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MSI GS65 Stealth Thin review: A gaming laptop that does split-personality with style

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MSI's snazzy GS65 Stealth Thin does a nice job of balancing the two personalities of the adult nonprofessional gamer. It delivers decent gaming performance for FPS' and platformers, complemented by a stylish but acceptably businesslike design, with a relatively comfortable keyboard and usable (for a gaming laptop) touchpad. It's not a cheap system, but at least it lives up to its price -- it looks, feels and performs as you'd expect for the money.

MSI GS65
8.5

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

The Good

The MSI GS65 Stealth Thin 8RF has a slim, attractive design with a thin-bezel display that doesn't scream "I game!" and doesn't weigh a ton. It doesn't sacrifice any connections and delivers solid performance, a better-than-average display and decent battery life for its class.

The Bad

The keyboard keycaps are a bit slippery, and it can get pretty hot when running at maximum power or get loud when unleashing the fans to compensate.

The Bottom Line

A great laptop for the gamer who's all business during the day and all RPG at night, the MSI GS65 Stealth Thin 8RF balances both sides of you with aplomb.

The laptop comes in variations of two base configurations: the 8RF, with a GTX 1070, and the 8RE with a 1060. The naming is slightly different in the US where the models go by THIN-051, THIN-053 and so on, but they still use the 8Rx identifier. They've all got an Intel Core i7-8750H on the inside, can be configured with up to 2TB (in various combinations) of solid state storage and 32GB of RAM. Prices for the GS65 start at $1,800, £1,890 and AU$2,800.

I'm not a big fan of 1060 Max-Q configurations; GPU performance is usually slower in a Max-Q design than a standard one, so a 1060 feels a little slower to me than the 1070 and not worth the typically small price differential unless your budget is really tight (or the price difference is substantial). 

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

Price as reviewed $1,999, £2389.97 (32GB), AU$3,500
Display size/resolution 15 inches; 1,920x1,080; 144Hz refresh IPS
PC CPU 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-8750H
PC memory 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,666MHz
Graphics 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 Max-Q design
Storage 512GB SSD
Ports 3 x USB 3.0 Type-A, 1 x USB-C/Thunderbolt, 1 x HDMI 2.0, 1 x mDP 1.2, 1 x headphone, 1 x mic
Networking Killer E2500 Ethernet, 802.11ac 2x2, Bluetooth 5
Operating system Windows 10 Home (64-bit)
Weight 4.1 lbs./1.9kg

The GS65 is one of the trendsetters incorporating a 144Hz, thin-bezel display into 15-inch gaming laptops, and it has some of the slimmest bezels we've seen; about the same as the Razer Blade (2018) but smaller than the Asus ROG Zephyrus M GM501 (2018) and Digital Storm Equinox, just to name a few recent models. Combined with Nvidia's Max-Q design for its 10-series GPUs, we're seeing a lot more of these thin, relatively light and mainstream-looking laptops. 

Though the thin metal used in the chassis makes it seem somewhat delicate, it's pretty sturdy, with little give in the display and keyboard. The hinges are only on the sides but there's good tension, holding it at whatever angle you prefer to lean it.  The brown and copper, all-metal body is a nice change from other gaming laptops. While it's vented all over, the grilles look interesting rather than gaming-flashy. A small cutout where the webcam lives also provides a slight lip which makes it easy to open the lid with one hand.

All the ports are on the sides, none on the back, but there are a decent number of all the right ones given the thinness of the laptop.

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin games with slim style

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The new normal 

The 144Hz, 1,920x1,080 IPS display, which you'll see as an option in many of the recent gaming laptops, is better than the traditional gaming-laptop display, and MSI offers a lot more controls over settings than most. For instance, in addition to presets you can choose native, sRGB or Rec.709 color spaces; adjust white point, gamma, brightness and contrast; and tweak red, green and blue channels. 

There's also an option for hardware calibration using the X-Rite i1DisplayPro or one of the SpectraCal variants. Unfortunately, the installed X-Rite driver made the system unstable;  it had issues with going to and coming out of sleep and hibernation that went away once I uninstalled it, thanks to a driver hint delivered on the BSOD (Blue Screen of Death). And it's not just on this system: on our Digital Storm evaluation unit, the X-Rite driver repeatedly crashed the system after about an hour of gameplay. Unfortunately, X-Rite rarely updates its drivers.

The display covers 100 percent of sRGB as defined by the triangle formed by the red, green and blue primaries, but like most displays it has problems with cyan, so technically it measured at about 93 percent coverage. It doesn't get terribly bright -- it peaks at about 280 nits -- and the gamma does hit 2.2, but that's an average of values of an ugly curve.  

The white point is also a bit too high (about 7,800K in sRGB neutral). You can tweak the settings to get it closer to ideal, though. I'd take "factory calibrated" with a grain of salt, but it's fine for gaming, just not for photo editing or other color-accuracy-sensitive work.

For gaming, the SteelSeries keyboard is reasonably responsive, with no obvious ghosting or rollover issues. The keycaps are a bit too slippery and undifferentiated by feel when you're moving fast in both games and touch typing, though. You can program the per-key RGB lighting, but I missed having predefined zones for creating a quick base preset; the presets are really just for the pretty. And the touchpad isn't illuminated, which ranks high on my pet-peeve-o-meter.

You can link keyboard effects to specific games with the SteelSeries utility, and sync them with other SteelSeries-compatible peripherals, as well as Discord and audio. 

A hot topic

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Enlarge Image
msi-dragon-center-mobile-combo

The iOS version of the Dragon Dashboard.

Screenshots by Lori Grunin/CNET

All the Max-Q laptops generate a lot of heat. And in cases like the all-metal GS65, even if it doesn't overheat, the metal makes 109 degrees Fahrenheit /43 degrees Celsius feel even hotter. At max power, I had to quit Metro 2033 Redux, the Talos Principle -- even the short, torpid Marie's Room -- after an hour of gameplay (each).  The GPU frequently ran above 90 percent utilization, and I couldn't rest my left hand on the hot edge; at one point the Esc and W keys got surprisingly toasty (like s'mores-level toasty). That's despite -- or possibly because of -- the three fans and four heat pipes, venting heat out the sides.

Changing to Cooler Boost mode or Auto or dropping back one step on performance to compensate helps, but fans blowing like winded horses isn't one of the Max-Q selling points. You'll probably want to wear headphones, anyway, because the speakers are nothing special.

On the upside, all the heat gave me a reason to check out MSI's Dragon Dashboard, which helps you monitor and tune the system, as long as it's on the same network. The mobile app is pretty basic, but if you've set up the profiles in the Windows application it can be pretty handy. On iOS, at least, it disconnects every time you switch out, but it instantly reconnects when you switch back.

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Other capabilities in the main version of the Dragon Dashboard include Voiceboost, which automatically adjusts in-game chat volume in Discord, TeamSpeak, Skype/SkypeHost and Raidcall.

The GTX 1070 is more than up to the challenge of even the graphically intensive games at 1080p and high-quality settings. Connecting to a G-Sync monitor through the mDP worked properly, and for a gaming notebook, its six-hour battery life (on basic video streaming) is pretty good. We didn't see any obvious problems with tearing or other sync artifacts, and gameplay at high (but not best) settings was smooth and delivered reasonably high frame rates (usually in the 90-to-120fps zone) in games like Doom and Borderlands 2, without any optimization.

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Watch this: The MSI GS65 Stealth Thin's got game and panache

While its performance is generally middle of the pack vs. its competitors, it's a pretty tight pack. In the cases where it (and the others) lag behind the ROG Zephyrus GM501, the difference can likely be attributed to that system's configuration of 32GB of RAM, while the rest only have 16GB. Even then, it's not a huge gap -- at most, about 11 percent. 

Geekbench 4 (Multicore)

Asus ROG Zephyrus M GM501 (2018) 20,442Digital Storm Equinox 19,725MSI GS65 Stealth Thin 8RF 18,393Razer Blade (2018) 18,015Origin PC Evo 15-S (2017) 14,347
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

Streaming video playback battery-drain test

Razer Blade (2018) 473MSI GS65 Stealth Thin 8RF 372Digital Storm Equinox 247Asus ROG Zephyrus M GM501 (2018) 225Origin PC Evo 15-S (2017) 216
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)

3DMark Fire Strike Ultra

Asus ROG Zephyrus M GM501 (2018) 3,954Razer Blade (2018) 3,431Digital Storm Equinox 3,413MSI GS65 Stealth Thin 8RF 3,342Origin PC Evo 15-S (2017) 3,180
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R15 OpenGL

Razer Blade (2018) 113.2Digital Storm Equinox 113.1Asus ROG Zephyrus M GM501 (2018) 103.7MSI GS65 Stealth Thin 8RF 102.9Origin PC Evo 15-S (2017) 96.7
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance (FPS)

Cinebench R15 CPU (Multicore)

Asus ROG Zephyrus M GM501 (2018) 1,135Digital Storm Equinox 1,021MSI GS65 Stealth Thin 8RF 1,011Razer Blade (2018) 928Origin PC Evo 15-S (2017) 722
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

System configurations

Asus ROG Zephyrus M GM501 (2018) Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-8750H; 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,666MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070; 512GB SSD
Digital Storm Equinox Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-8750H; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,666MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 Max-Q; 500GB SSD
MSI GS65 Stealth Thin 8RF Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-8750H; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,666MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 Max-Q; 512GB SSD
Origin PC Evo15-S (2017) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,666MHz; 8GB Nvidia GTX 1080 Max-Q; 512GB SSD+2TB hybrid HDD
Razer Blade (2018) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-8750H; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,666MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 with Max-Q Design; 512GB SSD
MSI GS65
8.5

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 9Performance 8Battery 7