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MSI GL65-9SD Review

An affordable gaming laptop with one too many major flaws

Verdict

The MSI GL65 will suit as an entry-level gaming notebook for anyone who needs a superb performance on a budget. However, by going cheap there are a lot of compromises you have to contend with. Its design is cumbersome, the screen quality is poor and the keyboard is uncomfortably cramped. You're also missing a few popular gaming features such as RGB customisation and ray tracing. While we would't rule out an MSI GL65 purchase, you can better all-rounder gaming laptop alternatives at a similar price.

Pros

  • Strong entry-level performance
  • Speedy 120Hz display
  • Strong connectivity

Cons

  • Poor colour reproduction
  • Cramped keyboard
  • Limited customisation and control

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £1265
  • 15.6-inch, 1920 x 1080, 120Hz
  • Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti GPU
  • Intel Core i7-9750H CPU
  • 16GB DDR4 RAM
  • 256GB SSD + 1TB HDD storage
  • Windows 10
  • Dimensions: 358 x 248 x 27.5 mm
  • Weight: 2.3 kg

The MSI GL65 isn’t aimed at enthusiasts or gamers who demand total control over their hardware.

Instead, this is a worthy entry-level gaming machine for anyone who needs dependable performance to play the latest games. And portability shouldn’t be a top priority, as this is one chunky monkey despite being a 15.6-incher.

With an asking price of £1265 at the time of review, the GL65-9SD is sat comfortably down in the ‘affordable’ end of the gaming laptop market. So is it a worthy alternative to budget-friendly options like the Acer Predator Helios 300?

MSI GL65-9SD design – As subtle as it gets

While some gaming laptops clock in at under 2kg despite packing some serious specs, this MSI isn’t one of them. Still, the 2.3kg chassis certainly isn’t a behemoth and can be carried around when needed.

The GL65 is reasonably restrained on the design front too, once you get past that obligatory light-up dragon logo adorning the lid and those sizeable exhaust ports housed around the edges. Some may find the all-black finish a little dull, but you do get occasional spots of angular flair to liven things up a bit.

MSI GL65 Review

Construction is solid, with no obvious weak spots. That lid is firm enough to protect the display, flexing just the right amount to absorb any sudden impact, while the rest of the frame can happily withstand a bit of punishment.

All is well on the connectivity front as well. You have HDMI and Mini DisplayPort to hook up another couple of displays simultaneously if you want a more immersive home gaming experience. The MSI GL65 also serves up a single Type-C USB 3.2 and three full-sized Type-A 3.2 ports for hooking up your peripherals, which are split between the left and right edges. There’s even an SD card reader, plus of course an Ethernet port for your online gaming needs.

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MSI GL65 Review

MSI GL65-9SD keyboard – You’ve got red on you

While it’s possible to upgrade to a keyboard with proper RGB customisation, if that’s your bag, our GL65 review model came with a standard all-red lighting arrangement.

Individual key customisation would have admittedly been useful on this laptop, as everything feels a little cramped. That numeric pad is crushed up next to the rest of the board, while there are no gaps to separate the arrow keys either, which can prove rather frustrating.

MSI GL65 Review

Beyond that, the keyboard served its purpose well enough. You get a respectable amount of travel and a comfortable typing action, although the key action does veer into ‘spongy’ territory.

I’d have personally preferred slightly larger keys as well, with more generous spacing. All the same, once I adjusted to this setup, I had no issues with playing any kind of action title.

MSI GL65 Review

You also have a perfectly acceptable touchpad, although it’s shunted off to the left side which is less than ideal if you’re right-handed. Definitely get a mouse stuck in there.

Related: Best Gaming Keyboard 2020

MSI GL65-9SD screen and sound – Hit and miss

MSI’s 15.6-inch IPS display offers a view of the gaming action, with a Full HD resolution to keep the visuals crisp. If you want full-on 4K action, you’ll have to bump up your budget a bit.

Your fast-paced action games will look smooth as oily butter thanks to the 120Hz refresh rate, although sadly the colour reproduction leaves a lot to be desired. The GL65 accurately matches only 60% of the sRGB gamut and a measly 45% of the Adobe RGB range.

MSI GL65 Review

Brightness tops out at 310 nits, which is pretty average overall. Visibility is fine indoors, but don’t stray outside unless you enjoy squinting a lot. The display is also slightly on the warm side, hovering around the 6900K to 7000K point from low to high brightness points.

For audio, you have a pair of 2W stereo speakers, which are housed underneath the laptop. These are unfortunately weaker than watered-down supermarket lager, even when you boost the volume, so you’re far better off using a proper gaming headset.

Related: Best Gaming Headset 2020

MSI GL65-9SD performance – Strong budget showing

The MSI GL65 range comes with an ‘up to 9th generation’ Intel Core i7 chipset – our test unit had the 9750H stuck inside, backed by 16GB of DDR4 RAM. Graphics are handled by Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1660 Ti GPU, with 6GB of GDDR6 memory.

You can fiddle about with performance settings from within MSI’s Dragon Center app, boosting to the ‘Turbo’ option when you’re facing a resource-chugging memory-intensive game.

MSI GL65 Review

There’s no proper dedicated overclocking feature, but I still found that the GL65 could smash through the latest titles like Zombie Army 4 with a solid 90fps performance, even on the ultra detail settings. And if you drop the graphics to medium levels, you’ll happily touch upon the 120fps limit that the display can cope with, with no pesky image tearing or other issues.

MSI GL65 9SD
(GTX 1660 Ti)
Asus ROG Zephyrus G14
(RTX 2060)
Razer Blade 15
(RTX 2070)
Shadow of the
Tomb Raider
81 70 83
Dirt Rally 144 127 108
Ghost Recon Wildland  79 44 52

The gaming benchmarks were impressive overall, with the MSI GL65 9SD beating our top-recommended gaming laptop (Asus ROG Zephyrus G14) as well as the Razer Blade 15 for select tests, despite both rivals having superior graphics cards.

Of course, there’s no support for ray tracing on this lower-end Turing GPU, although that feature still isn’t extensively supported by modern titles. If that’s a problem for you, check out something like the Acer Predator Triton 500 instead.

The MSI machine also performed well for general performance benchmarks. The MSI remained competitive with the Zephyrus G14 for most tests but was well beat for multi-core performance. This means the GL65 9SD is very much capable of running intensive creative applications, but is by no means the best gaming laptop option for such tasks. 

MSI GL65 9SD
(GTX 1660 Ti)
Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 (RTX 2060)
PCMark 10 5695 5513
Geekbench 5 single-core 1141 1211
Geekbench 5
multi-core
5430 7828
3DMark Time Spy 5714 6129

You also won’t find any WiFi 6 support here, which would have provided a handy bit of future-proofing. But again, it’s hardly a deal-breaker.

MSI’s cooling system does an admirable job of keeping the GL65 cool under pressure. You don’t get any temperature monitoring tools or anything built into that Dragon Center app. Still, I didn’t notice any throttling or troublesome heat build-up while gaming for an extended period – just the usual super-loud whirring of fans.

A 256GB SSD can be used for your more demanding games although it isn’t the swiftest around, recording read speeds of 1530MB/s and write speeds of 998MB/s. Not a bad result exactly, but surpassed by many other gaming rivals. You also have a 1TB hard drive on board as backup storage.

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MSI GL65-9SD battery life – Limited life expectancy

Like pretty much all gaming laptops, the MSI GL65 burns brightly but also burns out rather rapidly. Even when you’re simply browsing the web or updating that accounts spreadsheet, the battery meter drops at the rate of 1% per minute. So in the Powermark test, the notebook ran out of juice in precisely one hour and forty minutes.

While gaming, this performance drops quite significantly of course. You’ll only get around 45 minutes to frag as many fools as possible, before the notebook keels over.

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MSI GL65 Review

Should you buy the MSI GL65-9SD?

If you’re not bothered about bells and whistles like full RGB customisation or fancy features like Ray Tracing, then the GL65 from MSI is worth a look. Performance is strong enough to cope with any game in Full HD, thanks to the Turing graphics and beefy budget specs, while there’s plenty of ports to get hooked up to all of your peripherals.

That said, some compromises have to be made. From the sub-standard colour accuracy to the cramped keyboard, the GL65 certainly has a few issues that tarnish the overall package. Thankfully none of the problems were irritating enough to put me off, but you will find better all-around gaming laptops at this price point.

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