• Justin-Rey

Review: 2019 MSI GS65 w/RTX 2080 Max-Q

TLDR: The best thin and light gaming laptop just got better

When the GS65 launched last year, it was one of the most popular thin and light laptops to purchase. With its 6-core Intel CPU, GTX 1070 Max-Q GPU, and large 82wHr battery, it quickly became the laptop of my dreams. But, it wasn’t without its own faults. The laptop had issues cooling down its components and it was only after undervolting the CPU and creating a custom fan curve that I was able to get consistent performance out of that laptop. Also, I had to be extra careful during transportation to not cause any bending on the chassis.

Fast forward 8 months and MSI refreshes the GS65 with some new features including Nvidia’s new RTX GPU line. How does it stack against last year’s model? Let’s find out!



*NEW* Long-term Review

Click HERE to read my long-term review of this laptop including updated benchmarks (with 1080P Ultrawide), and the various tweaks I've made since launch.


Comparison to last year’s model

Click here to see a comparison in build, performance, and temps.



Specs:

The 2019 GS65 has many different configurations to choose from.


Base Specs

  • 15.6 inch thin-bezel, 144Hz, IPS-level display

  • Intel i7 8750H

  • Nvidia RTX 2060 up to RTX 2080 Max-Q (80w variant)

  • 16GB DDR4 (single channel) up to 64GB DDR4 (dual channel) RAM @2666MHz

  • Up to 2x 2TB PCIe NVME drives


My Unit

  • 15.6 inch thin-bezel, 144Hz, IPS-level display

  • Intel i7 8750H

  • Nvidia RTX 2080 Max-Q

  • 32GB DDR4 (dual channel) RAM @2666MHz

  • 500GB Samsung 970 Evo + 1TB Samsung 960 Evo NVME drives

*Conductonaut Liquid Metal (LM) repaste on CPU and GPU by HIDevolution to improve thermal cooling and performance


The main difference in specs from last year’s model is the inclusion of a RTX GPU and bumping up the ram speed from 2400MHz to 2666MHz as standard. Everything else is identical.



Build

The GS65 retains the same look as last year’s model but has some minor build changes. Starting with the outside, The GS65 retains the sandblasted black finish with gold on the exhaust vents, gold MSI dragon symbol and gold trim lining the edges of the lid. The MSI Dragon logo is etched into the lid with reflective gold trim. There is a reverse notch built into the main body to make opening the lid easier.


Opening the laptop with one hand, you’re greeted by the same gorgeous 15.6 inch, 144Hz, IPS-level screen. Above the screen is a tiny 720P webcam but no Windows Hello sign-in.

If the screen didn't catch your eye right away, then maybe the new touchpad did. It’s still lined with gold at the edges but is 35% larger than the original model and is centered in the middle with the screen. The surface of the trackpad is a textured glass that allows my finger to smoothly glide across the entire area. MSI has incorporated 10 multi-touch gestures to make navigation easier.


Left and right clicking is done at the bottom of the touchpad and is split right down the middle. Clicking feels SOLID and doesn’t give off a cheap plastic click. Tapping also works with single finger as left click and 2 finger as right click. The new touchpad is a great improvement over last year’s model.

The keyboard remains the same with a SteelSeries-branded chiclet keyboard. It comes with the standard per-key RGB lighting and a host of function keys to control the laptop. The keyboard is responsive with great tactile feedback. I personally have no issues typing on this laptop and I think it will satisfy the majority of users. When holding the Fn key, usable keys will remain lit which is a nice feature. One thing to note is that the Fn+F6 key will HARDWARE DISABLE the webcam. There is a white LED on the F6 key to indicate if it’s on or off.


Above the keyboard is the power button. It’s been moved to be above the air vents and is also noticeably smaller. It’s just a standard power button with no bio-metrics built in. Next to the power button is a LED that indicates which GPU is active. White LED is the iGPU, amber LED is the dGPU.


There is no numpad which may be a turn-off for some people but is a feature I like because the keys retain their full sizes and the main keys are more centered with the keyboard instead of off to the left. If you want a numpad, check out the MSI GS75 which is basically the same as the GS65 but with a larger screen, a numpad, and an extra M.2 slot.


One of the issues with last year’s model was rigidity of the system. This year's model seems to be more solid than last years. The screen can still flex but only if you’re trying to bend it. The body also feels more stable. According to an MSI rep on Reddit, they added some supports in the chassis to reduce flex and bending. Lifting the laptop on the side with one hand, I didn’t feel like the laptop chassis was bending on itself. Whatever MSI did to improve the structure, it’s there BUT you have to actively be looking for it to notice it.


The overall look and feel of the new GS65 is awesome. The perfectionist in me LOVES how symmetrical the laptop looks with the power button, keyboard, and touchpad all centered with the screen. I also like the minor refinements MSI made in this refresh, it makes the laptop look and feel premium over last year’s model.

The ports on the laptop include:

  • 3x USB 3.0

  • HDMI

  • Mini Display Port

  • USB C w/Thunderbolt 3

  • Ethernet

  • Headphone and mic jack

MSI offers the same ports but sadly skips the SD card reader. It isn’t that big of a deal but an SD card reader is very useful for quickly transferring files instead of using a USB to SD adapter AND carry that extra device around.

Download "Realtek Audio Console" from the MSI support page

Thankfully, the GS65 still offers the AMAZING headphone jack. The headphone jack utilizes an ESS Sabre 9118EQ chip, and has a sensor that detects the internal resistance (ohms) of your headphones and powers them accordingly. During my tests, I was able to power my audiophile headphones, from the Sennheiser HD598 (50-ohm cans), to the Sennheiser HD600 headphones (300-ohm cans), and even my HiFiMan HE400 planar magnetic headphones (50-ohm), which are VERY hard to drive. Compared to my dedicated amplifier and DAC setup for headphones, the laptop delivered great sound for a small package. The mic jack also worked great with the mic on my headset, delivering clean sound to my teammates on Discord and Mumble.


The GS65 utilizes Nvidia Optimus technology which switches between the integrated GPU (iGPU) found on the processor and the discreet GPU (dGPU) depending on the load on the laptop. There is an LED next to the power button that changes between white (iGPU) and amber (dGPU) to signify which graphics processor is working.


Just surfing the web? The iGPU will handle this simple load, reducing overall power draw and increasing battery life.

Want to edit videos and play games? The dGPU will take care of the graphic-intensive load.



Software


MSI includes a bundle of software with all of their laptops.


Dragon Center 2.0 is an all-in-one control center that allows you to view system temperatures, configure fan speeds, adjust audio, and even improve system performance. Other programs must be installed on the system to activate that portion in Dragon Center, but you don’t have to open them individually to use them.


A couple other notable programs you’ll find in the software suite include Nahimic Audio and True Color.


Nahimic is an audio processing software that can improve the sound of your built-in speakers and connected headphones. It even has 3D audio processing called “Sound Tracker” that can help you improve your sound perception in games. It was deemed good enough that BlueHole, the developers of PUBG, asked Nahimic to disable Sound Tracker for their game and the game’s anti-cheat may even kick you from the game lobbies if you somehow enable it.


True Color is a calibration software that changes the display color with different presets. It’s nice to have a calibration profile that already calibrates the screen to near 100% SRGB so you can fully enjoy all media as intended by the developer.


Overall, Dragon Center 2.0 is a great tool for new users who want to be able to adjust their laptop settings without having to open multiple programs.



Performance and temps:

The 2 biggest questions everyone had when Nvidia announced RTX graphics for laptops was “how well will the GPU perform at only 80 watts” and “will it stay cool?”. Time to find out!

Stock Nvidia Drivers 417.49

WOW.


ALL the games I tested were running STABLE above 60 FPS. I had to run the benchmarks a couple more times to make sure everything was real, and it was. This really is the fastest mobile GPU in a thin and light laptop!


The games with a built in benchmark show the average FPS for the game. The rest of the games are the LOWEST FPS I saw while playing normally with maxed out settings. For competitive play, turning down settings will increase frames per second, allowing you to take advantage of the 144Hz refresh rate of the display.

Temps are after all performance tests were completed

When it comes to temps, the new GS65 is able to properly cool both the CPU and the GPU with NO THROTTLING on AUTO FAN.


…Yes, you read that right. NO THROTTLING on AUTO FAN.


MSI updated their cooler in the laptop called “Cooler Boost Trinity +”. They added 2 more heatpipes bringing the total to 6 and also redesigned the fans. Speaking of fans, they don’t get obnoxiously loud under load so that’s a plus. Keep in mind that my unit was custom ordered at HIDevolution and came with liquid metal on the CPU and GPU so i'll exerience improved thermal performance over stock units.


Overall, MSI did an awesome job upgrading the cooling design to improve thermal performance on the GS65. BRAVO!


Battery life:

MSI advertises 8+ hours of battery life, but it will really depend on what you’re doing and what your laptop settings are.


To maximize battery life, you need to ensure that the dGPU is off and the iGPU is on during all these tasks.


While writing this article, I was trending towards 8 hours of battery life as advertised. That’s with minimal internet browsing at 30% screen brightness.


While watching YouTube videos at 1080P and surfing the web, I trended towards 6 hours of battery life with the same screen brightness settings.


I wouldn’t recommend playing graphically intensive games while on battery but if you do, I wouldn’t expect more than 2 hours game time. You’ll also get crippled performance while on battery since the 82wHr battery cannot sustain high loads over a long period of time.



My Improvements

To improve performance of the laptop, I did the following:


1 - Remove Dragon Center

-I removed Dragon Center to ensure that it doesn’t conflict with Throttlestop, MSI afterburner, and Silent Option.


2 - Install and configure Throttlestop

-Throttlestop guide - Click Here

-"How to take Full Control of the 8750H" - By Hackness of NotebookReview.com - Click Here


3 - CPU undervolt, and underclock profile

-Using Throttlestop, I generated 3 profiles

  • 3.9GHz - 4.1GHz

  • 3.5GHz – 3.7GHz

  • .8GHz – 1GHz

3.9GHz - 4.1GHz: This is the stock speed of the CPU with undervolt

3.5GHz – 3.7GHz: Underclocked the CPU and applied a larger undervolt

.8GHz – 1GHz: This is my battery profile that automatically switches on when on battery power. The CPU runs at 800MHz up to 1GHz when turbo is enabled.

4 - GPU overclock

-I applied +100 to the core via MSI Afterburner. I didn’t overclock the memory because they rarely showed any performance improvements.

There is a OC scanner that will automatically overclock the GPU for you but it didn’t work in my testing.


5 - Custom fan curve

Ex: 66c on the CPU will activate level 3. This ramps the fans up to 70% or 4200rpm

I carried over my fan profile from last year’s model. I used “Silent Option” to set my fan curve. Below are my settings and a chart showing the various activation levels.

Download Silent Option HERE - Use the "Skylake" version.


6 - Bios Optimizations

*WARNING* DO THIS AT YOUR OWN RISK!!!

-Bios Unlock and Optimization guide by Falkentyne of NotebookReview.com - Click Here


Performance chart and Temps



Battery life

I noticed an improvement in battery life after undervolting and underclocking on battery. Screen brightness is 30%, no key lights, and my desktop wallpaper is black.


Up to 10 hours - When doing word processing with minimal web surfing.

Up to 7.5 hours - Surfing the web and streaming videos.



Who should buy this laptop?

In my opinion, these are the crowds who should get this laptop:

  1. Those with an Intel 6th gen processor, Nvidia 900 series GPU, or older. These people have systems that are barely performing with current programs and needs

  2. Someone who wants to get their first high-performance laptop that doesn’t sacrifice battery life and portability. They want to use this device for many years without fear of owning a laptop that under performs a year from now.

  3. The “Everyday Enthusiasts” who want it all, regardless of how well their current setup performs. They want high performance blended with portability, and are willing to “upgrade” from a laptop they purchased a year ago... Enthusiasts like me.

Should you buy this laptop if you already own last year’s GS65 or similar?


IMHO, unless you’re a #3, NO. The 2018 GS65, other GTX 1060 and GTX 1070 laptops are still amazing performers and can play all of the latest games with no issues.


If you do decide to upgrade to the 2019 GS65, this is what you get:

  1. Improved cooling solution

  2. More rigid body

  3. Faster GPU

  4. Larger and improved trackpad

That being said, I personally find this “upgrade” worthwhile because the laptop stays cooler, I worry less about rigidity, and it’s UBER POWERFUL. I’m so satisfied that I may not upgrade to the new Nvidia and Intel generations because of how well this system performs. And with Nvidia promising DLSS for future games and the “claimed” performance improvement it will have, I feel this laptop will be able to play games for the next 3 years (minimum) at maximum settings.


But who knows… maybe I’ll get the itch to try out new stuff again ;)



Conclusion

MSI made my favorite laptop of all time EVEN BETTER with this year’s model.

Do you want to be productive or surf the web? No problem, up to 8 hours of battery can be achieved. Want to edit 4K videos or play the latest games? Easy, it’ll boost CPU speeds up to 4.1GHz and activate the dGPU for extra performance. The GS65 has a beautiful screen, its keyboard is comfortable to use, the included software is simple and easy to configure… this device is the complete package.


Pros

  • Thin and light – At 4.2 lbs, this laptop is very light compared to the competition. MSI accomplished this by making the frame out of thin pieces of aluminum.

  • Low profile – The GS65 looks and acts like a business laptop. It doesn’t scream GAMER at all, even with the gold accents and MSI Dragon logo on the back.

  • Excellent performance – The new GS65 is a beast of a laptop. With the LM repaste, it has the ability to power and cool both the Nvidia RTX 2080 Max-Q and the Intel 8750H with no throttling. This is an improvement over last years model that had issues with throttling even with LM applied. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND you order this laptop with LM from an authorized e-tailer unless you're comfortable applying it yourself.

  • Great battery life – When doing basic productivity, you’ll be able to squeeze 8 hours of battery out of this system Just don’t expect the same when playing games.

Cons

  • Frame design – Even though MSI has improved the frame to feel more stable, I still think they can do more to make it solid. My scale shows 4.2lbs of weight which means they have some room to thicken up the frame a bit and stay under 5lbs.

  • Self-Maintenance – I didn’t list this last year, but I should have. The motherboard is upside down which means you can’t just open up the bottom cover and swap out Ram or SSDs. You’ll have to disconnect ribbons and wires and CAREFULLY remove the motherboard. If you accidentally break a wire, R.I.P. I have no idea why MSI couldn’t have a better design for this but I’m hoping that they revise this in future iterations.


If you’re in the market for a new laptop, one that you can use for hours of productivity with great battery life AND to play games at MAXIMUM SETTINGS, this is the one I recommend.


*UPDATE*

In case you missed it, I have a long term review on this laptop as well.

Click HERE to check it out!



Have fun!

-The Everyday Enthusiast



*Disclaimer – I purchased this laptop with my own money

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