Say hello to my skinny friend. At a mere 4.1 pounds and 0.7 inches thick (reviewed at $1,999, or $1,799 starting), MSI's GS65 Stealth Thin is one of the company's slimmest gaming laptops to date. It's also one of the first gaming systems to feature Intel's 8th gen, six-core Coffee Lake processor, which promises 20 percent more performance than its predecessor, making this model a good system for productivity.
But MSI hasn't skimped on the gaming power, cramming a VR-ready Nvidia GeForce 1070 Max-Q GPU into that slim chassis and all but guaranteeing the notebook will deliver high frame rates and smooth virtual reality experience -- all in an unbelievably pretty frame. We wish this machine ran cooler, but overall the MSI GS65 Stealth is one of the best gaming laptops you can buy for those who value portability.
Editors' Note: MSI is now selling a new version of the GS65 Stealth (opens in new tab), an upgraded model with a 9th Gen Intel processor, Nvidia RTX 2070 graphics and 240Hz display. We will be reviewing this laptop soon.
Design: The Golden Touch
Adorned with gold accents and beautiful without being ostentatious, the Stealth Thin is the Bond girl of gaming laptops. The entirety of the laptop's chassis is made from black, matte sandblasted aluminum alloy. Instead of the usual backlit red-and-white dragon sigil logo, MSI employs a little Midas touch, replacing it with a printed black-and-gold emblem. A thin, diamond-cut golden strip lines the top of the lid. The company also added some gold to the side vents for an elegant flash of color.
Since it's designed for work and play, MSI equipped the Stealth with a flexible hinge that allows you to lay the display flat, just in case you need to do a quick collaboration. Pressing Ctrl + Alt + Down Arrow will flip the screen orientation 180 degrees to provide a better view for the person sitting across from you.
The interior of the laptop is stately, with more black aluminum. The power button and touchpad are lined in gold, with a glowing, gilded keyboard. While I'm a fan of the overall look, my favorite part of the interior is the top-mounted vent, with its delicate floral designs.
While the Strealth's frame is definitely thin, it still has plenty of ports. On the right sits a USB 3.1 Type-A port, Thunderbolt 3, a Mini DisplayPort, HDMI and the power jack. You'll find a pair of USB 3.1 Type-A ports, Gigabit Ethernet, a secure lock slot, a microphone jack and a S/PDIF jack for high-res audio.
So, just how slim is the Stealth Thin? Extremely. At 14.1 x 9.8 x 0.7 inches, the 4.1-pound laptop is one of the slimmest gaming laptops on the market. The 5.5-pound Asus Zephyrus ROG M GM501 is a close second, with a 15.1 x 10.3 x 0.7~0.8-inch frame. The PowerSpec 1510 is on the heavier side of the equation at 6.5 pounds, 15.3 x 10.8 x 1.3 inches and the Alienware 15 R3 is the thickest and heaviest of the bunch at 7.4 pounds and 15.3 x 12 x 1 inches.
MSI GS65 Stealth Thin price and configurations
The MSI GS65 Stealth starts at $1,799, which includes a Core i7-8750H CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 256GB M.2 SSD and a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Max-Q GPU with 6GB of VRAM.
I felt like the belle of the ball reviewing the $1,999 model of the MSI GS65 Stealth Thin, which has a 3.9-GHz, six-core Intel Core i7-8750H processor, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB M.2 SSD and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 Max-Q GPU with 8GB of RAM.
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Want more storage? MSI has a $2,999 iteration that doubles the RAM and SSD capacity to 32GB and 1TB, respectively, in a Super RAID 4 configuration.
The Stealth's 15.6-inch display only comes in 1920 x 1080 resolution. But while I wished for a QHD or 4K version, I appreciated the 144-Hertz refresh rate, which should help cut down on screen tears and latency. I also marveled over the incredibly vivid hues, like the pink and green neon holographic controls in the Tears of Steel short. Details were sharp enough that I could see the individual scales in a snakeskin jacket as well as the dirt and grime that settled into the cracks and crevices of the well-worn red garment.
I scoured the countryside in search of a rampaging griffin in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, but took some time to stop and smell the hellebores. As I stopped to pick the potion ingredient, I noticed a large bloodstain in the clearing up ahead and several gore-soaked bones -- a calling card of my prey.
So much vibrancy! The Stealth can reproduce 150 percent of the sRGB color gamut -- an achievement that beats not only the 141 percent average, but also the Zephyrus (120 percent), the Alienware 15 (114 percent) and the 1510 (113 percent).
The Stealth's panel averaged 293 nits when we measured for brightness, topping the 288-nit premium gaming score. That's brighter than the Zephyrus (286 nits), but nowhere near the 1510 (306 nits) nor Alienware 15 (374 nits).
Wow. These. Speakers. Kick. Ass. While I typically detest bottom-mounted speakers, the pair on the Stealth are actually very good. As I listened to Janelle Monae's "Make Me Feel," I was impressed by how loud the system actually was. It filled my bedroom with sharp percussion, clean synths, feisty guitar and Monae's mewling, sex-kitten vocal.
The forest in Witcher 3 was quiet, save for the wind and the slight swoosh from the grass as I tracked the trail. A shrill call from a bird overhead broke the otherwise bucolic sounds of nature. A few seconds later, I heard a heavy beating of wings and an unearthly roar. The tambourines and violins of the familiar Witcher fight music swelled to life and punctated the meaty thud of silver sinking into flesh.
Nahimic and MSI continue to make beautiful music with the third iteration of the former's audio software. The retooled software keeps it simple, getting rid of its myriad presets, going instead with Music, Movie, Communication and Gaming. Depending on the preset, you can adjust the bass, treble or voice. There's even a Volume Stabilizer to keep your music from disturbing the people around you. The best part of the new software is the Surround Sound effect, which adds noticeable depth to anything you're listening to, giving the illusion that you're in a small concert hall.
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Nahimic also adds static noise suppression and echo cancellation to the microphone settings. You also have Lateral Sound Cancellation, which means the mic will only record what's directly in front of it. The company kept the Sound Tracker feature, which gives you a visual representation of in-game sound, showing you which direction the noise is coming from. The feature is currently compatible with 70 games, including Witcher 3, Rise of the Tomb Raider, World of Tanks and Wolfenstein: The New Order.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Normally, with a laptop this slim, the keyboard keys are somewhat shallow. Not so with the Stealth. Despite coming up short with what we like to see for key travel (1.4 millimeters instead of 1.5 to 2 mm), the island-style keys have a strong, 77-gram force actuation. As a result, the keys are surprisingly springy, and I hit my usual 70 words per minute on the 10fastfingers typing test.
While I appreciate the 24K magic MSI has going with the keyboard, I'm glad to see that the company is still working with SteelSeries to deliver 16.7 million colors in its SteelSeries Engine software. That way, I can create my own custom, jewel-toned color scheme, because what's gold without a few gems? And since each key has its own individual lighting, you can get as granular as you want and pick colors and effects for each and every key.
In addition to making the keyboard look purty, SteelSeries Engine 3 software allows you to create macros. And once you're done customizing and programming, you can also set what applications will launch with your new configuration.
Gaming, Graphics and VR
So slim and incredibly powerful. The Stealth is packing an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 Max-Q GPU with 8GB of VRAM. Sitting snugly between a regular GTX 1070 and 1080, the GPU is powerful enough to deliver good frame rates at the highest settings as well as support VR. However, thanks to its focus on power efficiency and consumption, the system runs more quietly and at a cooler temperature than regular systems.
My griffin battle in Witcher 3 was tense. I was constantly rolling out of the way to avoid an airborne beast's razor-sharp talons. When it finally landed, I hit it with my Axii spell long enough to stun it and chop away at its breast. The Max-Q GPU never faltered, rendering the action at 54 frames per second on Ultra at 1080p.
When we ran the Rise of the Tomb Raider benchmark (very high, 1080p), the Stealth delivered 44 fps, which sailed past our 30-fps playability threshold. However, it missed the 57-fps premium gaming average and the 1510, Zephyrus and Alienware 15's (GTX 1070) results of 56, 53 and 52 fps, respectively.
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On the Hitman test, the Stealth obtained 79 fps, which is a frame short of the 80-fps category average, but enough to clobber the 1510's 60 fps. The Zephyrus notched 87 fps, while the Alienware 15 achieved 98 fps.
During the Grand Theft Auto V test, the Stealth produced 61 fps, missing the 67-fps average. Still, it managed to sneak past the 1510, which scored 60 fps. The Alienware 15 hit 68 fps, while the Zephyrus delivered 70 fps.
The Stealth fared pretty well on the SteamVR test, scoring 9.5, placing it in the very high quadrant, which is a bit below the 10.5 average. The Zephyrus (10.9) posted a slightly higher score, while the 1510 and Alienware 15 maxed out at 11.
The Stealth Thin is one of the first gaming laptops to launch with Intel's new 8th Gen Coffee Lake processor. One of the biggest improvements is that these new chips have six cores instead of four, which deliver more performance than the previous generation.
All that new power definitely showed as I watched an episode of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy on Netflix while running Windows Defender with 25 tabs open in Google Chrome. The Stealth's 3.9-GHz Intel Core i7-8750H processor with 16GB of RAM brushed off the task, showing no latency.
The laptop also performed well on our synthetic tests, scoring 17,184 on Geekbench 4, easily surpassing the 15,942 premium gaming average. The Zephyrus, which has its own Core i7-8750H CPU, notched an impressive 20,590, while the Alienware 15 (Core i7-7820HK CPU) hit 14,932, and the 1510 (Core i7-7700HQ) delivered 14,223.
During the Handbrake test, the Stealth took 12 minutes and 1 second to transcode a 4K video to 1080p. That's faster than the 14:10 category average and the 1510's 14:00. Still, it was no match for the Zephyrus, which finished in 9:43.
The Stealth's 512GB M.2 SSD produced a transfer rate of 193.3 megabytes per second when duplicating a 4.97GB mixed-media file. The score is well below the 640.5-MBps premium gaming laptop average. The Alienware 15 (512GB PCIe SSD) got a result of 299.3 MBps, while the 1510 (256GB NVMe SSD) produced a rate of 391.5 MBps.
Usually, on a gaming laptop, you have to trade power for battery life. Not so with the Stealth. Thanks to that power-efficient GPU, the system lasted an extraordinary 5 hours and 40 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which consists of continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness, shattering the 3:49 premium gaming laptop average. The Zephyrus tapped out after 2:47.
I went questing in Witcher 3 for 15 minutes. When I was done, I took the Stealth's temperature in three strategic places. The touchpad measured 82 degrees Fahrenheit, while the center reached 101, which is warmer than our 95-degree comfort threshold. But the center of the laptop's bottom was even hotter, at 122 degrees.
MSI retooled its last-gen fans for the Stealth with thinner fan blades and added five heat pipes instead of three. That meant when the fans turned on during my Witcher romp, they were relatively quiet. However, there was a noticeable, but low, whistle when the fans initially kicked in.
We measured those spots again once everything cooled down, but this time, after 15 minutes of running an HD video. The touchpad and middle of the keyboard measured 87 and 94 degrees, respectively, while the bottom hit a rather warm 102 degrees.
Take note, Dell and Gigabyte. You can have a "barely there" bezel without placing the webcam in an unfortunate position. With the lens placed at the top of the bezel instead of below the screen, you don't have to worry about giving people an up-close-and-personal shot up your nose when video conferencing.
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Still, because this is a relatively expensive laptop, I wish MSI would have put in a webcam with a higher resolution than 720p. The test shots I took in my bedroom washed out most of the color, including my bright-orange shirt, which looked pale in comparison to the actual article. The image had little to no detail, thanks to the intense visual noise. It looked like I had a serious Instagram filter going instead of an actual pic.
Software and Warranty
MSI has a solid suite of gaming utilities to optimize your overall experience. Resembling a futuristic cockpit, the new Dragon Center is where you'll check your notebook's diagnostics via System Monitoring. It's also where you can tweak power settings with System Tuner and adjust in-chat voice settings with Voice Boost. You can also access system apps including Battery Calibration and Burn Recovery. There's even a button to free up some memory.
The laptop also features the System Control Manager (SCM), where you can toggle Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Webcam and the Display on and off as well as adjust the volume and brightness. Speaking of the display, MSI True Color lets you adjust the color temperature so you can get the best viewing experience, depending on your environment.
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Not enough utilities? Then check out Nvidia GeForce Experience, which offers Battery Calibration, Game Optimization and WhisperMode, which will help the system run even quieter. Players looking to livestream the action can take advantage of XSplit Gamecaster. MSI also includes Killer Control Center, which examines all open programs and assigns more bandwidth to data-intensive software instead of making all system processes share software equally.
Unfortunately, as with all Windows laptops, the Stealth has a bit of bloatware, including Bubble Witch Saga 3, LinkedIn, Evernote, CyberLink PowerDirector 14, CyberLink PowerDirector 8, Music Maker Jam, Spotify, March of Empires and a 30-day free trial of Dolby Atmos for Headphones via Dolby Access.
The MSI GS65 Stealth Thin comes with a one-year limited warranty. Check to see how MSI fared in our Tech Support Showdown and Best and Worst Gaming Brands special reports.
Some gamers don't want a system that doesn't light up like a techie disco ball. They're looking for something that performs like a gaming laptop but looks like a business notebook. For them, and kidults like me, there's the MSI GS65 Stealth Thin.
For $1,999, you get a laptop with powerful gaming and overall performance, excellent audio and a comfortable, customizable keyboard. However, if you're looking for something with a bit more oomph and want to keep things fairly slim, check out the $2,199 Asus ROG Zephyrus, which has similar specs, but a dimmer display and a thicker, heavier chassis. But if you're looking for a slim, sophisticated laptop that kicks ass when gaming or crunching numbers, the MSI GS65 Stealth Pro is a great choice.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/Laptop Mag