I don't mean to be disparaging of the MSI GF65 THIN 9SEXR, but take a look at its technical specifications and you'll find the same parts that have been powering our machines for over a year—there's truly nothing Super, 7nm, or 10th Gen about it. Yet its announcement has come as part of one of the few captivating developments in gaming laptops beyond AMD's Ryzen 4000 APUs.
Model - GF65 THIN 9SEXR (UK)
Processor - Intel Core i7 9750H
GPU - Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060
Memory - 1x8GB DDR4
Memory speed - 2,666MHz
Screen size - 15.6-inch
Resolution - 1920 x 1080
Refresh rate - 120Hz
Storage - 256GB NVMe SSD
Price - £999
With the release of its Super GPU silicon for mobile, the RTX 2070 Super and RTX 2080 Super, Nvidia also promised to make its RTX 2060 GPU available in a gaming laptop for under ($999) £999. That potentially means more to parsimonious customers than high-end GPUs, and it's not often that gaming laptops are level-pegging with their DIY PC counterparts. MSI's GF65 is one of the first of a handful of gaming laptops to make good on that promise. In the UK, anyways.
It's powered by an RTX 2060, marking a step-up upgrade over the GTX 1660 Ti in 2019's top model. With that not only comes the promise of a Turing GPU fit with 6GB of GDDR6 and 1,920 CUDA Cores—with the added potential of portable AI acceleration in creative applications and Nvidia's updated Turing encoder—but also an easier point of entry into real-time ray tracing and Nvidia's AI upscaling technology, DLSS 2.0.
At first glance not much has changed with the exterior of the GF65 compared with its predecessor. Both feature the same inornate chassis at 21.7mm thick, and the largely plastic construction does leave a lot to be desired. It's undoubtedly a little on the large size, too, especially as we've already seen some incredibly thin gaming laptops so far this year. But at 1.86kg it is at least lighter than some comparable laptops in this price bracket.
The 15.6-inch 1080p panel is surrounded by a bezel that, while at its thinnest point extends only 0.7mm, reaches 2.7cm closer to the hinges. At least it houses a panel rated to 120Hz, which is suitably fast to make good on the promises of the RTX 2060 within. And it's also of the IPS variety, so good marks here for an all-round decent panel pairing for the GF65's entry-level RTX GPU.
Joining the fray is Intel's Core i7 9750H. Despite the first wave of Intel 10th Gen Comet Lake H-series laptops starting to filter out from the rank and file of Intel's partners—including MSI's very own GF63 Slim in identical garb to the GF65—it's instead made the decision to stick with the older, cheaper, Core i7 9750H. With relatively familiar specifications from the 14nm family, and an apparent price premium on the 10th Gen chips—by Intel's own admission—I can't help but think it made the right choice.
While the Core i7 9750H hits max velocity at 4.5GHz—quite a bit lower than its 10th Gen sibling—what matters most is whether it can sustain its rated clocks. In a single-core run of Cinebench R15, it maintained 4.4GHz for the duration, only a touch shy of the chip's rated limit of 4.5GHz boost, and in multi-core testing that drops to around the 3.7GHz mark, but maintains it throughout.
So whatever misgivings I may have for the chassis in terms of its looks, it's capable enough of maintaining decent performance. We saw no significant dips in performance across a lengthy three run marathon of the Metro Exodus benchmark at ultra, either. Temperatures soared to 97 degrees max for the CPU and 81 degrees max for the GPU, but thankfully severe throttling was avoided with some judicious fan RPM—this is far from the quietest laptop going.
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Throughout our gaming benchmarks, the MSI GF65 performs well—if only a little shy of the Asus TUF FA506IV equipped with an RTX 2060 and AMD Ryzen 4800H. That's true in all but Far Cry New Dawn where the TUF inexplicably, and repeatedly, soared above the rest.
What could become a boon to the GF65 (and the TUF, for that matter) is the growing prevalence of DLSS within the latest games. With DLSS offering the ability to improve frame rates, with little downside on the second-gen DLSS 2.0, the jump to the RTX 2060 nets the possibility of a large performance boon over 16-series cards of more than the silicon technically allows. You will have to put your faith in Nvidia and game developers to go above and beyond to access that performance, however, and it's by no means a guarantee—the least bit for older games.
And while that all makes an RTX 2060 for under £1,000 sound like an alluring offer, MSI has made some sacrifices with the 2020 model of the GF65 in order to scrape in under the mark.
Both memory and storage have been stripped back in order to keep the balance sheet for parts in good stead with the shift to the RTX 20-series GPU. Unfortunately, that means replacing the 512GB SSD with a 256GB one, which after OS installation is running frightfully low on capacity with only a few benchmarks installed. That puts a hard limit on your choice of games (or game), too. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is absolutely out of the question without an upgrade.
The decision to pare back memory to single-channel will also strike fear in the hearts of many a PC builder. The 8GB of dual-channel memory is capable of getting by in most titles, especially at 1080p on a laptop such as this. But with only a single channel in play, that 8GB doesn't get you very far. Memory bandwidth is significantly hampered, and that may find you dropping frames in demanding games or incredibly conscious of app RAM usage for the duration of your time with the GF65.
The last-gen GF65 (2019) doesn't suffer the same fate. For a similar price tag, last year's model comes with a GTX 1660 Ti, 16GB of dual-channel memory, and a 512GB panel. The Asus TUF FA506IV, too. Granted, £300 is no small matter more, but its Ryzen 4000 mobile/RTX 2060 combo is a great buy. And it's got all the memory and storage you could want at that price and form factor. The GF65 THIN 9SEXR feels like a partially incomplete product by comparison, and lacking what is required to get the most out of it.
The models available in the US have seen especially harsh cuts to come in under $1,000. In order to get your hands on an RTX 2060 for $999, you'll have to make do with Intel's Core i5 9300H, in lieu of the Core i7 9750H found in the UK model. At least the storage has returned to a healthy 512GB SSD.
In order to hit a specification roughly analogous with the UK model at £999, you'll have to spend $1,099. That's actually rather favourable to the dollar when you look at today's exchange rate, and you still hold on to that 512GB SSD, but it's not quite in keeping with Nvidia's $999 promise, is it?
Strangely the MSI GF65 THIN 9SEXR will be available exclusively at Curry's PC World from May 4th in the UK. If you reside in the US, you can find that similar configuration I mentioned for $1,099 across major retailers.
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With the specs list of the UK model as it is, the GF65 does leave me wanting for more. Performance is decent in today's games, but I'm not entirely convinced how much ray tracing you're going to get done with a spec that only gets by with the skin of its teeth without cutting-edge rendering tech helping to grind performance into pulp.
But I usually recommend overspending on your graphics card and making up for less storage capacity when you can afford it—so why should a laptop be any different? The upgrade process is at least a simple one. Pop the underside off by removing an ungodly quantity of screws and you'll find a spare NVMe slot and a spare SODIMM slot. Both can be fitted with off-the-shelf parts as and when you have the budget to do so. Two NVMe slots also makes for an easy transfer if you do end up swapping out your boot drive.
As important as it is to point out what's been lost in order to hit £999, it's just as important to quantify what has been gained as a result of offering RTX at this price point. You can't upgrade a laptop GPU yourself, after all, it's soldered down tight. So the shift to the RTX 2060, even with sacrifice, may make the most financial sense for someone looking to buy an RTX laptop without the means to immediately buy one that's high-end on all counts.