In MSI’s dizzying array of 15.6-inch gaming notebooks, which spans seven product lines, the GE65 Raider (starts at $ 1,799; $ 2,699 as tested) is one of its fastest. It offers more powerful configurations than MSI’s skinnier GS65 Stealth, while remaining more portable than the company’s even-more-potent GT63 Titan. As tested in its flagship (“GE65 9SF”) configuration, the Raider’s eight-core Intel Core i9-9880H processor chip and full-power (non-Max-Q) Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 silicon don’t disappoint. The extra oomph makes it an attractive alternative to competitors that use less-powerful Nvidia Max-Q-enabled graphics chips, like the Razer Blade 15 Advanced and the Acer Predator Triton 500. Its major drawbacks are loud cooling fans and a thicker chassis, but it’s all in the name of speed. If maximum performance is what you’re after in a gaming laptop, the GE65 Raider is one fast ride.
Power to Go, Please
Once upon a time, the high-powered hardware inside the GE65 Raider would have mandated a chunky and imposing chassis. Today’s drive for thin-and-light devices, combined with engineering advancements in electronics and cooling, have allowed notebook designs to go in the opposite direction. Even without taking its innards into account, the GE65 Raider is commendably portable for a 15.6-inch notebook with full-fat components inside.
Thanks to ultra-thin display bezels, its 14.1-by-9.8-inch chassis isn’t much larger than the screen itself, lending it the modern look that no notebook in this price range should be without. MSI’s own GS65 Stealth is noticeably thinner, at just 0.69 inch thick versus 1.06 inches for the Raider, but the former’s Nvidia Max-Q-enabled graphics choices don’t require as much cooling. The thicker chassis on the GE65 Raider allows it to fit more substantial fans for more airflow. It’s one of a handful of gaming notebooks this size that don’t employ Max-Q silicon.
The Raider’s mostly plastic construction helps keep its weight down to right around five pounds. It’s not the lightest 15.6-incher on the market, but it’s not the heaviest, either. Don’t forget to factor its power adapter into your travel equation, though. The 280-watt brick included with our review unit is about two pounds by itself.
A thin skein of aluminum on the top of the chassis and the lid backing adds to the overall strength. None of my poking or prodding attempts produced much in the way of flex. The lid is especially rigid, and I like that it can be opened one-handed.
The GE65 Raider doesn’t overdo the gamer look. Its only real departure from otherwise conventional notebook lines are the red-striped ridges running down the display lid…
MSI’s gaming-shield logo is between them, passively backlit in white by the screen. The other branding you’ll find back here is the “Raider” badge between the cooling vents. The diagonally slotted grates make them look more impressive than they are, as the airflow openings themselves are just small rectangular cutouts. The other exhaust outlet is on the left side of the laptop. It’s situated far enough back that it shouldn’t warm up your fingers if you’re left-handed and using an external mouse alongside the laptop.
On the flip side, the SteelSeries-design keyboard is gamer all the way…
The RGB-backlit keys have a satisfying feel, with plenty of travel to let you know when a key is fully pressed. You can customize the colors and patterns in the pre-installed SteelSeries Engine software…
The software also provides a reasonably powerful macro editor and allows you to reassign any keyboard key. I used it to map Home and End keys onto the seldom-used Scroll Lock and Pause Break buttons, respectively. Forward of the keyboard’s number pad, the GE65 Raider has one programmable button between the ones for maximum fan speed and power on/off.
The keyboard layout caters to gamers in another way: by leaving off a left Windows key. I’d prefer the key were present, with a simple toggle to disable it, but the MSI Dragon Center app gets close to granting my wish. It lets you swap the functionality of the Fn and Windows keys using the toggle on the left side of the screen here…
The keyboard’s layout is otherwise familiar. The two-thirds-size number-pad keys are forgivable since the keyboard already spans the width of the chassis. It would have been nice if the arrow-key cluster were separated from the main keyboard area, though.
Meanwhile, the touchpad is left-centered in the palm rest to line up with the keyboard. Its smooth surface makes for easy navigation. I generally don’t mind the buttonless touchpads on most notebooks, but I’m always glad to see a traditional dedicated-button approach like on the GE65 Raider. The button clicks are somewhat loud, but you can tap the pad to click when quietness matters. The pad is nicely sized.
High-Refresh Display Choices
The GE65 Raider offers what MSI terms “IPS-type” displays with a 144Hz, or, in the case of our tester, a sky-high 240Hz refresh rate. Paired with a GeForce RTX 2070 graphics card, our unit is capable of hitting 240 frames per second (fps) at its native 1,920-by-1,080-pixel resolution in some less-demanding esports titles like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
The panel also has a quick response time. I noticed no blurring or smearing of any kind in fast-paced games. It’s a mild disappointment that the display doesn’t support Nvidia G-Sync, but enabling traditional V-sync in the titles I play was enough to minimize tearing. One upside of leaving out G-Sync (beyond cost control) is that the GE65 Raider manages reasonable battery life. (See our Best Gaming Monitors for 2019 article for a primer on the technology.)
The picture quality of this display is geared for gaming. There’s plenty of brightness, but the contrast and colors are just average. It’s somewhat beneficial not to have super-deep contrast for gaming, as darker areas (where enemies can hide) appear a little brighter. I’m not sure if MSI intended this or not, but it does work out for this panel’s intended usage case. Nonetheless, this display wouldn’t be my first choice for color-sensitive work.
The GE65 Raider’s 720p webcam is just above the screen. Its video quality is no better or worse than we see from most gaming notebooks’ webcams, which isn’t high praise; the selfie cameras on modern smartphones are much clearer than this. The speakers on this notebook don’t disappoint, though. You get four of them within the chassis, and the sound is full and convincing, if slightly strained at its top volume levels. They get loud enough to drown out the cooling fans while gaming. (More on that in a moment.)
When Port Placement Matters
The GE65 Raider has a good selection of ports for a 15.6-inch gaming notebook. The left edge is home to a notch for a Kensington-style security cable, plus an Ethernet jack, HDMI 2.0 and mini-DisplayPort video outputs, USB Type-A and Type-C ports (one of each, both version 3.1 Gen 2), and headphone and microphone jacks.
On the right edge, you get two USB Type-A 3.1 Gen 1 ports, a full-size SD card reader, and the power jack.
But, as they say in real estate, it’s all about location. Several ports on either side of the notebook are located forward of the midpoint (that is, closer to the user). As a result, the cables for devices plugged into those ports can jut out and interfere with your space for using a mouse, especially the two USB ports on the right edge. The power jack’s center location also isn’t ideal, but at least its connector is angled at 90 degrees so the cable can run alongside the chassis.
A unique feature of this notebook is that its three USB Type-A ports are backlit in red. It’s a handy feature if you’re trying to set up your laptop in a dark place. The port-lighting brightness can be set to full, half, or off in the MSI Dragon Center app, and it even allows you to set breathing and flashing modes.
If you go the wireless route, the GE65 Raider should have you covered for years to come, thanks to its inclusion of a Killer AX1650x card supporting Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax). It also has Bluetooth 5 connectivity.
A Super Performer
At $ 1,799, the least-expensive GE65 Raider model is already well-equipped, kitted out with a Core i7-9750H six-core processor, a GeForce RTX 2060 6GB graphics card, 16GB of memory, and 512GB of solid-state storage. The $ 1,999 model upgrades the graphics card to an RTX 2070 with 8GB of memory. For several hundred more, our topped-out tester further ups the ante with twice the memory (32GB) and storage (1TB), and most important, a Core i9-9880H eight-core/16-thread processor chip. The extra cores and threads can come in handy for heavy multitasking.
The Core i9-9880H is one of the first eight-core chips Intel has offered specifically for notebooks. In the comparison charts below, the older Core i9-8950HK chip in the Gigabyte Aero 15-Y9 is a six-core part. The Core i7 processors in the other notebooks all have six cores.
The graphics chips vary in this group. It will be intriguing to see how well the full-power GeForce RTX 2070 in our GE65 Raider stacks against the RTX 2080 Max-Q versions in the Acer and Gigabyte units.
Productivity, Storage, and Media Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet work, web browsing, and videoconferencing. The test generates a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.
PCMark 8, meanwhile has a Storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the boot drive. This score is also a proprietary numeric score; again, higher numbers are better.
The GE65 Raider starts off with a chart-topping score in PCMark 10. It’s not head-and-shoulders faster than the Acer or Gigabyte units, but the others can’t touch it. (We consider scores of 4,000 points or more on that test to be excellent.) Meanwhile, the PCMark 8 Storage scores are in line with what we expect from systems using PCI Express-based SSD boot drives like these.
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
The GE65 Raider flexes the muscle of its Core i9-9880H processor chip in this test; its two extra cores and more aggressive frequencies put it in a class of its own next to the six-core chips in the other units.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time. As with Handbrake, lower times are better here. The Photoshop test stresses CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.
The Core i9-9880H processor once again helps the GE65 Raider take a commanding lead. That said, the times from the other units weren’t exactly slow.
3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.
The Sky Diver test is largely limited by the processor on these notebooks, so it’s little surprise to see the GE65 Raider at the top of the leaderboard. It also holds a sizable lead in Fire Strike, an indication that its full-power RTX 2070 can measure up to the RTX 2080 Max-Q cards in the Acer and Gigabyte notebooks.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario than 3DMark, for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess.
This benchmark is heavily dependent on the graphics card, but even so, the GE65 Raider noses out the Acer and Gigabyte units. The Dell falls into a distant third place with its RTX 2060.
Real-World Gaming Tests
The synthetic tests above are helpful for measuring general 3D aptitude, but it’s hard to beat full retail video games for judging gaming performance. Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider are both modern, high-fidelity titles with built-in benchmarks that illustrate how a system handles real-world video games at various settings. These are run on both the moderate and maximum graphics quality presets (Normal and Ultra for Far Cry 5, Medium and Very High for Rise of the Tomb Raider) at native resolution to judge performance for a given system. The results are also provided in frames per second. Far Cry 5 is DirectX 11-based, while Rise of the Tomb Raider can be flipped to DX12, which we do for the benchmark.
The GE65 Raider asserts its prowess in both games with unchallenged numbers. An average of about 100fps or more at these games’ most demanding settings presets means it should have power to spare for future games. The RTX 2080 Max-Q cards in the Acer and Gigabyte notebooks simply can’t keep up. Granted, those notebooks are much thinner than the GE65 Raider, so you need to decide if that’s a worthwhile tradeoff.
Less-demanding games than these AAA titles should net you well in excess of 150fps at high graphical settings at 1080p. As a result, you should be able to get your money’s worth out of the 240Hz-refresh panel if you play lots of esports or older titles, even at their maximum settings.
Video Playback Battery Rundown Test
After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop in Airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 1080p file of the Blender Foundation’s demo film Tears of Steel—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system conks out.
MSI’s more powerful gaming notebooks don’t usually last that long in our battery rundown test, so the reasonable time from the GE65 Raider is a welcome surprise. Just shy of five hours isn’t a lot of time off the plug, but it’ll get you through a class or two, or an average-length flight, and it outlasts most of the other units here. The GS65 Stealth owes its excellent time to its potent 82-watt-hour battery; the one in the GE65 Raider is rated for just 51 watt-hours.
Heat and Noise
To assess the laptop at its hardest-working, I exercised the GE65 Raider’s cooling system by playing Shadow of the Tomb Raider for 30 minutes. It’s one of the more graphically demanding AAA titles, and to further that end, I enabled the game’s Nvidia-specific RTX ray tracing and DLSS features to put as much stress as possible on the RTX 2070 graphics chip, engaging the ray-tracing and tensor cores. I performed the testing in a room that was 72 degrees F.
In brief, the GE65 Raider’s cooling system is effective. The average core temperature of the RTX 2070 was 80 degrees C, where I’ve seen cards in its performance class run up to 10 degrees warmer in other notebooks. The card’s average core clock was an impressive 1,630MHz, or much higher than its rated 1,440MHz, something it could only do with well-controlled temperatures. The Core i9-9880H processor also ran cool enough, averaging 83 degrees C under load.
Here’s what the GE65 Raider looked like under a FLIR One Pro thermal camera during the session…
The hottest spot in the middle of the keyboard reached a toasty 120 degrees F. I consider temperatures over 110 degrees F to be uncomfortable. The keys themselves were slightly cooler than the keyboard deck, where the temperature measurement was taken, and in fairness, your hands usually won’t spend much time over the center of the keyboard while gaming. The area around the WASD cluster is cooler.
The bottom of the notebook felt cool all over, so I didn’t bother to take a temperature measurement. That’s little surprise when you consider almost half the real estate down there is a giant air intake grate…
You would be ill-advised to do anything demanding on this notebook without it resting on a solid surface to allow for clear underside airflow.
The GE65 Raider didn’t cool itself without making some noise. The two cooling fans run at high speed while gaming, producing enough volume to be heard above mild background noise. You’ll likely get a few eyebrows raised in your direction if you start gaming on the GE65 Raider in a quiet place, like a classroom. Even in a crowded coffee shop, the people one or two seats away from you might take notice. (At the minimum, the people across or to your left, if they’re sitting close, may feel hot air jetting out of the vents.) When not playing games, however, I rarely noticed the fans running, if they were even on at all.
A Worthy Competitor
The GE65 Raider makes its mark as one of the fastest 15.6-inch gaming notebooks that money can buy. The $ 2,699 model we tested is the equivalent of a luxury car in laptop terms, but it’s the price you pay for exclusivity. It’s one of the few notebooks this size to offer an Intel Core i9 eight-core processor and a full-power Nvidia GeForce RTX graphics processor. Our RTX 2070-equipped review unit even outperformed some notebooks with the RTX 2080 Max-Q.
The Raider doesn’t deliver its chart-topping performance without compromise, however. Its cooling system is effective at keeping its innards cool enough, but the chassis gets a bit warm for our liking, and its fans are far from silent. A warranty of more than one year would be nice to see at this price, too.
Besides that, the GE65 Raider doesn’t have major drawbacks. Unless you’re doing serious content creation that hits the CPU hard, look to the $ 1,999 model for a better value, which drops the processor to a still very capable six-core/12-thread Core i7-9750H while retaining the RTX 2070 graphics card and the smooth 240Hz display. Reasonable battery life and gamer-centric features, like a per-key RGB backlit keyboard, top off the appeal for this blazing-fast 15.6-incher.