Say hello to my skinny friend. At a mere 4.1 pounds and 0.7 inches thick , 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 new 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. It’s a gorgeous attempt to bridge the gap between work and play, but a very hot undercarriage while gaming is a definite fly in the ointment.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.