Our extended test of the MSI GS65 Stealth proved highly positive overall. We went into our testing looking for the machine to replace three different devices - a games PC, a 4K video editing workstation and an ultrabook. On the first count, I'd say that with one reservation, there's little doubt that the GS65 delivers. While Nvidia delivers a full GTX 1070 at the silicon level, the Max Q point sees frequencies reduce by around 500MHz - so an area of gameplay that hits 1850MHz on the desktop part runs at a ballpark 1350MHz on the Max-Q version. The inevitable losses in performance are mitigated to a certain extent by the additional 128 CUDA cores and the fact that the memory sub-system is unchanged, with the same GDDR5 set-up running at the same speed for identical bandwidth.
However, the end result is performance that's more in line with a desktop GTX 1060 with a top-end overclock in place, with frame-rates that typically 10 to 14 per cent faster than Nvidia's mainstream desktop champion at stock clocks. However, it's also anything from 18 to 25 per cent slower than an actual desktop GTX 1070. But really, performance differentials apart, it's all about the real world experience. The fact is that you get access to more than enough GPU power to run most games at 1080p north of 60fps. On the GS65's 144Hz panel, using Nvidia's half-rate adaptive v-sync option to target 72fps would be a good option here for higher-end games - G-Sync is not supported as it's not compatible with the battery-saving Optimus technology.
So, aside from having a GTX 1070 that doesn't really perform like a GTX 1070 (but makes the thin and light form factor possible), I'd say that the GS65 acquits itself as a highly capable gaming PC - though CPU temperatures are a concern. Crysis 3 is always good for stress-testing and areas heavy on draw-calls saw temperatures exceeds 90 degrees Celsius, meaning we are almost certainly being thermally throttled. The Core i7 8750H peaks at an all-core turbo of 3.9GHz - which is extremely impressive - but the CPU-heavy jungle scenes saw clocks vary between 2.6GHz to 3.6GHz with occasional stutter kicking in as a result when running unlocked. It's a phenomenon noted by other reviews, which suggest that the Gigabyte Aero 15X is unaffected - that unit seems to be better for gaming than the GS65, but its form factor isn't quite as svelte and its power brick is bulkier (the GS65's 180W PSU is impressively tiny).
The GS65 also acquitted itself beautifully as a productivity powerhouse, easily capable of handling our 4K projects, limited more by GPU memory issues on some of our more insane video transitions (we use 12GB cards on our desktop machines - the GTX 1070 has 8GB) rather than CPU power. It's in this respect that the unit impressed most. It may not have all the raw horsepower of our Threadripper or Skylake-X editing machines, but it's more than capable of getting the job done quickly, without fuss and with full real-time playback and preview. And in terms of high quality, CPU-intensive video encoding, let's just say that E3 this year would have been far, far harder to work through without this machine on hand.
As a games machine and an editing platform, the GS65 works, leaving just the ultrabook side of things to contend with. Form factor-wise, I'd say that the dimensions and weight here are extremely competitive, while the IO is actually a cut above. The keyboard is fine and the trackpad is highly responsive, but there are just two issues that don't quite pass muster. First of all, despite an all-metal casing, the keyboard area feels uneven and creaks - something that definitely doesn't happen with a MacBook. Secondly, the GS65 falls some way short of delivering all-day battery life with four to six hours more representative of general stamina. Nvidia's Optimus technology is used to deactivate the GTX 1070, but sometimes it will kick in anyway, causing big battery life issues - keep an eye on the LED next to the start button. It'll be white when integrated graphics is in effect, and orange when the 1070 is active.
Finally, there's the issue of pricing - with the unit tested here costing around £2,400. Another version with less memory and a GTX 1060 is available at around £1,800 - which is a lot cheaper but obviously remains a serious investment. However, there are 8750H/GTX 1070 Max Q competitors with similar form factors that are cheaper than this MSI, and we are dealing with a machine here that does make a genuine case for replacing more than one PC which does count for something when considering the cost.
Ultimately though, we're close - really close now - to finally getting that jack of all trades machine that offers enough power in every category to do virtually everything you want with your PC, potentially replacing up to three high-end computers. In the case of the MSI GS65, it's just the battery life and minor aspects of build quality that let it down here - the final hurdles we need to clear. And what's fascinating here is that while this machine is state of the art for is size, weight and performance, we can safely assume that even better laptops will arrive in the not-too-distant future. Eight-core Intel CPUs must surely be set for the notebook space within 12 months, while the GTX 1070 is actually two-year-old technology and ripe for replacement, and potential here is mouth-watering - especially when Nvidia moves onto 7nm technology.
In the here and now, machines like the MSI GS65 Stealth are remarkable technological statements - great for gaming but powerful enough to carry out some seriously challenging tasks. Machines like this are also representative of the relentless pace of evolution and innovation in the PC space, and how high performance parts repurposed with efficiency in mind can produce some remarkably compelling, unique products. While it's not quite the finished article with a small amount of room for improvement, the MSI GS65 Stealth is easily the best all-round laptop I've ever tested.
Will you support the Digital Foundry team?
Digital Foundry specialises in technical analysis of gaming hardware and software, using state-of-the-art capture systems and bespoke software to show you how well games and hardware run, visualising precisely what they're capable of. In order to show you what 4K gaming actually looks like we needed to build our own platform to supply high quality 4K video for offline viewing. So we did.
Our videos are multi-gigabyte files and we've chosen a high quality provider to ensure fast downloads. However, that bandwidth isn't free and so we charge a small monthly subscription fee of £4.50. We think it's a small price to pay for unlimited access to top-tier quality encodes of our content. Thank you.Support Digital Foundry