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MSI GS66 Stealth (2021) Review 2021

Refreshed for 2021, MSI’s GS66 Stealth ($2,699 as tested) now has Nvidia’s “Ampere” GeForce RTX 30 Series graphics to boost to frame rates. Our test model also brings a special treat we expect to see in more and more gaming machines as the year goes on: a brand-new 240Hz QHD G-Sync display that takes gaming visuals to the next level. The GS66’s sturdy build and per-key RGB keyboard continue to impress, though this isn’t the fastest gamer on the block.

Despite an eight-core Intel Core i7 chip and a GeForce RTX 3080 with 16GB of video memory, our test model trailed the Alienware m15 R4 with an RTX 3070 in our benchmarks. The GS66 Stealth’s sedate looks can be a pro or a con, but unless the Alienware’s otherworldly appearance throws you off, give it strong consideration; it retains our Editors’ Choice badge for high-end 15.6-inch gaming notebooks.


Stealthy in All Black

The GS66 Stealth is physically unchanged from its 2020 version. Its design is stealthy not only because it’s all black, but also because its conventional styling and demeanor blend in with the crowd.

A lack of external lighting and exotic design flourishes can be a plus or a minus, depending on what you’re after. I’ll venture that a little bling for the price of my tester would be welcome. Even MSI’s blacked-out dragon-shield logo on the lid is nearly invisible in darker lighting.

The SteelSeries-designed keyboard, with its low-profile keys and aggressive typeface, is the most eye-catching design element.

MSI GS66 Stealth (2021) (Keys)

Its per-key RGB backlighting is configurable within the SteelSeries Engine app (a staple on MSI gaming laptops), which offers many preloaded patterns and the ability to create your own.

MSI GS66 Stealth (2021) (SSE)

Unfortunately, the short up-and-down key travel makes for a minimally tactile experience in typing. At least the keys are quiet when pressed.

MSI GS66 Stealth (2021) (Key Layout)

I also appreciate that the layout includes a left Windows key (it was often left off on some earlier MSI SteelSeries notebook keyboards), though the function (Fn) key is now inconveniently grouped with the right Ctrl key. You win some, you lose some.


The GS66 Stealth carries over its trim dimensions of 0.8 by 14.1 by 9.8 inches. It’s a touch heavy for the size at 4.63 pounds, but the sturdiness of its all-metal design is enough to forgive that. Both its lid and chassis are impressively rigid. The metal base of this notebook is just two pieces for a seamless look.

MSI GS66 Stealth (2021) (Left Angle)

That said, its construction has some compromises. The bottom edges of the chassis could be smoother, especially around the Ethernet port’s cutout on the right edge.

MSI GS66 Stealth (2021) (Right Side)

The Ethernet jack is a high-end Killer E3100X 2.5Gbps port. It’s joined by a trio of USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports (two Type-A, and one Type-C) and a headset jack. Meanwhile, the left edge holds the power jack, a Thunderbolt 4/USB-C port, an HDMI 2.0b video output (notable for its 4K/60Hz support), and another USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A port.

MSI GS66 Stealth (2021) (Left Side)

It’s a good selection; only an SD card reader is missing. Inside, an Killer AX1650i module provides Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5 connectivity.

The GS66 Stealth lacks a fingerprint reader, but it does have an IR webcam for facial recognition. This is a big plus, since many gaming notebooks are devoid of biometrics. The cam itself is a just a 720p model, though, with its semi-pixelated picture no better or worse than most notebooks’ webcam output in this price tier.

The GS66 Stealth’s removable bottom panel provides access to its two DDR4-3200 memory slots (supporting up to 64GB total) and two M.2 Type-2280 SSD slots. This upgradability shouldn’t be taken for granted; the Alienware m15 R4’s memory is impossible to upgrade since it’s soldered onboard.

MSI GS66 Stealth (2021) (Underside)

Topside, twin speakers project through openings on either side of the palm rest. Tuned by Dynaudio, they’re loud enough for gaming and personal listening. Between them, the GS66 Stealth’s extra-wide buttonless touchpad is easy to use and has great tactile feedback.

MSI GS66 Stealth (2021) (Touchpad)


New Year, New Screen: Now QHD at 240Hz

The QHD (2,560-by-1,440-pixel) screen adorning my review unit is its best asset. It offers finer detail than a full HD (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) screen, which is also offered in the GS66 Stealth with a blistering 300Hz refresh rate. (The 1080p panel will be in the GS66 models that will come available in the U.S. first.)

The QHD screen’s 240Hz is still more than high enough to handle the output from my model’s GeForce RTX 3080 Laptop GPU, as our benchmarks will show, though. I’m also glad to see it has Nvidia G-Sync support to eliminate screen tearing while gaming. G-Sync support is uncommon even on high-end gaming laptops.

MSI GS66 Stealth (2021) (Panel)

The picture quality is nothing short of fabulous, thanks to the display’s fine detail, eye-popping saturation, and high brightness. Its anti-glare surface does a good job of killing reflections, too. Gaming or doing anything else on this screen is a pleasure.


Meet the GeForce RTX 3080 Laptop GPU

The GS66 Stealth is the first laptop we’re testing with the GeForce RTX 3080 Laptop GPU. Naturally, it’s less powerful than the desktop card, but let’s see how closely the two relate. Here’s a basic comparison versus the GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition.

Given the significant differences, think of the GS66 Stealth’s GeForce RTX 3080 as a distant cousin of the desktop card. It has more video memory, but it’s slower GDDR6 with a smaller interface and roughly half the bandwidth. Its boost clock is also much lower, but it’s underrated; according to the utility GPU-Z, it maintained 1,350MHz to 1,400MHz in my 3DMark Fire Strike stress testing.

Naturally, the RTX 3080 Laptop GPU consumes less power than the desktop version. Its total graphics power (TGP, often called “board power”) is just 95 watts in the GS66 Stealth based on my GPU-Z logs. Nvidia says laptop makers can implement the card with up to a 150-watt-plus TGP, so the GS66 Stealth leaves a lot of potential performance on the table with its low rating. (For a lot more on this, see our feature With the GeForce RTX 30 Series, Buying a Gaming Laptop Just Got More Complicated.)

On the upside, the GS66 Stealth’s thin chassis and relatively cool operating temperatures are what you get in exchange for its low-wattage components. Both its GeForce RTX 3080 and its Core i7-10870H CPU topped out in the mid-70-degree C range while gaming. Those are good, low numbers that don’t risk thermal performance throttling.

Outside temperatures fared well, too. Here’s the GS66 Stealth under our FLIR One Pro thermal camera after 30 minutes of playing Shadow of the Tomb Raider

MSI GS66 Stealth (2021) (FLIR)

The keyboard center ran a touch warm, but the rest of the chassis was acceptably cool. This is no small feat for a thin metal notebook. All I can complain about regarding cooling is that the left-side fan (there are three in the GS66 Stealth, one left and two on the right) seemed to be always running, even at idle. While gaming, though, the fans are well-controlled and keep their noise level low enough that you can play games around others without causing a bother.


Testing the GS66 Stealth: The Nature of an RTX 3080

The GS66 Stealth I’m testing (model 10UH-290US) will be available in Q2 2021 for around $2,699. It features an eight-core Core i7-10870H processor (2.2GHz, up to 5GHz Turbo Boost), a 16GB GeForce RTX 3080, and a 1TB NVMe SSD for its Windows 10 Pro operating system, though just 16GB of memory when 32GB is the norm at this price. As I noted, though, the memory and storage are upgradable. MSI backs this laptop with just one-year warranty.

The Alienware m15 R4 included 32GB of memory and a higher-wattage GeForce RTX 3080 for $2,779 as I typed this review, but it uses a lower-resolution (full HD) 300Hz screen. Another competitor is the $2,699 Asus ROG Strix Scar 15 (G533QS-XS98Q). It uses an AMD Ryzen 5900HX chip and has 32GB of memory like the Alienware, but also mixes in a 165Hz QHD screen. It’s heavier and thicker than the GS66 Stealth. Overall, the GS66 Stealth is reasonably priced for its parts.

Now to the benchmarks, where I compared the GS66 Stealth with the quartet of gaming notebooks outlined below…

MSI GS66 Stealth (2021) (Configuration Chart)

The Asus TUF Dash F15 is less expensive ($1,699 as tested), as is the Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED XC ($2,199) and the Alienware m15 R4 ($2,499). I also included last years’ GS66 Stealth. Note: The Gigabyte and Alienware are recent Editors’ Choice award winners for high-end gaming and content-creation laptops, respectively.

Storage, Media, and CPU Tests

The GS66 Stealth made an impressive 6,175-point showing in our first test, PCMark 10. It simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows; we use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet poking, web browsing, and videoconferencing. It also did at least as well as the others in PCMark 8’s Storage subtest, suggesting its 1TB NVMe SSD has plenty of pep.

MSI GS66 Stealth (2021) (PCMark)

Next up is a pair of CPU-crunching tests: Cinebench R15 stresses all available processor cores and threads while rendering a complex image, while in our Handbrake test, we transcode a 12-minute 4K video down to 1080p.

MSI GS66 Stealth (2021) (Cinebench R15)MSI GS66 Stealth (2021) (Handbrake)

The Alienware and the Gigabyte scored much better than the GS66 Stealth on Cinebench despite using the same eight-core Core i7-10870H chip. Though I lack CPU power consumption data for those two, I observed that the GS66 Stealth’s chip reached just 45 watts under load. That may seem like an odd statement since the Core i7-10870H’s thermal design power (TDP) rating is 45 watts, but Intel CPUs can be allowed to boost much higher than their TDP for brief periods. It appears the GS66 Stealth is locked down and unable to do that. It explains why the GS66 Stealth has trouble differentiating itself from the older GS66, with its 45-watt Core i7-10750H despite having two extra cores.

Our last test in this section, photo editing, isn’t as CPU-focused as Cinebench or Handbrake, so the GS66 Stealth had no trouble keeping the pace. We use an early 2018 release of Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud to apply 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG image, timing each operation and adding up the totals.

MSI GS66 Stealth (2021) (Photoshop)

Graphics Tests

Our first two benchmarks in this section measure the gaming-performance potential of a PC. In UL’s 3DMark, we run the Sky Diver (lightweight, capable of running on integrated graphics) and Fire Strike (more demanding, for high-end gaming PCs) tests, both DirectX 11-based. Unigine Corp.’s Superposition is the other; it uses a different rendering engine to produce a complex 3D scene.

MSI GS66 Stealth (2021) (3DMark)MSI GS66 Stealth (2021) (Superposition)

The GS66 Stealth was handily outscored by the Alienware in both tests. The GPU-focused Superposition test suggest that its RTX 3080 lacks the same grunt as the Alienware’s higher-wattage RTX 3070. At least it outperformed the 2020 GS66 Stealth by double-digit percentages.

Now, let’s try some real games. We use the built-in 1080p benchmarks in Far Cry 5 (at its Normal and Ultra presets) and Rise of the Tomb Raider (at its Medium and Very High presets). Far Cry 5 uses DirectX 11, while we flip Rise of the Tomb Raider to DirectX 12.

MSI GS66 Stealth (2021) (Far Cry 5)MSI GS66 Stealth (2021) (ROTR)

The GS66 Stealth almost redeemed itself here with good numbers in Tomb Raider, though it struggled to match the Alienware and Gigabyte in Far Cry 5. These numbers nonetheless suggest it’s highly capable for modern gaming.

Informally, I was also able to play Cyberpunk 2077 at its native QHD resolution with mostly high settings and ray tracing engaged. It looked fantastic.

Battery Rundown Test

For our last benchmark, we measure a laptop’s unplugged runtime while playing a locally stored video with screen brightness at 50 percent and audio volume at 100 percent. We use the notebook’s energy-saving rather than balanced or other power profile, turn off Wi-Fi, and even disable keyboard backlighting to squeeze as much life as possible out of the system.

MSI GS66 Stealth (2021) (Battery Life)

Its large 99.9-watt-hour battery propelled the GS66 Stealth to near the front of this pack. It’s a good showing for a high-end gaming notebook even if the time is unremarkable given the size of the battery.


A Well-Rounded Gamer, if Not the Fastest

A 2021 technology refresh did the GS66 Stealth a lot of good, from improved gaming performance to better battery life. It also introduced a fabulous QHD screen option for a first-rate gaming experience as our review unit was so equipped. Combined with its metal chassis and reasonably cool-running chassis, the GS66 Stealth strikes a good balance among everything.

MSI GS66 Stealth (2021)

The fastest gaming laptop on the block it is not, however; our tests show that despite using a GeForce RTX 3080, our review unit trailed the Alienware m15 R4 using a higher-wattage GeForce RTX 3070. The Alienware remains our Editors’ Choice pick for high-end 15.6-inch gaming notebooks, but the MSI is a fair runner-up, especially if you value its upgradability, good battery life, and much more conservative looks.

MSI GS66 Stealth (2021) Specs

Laptop Class Gaming
Processor Intel Core i7-10870H
Processor Speed 2.2 GHz
RAM (as Tested) 16 GB
Boot Drive Type SSD
Boot Drive Capacity (as Tested) 1 TB
Screen Size 15.6 inches
Native Display Resolution 2560 by 1440
Touch Screen No
Panel Technology IPS
Variable Refresh Support G-Sync
Screen Refresh Rate 240 Hz
Graphics Processor Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080
Graphics Memory 16 GB
Wireless Networking 802.11ax, Bluetooth
Dimensions (HWD) 0.78 by 14.1 by 9.8 inches
Weight 4.63 lbs
Operating System Windows 10 Pro
Tested Battery Life (Hours:Minutes) 8:36

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