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MSI's Stealth 15M Is the Most Portable 15-inch Gaming Laptop You Can Buy

Illustration for article titled MSI's Stealth 15M Is the Most Portable 15-inch Gaming Laptop You Can Buy
Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

MSI is one of the best makers of powerful but still portable gaming laptops. And with this year’s Stealth 15M, aside from a couple minor quibbles, it really feels like MSI has honed its craft. Not only is the Stealth 15M the thinnest 15-inch gaming laptop you can get right now, it features a 144 Hz screen combined with surprisingly solid battery life, so you can actually game away from home in confidence.

Instead of the loud black and red paint jobs you get on a lot of other MSI laptops, the Stealth 15M is delightfully minimalist. It has a matte carbon gray aluminum body (also available in white for a small premium), and MSI even opted for a more stealthy logo (sorry, I couldn’t resist) instead of its typical black and gold badge. The selection of ports is also good: one USB-C port with Thunderbolt 4, two USB-A 3.2 ports, a full-size HDMI 2 port, 3.5mm audio jack, and even microSD slot lining its left and right sides. And while there is some flex to its inner deck, for a system that’s thinner and lighter than an XPS 15, the Stealth 15M feels quite solid.

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When you open the Stealth 15M, you’re greeted by one of the system’s greatest strengths—although though depending on your preferences, it may also be one of its weaknesses. In keeping with the push for higher refresh rate displays, MSI includes a 1920 x 1080 144 Hz screen on all but one config (which gets a standard 60 Hz panel), which is great for players looking for that added bit of responsiveness.

However, with a tested brightness of just 250 nits, the Stealth 15M’s display is a touch dimmer than I’d like (300 nits and higher is better). It’s not low enough to be a dealbreaker, but if you’re the kind of person that likes to work or game outside, you might struggle more with the Stealth 15M compared to an XPS 15, which pumped out nearly 500 nits from its 4K screen.

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Illustration for article titled MSI's Stealth 15M Is the Most Portable 15-inch Gaming Laptop You Can Buy
Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

The other important thing to know is that the Stealth 15M comes with a matte display, which is where things can get more divisive. Compared to the glossy screens that so many people have become accustomed to, colors don’t pop quite the same on matte screens, which might result in some people thinking the Stealth 15M’s display looks slightly washed out. Though on the flip side, you don’t see any reflections, which minimizes distractions while gaming. On this system, I think going matte makes a lot of sense.

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Inside, the Stealth 15M remains understated with the same dark gray finish. But if you want to show off, you can do that, too, with MSI’s colorful (and quite comfortable) RGB-lit keyboard, which can be easily customized using the Mystic Light tab in MSI’s Dragon Center. Below the keyboard, there’s the obligatory trackpad, which is both accurate and responsive, though I do have to mention that the size of the touchpad does seem a bit small compared to the Stealth 15M’s overall dimensions.

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I have a couple other small nitpicks with the Stealth 15M. For a laptop in 2021, its huge bottom bezel looks out of place. I don’t think MSI needs to completely eliminate every single border around its screens—a small bottom bezel can help prevent your hands from blocking content while gaming—but a small reduction would be nice. In its default mode, the Stealth 15M’s fans can also get loud quick, going from a gentle whir to a miniature jet engine as soon as you boot up a game. Thankfully, there are settings in the Dragon Center that allow you to control its fan speeds, including a silent mode if you’re just browsing the web and don’t want to cause a ruckus. But if you’re looking for top performance, you’re going to have to put up with some fan noise.

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MSI is looking to fix its webcam issue across all of its laptops this year with new full HD sensors, but unfortunately the Stealth 15M currently ships with a 720p webcam that’s mediocre at best. Even in a relatively well-lit room, photos look quite noisy. The Stealth 15M can render your face on a Zoom call or livestream, but anyone who cares about image quality will probably want to get an external webcam.

Here’s a sample pic from the Stealth 15M’s webcam. It’s not good, and this was the best of the bunch.
Here’s a sample pic from the Stealth 15M’s webcam. It’s not good, and this was the best of the bunch.
Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo
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However, the Stealth 15M makes up for most of that with great specs for its size, routinely delivering around 30% better graphics performance than an XPS 15. Not only does the Stealth 15M come with a new Intel Core i7-1185G7 chip, it also features an Nvidia RTX 2060 Max-Q GPU compared to the XPS 15's GTX 1650 Ti card. That advantage is visible in games, with the Stealth 15M hitting 77 fps in Far Cry 5 at 1920 x 1080 and “Ultra” settings (54 fps for the XPS 15), and 70 fps in Shadow of the Tomb Raider at 1920 x 1080 and “Highest” settings (53 fps for the XPS 15). Granted, this isn’t world-shattering performance when compared to larger 15-inch systems like MSI’s own GP66, which has room for bigger and more powerful RTX 3070 and 3080 cards, but in a system this thin and light, the Stealth 15M remains a sleek and powerful package.

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Even with its beefier GPU, the Stealth 15M still offers solid battery life, coming in at 7 hours and 59 minutes, just 30 minutes less than the XPS 15 (8:28). In addition to its included power brick, the Stealth 15M can also be recharged via USB-C in a pinch, which is useful for people on the go. But because USB-C chargers typically can’t deliver the full 150 watts of power you get from MSI’s included adapter, charging isn’t quite as fast. If you want to make sure you’re getting optimal performance, you’ll still need to use the default power brick.

Illustration for article titled MSI's Stealth 15M Is the Most Portable 15-inch Gaming Laptop You Can Buy
Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo
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Unlike so many gaming laptops, the Stealth 15M is a system that actually encourages you to move around. It’s got excellent performance for its size, a solid minimalist build, and pretty decent battery life to boot. I expect MSI will address the Stealth 15M’s minor issues in a future model, but even now, aside from its lackluster webcam, the 15M’s shortcomings are more like quirks than actual drawbacks. And while there are larger 15-inch gaming notebooks that can deliver a bit more graphical oomph, you’re also looking at shelling out $250-$300 extra for a Razer Blade 15 or MSI’s GP66. If you don’t mind turning down graphics settings a touch when playing new AAA titles, the Stealth 15M is a finely balanced notebook for gaming both at home and on the go.

README

  • Weighing 3.7 pounds and measuring 0.62 inches thick, the Stealth 15M is actually a tiny bit smaller and lighter than an XPS 15.
  • Thankfully the Stealth 15M’s fans are adjustable, because when taxed, things can get pretty loud.
  • The Stealth 15M is available in two colors, carbon gray and white, though white costs extra.
  • You can charge the Stealth 15M in a pinch with a USB-C cable, but if you want max performance, you’ll need MSI’s power brick.
  • If you care about built-in webcam quality, the Stealth 15M might not be for you.
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Senior reporter at Gizmodo, formerly Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag. Was an archery instructor and a penguin trainer before that.

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DISCUSSION

flabberboozled
flabberboozled

Is that chin really that much larger than the Razer 15 or XPS 15? I think it looks bigger because the whole lid sits on top of the base when its open rather than pivoting a portion of the top behind the base. It really makes it look a lot worse than it really is.