Earlier in the year, MSI announced their updated GE66 Raider 15-inch performance laptop, and I’ve been impatiently waiting to get my hands on it for many months now.
This GE66 Raider had big shoes to fill-up, following on the competent GE65 Raider model from 2019. MSI completely redesigned it in and out, and upped the hardware specs to pretty much the beefiest mobile platforms available to date: a Core i9 HK processor and an Nvidia RTX 2080 Super graphics chip, which is what we got on our review unit. They’ve also changed the design, inputs and IO, as well as included a 99 Wh battery inside.
OK, so while our review is a fair bit late, the GE66 Raider is still an up-to-date product and something you should definitely consider when shopping for a no-compromise gaming/performance 15-inch notebook in Q4 2020 and even later on in the first part of 2021.
We’ve used our review unit for the last three weeks and gathered our thoughts and impressions in the article down below, with the positives and the quirks you’d best be aware of before jumping on one of these. Having tested it a bit later than other publications, we were able to run it on mature software, so your unit should perform similarly to ours if you are to get one.
Specs as reviewed – MSI GE66 Raider
||MSI GE66 Raider 10SGS
||15.6-inch 1920 x 1080 px IPS 240 Hz 3ms, 16:9, non-touch, matte, Sharp LQ156M1JW03 panel
||Intel Comet Lake-H Core i9-10980HK CPU, 8C/16T
||Intel UHD + Nvidia RTX 2080 Super 8 GB GDDR6 (90-105 W Max-Q, GeForce 456/71), with Optimus
||32 GB DDR4 3200 MHz (2x DIMMs)
||1x 1 TB SSD (WDC PC SN730 SDBPNTY-1T00) – 2x M.2 NVMe 80 mm slots
||Wireless 6 (Killer AC 1650i), Bluetooth 5.0, 2.5 Gigabit LAN (Killer E3100)
||2x USB-A 3.1 gen1, 1x SUB-A 3.2 gen2, 2x USB-C 3.2 gen2, HDMI 2.0, DisplayPort, LAN, card reader, mic/earphone, Lock
||99.9 Wh, 230 W power brick, USB-C charging support
||358 mm or 14.1” (w) x 267 mm or 10.51 (d) x 23.4 mm or .93” (h)
||5.35 lbs (2.42 kg) + 1.95 lbs (.88 kg) power brick and cables, EU model
||per-key RGB backlit keyboard, HD + IR webcam, stereo 2x 2W speakers
MSI offers the GE66 Raider in a multitude of configurations, starting with 6Core Intel i7-10750H processors and RTX 2060/2070 graphics and a 240 Hz screen at the lower end, and up to an 8Core i9-10980HK configuration with RTX 2070/2080 Super graphics and an optional 300 Hz display at the very top.
While our review unit is a top-specced configuration, most of our findings apply to the other variants, and we’ll also touch on the other CPU/GPU options in the performance section.
Design and build
As mentioned already, the GE66 Raider is completely redesigned from scratch, both on the outside and internally, and shares little with its GE65 predecessor. As a result, it’s a bit larger and heavier than the GE65, but seriously compensates for those aspects with the sturdy build and excellent craftsmanship quality. In fact, this is by far the nicest MSI laptop I’ve come upon in many years.
Thick pieces of metal are used for the main deck and the lid-cover, which feel strong and barely bulge even when pressed harder. MSI have also implemented sturdy hinges and made sure the screen doesn’t warp or bend when picked up from the sides. It only goes back to about 145 degrees, though.
Also, since this is still not a unibody design and uses pieces of metal on top of a plastic inner frame, I still noticed some creaky noises when firmly pressing over the arm-rest or when grabbing this laptop. These are not as noticeable as on the older MSI models or even the GE66 Stealth and I’d say most of you won’t probably even notice them at all, but I did as I was specifically looking into this new model’s build quality.
Build aside, MSI have also cleaned up the design of this update Raider, which now gets a clean silver exterior and a slightly darker interior with shades of blue. I like the new Dragon Shield badge on the lid, it looks exquisite. I also find the interior a bit friendlier than on the GS66 Stealth; it still shows smudges after a while, but not as badly as the keys and clickpad, which you’ll have to rub clean quite often. I’ve purposely taken a picture of the interior after using this GE66 for the last two days without cleaning it in any way, so you’ll know what to expect.
As for the elephant in the room, MSI put a giant light-bar on this laptop’s front-lip, customizable through the Steelseries app. That’s too much in my opinion, but it actually grew on me over time, so I can see why some of you might like it. No worries if you don’t, you can turn it off from the settings. I do have to warn you that this piece is made out of shiny plastic and needs to be pampered; I fear it will scratch quite easily and end-up looking poorly after a while, especially if you wear a watch all the time as I do.
And while we’re here, I do have to praise MSI for the way this plastic light-bar seamlessly joins in with the metallic main-deck and sides, as well as with the underbelly, a clear step-up from what they did with the GS66’s plastic front lip. Furthermore, I also appreciate that they put a rubber gasket around the entire screen, which will protect that display when the laptop is closed and tuck away in your backpack.
On the other hand, I’m not that fond of how MSI designed the bottom panel, particularly the fact that they put small rubber feet supplemented by a hard-plastic foot in the middle. Normally, a laptop should only rest on a flat surface on grippy and soft rubber feet, but this one also uses this hard plastic part for support, which comes in contact with the desk and can definitely scratch sensitive surfaces. I know it can, because I can see its marks on my desk. Furthermore, these rubber feet barely push up the laptop from the desk and don’t allow enough fresh air to get into the fans, which somewhat negates the otherwise excellent open-back intakes, as you’ll see in the performance section. Bottom point: I would have liked larger and taller rubber feet on this laptop.
These aside, I was mentioning that the GE66 Raider is a larger footprint than the GE65, and that’s because it now gets a hump behind the screen in order to allow enough room for the thermal design, the big battery, and the IO.
Most of the IO is now conveniently placed back here, hiding away the cables when connecting peripherals, with only some USB-A, USB-C, and a card-reader on the sides. You’ll find most of the needed ports on this laptop, but I don’t understand why MSI opted out of Thunderbolt 3 support. You still get DP video via USB-C and charging, but not the ability to hook up TB3 peripherals. That’s even more difficult to understand when they do offer TB3 support on the GS66 Stealth ultraportable series.
Keyboard and trackpad
The keyboard on this GE66 Raider is identical to the one used in the GS66 Stealth reviewed earlier this year, and is overall a mixed bag.
On one hand, the layout doesn’t include a NumPad section, and that allows MSI to implement this keyboard centered on the chassis. I appreciate this format, but some of you might feel otherwise.
For what is worth, you do get an extra column of Function keys at the right and full-size arrows, but also some of the annoying layout particularities characteristic to MSI laptops, such as that big left CTRL-key that sends the Fn key to the right, now squashed into the right CTRL. The power button is also a key, in the top right corner, and incorporates an always-on orange light into it that doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s tiny, but still noticeable in a dark room.
As far as using this keyboard every day, this is one of the softest and shallowest implementations in this 15-inch niche of full-size performance laptops, and even shallower than what you’d get in most of the portable form-factors. With 1.5 mm of travel and very little effort required to register a stroke, this keyboard feels a lot like an ultrabook keyboard, so those used to stiffer inputs might have a hard time getting used to it.
I for one can see myself using this as a daily typer, though. It’s very quick and very quiet, but also rather unforgiving on any straying fingers with those soft actuations, and that took a slight toll on my typing experience and required time to get used to it.
The per-key RGB illumination carried over from the previous generations, with bright enough LEDs, good uniformity, and almost no light creeping out from under the keycaps. The design also includes physical CasLock and NumLk indicators, and MSI notebooks also offer this neat trick that only lights up the available functions when you press the Fn key.
On the other hand, while still mostly functional once you understand how it works, MSI’s Steelseries Engine control software looks and feels dated, with antique graphics and minuscule interfaces. As already mentioned in previous reviews, I feel that their entire software suite could use a complete revamp.
For mouse, MSI went here with a narrower and taller clickpad than on the GS66 series. It’s still a glass surface with Precision drivers and handles everyday use and gestures smoothly and reliably. I would have liked if this was stiffer, though, as I found out that it rattles with even the gentlest of taps. The physical clicks are fine though, smooth and quiet.
Nonetheless, I’d expect most of you to hook up an external monitor in this sort of a laptop anyway.
As for biometrics, there’s an IR camera on the GS66, but no finger-sensor.
MSI offers the GE66 Raider with a couple of different screen options, including 144/240 and 300 Hz FHD IPS panels, as well as a 60 Hz UHD option with wider color-gamut support, a potential option for creators.
Our test unit came with the mid-range 240 Hz IPS panel, a popular option in this niche, and implemented on many other mid to high-tier gaming laptops of this generation. If you’re interested in the 300 Hz panel, that’s very similar to the one we’ve tested in the Zephyrus S15 and Predator Triton 500. Competitive fps games might benefit from that one, but for the most part, this 240 Hz option is just fine.
It’s an excellent panel for gaming, with fast refresh rates and response times, as well as a fairly-good option for everyday use, with fair contrast, brightness, and color coverage. We also found this to be brighter than the same panel tested in the MSI GS66 Stealth, with 320+ nits of max brightness, which is plenty enough for indoor use, but still not enough for outdoor or bright environments.
Here’s what to expect, according to our Sypder4 sensor:
- Panel Hardware ID: Sharp SHP14C5 (LQ156M1JW03);
- Coverage: 97.9% sRGB, 68.3% NTSC, 71.2% AdobeRGB;
- Measured gamma: 2.34;
- Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 323.18 cd/m2 on power;
- Min brightness in the middle of the screen: 17.12 cd/m2 on power;
- Contrast at max brightness: 1174:1;
- White point: 7900 K;
- Black on max brightness: 0.27 cd/m2;
- PWM: Yes, 23.6 KHz at < 19% brightness;
- Response time: ~16 ms GTG (source).
What we got on this test model required calibration in order to address the WhitePoint and Gamma imbalances. This further lowered the maximum brightness, but once calibrated, we measured solid color/luminosity uniformity and didn’t notice any obvious light bleeding on black backgrounds, with only one small pinch on the bottom bezel.
Hardware and performance
Our test model is a top-specced configuration of the MSI GE66 Raider, with an Intel Core i9-10980HK processor, 16 GB of DDR4 3200 MHz of memory, 1 TB of fast SSD storage and dual graphics: the Nvidia RTX 2070 dGPU and the Intel UHD within the Intel platforms, with Optimus.
Before we proceed, keep in mind that our review unit was sent over by MSI, running on the software available as of Mid-October 2020 (BIOS E1541IMS.30A, Dragon Center 184.108.40.206, GeForce Game Ready 456.71 drivers).
Spec-wise, MSI offers the GE66 in a multitude of configurations. This 8Core i9-10980HK unlocked and overclockable processor excels in multi-threaded operations, but is an expensive upgrade and requires plenty of power to run at full blast, with thermal implications. Taht’s why the 6Core Intel i7-10750H processor might be the better-balanced model for most buyers, especially if you’re primarily getting a GE66 Raider for gaming.
That brings us to the choice in GPU. What we have here is the 2020 Nvidia 2080 Super in a Max-Q implementation, running at 80 to 105W between the various power profiles. It’s pretty much the most powerful GPU you can get in this form-factor and leaves room for overclocking in this implementation, but is also expensive, and not necessarily worth paying the significant extra over the other GPU options available on this chassis, namely the RTX 2070 Super 115W or the RTX 2060 110W variants.
The updated Intel platform also supports up to 32 GB of 3200 MHz DDR4 memory, which is what we have on this test unit. The two DIMMs are easily accessible inside for upgrades, where you’ll also find two M.2 SSD slots and the WiFi chip. Our unit came with a single 1 TB SSD, a fast WDC SN730 drive.
You need to pop out the back cover in order to get to the components, hold in place by a handful of Philips screws. It might look like an easy task, but it’s not. First off, careful that in some regions MSI still put a warranty sticker on one of the screws, so you might want to inquire about warranty conditions if you plan to open this up. As far as I’m concerned, I hope MSI stop using these sorts of warranty stickers that prevent users from performing upgrades, as they’re among the last to still do it and I’m pretty sure this practice alone can be enough to steer some potential buyers away towards the more upgrade-friendly brands.
Then, the plastic back panel takes a fair bit of effort to take apart, as it’s a rather flimsy piece and hold in place by some strong clips. I’d suggest starting from the front, around the light-bar, and working your way around to the back. Have a look at this video, but the back part took a lot more fiddling around before it gave up on my unit. Don’t pull too hard, our you’ll risk snapping up some of the plastic hooks.
As mentioned already, MSI’s software suite is fairly functional, but dated in terms of design and interfaces. The Dragon Center app controls the main performance/fans/screen/battery settings, while the sound and keyboard are controlled through separated apps. Unlike on GS66, there’s no Discrete GPU mode for this laptop and the iGPU is always active. There’s also no GSync support.
The GE66 is primarily a performance laptop, but it can also handle everyday multitasking, browsing, and video, while running coolly and mostly quietly. In fact, the fans rest idle with video and other basic stuff, and only the CPU fan kicks in with multitasking.
On to more demanding loads, we start by testing the CPU’s performance by running the Cinebench R15 test for 15+ times in a loop, with 2-3 seconds delay between each run.
The i9 processor in our configuration stabilizes at 70+W on the standard Extreme Performance setting, which translates in frequencies of 3.9+ GHz and temperatures of around 90 C, scores of 1700+ points, and fans ramping up to 46-47 dB at head-level.
I should add that the processor runs at 80+ W for the first loops and is thermally limited at around 95C, until it is eventually power limited at ~70W, with temperatures of around 90 degrees Celsius.
Undervolting is disabled by default, but you can enable it in BIOS. For that, reboot in BIOS mode and press Right Ctrl + Right Shift + Left Alt + F2 at the same time to unlock the Advanced BIOS functions, and then scroll down to Overclocking settings, enable Overclocking and XTU support, and then reboot back into Windows.
Our sample crashed at -80 mV, so we dialed back -50 mV to prevent any stability issues. We used this undervolting setting in all of our tests.
On this undervolted Extreme Profile, the CPU ends-up running similarly, limited at 70+W, but at slightly higher stabilized clocks and with marginally higher scores. Power becomes the limiting factor in this case as well.
Surprisingly, switching over to the Silent profile has almost no impact on the CPU’s performance, which initially still runs at higher power and ends-up limited at around 70W. The fans run much quieter in this case, though, at only 36-37 dB at head-level, and the CPU is thermally throttled at 95C during the entire test. Power limiting doesn’t kick in in this mode.
Finally, the CPU power is limited at 54+W on battery (in Extreme Performance mode), with matching scores. Details below.
To put these findings in perspective, I’ve added the i9-10980HK configurations of the Asus ROG Scar and Zephyrus Duo in the following chart, as well as a Ryzen 4800H implementation in the 15-inch Legion 5 chassis. AMD still have an edge in this test, but the i9 Intel models are fairly close. That aside, these results put the GE66 i9 in between the two other implementations, while requiring less power and running quieter. I’ve also added a top-end i7-10750H implementation, so you’ll know what to generally expect if you go with that CPU option.
We then went ahead and further verified our findings with the longer Cinebench R20 loop test and the gruesome Prime 95, on the Extreme Performance profile. The CPU stabilizes at 70+ W on both tests, with temperatures of around 90 degrees C and 46-47 dB fans noise.
We also ran our combined CPU+GPU stress tests on this notebook. 3DMark stress runs the same test for 20 times in a loop and looks for performance variation and degradation over time, and this unit passed it just fine. Luxmark 3.1 fully loads both the CPU and GPU at the same time, but is not properly supported on the i9-10980HK, so not relevant here.
Next, we ran the entire suite of tests and benchmarks, on the stock Extreme Performance profile in Dragon Center.
- 3DMark 13 – Fire Strike: 19837 (Graphics – 22822, Physics – 21756, Combined – 9387);
- 3DMark 13 – Port Royal: 5309;
- 3DMark 13 – Time Spy: 8850 (Graphics – 8707, CPU – 9764);
- AIDA64 Memory test: Write: 48461 MB/s, Read: 44732 MB/s, Latency: 57.3 ns;
- Uniengine Superposition – 1080p Extreme: 5433;
- Uniengine Superposition – 1080p Medium: 17102;
- Handbrake 1.3.1 (4K to 1080p encode): 43.11 average fps;
- PassMark: Rating: 7134 (CPU: 20923, 3D Graphics: 13711, Disk: 24674);
- PCMark 10: 5946 (Essentials – 9593, Productivity – 7679, Digital Content Creation – 7744);
- GeekBench 4.4.2 64-bit: Single-Core: 6145, Multi-core: 33972;
- GeekBench 5.0.1 64-bit: Single-Core: 1329, Multi-core: 7017;
- CineBench R15 (best run): CPU 1828 cb, CPU Single Core 207 cb;
- CineBench R20 (best run): CPU 4044 cb, CPU Single Core 485 cb;
- x264 HD Benchmark 4.0 32-bit: Pass 1 – 236.78 fps, Pass 2 – 107.83 fps;
- x265 HD Benchmark 64-bit: 34.53 s.
The default Extreme Performance profile doesn’t impact the GPU in any way, that’s why we also reran some of the tests on a -50mV Undervolted Extreme Performance profile, alongside an overclocked GPU in MSI Afterburner at +120 MHz Clock and +200 MHz Memory. We’ll further call this the Extreme Tweaked profile. For what is worth, the GPU runs at 90 to 105W of power between the different tests, as expected for a 2080 Super Max-Q implementation.
Here’s what we got in this case:
- 3DMark 13 – Fire Strike: 20757 (Graphics – 24016, Physics – 22507, Combined – 9727);
- 3DMark 13 – Port Royal: 5560;
- 3DMark 13 – Time Spy: 9135 (Graphics – 9177, CPU – 10186);
- Uniengine Superposition – 1080p Extreme: 5756;
- Uniengine Superposition – 1080p Medium: 17938;
- Handbrake 1.3.1 (4K to 1080p encode): 45.74 average fps;
- PassMark: Rating: 7224 (CPU: 21185, 3D Graphics: 13811, Disk: 22074);
- PCMark 10: 5931 (Essentials – 9510, Productivity – 7590, Digital Content Creation – 7843);
- GeekBench 5.0.1 64-bit: Single-Core: 1302, Multi-core: 8383;
- CineBench R15 (best run): CPU 1907 cb, CPU Single Core 212 cb;
- CineBench R20 (best run): CPU 4303 cb, CPU Single Core 499 cb;
- x264 HD Benchmark 4.0 32-bit: Pass 1 – 253.34 fps, Pass 2 – 108.04 fps;
- x265 HD Benchmark 64-bit: 33.88 s.
We also ran some Workstation related loads, on the Extreme and Extreme Tweaked profiles:
- Blender 2.90 – BMW Car scene- CPU Compute: 3m 39s (Extreme), 3m 44s (Extreme Tweaked);
- Blender 2.90 – BMW Car scene- GPU Compute: 1m 11s (CUDA), 32s (Optix);
- Blender 2.90 – Classroom scene – CPU Compute: 10m 12s (Extreme), 10m 25s (Extreme Tweaked);
- Blender 2.90 – Classroom scene – GPU Compute: 3m 20s (CUDA), 1m 50s (Optix);
- Luxmark 3.1 – Luxball HDR – OpenCL CPUs + GPUs score: CPU not recognized;
- SPECviewerf 13 – 3DSMax: 193.27 (Extreme);
- SPECviewerf 13 – Catia: 143.42 (Extreme);
- SPECviewerf 13 – Creo: 187.24 (Extreme);
- SPECviewerf 13 – Energy: 18.96 (Extreme);
- SPECviewerf 13 – Maya: 226.15 (Extreme);
- SPECviewerf 13 – Medical: 60.15 (Extreme);
- SPECviewerf 13 – Showcase: 105.43 (Extreme);
- SPECviewerf 13 – SNX: 21.13 (Extreme);
- SPECviewerf 13 – SW: 94.09 (Extreme).
Overall, we’re looking at a slight 2-3% improvement in CPU scores and 2-5% improvement in the GPU tests. Not much.
That aside, this is s solid implementation of the i9 processor and RTX 2080 Super graphics chip. For comparison, the few other i9-10980HK configurations we’ve tested, namely the ROG Scar and Zephyrus DUO, scored similarly in both the CPU and GPU tests.
With these out of the way, let’s look at some games. We ran a couple of DX11, DX12, and Vulkan titles on the stock Extreme and Extreme Tweaked profiles, with the fans on Auto, on both FHD (internal screen) and QHD (external monitor) resolutions. Here’s what we got:
|i9-10980HK + RTX 2080 Super Max-Q
||FHD Extreme Tweaked
|Battlefield V (DX 12, Ultra Preset, Ray-Tracing OFF)
||121 fps (81 fps – 1% low)
||129 fps (78 fps – 1% low)
||118 fps (68 fps – 1% low)
|Battlefield V (DX 12, Ultra Preset, Ray-Tracing ON, DLSS OFF)
||77 fps (58 fps – 1% low)
||82 fps (52 fps – 1% low)
||65 fps (49 fps – 1% low)
|Far Cry 5 (DX 11, Ultra Preset, SMAA)
||112 fps (87 fps – 1% low)
||118 fps (90 fps – 1% low)
||96 fps (68 fps – 1% low)
||88 fps (66 fps – 1% low)
|Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (DX 11, Ultra Preset)
||175 fps (118 fps – 1% low)
||184 fps (121 fps – 1% low)
||158 fps (114 fps – 1% low)
||125 fps (28 fps – 1% low)
|Red Dead Redemption 2 (DX 12, Ultra Optimized, TAA)
||94 fps (66 fps – 1% low)
||98 fps (67 fps – 1% low)
|Rise of Tomb Raider (DX 12, Very High Preset, FXAA)
||125 fps (67 fps – 1% low)
||126 fps (69 fps – 1% low)
||112 fps (62 fps – 1% low)
||98 fps (58 fps – 1% low)
|Shadow of Tomb Raider (DX 12, Highest Preset, TAA)
||105 fps (76 fps – 1% low)
||109 fps (78 fps – 1% low)
||98 fps (68 fps – 1% low)
||74 fps (57 fps – 1% low)
|Strange Brigade (Vulkan, Ultra Preset)
||160 fps (120 fps – 1% low)
||169 fps (128 fps – 1% low)
||142 fps (111 fps – 1% low)
||121 fps (98 fps – 1% low)
|The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (DX 11, Ultra Preset, Hairworks On 4)
||114 fps (75 fps – 1% low)
||118 fps (77 fps – 1% low)
||104 fps (69 fps – 1% low)
||88 fps (25 fps – 1% low)
- Battlefield V, The Witcher 3 – recorded with Fraps/in-game FPS counter in campaign mode;
- Far Cry 5, Middle Earth, Strange Brigade, Red Dead Redemption 2, Tomb Raider games – recorded with the included Benchmark utilities;
- Red Dead Redemption 2 Optimized profile based on these settings.
The HWinfo logs below show the CPU and GPU speeds and temperatures in Far Cry 5, Red Dead Redemption 2, and Witcher 3 on the stock Extreme Performance profile.
Both the performance and the thermals are top-notch on this laptop in most titles, with the CPU running in the mid-70s and the GPU in the mid to high 70s in Witcher 3, Red Dead Redemption 2 or Battlefield 5. The CPU-heavy Far Cry 5 is the exception, and the i9 CPU hits temperatures in the high 80s and low 90s in this case. All these on the stock Extreme Performance profile, while the fans ramp up to about 46-47 dB at head level.
Raising the laptop from the desk makes quite a difference in the performance and temperatures here, shaving about 5-10 degrees off the CPU and 5 degrees off the GPU, and also allowing the GPU to run at higher clocks in most titles. As mentioned earlier, the small rubber feet on the back of this laptop don’t allow for enough fresh air to get in, and taller feet would have made a big difference here.
Then, undervolting the CPU and especially overclocking the GPU slightly improve on the performance as well, but actually raising it up makes a bigger difference. Of course, you can both overclock and lift up the bottom for the maximum impact.
Now, while this laptop doesn’t run as noisy as the other gaming options in its niche, the fans are still rather annoying at 46-47 dB. Switching over to the Silent performance profile quiets the fans to below 38 dB, but with a significant increase in temperatures and a fairly limited toll in performance. With the laptop sitting on the desk, both the CPU and GPU are thermally limited and run in the 80s (on the GPU) and 90s (on the CPU). The games are perfectly playable, even if the components clock down as the heat builds up, but the high internal and external temperatures advise against using the laptop in this way for long, especially with demanding titles.
However, raising up the laptop helps a whole lot in this Silent mode as well, allowing for both more comfortable temperatures and improved performance.
For what is worth, MSI also offers a Cooler Boost fan profile for this laptop, which allows improved thermals and performance on both the CPU and the GPU, but also pushes the fan noise to unusable levels of 52-53 dB. Even headphones struggle to cover that, and I can’t see how you’d be able to use the laptop on this mode in real life.
Finally, the GE66 is also a fair candidate for external monitor use with the laptop’s lid closed and the device placed into a vertical stand. This way, both the intakes and exhausts are not obstructed in any way, just in keep in mind that you might struggle to hook up your external monitor with some stands, as the connectors are placed on the rear-edge.
In conclusion, this MSI GE66 Raider is an excellent performer in daily use, synthetic tests, workloads, and games, and for the most part, runs cooler and quieter than the competition, even with its small rear-rubber feet that obstruct the air-intake.
Raised up or placed on a cooling pad, this truly excels and ends-up one of the best-balanced notebooks we’ve ever tested, in terms of performance, thermals, and noise. And don’t forget that our test model is the i9 configuration + RTX 2080 graphics chip; the i7 models should run even cooler on the CPU side.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers, and others
The MSI GE66 Raider gets a complex cooling design, with two high-capacity fans and a multitude of heatpipes spread over the CPU, GPU, and VRMs, but without a Northbridge thermal plate. Most of this thermal module addresses the GPU, but there’s enough to also handle the i9 CPU, as explained in the previous section.
As an extra note, the wide-open back mesh allows excellent ventilation, especially when raising up the laptop to improve the airflow underneath, but dust also easily gathers inside with this design. I’d advise giving it a thorough cleanup once every 2-3 months with a can of compressed air.
As mentioned already, this laptop runs quietly with daily use. Both fans rest idly with video streaming and very basic activities, and the CPU fan kicks in with multitasking, spinning at up to 37 dB. I haven’t noticed any coil winning or electronic noises on our unit.
Here’s what to expect in terms of noise, at head-level.
- Extreme Performance, fans on Cooler Boost – 52-53 dB with games;
- Extreme Performance, fans on Auto – 46-47 dB with games, 46-47 dB with Cinebench loop test;
- Silent, fans on Auto – 37-38 dB with games, 0-37 dB with daily use.
With games, the fans ramp up to only about 46-47 dB at head-level on the standard Extreme Profile, which is quieter than the other performance laptop in its segment. Ramping up the fans to their max Cooler Boost mode pushes the noise to unusable 52-53 dB levels, while switching over to Silent lower the noise under 38 dB when running games, but with an increase in temperatures.
Speaking of, we’ve already shown you this GE66 keeps the internals and fair temperatures even with longer gaming sessions, so the fact that the outer case runs within reasonable limits as well is definitely not a surprise.
We’re looking at temperatures in the high-40s in the middle of the keyboard on the Extreme Performance profile, low-40s around the WASD area, 30s around the arrows keys, and up to low-50s in certain spots on the back. Raising up the laptop lowers these temperatures by up to 5 degrees in the hottest parts.
Of course, the laptop runs a lot hotter on Silent, especially when on the desk, and even in this case raising it up helps a fair bit. Thus, gaming sessions with the laptop siting on the desk are a hard pass on this laptop, but running most games on Silent with the laptop raised up keeps the external temperatures within acceptable limits, with temperatures in the 50s in the hottest interior spots, and low to mid-40s around the WASD and arrow regions.
Keep in mind we’ve run our tests in a controlled environment with the AC set at 24-25 degrees Celsius, so these temperatures might differ in other conditions
*Daily Use – streaming Netflix in EDGE for 30 minutes, Silent profile, fans at 0-36 dB
*Gaming – Silent – playing Far Cry 5 for 30 minutes, Silent profile, fans at 36-37 dB
*Gaming – Extreme Performance, fans on Auto – playing Far Cry 5 for 30 minutes, Extreme Performance profile, fans at 46-47 dB
*Gaming – Extreme Performance, fans on Cooler Boost – playing Far Cry 5 for 30 minutes, Extreme Performance profile, fans at 52-53 dB
For connectivity, there’s Wireless 6 and Bluetooth 5 through an Intel AX201 chip on this unit, as well as 2.5 Gigabit Lan. Our sample performed well on WiFi both near the router and at 30+ feet with obstacles in between.
Audio is handled by a pair of fairly punchy speakers that fire through these tiny holes in the right and left edge. It took me a while to figure out where the sounds comes out from.
These get fairly loud on the Music profile in the Nahimic software, at 80-82 dB at head-level. However, they greatly lack bass and sound weird and tinny once pushed above volumes of 50%. Much like with the GS66 Stealth, a pair of headphones is a must with this laptop if you care about sound quality.
The webcam is placed at the top of the screen flanked by microphones. The image quality isn’t amazing, but overall better than the standard laptop webcam available these days.
There’s a 99.9 Wh battery inside the GE66 Stealth, the largest legally allowed on a notebook, and that translates in fair runtimes on a charge.
However, keep in mind that the system down not automatically switch the screen to 60 Hz when unplugging the laptop, which you might want to when looking to maximize runtimes, as running it at 240 Hz takes its slight toll.
Here’s what we got on our unit, with the screen’s brightness set at around 120-nits (60%) and 240 Hz refresh:
- 16 W (~6+ h of use) – text editing in Google Drive, Silent Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 15.5 W (~6+ h of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Edge, Silent Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 14.5 W (~6+ h of use) – Netflix fullscreen in Edge, Silent Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 24 W (~4+ h of use) – browsing in Edge, Balanced Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON.
Overall, this GE66 model ran more efficiently than the GS66 Stealth we’ve tested a while ago, and in line with what I’d expect from this sort of hardware platform.
MSI pairs the laptop with a generic and fairly-compact Chicony 230W power-brick, which still weighs around .88 kilos with the included cables in the EU version. Refilling the battery takes 2 to 3 hours, and up to 65W of USB-C charging is also supported with a compatible charger, for those times when you don’t want to bring along the main power brick.
Price and availability
The 2020 MSI GE66 Raider is widely available at this point all around the world.
This top-version tested here, with the i9-10980HK processor, 32 GB of RAM, 1 TB of SSD storage, Nvidia RTX 2080 Super graphics, and the 300 Hz screen, MSRPs at $2999 in the US and around 3500 EUR in Europe.
However, better-balanced versions are available from around 1800 USD/ 2000 EUR with the i7 processor, Nvidia RTX 2070 graphics, and the 240 Hz screen. No word on the RTX 2060 model, though, at least for now.
Follow this link for updated configurations and prices in your region at the time you’re reading this article.
This here is one of the best-balanced performance laptops we’ve tested in years.
It’s a full-size computer, so not as portable as some of the other modern options, but compensates by excellently balancing the performance, thermals, and noise-levels in pretty much every activity, from casual use to demanding workloads and games. Sure, MSI could have made this laptop even better with slightly taller rubber feet that would have further helped the thermal module, but even as it is, this runs cooler and quieter than the few competitors with similar specs that we’ve tested.
That aside, the GE66 Raider is also a significant step forward for MSI in terms of design and build quality, and doesn’t compromise on any of its important traits.
On the other hand, I should add that some of you might have a hard time adapting to the shallow and soft keyboard, the kind you’d normally get in an ultrabook, and not in this sort of a gaming laptop. On top of that, some might resent the poor audio solution or might not be able to look past the lack of Thunderbolt 3 support, but these are overall minor quirks in the grand scheme of what this laptop is, with the exception of the speakers, which are my single major gripe with this unit.
Of course, this GE66 Raider is not a cheap laptop, especially in the top tier configuration with the i9 processor and RTX 2080 graphics, but it’s also on par or even cheaper than some of the alternatives that offer similar specs, plus can actually put these to good use and keep them within proper operating temperatures in ways that many of the competitors cannot. Furthermore, MSI also offers the laptop with lower-tier specs, and my recommendation would primarily go for the RTX 2070 Super variant with the i7 laptop, as one of the best no-compromise gaming laptops of this generation.
As far as that competition goes, the Asus ROG Strix Scar, the Gigabyte Aorus 15X and the Lenovo Legion 7i come to mind. We’ve only reviewed the 2020 ROG Scar, so you should look into the other two as well before deciding on your option within this class of full-size 15-inch performance laptops.
That wraps up our review of the MSI GE66 Raider, but I’d love to hear your thoughts and impressions on it, both if you’re looking to get one and especially if you’ve already bought it and can share your ownership experience. Please get in touch in the comments section down below.
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