Review: MSI GS65 Stealth Thin 8RE Gaming Laptop
One of the most competitive markets in PC gaming is the gaming laptop space. Some of the biggest names in the enthusiast hardware market are releasing excellent platforms for gamers-on-the-go, so it really takes something special to stand out from the crowd. It looks like MSI has a contender on its hands with its GS65 Stealth Thin.
MSI’s GS65 Stealth Thin (hereafter referred to as just the “GS65”) has a clear focus on a luxury aesthetic. In addition to the stylistic flare of the chassis, the laptop features a full RGB keyboard designed in conjunction with Steelseries.
It’s no slouch in the spec department either. It’s one of the few gaming laptops on the market with a 144hz display panel, and is backed up by plenty of RAM, an 8th generation Core i7, and an Nvidia 10-series GPU.
There are two version of the GS65: The 8RF, which has slightly higher specs, including a GTX 1070, and the 8RE version we have here that’s packing a 1060. The GPU is the biggest difference, though there are some variations in RAM and storage capacities as well.
As far as standard features go, the GS65 checks every box a laptop gamer would be looking for.
For its display, the GS65 uses a 15.6” 144hz IPS panel, which delivers an ultra-smooth gaming experience. Uniquely, the housing for the display panel can rotate rotate a full 180 degrees from the closed position, meaning you can open up the GS65 and lay it completely flat. I personally can’t envision a scenario in which I’d actually want to do that, but, as Kafka said, “better to have and not need, than need and not have.”
The display is paired with Dynaudio speakers, which perform well enough. They’re best suited for watching streaming video, but are suitable for games or music, though the same DAC would probably be better off paired with high quality headphones. Also, the Dynaudio hardware is backed up with software from Nahamic, which allows for finer audio tuning, and comes with presets for different sound scenarios. (Gaming, Movies, Music, and Conference.)
The laptop offers plenty of connection options:
- USB 3.0
- Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C)
- HDMI Port
- AC Barrel Plug
- 3.5mm Headset and Microphone Jacks
- 2x USB 3.0
- RJ45 Ethernet Port
- Kenisington Lock
In addition to the number of connections available, MSI gets major props for including an RJ45 port on the GS65. The port really has only a couple millimeters of clearance above and below, and I’ve seen plenty of laptops with similar chassis dimensions that just don’t bother. Better yet, MSI used a Killer Networking network interface here, with all the user-facing management software that comes with it.
The GS65 has a standard, if large, touchpad. It supports gestures with up to four fingers, and tracks smoothly. This a gaming laptop, so most people will probably have a gaming mouse plugged in most of the time, but it’s nice to know that the touchpad gets the job done. Plus, if the pad ever gets in the way, there’s a keyboard shortcut (Fn+F3) to toggle it on and off.
Aesthetics and SteelSeries Collaboration
I think the GS65’s crowning achievement might be how well it balances ‘flash’ with simplicity. The chassis is a black rectangle with a slight bevel on the front underside, and a cutout in the rear for the display hinge. Most of the casing is metal, there are components made of other materials in the bezel and the feet. There’s also a full RGB keyboard (which we’ll get into more detail about below), with simple, unadorned membrane keys. Keycaps are square or rectangular, without any peculiar geometry.
It’s not right to say that the GS65 is minimalistic, as it’s still got too much flash and flair for that that. More aptly, the RGB lighting enhances the overall look without being so aggressively in-your-face as RGB so often is. There are few other LEDs on the GS65, save on on the Caps Lock key, and two power status indicators; one on the front edge, and one situated next to the medially placed power button.
You can see the GS65 Stealth Thin 8RE in action here:
Aside from the RGB lighting, the GS65 has some more of that aforementioned flash in the form of a gold trim that is prestind on many of the chassis’ sharpest lines. The trim surrounds the touchpad, the power button, and the display’s hinge mountings. On the topside of the display housing, it runs around the edge, and the MSI logo, though not gold, is colored to match.
Finally, there’s a little more of the material in the two side vents, although the shine on these pieces is more matte than the edge trim golds. It’s certainly a luxury effect, but it might not be for everyone. I’m no color theorist, but I can certainly imagine it might clash with some RGB schemes.
The potential color clash is a shame, because the RGB keyboard on the GS65 is a work of art. Engineered in collaboration with SteelSeries, the 10-keyless board uses the Steelseries Engine 3 software, which grants an impressive amount of customization options. Colors and light patterns can be assigned on a per-key basis, and configurations can be saved as profiles, and attached to .exe files.
Light patterns include colorcycling, steady colors, multi-color breathing, steady-color pulsing, color randomization, and combinations thereof. The software also comes with a number of applets, which are mostly integrations with specific games or programs. For example, the Counter Strike: Global Offensive app can illuminate certain zones of the GS65’s keyboard to indicate when the player has armor, or light up white when the player gets hit by a flashbang.
It’s also worth mentioning that the keyboard includes many of the standard laptop Fn key functions, including screen brightness, volume, airplane mode, webcam toggle, touchpad toggle, and sleep. Better yet, by harnessing the GS65’s RGB function, pressing the Fn key will dim all keys that don’t have Fn functions, and highlight those that do in bright red. No more hunting around for the mute button when your boss walks by.
Finally, this software integration also allows the user to define the function of any key on the board. The program supports macros, custom keystrokes, and baked-in functions for Windows and the Steelseries Engine itself. This is a huge level of functionality that is rarely seen built-in to a gaming laptop. Again, consider that these keymaps can be saved as programs attached to specific programs, which means the GS65 comes with the same feature set one would expect for a top-tier gaming keyboard.
Of course, the GS65 isn’t just a pretty face. There’s more to it than its keyboard, in the form of some respectable hardware. Here’s a rundown on the vitals:
- Windows 10 Home
- Intel Core i7-8750H CPU @ 2.20GHz
- 16GB DDR4-2400 SODIMM RAM
- Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070
- Samsung PM981 240GB M.2 NVMe SSD
- Killer E2500 Gigabit Ethernet Controller
- Intel Wireless-AC 9560
- 4-Cell 82Whr Battery
With those specs in mind, let’s talk a little about the kind of gameplay experience you can expect on with the GS65. Since it came out fairly recently, I loaded up State of Decay 2 (on the “High”graphical preset,) for some impressions and testing. I didn't use the touchpad for any gaming, because hopefully no serious gamer ever has to go without a real mouse. (I instead used a Roccat Nyth.) Also, most in-game audio was routed through my trusty Hyper X Cloud Revolver headphones.
First and foremost, under load, this laptop is loud with a capital L. Some of MSI’s promotional material for the GS65 talks about the “Cooler Boost Trinity” system it uses. Basically, in addition to the 4 hit pipes around the GPU and CPU, there are three fans squirreled away in the chassis to provide cooling power. Suffice it to say, you can tell when they’re at work, so I’d recommend wearing headphones when gaming on this laptop. Again, this isn't hugely surprising given the thin build of this system; they have to keep that GPU cool somehow.
While our benchmarks above provide a more numerical look at thermal performance over critical hardware, it should be noted that this laptop still heats up. After a couple of hours in State of Decay 2, the area near the escape key was a little uncomfortable to the touch. However, this is apparently a battle of inches, because the WASD area and below (where you are much more likely to touch while gaming) was fine. Two of the three Cooler Boost Trinity fans sit up and to the right of Escape, so it sort of makes sense that there’s so much heat in that area. Again, this is a problem that no one has been able to completely sort out in gaming laptops of this size and weight class, so it’s not unique to MSI by any means.
Those minor negatives aside, playing on the GS65 was totally enjoyable. Over several hours of gameplay, performance remained hiccup free, and I saw anywhere between 70 to 100 FPS in game, with an average in the high 80s. Having a 144hz screen for extra smoothness didn’t hurt either. While at first I was slightly concerned that the screen would be a little small, after a short adjustment period, I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything.
It is worth noting, however, that this seemed like an exceptionally dark display. State of Decay 2 is great in part because it has very dark, atmospheric nights. However, even with the panel’s brightness maxed through the operating system, I could barely see anything at night. Further upping the brightness through in-game settings produced a very washed-out look. Admittedly I did not try to play around with Nvidia’s brightness and color controls, which may have allowed me to further increase the brightness while maintaining contrast.
Although I did use an external mouse and headphones, I never felt like the GS65’s keyboard was lacking in any way. Even as someone who is spoiled by top-tier mechanical keyboards on a daily basis, I wanted for nothing with the built-in keys.
Those who have used other MSI products will probably be familiar with their Afterburner software, which is used for PC tuning, customization, and overclocking. The GS65 eschews Afterburner for a management program called Dragon Center.
It’s actually nice how little OEM-installed bloatware come with MSI’s laptops, even more so because Dragon Center is actually pretty useful. Hitting Fn+F7 is is a shortcut to the utility, which at a glance can show you CPU, GPU and RAM usage/temperature, and a number of other vital system stats. The app also has a ton of settings to modify, including fan profiles, power plans, and key function toggles. There’s also some VOIP audio settings and a way to interface with MSI’s phone app. Admittedly, I didn’t have a chance to test these, but the point here is MSI went through the effort of including a second ultra-robust piece of management software, alongside the SteelSeries Engine 3 software.
If you’re looking for a gaming laptop the maximizes power and portability, it would be a mistake to ignore the MSI GS65 Stealth Thin 8RE. Packing a GTX 1060 and an 8th generation Core i7 into a 1.88kg package is no easy feat, but MSI seems to have pulled it off with style.
If the GS65’s tech specs weren’t enough, consider this: it also has a crystal-clear 144hz display panel, extremely good looks, and a built-in keyboard that can go toe-to-toe with some of the best standalone keyboards on the market.