MSI Stealth 15M review: thin doesn’t always win

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MSI’s Stealth 15M is a gaming laptop for those who prefer to keep their gaming habits a secret. The metal design looks striking, and aside from the single-zone RGB backlit keyboard, there’s not much else about the 15M that betrays what you’re probably using it for – aside from its loud fans. Unless you’re doing the simplest tasks in battery saver mode, the fans are almost always audible buzzing, and the whine only gets louder with demanding applications and games. You may not notice if you usually wear headphones or a headset, but others around you probably will.

It can be noisy as it is always warm trying to stay cool. A thin laptop full of powerful components can lead to higher temperatures, especially when gaming. It has an aluminum chassis that helps dissipate some of that heat, but it can still get uncomfortably hot to the touch at times, despite the fans’ best (and loudest) efforts.

If MSI’s GS66 Stealth goes for the jugular vein of Razer’s high-end Blade 15 Advanced, the Stealth 15M wants to take over the more affordable Razer Blade 15 Base model I recently reviewed. And it’s the closest MSI has gotten to meeting Razer, where it excels in build quality, design, and port selection. Unlike the GS66, the 15M has a more cohesive feel, so I don’t question durability over time, and it’s shockingly thin for a gaming laptop. But as far as I’ve complained that Razer’s unibody design is in need of a shake-up, the $ 1,699 option is just more bang for your buck. You get more ports (including an HDMI 2.1 port for 4K output at up to 120 frames per second), a larger trackpad, user-upgradeable RAM and storage, and more power allocated to the RTX 3060 than you get in MSI’s comparable price Stealth 15M. The Blade 15 Base is nearly a full pound heavier and a few millimeters thicker. But I just wouldn’t let those traits get in the way when I got ready to buy.

MSI Stealth 15M

The Stealth 15M comes in this “carbon gray” colorway or white.

MSI Stealth 15M

The grille is one of the few sharper parts of the design.

But that’s not your only option in this price range. You get great performance in a comparable price range with the Asus ROG Zephyrus G15 which has an Nvidia RTX 3070 and a QHD display. But if you have the luxury of waiting until the beginning of May, it’s worth it to see how Dell’s $ 900 G15 Ryzen edition fares with the RTX 3060. Dell’s option is bigger, thicker, and probably heavier (although Dell hasn’t shared the official weight) than all of these thin gaming laptops, but there’s one big advantage: it costs just $ 900 for the starting setup. Conversely, MSI’s laptop has more limitations in terms of its power, but those limitations make it look and feel like a high-end laptop that is easier to lug around.

For gaming alone, the Stealth 15M isn’t powerful enough to recommend to everyone. It can hit the ideal 60 frames per second threshold with some demanding titles I threw on it, but it wasn’t particularly smooth until I made a few minor compromises with the visual quality. Probably due to the Stealth 15M’s thin design, MSI has set the RTX 3060’s maximum power consumption in it to just 65W, which is almost the lowest possible power requirement the specification allows. (The slightly thicker Predator Triton 300 SE is rated at 75W, but the aforementioned G15 Ryzen Edition, due out in May, is rated at 115W.) The performance will be good enough for some people, but unless you have older or less demanding games than the ones I’ve tested below, you won’t take full advantage of the matte screen with 144Hz refresh rate that MSI has put into this model.

Run Red Dead Redemption 2 on the 15M with the 3060, it delivers about 57 frames per second with the graphics set to ultra settings. In another open world game, Horizon Zero Dawn, you get about 68 frames per second with the maximum settings. For a test of the RTX 3060’s ray tracing capabilities, Shadow of the Tomb Raider with DLSS and ray tracing shadows set to ultra ran at 57 frames per second. Gaming is pushing the 15M to the edge as the loud fans signal each step. I didn’t notice any obvious performance bottlenecks due to the heat, which is good.

If you compare these numbers to some of our other reviews, you’ve probably noticed how similar this laptop performed to the Asus TUF Dash F15 with an RTX 3070. That’s because of their similar clock speed and wattage requirements. It’s encouraging that the RTX 3060 can keep up, but I’m skeptical that it will be able to hold the pace for years to come as games get even more demanding graphically. Even if some RTX 3070 and 3080 chips are currently running at similar clock speeds and wattages to an RTX 3060, they always have more CUDA cores and VRAM left, which should give them a firmer backbone to withstand next-gen games . the future.

This high-end configuration (which MSI claims is available from Costco) comes with the quad-core Intel Core i7-11375H processor and Nvidia’s RTX 3060, as does Acer’s 14-inch Predator Triton 300 SE. The big advantages internally, apart from the larger 15.6-inch FHD display, are the 32 GB RAM and 1 TB NVMe storage. It’s more than enough for doing basic tasks like browsing the web, and I didn’t catch it with a lot of Chrome tabs running. Doing other mundane tasks like jumping into a Zoom call, using Slack and using Spotify worked as well as it should (and the speakers are better than the ones I’ve heard in most gaming laptops recently, but still aren’t amazingly good). All things considered, using the Stealth 15M feels as quick from moment to moment as that of other laptops in this price range.

MSI Stealth 15M

This isn’t the world’s largest chin rim, but it’s still an eyesore.

MSI Stealth 15M

The keys are large and nicely spaced, although the layout can take a little time to learn.

Everything from games to videos looks great on this matte screen. It has generous viewing angles, thin bezels, and the colors look accurate. I wish his double chin wasn’t that thick. Maybe MSI could have managed to fit a 16:10 aspect ratio screen, given how big it is. The webcam has an indicator light that blinks endlessly on and off when active instead of just staying on like most other laptops do. In any case, you never accidentally forget that the camera is on, but it is annoying if you are not the forgetful type. I have contacted MSI to find out if this is a bug.

The keyboard layout may take some getting used to (every laptop seems to have a different idea of ​​where to place the function key and how to arrange the volume and screen brightness keys), but the keys themselves are large and nicely spaced, with a satisfactory amount of key travel. The trackpad works fine, but I would have liked MSI to put its almost comically large trackpad in both the GS66 Stealth and Prestige 14 Evo here. There is room here, so why not? I would also have welcomed the fingerprint sensor built into the Prestige 14 Evo’s trackpad.

The Stealth 15M won’t pass as the thin ultrabook that the Prestige 14 Evo is, but it’s still surprisingly thin to serve as a gaming laptop. The 15M is 16mm thick (its closest competitor, the Razer Blade 15 Base, is about 19mm) and weighs 3.7 pounds. This makes it one of the lightest 15.6-inch gaming laptops I’ve tested to date.

The selection of ports around 15M includes a Thunderbolt 4 port with Power Delivery (PD) support for charging other devices (but not the laptop itself) and another USB-C port that supports connection to an external display. All configurations also include a UHS-III microSD card slot, two USB Type-A 3.2 Gen 1 ports, an audio combo jack and an HDMI 2.0 port with support for 4K resolution at 60Hz.

MSI Stealth 15M

On the right side of the laptop you will find a USB-C port with DisplayPort, a Thunderbolt 4 port, USB type A and an HDMI 2.0 port.

MSI Stealth 15M

The left side has a charging port, a microSD card slot, USB Type-A and an audio combo jack.

In terms of longevity, the Stealth 15M’s three-cell 52Wh battery is good for a handful of hours with moderately heavy use. With an hour of Zoom call in the mix of otherwise normal Chrome and Slack usage, it took about four and a half hours. If you’re just typing, I imagine it will take almost six hours.

MSI includes a sleek 150W power brick that’s slightly smaller in length and width than my Pixel 3, but it’s about as thick as three of them stacked. It’s noticeably smaller than the bricks that come with more powerful gaming laptops, but it had no trouble refilling the 15M’s battery while gaming. That can be an issue with some models, which sometimes come with a power adapter that can’t maintain enough wattage to match what the hardware spends while gaming. Plus, this 150W charger charges the 15M quickly, which takes about an hour and a quarter during my tests.

The Stealth 15M is a well-designed laptop without many glaring issues, but for the price of this configuration (and even the less expensive ones, which are still quite expensive), you’re not getting much bang for your buck if you’re a gamer looking great performance. MSI opted for a thinner, more subtle design than some other gaming laptop designs, and that’s one of the best things about the Stealth 15M. But if you’re eager to spend that much on a gaming laptop, spend a few extra hundred to buy one with a QHD display with a better GPU, or wait for Dell’s cheaper G15 Ryzen Edition to come out in May.

Photography by Cameron Faulkner / The Verge