MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop?

JT JT 04 May 2020
MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop?

The MSI GS66 Stealth is a gaming laptop available with some powerful specs while still remaining on the thinner and sleeker side, let’s check it out in this detailed review and see what improvements they’ve made over the older GS65.

My GS66 is one of the highest specced options available, there’s an Intel i9-10980HK overclockable 8 core processor, Nvidia RTX 2080 Super Max-Q graphics, 32gb of memory in dual channel, though not running at the DDR4-2933 speeds 10th gen is capable of, a 1TB NVMe M.2 SSD, and a 15.6” 1080p 300Hz screen. MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop?For network connectivity it’s got 2.5 gigabit ethernet, WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5.

The GS66 is available with different specs though.MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop? The laptop is made out of aluminium on the lid, interior and bottom. The lid is a clean matte black, and same on the inside.MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop? The whole device is pretty much black with the exception of the silver MSI logo below the screen, which is too bad as even the last gen GS65 had that blacked out. MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop?There are no sharp corners or edges anywhere, and the front was actually plastic with a shiny finish along the edge. MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop?MSI list the weight of the GS66 as 2.1kg, though mine was closer to 2.2, and with the 230 watt power brick and cables for charging the total rises to 3.1kg.

The dimensions are on the slimmer side for a 15” gaming laptop, however it’s a couple of millimeters thicker than the older GS65, which I think was a good move as the chassis seems more solid as a result. MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop?This smaller footprint means the screen bezels are just 8mm thin on the sides.

The 15.6” 1080p 300Hz screen has a matte finish and viewing angles looked fine. Before tons of people comment that 300Hz is useless, it has its place for esports titles, and I’ve tested quite a few games that could hit 300 FPS without much trouble on it. I’ve seen demos of 240Hz and 300Hz side by side in games like CS:GO and Dota 2 and there is actually a noticeable difference. Don’t want it? No problem, there are other screen options like 240Hz or 144Hz available too.

There’s no G-Sync here, however there’s a MUX switch which lets you disable or enable Optimus, and MSI have advised me this is present in all configurations. MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop?This means we can use the Intel graphics outside of GPU intensive tasks for increased battery life, or after a reboot disable Optimus and only use the Nvidia GPU for improved gaming performance. G-Sync or advanced Optimus would have been icing on the cake, but having this is still a good option.

Speaking of new Nvidia features, there’s no Dynamic boost available here either.MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop? I’ve tested the screen with the Spyder 5, and got 96% of sRGB, 69% of NTSC, 74% of AdobeRGB and 74% of DCI-P3.

At 100% brightness I measured the panel at 299 nits in the center with a 1000:1 contrast ratio, so fair colour gamut, contrast ratio, and ok brightness. MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop?Expect different results with others like the 240Hz or 4K panels.

Backlight bleed was minimal to my eyes, it didn’t look too bad in this worst case scenario, but this will vary between laptop and panel.MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop? There was some screen flex when intentionally trying to move it, despite the metal build the lid isn’t too thick. The hinges felt quite sturdy though, they have a metal exterior and are found out towards the far corners. MSI noted that the hinges have been improved over previous models, which is good to see as many people have complained about their hinges in the past, however it’s difficult for me to say how the improvements will help without long term use. The laptop can be opened up easily with one finger, demonstrating an even weight distribution, and the screen can go back the full 180 degrees.

Despite the thinner bezels, the 720p camera is found above the display in the center, and it has IR for Windows Hello support which worked well. Even with the fan at low speed you can still hear it quite easily.

The keyboard has per key RGB backlighting which illuminates all keys and secondary key functions. MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop?There’s no numpad so it doesn’t feel cramped, and unlike the older GS65 the power button is found on the top right corner next to delete, so you might want to change the setting in Windows to prevent accidental presses triggering sleep, which is the default. Overall I enjoyed typing with the keyboard and didn’t find the key presses loud.

There are 4 levels of key brightness which can be adjusted either through software, or with the function and F10 and F11 shortcut keys. I did have an intermittent issue with the keyboard though, for about a day I wasn’t able to adjust the lighting, either through the steelseries software, or with the shortcut keys. Holding the function key usually lights up the keys that you can press, but that didn’t work either. Rebooting didn’t fix the issue, it just went away on its own after a day or so, but it would appear I’m not alone with this bug, so hopefully it gets resolved with an update.

Keyboard flex wasn’t too bad when intentionally pushing down hard, no issues during normal use, definitely an improvement over the older and slightly thinner GS65.

The precision touchpad physically clicks down anywhere when pressed. I found it to work pretty well with no issues to note. It’s quite wide, however my hands never came into contact with it while typing. Others have reported crap palm rejection, but that’s just not my experience at all. Even while typing if I intentionally start moving my hand over onto the touchpad to try and move it or click, my typing isn’t interrupted. Others have also mentioned an issue where if you press down between the touchpad and keyboard it triggers a click, however I did not experience this either.

The front facing speakers are found on the left and right corners, the gap is a little large and I can’t see any sort of filter so don’t dropping any crumbs in there I guess. MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop?I thought they sounded quite average quality-wise, however they did get very loud at maximum volume where there was some vibration in the wrist rest area, and the latencymon results looked good.

Fingerprints and dirt show up very easily due to the matte black metallic finish, and they needed a little extra effort to clean with a microfiber cloth despite the smooth surface. MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop?

On the left from the back there’s the power input, Type-C Thunderbolt 3 with 4 lanes plus Type-C charging, HDMI 2.0 output and USB 3.2 Gen2 Type-A port.MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop?On the right there’s a 3.5mm audio combo jack, second Type-C port, no Thunderbolt on this side just USB 3.2 Gen2 for this one but with DisplayPort support, two more USB 3.2 Gen2 Type-A ports, and 2.5 gigabit ethernet facing the preferred way, however as it’s close to the middle a cable may get in the way of your mouse hand. The HDMI port and Type-C ports are also wired directly to the Nvidia graphics.

MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop?The back just has air exhaust vents towards the corners, and there’s nothing on the front.

MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop?Underneath is pretty clean, with just some air intake vents towards the back, and there are rubber feet in the middle which would help reduce center chassis flex. The bottom panel can be removed taking out 9 Phillips head screws, and only the one down the front in the middle was smaller than the rest. I found the panel a little hard to remove, but was able to pry it off from around the back. MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop?Once inside we’ve got the large 99.9Wh battery down the bottom, then above that from left to right there’s the killer WiFi 6 card, two M.2 slots for storage, the left is PCIe only while the right supports PCIe or SATA and two memory slots. It’s also great that the motherboard isn’t upside down like the older GS65, making upgrades easier, however for some reason MSI are using slower DDR4-2666 memory in the GS66 when the Intel 10th gen supports DDR4-2933.

I’ve tested the difference this makes in the GS66, but the difference isn’t all that much on average.MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop? The 99.9Wh battery is basically the largest you can legally take on a plane. I’ve tested it with Optimus enabled, the screen brightness at 50%, background apps disabled and keyboard lighting off. MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop?With the screen at the default 300Hz speed it lasted for 5 and a half hours while watching YouTube. While playing the Witcher 3 with medium settings and Nvidia’s battery boost set to 30 FPS the battery lasted for an hour and 19 minutes. At this point the frame rate dipped to 13 FPS and was no longer usable despite having 27% charge remaining.

MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop?I’ve also run the same watching YouTube test with the screen set to 60Hz instead, and it lasted for 7 hours and 17 minutes with the slower refresh rate, so it can offer much better results with that simple change. I’ve also tested with Optimus disabled, where we just got 3 hours of battery life with only the Nvidia graphics in use. The dragon center software also lets you set the charge level too, so you can prolong battery life by not keeping it consistently at 100% charge if you’re always plugged in.

As mentioned, the GS66 also has Type-C charging through the Thunderbolt port on the left hand side, so you could use this with a smaller Type-C charger when travelling instead of the larger 230 watt power brick, so long as you aren’t doing resource heavy workloads.

I’ll just summarise the thermals. The MSI Dragon Center software lets you select different performance modes, which from lowest to highest are silent, balanced and extreme performance. Only extreme performance lets you enable coolerboost, which sets the fan to maximum speed, and user mode gives you some basic fan adjustment. Extreme mode also applies a GPU overclock, which can be adjusted here. I’ll note that my software seemed buggy and didn’t properly apply this, so I manually used MSI Afterburner instead and set the same OC for all testing in extreme mode.

By default undervolting is disabled, however you can either do it through the advanced BIOS, or preferably via XTU or throttlestop software once enabling it through the BIOS. Just press Right Shift + Right Control + Left Alt + F2 in the BIOS to enable the advanced options, but note there are plenty of options in here that could brick your machine if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Inside there are 7 heatpipes in total, 2 shared between the CPU and GPU with 3 fans, and in addition to coming up from underneath, air also gets pulled in through the vents above the keyboard. Thermals were tested with a 21 degree Celsius ambient room temperature. Idle results down the bottom were on the warmer side but no real issue with that.MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop? 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, however we could remove this simply by boosting fan speed with coolerboost mode. In the game tests, undervolting and using a cooling pad helped further, and I didn’t see that much worse results with the lid closed.

Clock speeds were looking pretty good in these tests, again remember the CPU results in the blue bars are averaged over 8 cores with the i9, so reaching 4.4GHz in the game test and 4.3GHz in the stress test are pretty good results.MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop? Given the all core turbo of the i9 is barely being hit, there’s no point trying to overclock for these tests, however MSI seem to set the all core boost speed to 5.3GHz anyway.

Outside of silent mode, the 2080 Super Max-Q had no issues running at its 80 watt limit, and the CPU would only hit power limit throttling around the 55 to 60 watt mark, it varied dynamically based on thermals and I couldn’t adjust it with software.

Here’s how CPU only performance looked in Cinebench with the different modes in useMSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop? so that basic not tuned in the slightest undervolt at the top allows us to boost the multicore score by 11%.

Here’s how the GS66 stacks up against other 8 core laptops I’ve tested. MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop?Interestingly it’s only just ahead of the Aero 17 below it with 8 core i7 despite the Aero not supporting undervolting, and this is because the Aero 17 could run this workload at 95 to 100 watts. It’s also slightly ahead of the 4900HS in the ASUS G14, though that runs at 35 watts in a smaller machine and it does win in single core.

As for the external temperatures where you’ll actually be putting your hands, at idle it was in the mid 30s, a little warmer than many other laptops tested but no issue. MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop?With the stress tests running in silent mode the center was actually hot to the touch and I’d say WASD was starting to feel uncomfortable here. MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop?In balanced mode it’s performing better and also cooler in the center now due to higher fan speed.MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop? Extreme mode seemed the same as balanced, which makes sense given it performed equivalently.MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop? With cooler boost mode the wrist rests felt cool now, only the middle was warmMSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop? so despite it being a metal machine which usually means it easily conducts heat, it felt pretty cool now, though as we'll hear next the fan is quite loud to achieve this.

The fans were only just audible in silent mode, but they would spin up ever so slightly from time to time, and I did notice a very small amount of coil whine when the fans were quiet. With the stress tests in the same silent mode it’s still on the quieter side.

Both balanced and extreme modes were about the same, then coolerboost is about 10 decibels louder and is quite loud. Although max fan speed is loud, I see this as an advantage, you’re not locked to a lower fan speed and hotter machine, the user has some control.

Next let’s find out just how well the GS66 actually performs in games. I’ve tested with extreme performance mode and coolerboost enabled for best results, and just as a reminder this does apply an overclock to the GPU.MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop? In Battlefield 5 I’ve got the GS66 highlighted in red near similarly specced machines. In this test the 1% low is one of the best out of this selection of laptops, while the average FPS is second best here. It’s very close to the Triton 500 just below it though, and although that has the non Super 2080 Max-Q graphics, it does gain a benefit by being the 90 watt variant, the GS66 runs the GPU at 80 watts.

These are the results from Far Cry 5 with ultra settings in the built in benchmark.MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop? This time the average FPS is only a little behind the much more powerful 180 watt 2080 in the Triton 900 just above it, but interestingly also a little behind the 2080 Max-Q and i7 in the Triton 500. The 1% lows are still higher when compared to most other laptops tested, and either way this is still one of the best results out of the laptops I’ve covered.

These are the results from Shadow of the Tomb raider with the built in benchmark at highest settings.MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop? This time the GS66 was outperforming the higher wattage 2080 Max-Q in the Triton 500 once more, however it’s still about 10 FPS behind the 180 watt 2080 in the Triton 900 above it. 

Overall the gaming performance from the MSI GS66 is quite impressive, especially when we consider that it’s got a lower powered 80 watt RTX 2080 Super Max-Q rather than say the 90 watt limit that others will have. Keep in mind that I’ve got the highest CPU and GPU options available in my GS66, so expect lower results with lower specced models, this is kind of a best case.

That said, the GS66 does allow you to disable optimus, so there will be a nice speed boost in many games as a result of that, and as we saw, it’s possible to get some extra performance with faster memory.MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop?

I’ve used Adobe Premiere to export video at 4K, and I’ve done this with Optimus enabled as this test can utilize Quicksync. MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop?The GS66 with these specs gave me the fastest export time so far, granted there’s diminishing returns once you have a 1660 Ti.

I’ve also tested SPECviewperf which tests out various professional 3D workloads.MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop? I’ve used Crystal Disk Mark to test the storage, and the 1TB NVMe M.2 drive was performing quite well, but expect different results with different storage options. MSI GS66 Review - Best Thin And Powerful Gaming Laptop?

In the US the GS66 with the same specs I’ve tested here is $3000 USD, however there are much more reasonable specs for almost half the price too. Here in Australia we’re looking at a fair bit of money, however they’ve only got the higher end GPU options at pccasegear for now.

With all of that in mind let’s conclude by summarising the good and bad aspects of the GS66 gaming laptop. I thought the muted black design was quite clean, it’s personal preference but I prefer it over the gold trimmed GS65, though it would have been nice to also have the white MSI logo below the screen blacked out too. It’s all metal and feels quite solid, another advantage over the slightly thinner GS65, however the matte finish makes it quite the fingerprint magnet.

Speaking of improvements over the GS65, not having the motherboard flipped was a welcome change, all upgrades are now much easier. The large battery is also welcome, and it was possible to improve the performance a fair bit by lowering the refresh rate.

The GS66 has a nice I/O selection, there’s Thunderbolt 3 with Type-C charging, and all USB ports are 3.2 Gen2, no slower Gen1 in sight. The ethernet port is 2.5 gigabit, however a cable could get in the way of your mouse hand.

While it’s nice that MSI have added the option to disable Optimus after a reboot, it would have been preferable for them to take advantage of Nvidia’s new advanced optimus feature. It also would have been good to have G-Sync included at the price point given one of the requirements to do it is that direct connection from the display to the Nvidia graphics, which the GS66 has. The option of disabling optimus when combined with the higher end specs and GPU overclock in extreme mode gave us excellent gaming performance, other applications like Adobe Premiere also performed very well, the GS66 is currently the fastest laptop I’ve tested there.

 The GS66 can run hot to achieve this though, which is expected with an 8 core Intel i9 processor and RTX 2080 Super max-q graphics in a thinner body. That said, it was possible to remove thermal throttling by boosting fan speed, plus there are other modifications we can do to improve temperatures like using a cooling pad or undervolting. It’s also good that undervolting is at least possible, even if it’s tucked away in the advanced BIOS, other 10th gen machines I’ve tested just have it completely disabled.

The 300Hz screen would only be beneficial in esports titles at lower settings, so if you don’t want that then you might be able to save some money getting a 240Hz or 144Hz screen instead. Otherwise in terms of colours and brightness, the 300Hz panel was pretty average for a modern gaming laptop and bleed was fine. Given you’d want every drop of performance you can get for that high refresh rate panel, I found it strange that MSI are selling it with DDR4-2666 memory despite the 10th gen platform supporting faster, perhaps there are shortages of faster memory? Yeah on average it didn’t make that much of a difference, but as a seemingly more premium positioned laptop I’d expect the best like others are offering.

All things considered, the GS66 looks like a nice improvement over the GS65 in my opinion. You’re definitely paying a bit more for it due to the extra features, but there are some nice extras on offer that others are missing. If there weren’t other products with OLED screens and SD card slots, I could almost see myself buying this for content creation, but for what it’s designed to do, gaming, it performs quite nicely. Let me know what you thought about the MSI GS66 gaming laptop down in the comments.

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