MSI GS75 Stealth Review: This light 17-inch laptop packs a wallop with GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q

It delivers 17-inch-laptop power in a package closer to 15-inch-laptop size.

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MSI GS75 GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q can actually be fast

If you’ve read our GeForce RTX reviews (here) you probably know what to expect of a desktop chip. Nvidia has basically taken the RTX lineup and jammed them into laptops. The amount of CUDA cores are the same, as are the amount of memory, the type of memory, and the memory bus speed. What changes are the clock speeds of the GeForce RTX full performance parts and the GeForce RTX Max-Q parts, which crank down to save on power and heat dissipation.

The question is, just what do you give up? In conventional gaming, it doesn’t look like much. Remember: You can’t separate any laptop design from the actual GPU (or CPU) performance, but we’re seeing pretty stellar performance from the GS75’s GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q chip.

Our first test is Rise of the Tomb Raider run on the Very High setting at 1920x1080 resolution. We run this particular test in DirectX11 mode, because DX12 drivers and support was pretty spotty when we first adopted it.

The result is about 17 percent higher performance than larger and heavier laptops with GeForce GTX 1080 laptops, and about 15 percent more than the GeForce GTX 1080 Max-Q chip in the original Asus ROG Zephyrus GX501.

msi gs75 rise of the tomb raider 19x10 very high dx11 IDG

Despite being just under 5 lbs. the MSI GS75 and its new GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q graphics chip easily outpaces laptops that weigh far more than it.

Moving on to Middle-earth: Shadows of Mordor on Ultra, the full-tilt GeForce GTX 1080 chip in the older Alienware 17 R4 just edges out the GS75 and its RTX 2080 Max-Q chip. The more comparable Asus ROG Zephyrus GX501 and its GeForce GTX 1080 Max-Q squeaks in behind it, though—the RTX Max-Q part is about 10 percent faster.

msi gs75 shadows of mordor 19x10 ultra 4k textures IDG

Middle-earth: Shadows of Mordor shows that a full-tilt GTX 1080 laptop is slightly faster than the RTX 2080 Max-Q—but that leader is a much larger and thicker laptop.

One issue with trying to judge laptop GPU performance for graphics is it’s hard to rule out CPU differences. That’s especially true for games which may be particularly sensitive to clockspeeds.

Fortunately UL’s 3DMark is designed to break out graphics performance from CPU performance influences. First up is 3DMark Fire Strike, which puts the MSI GS75 Stealth with RTX 2080 Max-Q ahead of all laptops, except for the large-and-in-charge Alienware 17 R4. 

msi gs75 3dmark fire strike graphics IDG

In 3DMark Fire Strike, we look at the graphics subscore to cut out the CPU from performance. As you can see, in this older test, all but a full-tilt GeForce GTX 1080 can surpass it. 

Granted, 3DMark Fire Strike is a somewhat older test built to stress DirectX 11-vintage hardware. UL’s 3DMark Time Spy is far newer and tests DirectX 12 with a big step up in graphics work load. For example, it throws about 10 times more tessellation and four time as many shaders at the GPU than Fire Strike does.

With the more modern workload run, we now see the MSI GS75 Stealth prevail. Although the full-tilt GeForce GTX 1080 is awfully close, the more comparable Asus ROG Zephyrus GX501 with its GeForce GTX 1080 Max-Q comes up almost 20 percent short.

Compared to the full-speed GeForce GTX 1070 in the Origin PC EVO-17S, the GS75 Stealth is a hefty 29 percent faster. When you reach down to a GeForce GTX 1070 Max-Q chip, you’re looking at more than 58 percent. So, yes, it’s pretty durn fast.

msi gs75 3dmark time spy graphics IDG

Unlike 3DMark Fire Strike, 3DMark Time Spy uses 10 times the vertices, almost 3 times as many triangles, 10 times more tessellation, and 4 times as many shaders.

Of course, the one thing Nvidia wants you to know is the information in the next chart. This is UL’s new 3DMark Port Royal, which measures ray tracing performance exclusively. If you believe in Nvidia’s vision for the future of PC gaming, then it’s the only thing you care about, because of all the previous laptops we’ve reviewed, it’s the only one that can run hybrid ray tracing games.

This isn’t the last word in hybrid ray tracing performance, of course. In fact, while we think the boost in non HRT-games is actually decent, the performance of the GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q brings up a lot of questions.

msi gs75 port royal graphics IDG

Here’s the argument for why the GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q is infinitely better than laptops using last generation GeForce graphics cards.

For example, we ran tests using EA’s Battlefield V, the sole game available with hybrid ray tracing. When EA first turned on ray tracing, performance actually dropped with RTX enabled. In our own tests at 1920x1080 resolution with the game set to Ultra quality mode, we saw the RTX 2080 Max-Q in the GS75 achieve 90 frames per second in default mode, and drop to 45 frames per second with DirectX Ray Tracing turned on. Oof. While some of this may well be fixed by further driver tuning and game tuning, we’re still pretty uneasy about how the Max-Q RTX laptops can run these games at their highest setting.

MSI GS75 Stealth Battery Performance

Our last test is perhaps the most important in any true laptop: battery performance. For this we loop a 4K video in airplane mode with the screen set to a relatively bright 250 to 260 nits, with ear buds connected.

While the GS75 Stealth doesn’t win any ribbons, it’s actually extremely good battery performance from a 17-inch gaming laptop. Some of that comes from the decision to ditch Nvidia’s G-Sync technology, which forces the GPU on at all times; and some of it comes from the relatively large 82-watt-hour battery.

What we can say is that for a 17-inch gaming laptop that is essentially one of the fastest laptops we’ve seen, that’s outstanding. For context, if you look at the result and then glance down at the bottom—they’re almost all 17-inch high-power gaming laptops too.

msi gs75 4k video playback IDG

With its decently-sized 82 watt-hour battery and 1080p screen, the MSI GS75 Stealth gets really good life despite being a powerful gaming laptop.

Conclusion

We have a fantasy. If we could take an MSI GS75 Stealth back in time to 2008 or even 2012, we’re fairly certain we could walk into any PC gaming LAN party and declare ourselves a minor deity. “Behold: I carry a laptop more powerful than any of your gaming computers, and it weighs less than five pounds! Grovel before me!”

And to be honest, we think with the sheer performance and portability of the amazing GS75 Stealth, that’s entirely possible. This is just the first of many benchmarking opportunities we hope to have with Nvidia’s new RTX graphics for laptops, but the initial signs seem to point toward a lighter, faster future for mobile PC gaming.  

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At a Glance
  • MSI's GS75 Stealth offers performance and battery life previously unseen at this weight, thanks in large part to its RTX 2080 Max-Q graphics.

    Pros

    • It's five pounds and fast!
    • Very respectable battery life
    • GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q offers outstanding performance in today's games

    Cons

    • Odd trackpad location
    • Hybrid Ray Tracing performance is slower than expected
    • Expensive
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