There’s always something I’ve appreciated about powerful gadgets that are able to hide their power levels. I’m talking about stuff like the Volkswagen Phaeton W12 that had essentially the same engine you got in a flashy Bentley Continental (minus a couple turbos), but in a car that looked like, well, a VW. In short, gadgets that appear normal, but can go toe-to-toe with any rogue Saiyans that just dropped in from outer space and want to take over the world. And that sort of exemplifies what you get with the MSI’s new GS66 Stealth.
Instead of the more stylish black-and-gold color scheme MSI used on the GS65 from 2018, for 2020 MSI gave its flagship 15-inch gaming laptop a black-on-black paint job more befitting its stealthy name. Even the MSI logo on the laptop’s lid is little more than a subtle shadow, and with nary an indicator light or pulsing RGB lighting on the outside of the system, it’s much easier to take the GS66 out in public without instantly signaling to everyone in the room that yes, you do enjoy playing games from time to time.
However, when you lift the lid, that covert appearance sort of goes out the window as you’re greeted by an incredibly colorful keyboard with customizable per key RGB lighting. The keyboard was built in partnership with SteelSeries, and works with the pre-installed SteelSeries Engine 3 app so you can tweak the keyboard’s color profile, create macros, and a whole lot more.
The keyboard also features a cushy 1.5mm of key travel and a nice bounce at the bottom, and even after several hours of typing and gaming, my fingers never felt fatigued like they do on systems with shallower keyboards (like almost every MacBook made between 2016 and 2020). And if you really care about keeping your system’s power level hidden, you can simply disable the keyboard’s backlighting entirely.
Another few changes MSI made on the GS66 compared to its predecessor is a redesigned hinge that feels much stronger than before, along with a slightly stiffer, reinforced chassis, which lends the entire notebook an added level of durability. That said, weighing in at 4.6 pounds, the GS66 is half a pound heavier than outgoing GS65. But perhaps the most impactful upgrade is that MSI also increased the size of the Stealth’s touchpad. While most people will probably connect an external mouse for gaming, the extra-wide glass touchpad is a very welcome addition for everything else. In fact, the touchpad is so wide it takes a little time to adjust to reaching all the way to each corner when you want to left or right-click. Although I noticed a few times where my cursor seemed to randomly jump across the screen, mousing and gestures generally felt quite accurate.
Even the GS66's audio has been improved thanks to the addition of new upward-firing speakers located towards the bottom of the laptop’s deck, leading to much richer and direct sounding speakers. And along the sides, the GS66 offers a healthy assortment of ports including two USB-C ports (one of which supports Thunderbolt 3), two USB-A ports, HDMI, gigabit ethernet, and a 3.5mm audio jack.
But more importantly are all the new components the GS66 is packing inside, with MSI offering configs with up to a 300Hz display, an eight-core Intel i9-10980HK CPU, and an Nvidia 2080 Super GPU. Admittedly, with a price tag of at least $2,500 if you want a config with top-of-line components, a kitted out GS66 ain’t cheap. However, as our $2,250 review unit shows (which features an i7 CPU, 32GB of RAM, 2070 Super GPU, and a 300 Hz 1080p display), you don’t need a fully-loaded machine to pump out solid performance.
In Far Cry 5 at 1080p and ultra graphics, the GS66 averaged 96 fps, which was easily boosted to well over 120 by turning graphics down to high. But for those who really want to take advantage of the GS66's 240Hz or 300Hz displays, games like Overwatch are a much better choice with the Stealth hitting 270 fps on at 1080p on high settings. That’s getting into pro esports territory where every extra frame could mean the difference between getting a shot off or dying. And as an added feather in the cap, the GS66 consistently outperformed a similarly specced Gigabyte Aorus 17G across a number of games by around five to 10 percent, despite the Aorus 17 being a larger 17-inch laptop with more room for better cooling.
One final nice bonus is that with the GS66's new 99.9 Whr battery (which is the FAA’s limit for what you can carry on a plane), despite being a relatively power-hungry gaming laptop, the GS66 lasted 5 hours and 53 minutes on our video rundown test. That’s almost an hour and a half improvement over the GS65 (4:23), and more than two hours longer than Gigabyte’s Aorus 17G (3:49). So while the GS66's battery life is still a far cry from a typical ultraportable’s battery life of over eight hours, it’s nice to know that the Stealth won’t be constantly gasping for juice during times when you might not have access to an outlet.
The GS66's main shortcomings boil down to a few things. First, topping out at 317 nits, the GS66's screen brightness is just average. Most notebooks in this price range—particularly gaming laptops—are typically closer to 400 nits, and without any 4K or OLED screen options, the Stealth isn’t quite as attractive for folks might want a machine for gaming and content creation.
The other is that while I never ran into any issues with heat causing the system to throttle or overheat, the GS66's chassis can get pretty toasty under load. Anytime I was doing anything more intense than browsing the web or watching a video, the Stealth fans were usually pumping out hot air from its side and rear vents. It never got the point where it was painful or dangerous, but it did lead to some sweaty palms while gaming.
But what might be more annoying is how loud the GS66's fans can get. When I first received our review unit, the Stealth once got so loud when I was running benchmarks on the GS66, my wife—even though she was in another room—stopped working to ask me what was making that high-pitched whirring noise.
MSI has since pushed out a patch for its Dragon Center app that had significantly reduced overall fan noise. Yet even when set to MSI’s Balanced performance profile, I noticed that when sitting idle, the GS66 fans would sometimes spin up seemingly without reason.
In the end, the GS66's fan noise isn’t a real deal breaker, though it is a weird quirk for something called the Stealth. That said, you may need to pay attention to your performance settings if you’re working in a quiet place like a library (thankfully there is a user profile for Silent), or else you risk someone coming over and asking why you’re hiding a tiny hairdryer on your person.
There’s a lot to like about the GS66 Stealth. Its understated design should help its owners avoid any unwanted questions about if they caught that Travis Scott concert in Fornite, while MSI continues to make important strides when it comes its systems’ build quality. And with 240Hz and 300Hz display options, and a range of Intel and Nvidia’s latest chips, the GS66 has excellent performance and surprisingly good battery life. In a lot of ways, the GS66 is like a really good episode of DBZ. There’s a lot of power and action, a bit of yelling and hot air, but with a lot of filler and unnecessary extras hidden taken out.
- At full load, this thing pumps out the heat, so you may want to avoid gaming on your lap.
- With a 99.9 Whr battery, the GS66 has the biggest battery you’re legally allowed to bring on most planes.
- Unlike a lot of other 15-inch systems, the GS66 doesn’t have any 4K or touchscreen options, though you are able to choose between 240Hz or 300Hz refresh rates.
- Even with an all-black paint job, the GS66 is still kind of a fingerprint magnet.
- The GS66 has an IR camera for Windows Hello face login, but there’s no fingerprint reader.