The MSI Katana GF66 is a very cheap gaming laptop, and despite the price it provides solid 1080p gaming performance and a good Intel processor. However, the low price means a lack of quality, with the screen and battery disappointing
- Solid 1080p gaming ability
- A decent Intel processor
- Very cheap
- Cool and quiet, no matter the situation
- Washed-out, underwhelming screen
- Very poor battery life
- Not many extra features
- Dull design
- Mainstream 1080p graphics:The Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 delivers consistently smooth performance in big games and esports titles.
- A versatile Intel processor:The new Intel Core i7-11800H is impressive in most situations, from web-browsing to photo-editing
- Cheaper than the competition:The Asus undercuts its rivals, so it’s a great value option for mainstream gaming
The MSI Katana GF66 is one of the most affordable big-brand gaming laptops around, but that doesn’t mean you’ve got to suffer with old, bargain-basement components either.
This machine pairs a Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 graphics with one of Intel’s latest 11th Gen processors. Elsewhere, the Katana serves up a 144Hz display and a surprisingly versatile keyboard.
Can this affordable option punch above its weight to become one of the best gaming laptops on the market today?
Price and availability
The MSI Katana GF66 (11UE) is the model reviewed here, and it’s available for just £1199. It’s coming out in the US and Europe, too, but at the time of writing it’s not available at retail. When it arrives, expect it to land at prices similar to the UK figure.
MSI is also producing more affordable models. The GF66 (11UD) will cost £999 and it includes RTX 3050 Ti graphics alongside the same Core i7-11800H processor as the machine I’ve reviewed.
If you need less firepower, the £999 GF66 (11UC) combines the Core i7 CPU with an RTX 3050. The entry-level model costs £899 and pairs the RTX 3050 with a Core i5-11400H CPU.
The MSI’s nearest rival is the Asus ROG Strix G15. When I reviewed that gaming notebook, it paired an RTX 3070 with an AMD Ryzen 7 5800H processor at a higher price of £1699 / $1799 / €1999.
However, it’s possible to buy the Asus with an RTX 3060 for £1399 / $1499 / €1499. A more affordable Asus model with RTX 3050 Ti graphics is also in the pipeline.
Design and keyboard
- Reasonable build quality in an uninspired chassis
- Basic connectivity and features, but nothing more
- The keyboard is sturdy and comfortable: a good everyday option
The MSI Katana GF66 is not bad-looking, but its price does mean it’s pretty plain. There are no RGB LEDs, for instance, and this machine is largely made from plastic. The only illumination is the single-zone red keyboard backlight. Happily, it’s got solid build quality that’ll withstand being carted around the house or LAN parties. Its weight of 2.25kg and 25mm thickness are unremarkable and not terrible.
The MSI has two USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports alongside a USB-C connector with DisplayPort. Elsewhere, the MSI has an HDMI port and an audio jack. That’s pretty limited, though: the USB ports are restricted to a modest top speed of 5Gbps and the MSI doesn’t have card or fingerprint readers.
There’s a webcam, but it doesn’t support Windows Hello, and on the inside the MSI has dual-band Wi-Fi 6, Gigabit Ethernet and Bluetooth 5.0. It’s standard stuff, so it’s fine for gaming and everyday use, but the absence of extra features mean this machine isn’t the best option for productivity.
It’s a similar story with the audio kit: the speakers don’t have much bass, but they have an accurate mid-range and the high-end isn’t tinny, so they’re perfectly usable. A headset will always be better, though.
The Asus ROG Strix G15 may be pricier, but it’s better in several areas. It has more RGB LEDs and bolder design, a thinner body, and more versatile USB-C connectivity – although it still misses out on a webcam, fingerprint reader and card reader.
The MSI’s keyboard is decent. It’s got a numberpad – albeit with smaller keys – which is increasingly rare on mid-range gaming laptops. There’s loads of secondary functionality, and the keys offer plenty of travel, a fast and consistent typing action and a solid base.
The trackpad has slightly soft buttons, but anyone who wants to enjoy gaming will be using a USB mouse anyway.
- The 144Hz refresh rate handles mainstream gaming well
- The display has good contrast, so it’s usable for gaming
- Poor colours leave games looking washed-out and pallid
The MSI Katana GF66 11UE has a 1080p panel with a 15.6in diagonal and a 144Hz refresh rate. There’s no G-Sync, but this display is fast and smooth enough to cope with mainstream games and esports titles.
Its black point of 0.19 nits and contrast level of 1274:1 are good, and they deliver reasonable depth. Look beyond this, though, and the MSI falters.
The Delta E of 4.9 is average, undermining the colour temperature of 6,673K, and the panel only rendered 57.7% of the sRGB colour gamut. That’s poor, and it means that this display can’t render the full range of colours used by today’s games. The display looks pallid and underwhelming, with washed-out colours.
This panel is usable for everyday gaming and browsing, but nothing will look particularly good. The Asus was far better, with full sRGB coverage and accurate colours, and you’ll generally get better quality on any big-brand gaming notebook if you spend just a little more.
- The RTX 3060 is a great mainstream gaming GPU
- Intel’s latest CPU is fast, and not far behind AMD for multi-tasking
- The MSI is consistently cooler and quieter than other gaming laptops
Graphical grunt comes from an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060. In the MSI Katana GF66 (11UE) it has a peak power level of 85W, which is right in the middle of Nvidia’s range for this GPU.
The Core i7-11800H is a more recent 11th Gen processor that’s got eight multi-threaded cores alongside speeds of 2.3GHz and 4.6GHz. It compares well to other Intel chips that are popular at the moment.
The rest of the Katana’s specification is fine, if unsurprising. There’s 16GB of dual-channel memory and a 512GB NVMe SSD. That’s adequate for mainstream gaming and work, although a few game installs will see that SSD getting filled up quickly.
The RTX 3060 is a solid Full HD gaming chip. It played Horizon: Zero Dawn at a smooth 74fps and handled Borderlands 3 at 57fps. Those are good results, and they mean that you’ll be able to play today’s big releases at smooth speeds. You’ll only have to dial back the graphics settings in the toughest titles.
The MSI also played Dirt Rally at 103fps, and that bodes well for esports games – most of the big esports titles are less demanding, so you’ll be able to run games like Fortnite, League of Legends at Overwatch at the triple-figure framerates required by the 144Hz panel.
The RTX 3060 managed to occasionally compete with the RTX 3070 inside the Asus. That beefier GPU was only three frames quicker in Horizon, and the RTX 3060 was two frames quicker in Dirt Rally. The MSI’s RTX 3060 was 22 frames behind in Borderlands 3, though, and its score of 6907 in 3D Mark Time Spy was loads slower than the RTX 3070.
MSI’s processor is superb in single-threaded tasks, and that means you’ll have no issues with Office applications and web-browsers – and that bodes well for games, too. AMD’s chips are still better for multi-threaded workloads like content-creation, but this Intel chip can still handle those tasks without too much slowdown.
|MSI Katana GF66 (11UE)||Asus ROG Strix G15|
|Processor||Intel Core i7-11800H||AMD Ryzen 7 5800H|
|Geekbench 5 (single core)||1537||1380|
|Geekbench 5 (multi core)||6556||7086|
|Graphics card||Nvidia RTX 3060||Nvidia RTX 3070|
|3DMark Time Spy||6907||9769|
MSI’s machine delivered these benchmarks while performing well in thermal tests. This is one of the quietest gaming laptops I’ve tested in ages – in many tasks you’ll barely notice the fan noise, and it makes less racket than every competitor. Clock speeds were consistently good, and none of the external panels became too warm. It’s very easy to live with.
The SSD speeds were disappoint however, delivering read and write results of 1984MB/s and 977MB/s. Most modern gaming laptops seemingly aim for a 3000MB/s score, so this is quite far off the pace, which means you may encounter longer loading screens and lengthier installs.
- You’ll get a couple of hours from this machine while gaming – not bad
- But in other tasks the MSI won’t last three hours, so stay close to a plug
The battery is the area where the the MSI Katana GF66 11UE’s lower price is evident – the Katana has a tiny 53.5Wh cell.
If you want to play games using this machine expect around 1hr 45mins of longevity. That’s reasonable, but the Katana only lasted for just over two hours during a work test with reduced screen brightness and around three hours when watching a movie.
No gaming laptop has good battery life when playing games – as usual, this machine is better when leashed to the mains. But it’s disappointing to see a gaming laptop not provide better results in less-demanding tasks. It’s an area where spending more cash will definitely see a better return.
Should you buy it?
You want an affordable, mainstream gaming laptop:
The best aspect of the MSI Katana GF66 is its low price. If you just want a cheap gaming laptop that can do the bare minimum, this is a great choice.
You need a good screen, battery, or set of features:
MSI has made a lot of compromises to make it so affordable. Its screen looks washed out, battery life is poor and it’s lacking features such as a fingerprint sensor
The MSI’s low price, solid 1080p gaming pace, decent Intel processor and good-quality keyboard make this an ideal option for everyday gaming on a tight budget. But the poor screen and battery and the lack of features are a hindrance, and can be rectified by only spending a little more elsewhere.
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As with most laptops from big companies, the MSI has a one-year warranty.
At the moment MSI has no plans to release the Katana with more powerful GPUs, like the RTX 3070 or RTX 3080.
No, it’s limited to a Full HD display, and the GPU isn’t powerful enough to handle 4K games.