TLDR: This is (IMO) the best thin and light gaming laptop of 2018.
Ahh, Black Friday. This is when everyone poses the burning question: “Hey JRey, what’s the best laptop to get right now?”
My answer each time? “It depends on what you’re gonna use it for!”
The everyday person hits me with: school, work, games, surfing the web, word processing, and video editing. Most want a long-lasting battery as well.
In the past, it was nearly impossible to get a laptop that was powerful, portable, and had all-day battery life. With the latest generation of laptops, we can get all 3 with no real drawbacks.
If you’re looking for a versatile laptop, a bit open to price, and refuse to buy another laptop within the next 2 years, I recommend:
The MSI GS65
I’ve had this baby for 6 months now and it has blown me away with all of its capabilities!
Laptops have always been a compromise between portability and performance. Gaming laptops are usually larger and heavier to accommodate more powerful parts while productivity laptops are smaller and lighter but aren’t as capable to do more intensive tasks, such as video production and gaming. We’re now at a point where we don’t have to choose between power and portability. The latest laptops are both thin, light, and powerful. You CAN have your cake and eat it, too!
I’m a firm believer in paying a bit more for a product that will last longer. Most buyers look at the price of a laptop and base their purchase on that number. While that may satisfy the buyer for the immediate future, those laptops would quickly become obsolete and may not perform as well for future applications or games. In this review, we’ll take a look at the MSI GS65, focusing on its performance with games and video editing, and why I think it’s the best overall windows laptop to get in 2018.
Without further ado, here’s my review of the MSI GS65…
15.6 inch thin-bezel, 144Hz, IPS-level display
Intel i7 8750H: 6-Core
Nvidia GTX 1070 Max Q
32GB DDR4 RAM @2400MHz
*The CPU and GPU are repasted with Liquid Metal by HIDevolution.
My machine is the 053 model which is the 2nd most expensive model, coming in at $2499. Don’t worry, there are cheaper models of the same machine, which I’ll talk about at the end of this blog.
The GS65 is a premium looking and somewhat premium feeling laptop. The exterior finish is a matte black with champagne gold accents. The only logo on the outside of the laptop is the MSI Gaming Dragon in gold. I don’t like RGB lights with large logos that scream GAMER at everyone that lays eyes on it. I love that the GS65 has a subtle look, hiding the fact that it is a BEAST of a performer underneath its matte black frame.
Opening the lid only requires 1 hand and you’re greeted by a beautiful 15.6 inch, 144Hz display with super-thin bezels. A 720P webcam is installed above the screen without increasing the bezel size. The keyboard is made by SteelSeries featuring per-key RGB. There is no numpad on the side, but I prefer this layout to keep the main keys more centered with the screen instead of being off to the left like other laptops (Gigabyte Aero 15x). The trackpad has the same champagne gold color surrounding it. It feels smooth, responsive, and precise, thanks to windows precision drivers. I do wish they made it a glass trackpad though, but that would further drive up costs.
The ports on the laptop include:
3x USB 3.0
Mini Display Port
USB C w/Thunderbolt 3
Headphone and mic jack
The port selection is perfect for me. I can fill up all 3 ports with my external keyboard, mouse, and USB headset. HDMI and Mini Display Port are useful for when I decide to plug into my 4k TV. I use the ethernet port when I’m configuring my modem and router.
The headphone and mic jacks are surprisingly good. The headphone jack 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.
This laptop uses 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 be activated, flexing on whatever is thrown at it.
My only gripe with this machine is the quality of the chassis. While it looks like a premium laptop, it doesn’t always feel premium. The metal isn’t too thick and is susceptible to bends. I’ll speak more on that later in this review.
MSI has a software suite called “Dragon Center” that helps you configure your system for optimal usage.
Dragon Center 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 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 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:
This laptop is an amazing performer when playing the latest games.
As you can see from my tests, this laptop is truly a BEAST. All games were playable at maximum settings without issues. 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.
There is some slight throttling after a long period of sustained load. When the CPU and GPU rise to a certain temperature, they may reduce speeds to stay below the temperature threshold, which is ~90c for the CPU and ~78C for then GPU. The performance hit isn’t that bad and can be controlled by increasing fan speeds in Dragon Center.
Speaking of fan speeds, it can get loud but isn’t obnoxious. With default settings, I recorded 45dB of noise when running the system at full tilt. If you raise fan speeds, noise levels will go up, but temps will go down, which will reduce how often throttling will occur.
MSI advertises 8+ hours of battery life, but it will really depend on what you’re doing and what your laptop settings are.
While writing this article, I was trending towards 8.5 hours of battery life as advertised. That’s with minimal internet browsing at 30% screen brightness.
While watching YouTube videos at 1080P, 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 current loads over a long period of time.
To improve performance of the laptop, I undervolted the CPU to reduce power and heat.I was able to achieve a -67.4mV undervolt for the CPU. I also created a new profile with an underclocked CPU at 3.5GHz while achieving a new -110.4mV undervolt.
I then created a custom voltage curve for the GPU to increase clock speeds without raising voltage levels. My max boost clock is 1645MHz at 800mV.
Lastly, I experimented with fan control via "Silent Option" and found all the activation points per level. Using that data, I made a custom fan curve to keep temperatures down.
What did these tweaks do for performance? See for yourself...
With my tweaks, I was able to gain more FPS while reducing temperatures. Also, reducing the CPU speed to 3.5GHz had no real negative affect in game performance. I currently use my 3.5GHz profile for everyday use. I also put my laptop on a stand to increase intake airflow. Keep in mind that my settings may not work for you. You'll have to experiment to find your optimal settings.
Who should buy this laptop?
In my opinion, these are the crowds who should get this laptop:
Those with an Intel 6th gen processor, Nvidia 900 series GPU, or older. These people have systems that aren't performing well with current programs, games, and other needs.
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 underperforms a year from now.
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.
If you already own a laptop with a 7th gen processor and an Nvidia GTX 1060 or higher, I don’t think you need to get this laptop unless you’re like me and want the absolute BEST device available at ALL TIMES.
If you’re #1 or #2 above but want to save some money, there are other models of the MSI GS65 featuring a GTX 1060, 16GB of Ram, and 256GB or 512GB SSD. Performance of these models will match or be higher than the GS43 benchmark numbers found in the performance section of that review (Here). There is also a cheaper model with a GTX 1070 Max-Q which is what I recommend!
Want exactly what I have? Here you go!
MSI GS65 w/ GTX 1070 Max-Q, 32GB Ram, 512GB NVME - $2499 - HIDevolution
This laptop is, without a doubt, the best computer I’ve ever owned, PERIOD. Despite the cons of owning this device, MSI has done a wonderful job creating this double-agent of a laptop.
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.
Thin and light – At 4.14 lbs, this laptop is very light compared to the competition. MSI accomplished this by making the frame out of thin pieces of aluminum. My previous laptop, the GS43, weighed a bit over 3.5lbs so the slight increase in weight wasn’t a big deal at all.
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 – A thin and light laptop with a 6-core CPU and a desktop-level GPU is INSANE. This is literally the definition of a desktop replacement system. When you don’t need the power, the laptop will turn off some CPU cores and active the iGPU to save on battery life. This leads me to…
Great battery life – Being able to get about 8 hours of battery when doing basic processing is awesome. Even when surfing the web and streaming HD videos on YouTube, Hulu, and Netflix, I was still able to net about 6 hours of battery.
Fragile – My biggest issue with this laptop is that it can BEND if you aren’t careful with transportation or handling. I already bent this laptop within the first 2 months of owning it due to my laptop bag falling 2 feet off of a chair. Thankfully, HIDevolution and MSI repaired it at no extra cost. Keep in mind that they will only do this 1 time.
Reduced performance – When this laptop is under sustained heavy load, it may begin to throttle CPU and GPU speeds back to reduce temps. I only experienced this in a couple games that really pushed the CPU and GPU to its limits.
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.
Food for thought
The Nvidia RTX 2000 series (desktop) recently launched in September. Does it make sense to wait until a new laptop launches with that GPU? Possibly, but that depends on how long you’re willing to wait. It took Nvidia about 6 months from desktop GPU release to launch the laptop variant. Based on that, you may have to wait until March for a laptop with the new GPU architecture. Also, desktop performance numbers show that the RTX 2000 series isn’t as big of a jump in performance as going from the GTX 900 series to the GTX 1000 series.
So… will I get a laptop with an RTX 2000 series GPU? Absolutely. How else will you know if it’s a worthy purchase or upgrade? =)
-The Everyday Enthusiast
*Disclaimer – I purchased this laptop with my own money