Friday, August 19, 2022

MSI GS77 Stealth review: don’t let the name fool you

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Don’t let the name fool you – there’s nothing inconspicuous about this device.

The MSI GS77 Stealth has long been the portable option among MSI’s gaming elite, and while that fact remained questionably true with last year’s 5.4-pound GS76 Stealth, the 0.79-inch-thick, 6.17-inch -pound GS77 of this year that idea effectively in the sun. This laptop is big, thick and bulky, and while it lacks the light strips and LED grilles that other gaudy gaming laptops have, the RGB keyboard still makes it very clear that it’s mostly for gaming.

This isn’t necessarily a huge blow to the device – the GS76 was quite light for what it was, and the GS77 has brought the Stealth series back in line with the rest of the 17-inch market. It now weighs slightly more than Razer’s Blade 17 and Asus’ Zephyrus S17. And it’s almost the same weight as MSI’s more powerful GE76 Raider.

You can see why MSI may have wanted to get bigger, as the chips inside have baked just about every chassis they touch this year. The model we got includes a 12th-gen Core i7-12900H – one of the most powerful mobile chips in Intel history – paired with Nvidia’s RTX 3070 Ti, 32GB of RAM and 1TB of storage, all with a 240Hz QHD display. .

But the new girth takes away a major advantage the GS77 used to have over these models: The GS77 Stealth seems to have lost something of what made it desirable as a “portable” purchase. The keyboard is on the flat side, the touchpad is uncomfortably stiff, the battery life is not good and the device is too big and heavy to take anywhere reliably. What’s left is a computer that demands many of the same compromises as the most powerful gaming laptops on the market, without the same exceptional frame rates.

For more information about our score, see how we assess.

The main advantage that the Stealth now has is the price. My test unit is currently listed for $2,899. To get this GPU in the GE76 Raider (which has an even sturdier Core i9 and a nicer design) would be $100 morewhile a QHD Razer Blade 17 with the 3070 Ti would be a whole $3,399.99. I was also able to find GS77 models for as low as $1,799 (for a 144Hz 1080p display, an RTX 3060 and 16GB RAM), while the cheapest Blade on Razer’s site is $2,799 and the 12th Gen Raider begins for $2,299. Still, $2,899 is hardly a budget price, and it’s worth knowing what compromises you’re making for that lower cost.

The MSI GS77 Stealth seen from above half open on a green fabric sofa.

The lid is fairly fingerprint-free.

The rear left corner of the MSI GS77 Stealth.

That also applies to a large part of the keyboard deck.

First, the aspect of the GS77 that is an undeniable improvement over last year: build quality. I’ve had complaints about MSI’s chassis in the past, but the GS77’s base and lid are both sturdy and rigid. The trackpad collected some fingerprints quite easily, but the rest of the chassis wasn’t much of a magnet for them. It’s a nice computer, and it hasn’t got any scratches or dents after fiddling around in a suitcase for a few days.

Other advantages of previous models remain. There’s a good range of ports, including two USB-C, two USB-A, a headphone jack, HDMI, ethernet and an SD card reader. (The SD reader is strangely slower than last year though, as other reviewers have noted?.) The QHD screen makes games look great. It packs a whopping six speakers, and while they don’t deliver the best audio on the 17-inch market, my games still sounded pretty good. I had no issues with the microphones, which support AI noise cancellation, and the webcam has a physical shutter switch on the side for peace of mind.

The MSI GS77 Stealth keyboard deck seen from above on a yellow fabric couch.  The screen displays The Verge's home page.

But the touchpad is a different story.

That said, I don’t see myself using this device as a daily driver for two main reasons: the keyboard and the touchpad. The keyboard has nice lighting, but it’s quite thin to type on, with more of a spongy than clicky feel. And while there’s a numeric keypad, the keys are all a bit cramped because of that. Especially the arrow keys feel small.

And the touchpad is what I really had trouble with. It’s big, but it was just as hard to click as I’ve ever experienced on a touchpad. (And it’s pretty loud, too.) I felt like I really had to push my finger down to get a click registered. I was almost about to plug in a mouse (something I don’t do when testing for productivity use cases, as a general policy) because I hated navigating with it. These aren’t unheard of compromises when it comes to 17-inch gaming laptops, but they do underscore how little I’d recommend this as a daily driver.

The MSI GS77 Stealth closed on a yellow fabric couch seen from above.

The dragon is still there, but it is subdued.

When it comes to frame rates, how do these specs stack up? With all sliders maxed out, Red Dead Redemption 2 ran at an average of 60 frames per second at native resolution (technically 59.3, but we can call it 60). That jumped to 65 at 1080p. on Shadow of the Tomb Raider in 1080p, we saw an average of 83 frames per second with ray tracing on Ultra (the maximum setting) and 121 with the feature turned off. At native resolution, these translated to 58 frames per second (another number we could loosely call 60) and 86 respectively. All in all, more than playable.

The GS77 put an absurd 400 frames per second on the CPU-heavy CS:GO at 1080p and a still quite high 286 at native 1440p. The only title that gave the game problems was cyberpunk 2077, which – at native resolution, at maximum settings, ray-traced up to “Psycho” – ran 19 frames per second (but reached 33 at those settings in 1080p).

All in all, these are certainly an improvement over last year’s model results, and show that you should have no problems playing most modern games at QHD resolution, even though they’re lower than what you’ll get. can get from more expensive Core i9 and RTX 3080 machines. However, there is one disappointing omission: the GS77 does not support MUX. This component (which both the Raider and Blade have) allows laptops to support adaptive features like G-Sync and can also lead to a significant performance difference. It’s strange to rule out at this price and I imagine many people willing to pay $2,900 won’t make any compromises.

The ports on the left side of the MSI GS77 Stealth.

See that little switch? That’s for the webcam.

When it comes to other workloads, the Stealth was more competitive. It completed our five minutes and 33 seconds of 4K Adobe Premiere Pro video export test in two minutes and 15 seconds. The Raider topped out this time, clocking in at one minute and 56 seconds, but it’s one of the few laptops to ever do that. Last year’s 3070 GS76 was 12 seconds slower. (These aren’t meant as apple-to-apple comparisons, as different versions of Premiere can change over time; they’re more to give you an idea of ​​how long an export might take.)

The GS77 also beat the GS76, as well as the Blade and other creative workstations like the Gigabyte Aero 16, on the Puget Systems benchmark for Premiere Pro, which tests live playback and export performance in 4K and 8K. (It lost a lot to the Raider). This isn’t a laptop I’d recommend people use for office workloads, so the GS77’s good performance here isn’t the biggest point in its favor.

The ports on the right side of the MSI GS77 Stealth.

Two USB-C and one SD on the right.

The keyboard deck of the MSI GS77 Stealth seen from above.

The charging port, HDMI and ethernet are on the back.

MSI’s software is certainly not as glitchy as it has been in years past, which is an encouraging sign. I had no problem adjusting fan profiles and such with the pre-installed programs. I did encounter a glitch where the screen started turning off when I tried to run games (an issue on a gaming laptop). MSI sent me a replacement unit, which did not show that problem. Still, it’s not the kind of thing we like to see on $2,900 products.

And then we get to what I see as the biggest compromise here: battery life. I only averaged about two hours and 16 minutes of continuous use on this thing, with some trials lasting even less than two hours. That has to be close to the worst battery life I’ve ever gotten out of a gaming laptop. While it’s widely believed that cheaper laptops contain less powerful chips, it’s a tough pill to swallow to give up battery life in addition to that power (the Raider lasted about two hours longer on the same workload).

If you look purely at frame rates on paper, this laptop is a great buy. It can play all kinds of games with QHD resolution without burning down your basement.

But the Stealth name, and the way the line has been historically positioned, may mean for some people that this device is a good choice for more than just gaming. It’s not; MSI’s changes to the Stealth line made it more powerful at the expense of other features that made it, well, Stealthy. It’s too big and heavy to constantly carry in a briefcase or backpack, the battery life isn’t usable for everyday work without a power outlet, and the keyboard and touchpad just wouldn’t be my choice for everyday use. This is no longer really a portable alternative to the Raider. It’s just a more affordable version of the Raider.

Which is fine, if that’s what you’re looking for. But with the Raider having more powerful specs, better battery life, more RGB, and a MUX switch for a few hundred bucks more, I think it offers an overall better experience worth the money for people shopping in this range.

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