While it’s hard enough trying to pick the right smartphone to buy, if you’re looking for a new laptop that can deliver a decent gaming experience, picking the right once can be extremely hard. Especially if you’re on a limited budget. There are plenty of options to choose from if you have $1500 or more to spend, but if all you have is a grand, your options are a bit more limited.
Enter the MSI GF65 2020 refresh. With a base model starting at just $999, MSI delivers a budget-friendly option that includes an RTX2060 and a 120Hz refresh rate display. But is it any good? Let’s find out.
MSI GF65 specifications
- CPU: 9th Gen Intel Core i5-9300H
- GPU: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060
- RAM: 8GB DDR4 2666MHz
- Storage: 512GB PCIe NVMe SSD
- Display: 15.6″ Full HD (1920 x 1080) IPS-Level 144Hz
- Battery: 3 cell (51Wh) Li-Polymer
- Ports: 2x USB 3.2 Gen 1 (Type-C), 2x USB 3.2 Gen 1 (Type-A), HDMI (supports 4K@30Hz), RJ45 LAN,
- Size: 14.13 x 9.99 x 0.85 inches
- Weight: 4.1 pounds
The design of the MSI GF65 definitely has the “gamer” vibe to it, featuring red accents, jabbed edges and an overall industrial look. If you’re familiar with the 2019 variant of the MSI GF65, the 2020 model is indistinguishable. The lid and inside of the laptop featuring a brushed metal look, but the material is definitely plastic. It looks great when you take it out of the box, but after handling it for a few minutes, it quickly picks up all the oils from your hands, leaving smudges and fingerprints that are hard to wipe off.
As for the keyboard, the keys have a decent amount of travel with surprisingly good resistance for an enjoyable typing experience. The red accent color of the keys batches the laptop’s gaming esthetic, but I would have preferred a more neutral color or full RGB backlighting. The trackpad is great as well. While I’ve hard issues with trackpads on Windows laptops as of late, the one on the GF65 worked flawlessly, perfectly tracking my finger movements and multi-finger gestures.
The power connection on the left side sits right in the middle, something that’s quite off-putting since the cable is so big. I would have preferred it be placed further towards the rear or even o the back of the laptop where it would be out of sight and not interfere with the other ports.
The laptop does have two USB C ports on the right, but neither of them come with display-port functionality, so you’ll have to rely on the full-sized HDMI port on the right if you’re looking to connect the laptop to an external display. If you’re looking for a clean desk setup, the MSI GF65 isn’t ideal since you won’t be able to use a USB C hub for power, display, and any of your USB peripherals.
The 15.6-inch display’s main selling point is its 120Hz refresh rate display. If you’re into gaming, you really can’t go wrong here. The downside is that the resolution is limited to 1920×1080, covering only 55% of the sRGB color gamut while only delivering 280 nits of brightness.
This means you’ll have a very hard time seeing the display in bright rooms and you can forget about using the laptop outside unless you’d in full share or it’s a cloudy day. For me, editing photos and videos required the use of an external monitor since 1080p isn’t quite enough room in Adobe Photoshop and Premiere and the color accuracy wasn’t up to my standards.
As for storage, I was pleased to see that MSI included a 500BG M.2 SSD. Load times were incredible, matching what I typically get from my ultrabook. Not having to deal with a spinning drive speeds up game load times significantly and in my use case, the SSD allows to me open video projects or large image files in just a few seconds.
While most of my projects ger moved off of the internal SSD when they’ve completed to free up space, gamers will have a harder time with the storage limitations. With most new games coming in at about 50GB apiece and Call of Duty Warzone weighing in at around 200GB, the 500GB of internal storage can vanish pretty quickly if you’re planning to install a half dozen on the latest titles when you boot the laptop up for the first time.
The laptop does feature two M.2 SSD slots, so you do have the ability to upgrade the storage by purchasing an additional SSD, something I’d definitely recommend.
Recommended M.2 SSDs
When it comes to performance, the GF65-Thin-9SEXR was a treat. My current daily driver is an ultra-book running a Core i7-8550U with an NVIDIA MX150. That setup is powerful enough for 1080p video editing and playing Cities Skylines with graphics settings turned down, but that’s about it.
The GF65 and its 9th-gen Core i5-9300H is significantly more powerful. Throw in the GTX 2060 graphics card and you’ll the able to play brand new titles like Call of Duty Warzone without breaking a sweat. In my testing, I was able to average 100fps in Warzone with settings set between medium and high.
For the most part, the laptop was pretty quiet, spinning up its fans to their medium setting after a few minutes of intense gaming. The speakers deliver decent sound and will typically drown out the fan noise, but I’d recommend headphones if you want a more immersive experience. What was surprising was that the CPU fan kicked in almost immediately whenever I was opening video projects or importing large batches of photos into Lightroom. It would turn off within seconds after the task was performed, but it’s not something I’ve noticed on other laptops.
MSI GF65 benchmark scores
- 3D Mark: 5714
- Geekbench: 1077 (single), 4435 (multi-core)
- Cinebench: 2075
The improved performance was also felt in my video-editing workflow, allowing for an incredibly smooth workflow with 4K projects without any hiccups in the timeline. The only downside is the laptop’s 8GB of RAM. I found myself constantly closing Chrome and other applications whenever I was editing video or had multiple image files open in Photoshop. While I didn’t experience any app crashes, the RAM limitation of the laptop would cause Premiere to freeze from time to time, reminding me constantly that I needed to close everything that I wasn’t actively using.
This isn’t really much of an issue for gaming, but if you’re planning to record your gaming sessions or stream your gameplay, 16GB would be ideal. The laptop does have an additional slot, so you can easily double your RAM for around $30.
Last but not least is the MSI GF65’s battery life. The 3 cell (51Wh) Li-Polymer battery is enough to keep the laptop running for 3.5-4 hours under moderate use while not plugged in. Coming from an ultrabook that delivers nearly 8 hours under the same workload, that’s extremely disappointing. And battery life only gets worse once you fire up your favorite games.
If you plan on using this laptop for taking notes in class, you’ll want to make sure you bring along the charger, which isn’t exactly light.
Overall, my experience with the MSI GF65 was quite enjoyable. While I like the portability and extra battery that ultrabooks provide, like most people these days, I spend the majority of my time at home. My only real issues come down to the display’s brightness and color accuracy, but if all you plan on doing is use the laptop for gaming, the MSI GF65 will suit you just fine.
The incredible performance of the RTX2060 is incredible, especially for a laptop at this price point. Pairing the GPU with the 144HZ display and you have yourself one of the best budget gaming laptops money can buy.
MSI GF65 Rating: star_fullstar_fullstar_fullstar_fullstar_empty (4.0/5)
- Incredible performance
- 144Hz refresh display
- Great value
- Limited storage for gaming
- 8GB of RAM isn’t great for video editing
- Poor battery life
The Bottom Line
The MSI GF65 is a great gaming laptop if you’re willing to make a few compromises