the center with a 640:1 contrast ratio, so pretty good results for a gaming panel overall though lower on the contrast. Backlight bleed was pretty good too, just some small imperfections that were only detected on camera in this worst case, but this will vary between laptop and panel.
There was some screen flex when intentionally pushing it despite it being metal, probably as it’s on the thinner side, but the hinges otherwise felt sturdy, though they don’t seem to be redesigned to be stronger like we saw in the GS66. It wasn’t possible to open up with one finger, as like many other laptops from MSI, the battery is up the back with the heatpipes, but it still felt fine sitting on my lap.
Despite the screen bezels being quite thin, MSI have still managed to fit the 720p camera above the screen in the center, no Windows hello support though. The steelseries keyboard seems the same as many others from MSI, it’s got per key RGB backlighting which illuminates all keys and secondary key functions, but they do also sell a red only option. There’s 4 levels of key brightness, or you can turn it off. I liked typing with the keyboard, no problems to report.
The power button is above the keyboard on the right, as well as shortcuts to boost fan speed or change the keyboard lighting effect, but these can be done through software too. There was some keyboard flex when intentionally pushing down hard, but I never noticed any stability issues during normal use. The precision touchpad does not click down, however it’s got physically separate left and right click buttons. It uses the available space well and again worked fine with no issues to note.
Fingerprints show up easily on the matte black interior and lid, but as a smooth surface they’re fairly easy to clean with a microfiber cloth.
On the left from the back there’s a kensington lock slot, air exhaust vent, gigabit ethernet, HDMI 2.0 and mini DisplayPort outputs, USB 3.2 Gen1 Type-A port, USB 3.2 Gen2 Type-C port, no thunderbolt and 3.5mm headphone and mic jacks. On the right from the front there are two USB 3.2 Gen1 Type-A ports, full size SD card slot, power input and no exhaust vent on this side. The position of the front Type-A ports is strange, almost anything you plug in is going to get in the way of your mouse hand.
I confirmed that both the HDMI and mini DisplayPort outputs were connected directly to the Nvidia graphics, the Type-C port does not have display output.
MSI lists the HDMI port as supporting 4K 30Hz, but mine ran fine at 60Hz. The back just has a couple of air exhaust vents towards the corners with Leopard text in the center, while the front has some status LEDs in the middle. On the lid there’s an MSI logo in the center which gets lit up from the screen’s backlight, so it cannot be controlled.
Underneath there are plenty of air ventilation holes towards the back half of the machine, a stark contrast when compared to the TUF A15. Getting inside involves taking out 12 phillips head screws of the same size, it wasn’t too hard to open, but I did have to pry around the entire perimeter. Inside we’ve got the battery right up the back with the heatpipes, which is why it’s more back heavy. There are two memory slots and a single M.2 slot despite there being space for a second there’s no connector.
There’s a spot for a 2.5” drive bay but mine didn’t come with a cable or mounting hardware to install one. It’s also worth noting MSI are using slower DDR4-2666 memory here, while Intel 10th gen supports 2933, so you could potentially get a little speed boost by upgrading or tweaking speeds in BIOS.
The speakers are found down the front to the left and right. They didn’t sound very good, they were tinny with no bass, a bit high pitch sounding and muffled. They get loud enough at maximum volume, and the latencymon results looked good.
This laptop is powered by a 6-cell 51Wh battery. I’ve tested with the screen brightness at 50%, background apps disabled and keyboard lighting off. The results while gaming were just over an hour and similar to others, while the YouTube playback test was 4 and a half hours and below some alternatives with similar battery sizes.
Next let’s get into the thermal testing. The Dragon Center software lets you select between different performance modes, which from lowest to highest are silent, balanced and extreme performance. You’ve got the option of overclocking the GPU in extreme performance mode, however no overclock is applied by default. You can also toggle coolerboost here, which sets the fan to max speed, however there is some manual customization that can be done to CPU or GPU fan.
There’s also no undervolting done out of the box, and by default it’s disabled, however if you boot into the BIOS and then press
Right SHift + Right Control + Left Alt + F2 you’ll be able to enable undervolting, as well as a ton of other options, so be careful and only change what you understand.
Thermals were tested with a 21 degree Celsius ambient room temperature. Idle results down the bottom were good. Worst case stress tests were done with the Aida64 CPU stress test with CPU only checked and the Heaven benchmark at max settings at the same time, and gaming was tested with Watch Dogs 2 as I find it to use a good combination of processor and graphics. The CPU would thermal throttle at 95 degrees celsius, which was happening in all stress tests with the exception of the cooling pad, and was also happening while gaming in silent mode.
The GPU was also thermal throttling at 86 degrees Celsius in silent mode, but that’s fine given it’s meant to be a quieter mode, so kind of expected. The cooling pad was making the biggest improvement to thermals, likely due to that huge air vent underneath the machine.
These are the clock speeds in the same tests. The GPU doesn’t really change outside of silent mode as it’s no longer thermal throttling. Otherwise balanced and extreme modes perform similarly until we apply the undervolt which gave us the next biggest boost to performance. This is because of the power limits, while under combined CPU and GPU loads like these, PL1 never seemed to rise above 45 watts, and this was despite software reporting PL1 as 200, so I wasn’t able to boost this. Interestingly the GPU wasn’t constantly running at its full 115 watt limit, though it would spike to it and on average it wasn’t far behind.
Here’s how an actual game performs with these different modes in use so even the lowest silent mode still does quite well here comparatively, while overclocking the GPU, undervolting the CPU and using a cooling pad got us a 7% boost. When we look at CPU only performance, silent and balanced modes still have a 45 watt cap, however with the GPU idle extreme mode is able to go up to 62 watts now.
The undervolt was required in order to reach the full 4.3GHz all core turbo boost speed of the 10750H processor, and while the undervolt didn’t help improve temperatures here as the power in use didn’t change, the cooling pad did help a bit Here’s how the different modes perform in Cinebench I suppose this test isn’t as demanding as the stress test previously, as we’re now getting similar scores in extreme mode as to using the undervolt or cooling pad.
This is how the score stacks up against other options so getting beaten by cheaper Ryzen 5 4600H laptops, if processing power is your preference you might want to look there.
As for the external temperatures where you’ll actually be putting your hands, at idle it was hardly getting to 30 degrees at the warmest points, an average result. With the stress tests running in silent mode it’s getting up to 50 in the center, but if you recall the fans are quiet now and the internals are at the hottest point, it felt warm but not hot to the touch. In balanced mode the fan speed increases though we’re seeing similar temperatures. In extreme mode with coolerboost it’s still similar, again just warm in the middle but not hot.It was silent at idle, with the stress tests going in silent mode it was on the quieter side, which explains the GPU thermal throttling noted earlier, but does at least mean you have the option of gaming well enough with a quieter machine. Balanced mode was notably louder, then you’ll probably want headphones for extreme performance mode with coolerboost.
Let’s also take a look at how this new 115 watt RTX 2060 compares with other laptops in games, use these results as a rough guide only as they were tested at different times with different drivers.
In Battlefield 5 I’ve got the GL65 highlighted in red. The average frame rate is right on par with the ASUS Scar III which has the higher tier RTX 2070 graphics, though MSI’s own GE65 with 90 watt 2060 is doing better just above it, particularly in terms of 1% low performance, though that model does apply a GPU overclock out of the box, so we could probably boost performance by doing that.
These are the results from Far Cry 5 with ultra settings in the built in benchmark. The GL65 was once more quite close to the 2070 in the Scar III, though many other 2070 laptops of same power limit were able to do better - either way though the 115 watt 2060 isn’t that far behind them.
These are the results from Shadow of the Tomb raider with the built in benchmark at highest settings. Many of the other lower wattage 2060s like the Triton 500 or Scar II are around 10 FPS lower, so this more powerful 2060 does have an edge over most of those older ones. The exception seems to be MSI’s GE65 again, which was just 1 FPS lower with the 90 watt variant, but again as mentioned that laptop is overclocked by default.
If you’re after more gaming benchmarks check out MSI GL65 20 Game Test where I’ve tested 20 games in total on this machine.
Now for the benchmarking tools, I’ve tested Heaven, Valley, and Superposition from Unigine, as well as Firestrike, Timespy and Port Royal from 3DMark. I’ve used Adobe Premiere to export video at 4K, and the GL65 was doing ok compared to others, though the lower specced Y540 was completing it faster. I’ve also tested Premiere but with the Puget systems benchmark which also accounts for things like live playback rather than just export times, this time the GL65 was ahead of the Y540. The results were on the lower side in Photoshop, at least when you consider the hardware compared to other options. Davinci Resolve was doing better than the last couple, presumably as this is a more GPU bound test, though that said lower wattage GPUs like the 1660 Ti in the TUF A15 were ahead. I’ve also tested SPECviewperf which tests out various professional 3D workloads. I’ve used the OpenVR benchmark to test the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite and the GL65 was doing fairly well here, really only the bottom two machines struggled to play Half Life Alyx, so I’d expect these specs to do well enough in most VR games.
I’ve used Crystal Disk Mark to test the storage. The 512GB NVMe M.2 SSD was doing alright, but this may vary by region based on what storage is being used. The SD card slot was on the slower side, but better than not having one at all, the SD card does click in most of the way into the laptop at least.
In the US the GL65 with similar specs is going for around $1300 USD, though there are cheaper options too. Here in Australia we’re looking at about $2700 AUD for the same configuration I’ve tested here. With all of that in mind let’s conclude by summarising the good and bad aspects of the MSI GL65 gaming laptop to help you decide if it’s worthwhile.
Overall the GL65 is a decent gaming laptop, the metal build sets it aside from many of MSI’s other plastic models, and although there was still some chassis flex present, I had to go out of my way to notice it.
The performance from the 115 watt 2060 was fair, typically beating many 90 watt options, but for the price compared to those lower specced options, it’s hard to say whether it’s worth paying more for as prices vary. For instance at $1300 USD, I’d be fine saving $100 or more on another model that had a 90 watt 2060, but that’s me, the difference in practice isn’t too big.
The GL65 could run on the warmer side depending on the workload, but as we’ve seen there are different performance modes and fan speed controls to adjust this, plus it’s good MSI is allowing us the option to undervolt in the BIOS, as many 10th gen laptops have locked this.
Big improvements were also possible from a stand or cooling pad thanks to the large mesh bottom. We’re able to surpass 4.1GHz all core turbo boost speed on the i7 under heavy workloads which I think is fair with some easy tweaks, while also running below 90 degrees. It would have been good to have the second connector for the M.2 slot, there’s space physically available, it seems like MSI are reusing the same motherboard and segmenting their products based on price and features, and if a bunch of space is going to be set aside for a 2.5” drive it would be good to have the necessary parts to install included.
Battery life wasn’t amazing, but the battery was on the smaller size. The speakers weren’t great, port selection was reasonable, but having the two USB ports right at the front on the right hand side wasn’t optimal even if I can see why they had to do it.
The keyboard and touchpad were decent, no problems there, and the screen was above average for a gaming laptop, good 5ms response time with the default overdrive enabled, above average brightness, good colour gamut, no noticeable bleed, the only downside was the lowest contrast. When it comes down to it, the features that are actually important for playing games and having a good experience are quite good with this laptop, it just comes down to pricing and how others compare.
Let me know what you thought about MSI’s GL65 gaming laptop down in the comments.