Gaming laptops are more popular than ever and Intel is out to reach a new audience with its new Ultraportable Gaming category. The MSI Stealth 15M is one of the first laptops under this new design to release this year. Complete with RTX 3060 powered graphics, a 144Hz full HD screen, a fast Intel i7-11375H processor, a super svelte and lightweight design, should this laptop be making its way onto your wishlist at the price of $1599?
- Current Price: $1599 (Best Buy, MSI)
- OS: Windows 10 Home
- CPU: Core i7-11375H
- CPU Speed: 3.3 – 5.16GHz
- Color: Carbon Gray, White
- Screen Size: 15.6″ FHD (1920*1080), IPS-Level 144Hz 45%NTSC Thin Bezel
- Resolution: 1920×1080 (16:9)
- GPU:NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 Laptop GPU – Up to 1357MHz Boost Clock, 65W Maximum Graphics Power with Dynamic Boost.
- Video Memory: 6G GDDR6
- Memory: 16GB (8G*2) DDR4 3200MHz (up to 32GB)
- Storage: 1TB NVMe SSD (512GB versions available)
- LAN: USB Dongle
- WLAN: Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX201(2*2 ax)
- Bluetooth: BT 5.1
- Card Reader: Micro SD (UHS-III)
- Webcam: 720p HD Webcam
- Connectivity: 2x USB 3.2 Gen1, 1 x Thunderbolt 4 w/PD charge; 1 x USB-C USB3.1 Gen2 w/DP, HDMI (supports 4K @ 60Hz), 1 Audio Combo
- Battery: 3 cell (52Whr)
- Dimensions: 14.10″x9.76″x0.63″
- Keyboard: Single zone RGB keyboard with Anti-Ghost key (84 Key)
- Audio: Nahimic 3 / Hi-Res Audio
- Speaker: Nahimic Hi-Res Audio Speakers 2W * 2
- Weight: 3.73 lbs
- Warranty: 1 year Limited warranty (Include 1 Year Global)
The MSI Stealth 15M is part of Intel’s new thrust into Ultraportable Gaming laptops. These new computers combine the benefits of ultrabooks with traditional gaming laptops. After spending a few weeks with the Stealth 15M, I can say with confidence that these new designs really challenge the ultrabook market. There are some definite trade-offs but in both power and portability, this model has really limited the cases where it makes sense to opt for an ultrabook over an ultraportable gaming laptop.
First, let’s talk specs. As the description implies, these notebooks are all about providing enough power for gaming on the go. As such, it’s powered by an Nvidia RTX 3060 mobile GPU with 6GB of GDDR6 video memory, a quad-core Intel Core i7-11375H CPU able to boost to single-core speeds of 5.16 GHz, 16GB of DDR4 memory running at 3200 MHz, and a 1TB NVMe SSD for storage. Other configurations are available with 32GB of memory or a smaller SSD.
The “ultraportable” end comes in with its exceptionally thin and light design. It comes in at 3.73 lbs, which is roughly anywhere from a half pound to a pound or more less than other thin and light gaming notebooks not part of this new category. It’s also very thin at only 0.63 inches when closed. It comes in a bit heavier than many ultrabooks but it trades that off with a larger 15.6-inch FHD screen that runs at 144Hz.
Ultraportable or Ultrabook?
Right away, there are some clear differences from the “average” ultrabook. The higher-powered GPU is the biggest differentiator, as many ultrabooks rely on integrated Intel Xe graphics. The RTX 3060, while lesser powered than its desktop counterpart, still offers a major upgrade versus any integrated graphics chip in gaming performance. Likewise, we have high speed RAM, which can also offer performance uplift compared to ultrabooks stuck at lower speeds. Just as importantly, the Stealth 15M offers a standard 15.6-inch screen equipped with a 144Hz refresh rate for smooth gameplay. As you’ll see in the testing section, when set to “High” settings, many games excel well past 60Hz, so this screen is put to good use. Additionally, the 1TB of storage on this configuration is also twice that of many ultrabooks at similar prices.
Those differences go both ways, however. The screen, while very good, does fall short of the options available on many ultrabooks. There is no 4K or touch screen upgrade. MSI also doesn’t place an emphasis on color accuracy with only 45% of NTSC coverage. As of this writing, MSI also doesn’t have the alternative option it offered with last year’s model that featured a 60Hz screen with 99% sRGB. For gaming, I think it looks fine, but it isn’t something to rely on for more than hobbyist photo or video editing.
Connectivity is also improved here, slightly to dramatically depending on which ultrabook you’re comparing it to. The Stealth 15M sports two USB 3.2 Type-A ports, one Thunderbolt 4 w/PD charge, a USB-C USB3.1 Gen2 with DisplayPort, and a MicroSD card reader. It also features an HDMI output capable of 4K60 for an external monitor and an audio combo jack. For Internet and wireless, it supports WiFi 6 AX201, Bluetooth 5.1, and even wired LAN using an RJ-45 USB adapter. The bulk of my testing was conducted over WiFi and it held connection reliably with stable speeds through my entire two-floor home.
Thin and Light: The Difference Maker
It may not seem like much on paper, but the lighter weight and thinner body really do make a difference in portability. Before trying it for myself, I was skeptical that the roughly one pound difference between it and my Falcon Northwest would make a difference, but it definitely does. In fact, for traveling back and forth to work, the MSI Stealth 15M is a big improvement. It’s light enough that I can throw it in my messenger bag and forget about it. That extra pound on the Falcon felt heavy after a long day, even though it doesn’t seem like much on paper.
These conclusions seem to be what Intel found too. According to the research published on its deep dive:
92% of this group use their gaming laptop as their primary computing device, splitting their time between a range of activities and with a range of purchase triggers, as shown above. And nearly 80% say they want a gaming PC’s high-end specs and features, but on a device that looks more like a traditional laptop.
But many people didn’t see the right choice for them on the market. 38% of those surveyed who did not purchase a gaming laptop said the reason was bulkiness or weight.
If that last paragraph describes you, then there is a good chance this new category of laptops is for you.
But What About Heat and Noise?
Like most laptops, there is a trade-off here. I admit to being concerned that this thin form factor would make the laptop either very loud or very hot. It turns out it’s a little bit of both but falls on the reasonable side compared to many, and is quite quiet outside of gaming. When under heavy load, the fans ramp up in speed and can become rather loud with a high-pitched tone. That said, they are quieter than the last two gaming laptops I’ve tested: the Origin EVO15-S and MSI GS66 Stealth. Both of those laptops featured higher-powered GPUs, however, so the added noise makes sense. In normal use, the fans are audible but quiet, and I could easily use it at work or on the couch next to my wife.
When it comes to managing temperatures, the Stealth 15M uses an array of two fans and six heat pipes in conjunction with a highly vented case. This works well for the GPU which maxed out at 77C and usually hovered closer to 74C. The CPU, on the other hand, ran much warmer. Temperatures would sometimes spike to 100C before dropping back into the 80s. When pressed with benchmarks or CPU-intensive games, it would live in the upper 80s to low 90s. As a desktop PC gamer, this feels much too warm to me but is normal for gaming laptops and isn’t surprising with one that spikes to just above 5GHz while gaming.
How Does It Perform?
Now we come to the thick of it: gaming performance. Intel markets these notebooks as being design for “High” settings, so I opted for that preset in every game that offered it. Since this is an RTX card, I manually turned on ray tracing in games that allowed it but didn’t enable it by default on High. In these cases, I used the lowest setting. Likewise, I also used DLSS where available using whatever setting was enabled by default for that preset. In all cases, I used the in-game benchmark wherever possible. When that wasn’t possible, I found a section of representative and repeatable gameplay.
Since laptops are less common for us to review here at MMORPG, I did not have competitor models on hand to directly test against. To remedy this, I purchased some additional games to have a similar suite to what I use at IGN. For some added context, here is my review of the Origin EVO15-S which uses the mobile RTX 3080 chip. Additionally, here is my review of a desktop RTX 3060, as well as Damien’s we published here, so you can compare results with that variant of this GPU.
Looking at these results, it’s clear that MSI and Intel’s promises of excellent 1080p performance at High settings bear fruit. In all but Metro Exodus, the Stealth 15M is able to deliver average frame rates in excess of 60 FPS — and there, with a couple of small tweaks could easily be pushed above this threshold. These results do fall expectedly short of the desktop RTX 3060, but that is to be expected. What matters here is that each of these games looked and performed great. Some of them even offered enough headroom to bump up to ultra while still maintaining reasonably high frame rates above 60 FPS.
I also spent some time working in the Adobe Suite and capturing video with OBS to test content creation performance. Here, the dedicated GPU definitely shines and allows for smoother capture and faster editing. The color accuracy could potentially be an issue, but for the average user, the presence of that RTX 3060 and high-speed CPU are massive upgrades over standard ultrabook performance.
The other boon to gaming performance (load times) and video editing is the presence of a large NVMe SSD right out of the gate. Though the chipset supports it, the drive here is firmly PCIe Gen 3 based on its speeds. Compared to a SATA SSD, it’s a fast drive but middle of the road as far as NVMes go. Compared to a drive like the 970 EVO Plus, it falls short in overall speed, but for gaming performs almost identically to those faster drives. As a way to keep costs down, it’s a smart move and easily upgradeable in the future.
Upgradability – Possible But Involved
After conducting testing, one of the first things I explored was how upgradeable it is. Disassembling the laptop isn’t the easiest process but falls short of being difficult if you have the right tools. All that’s required is a miniature Philips head screwdriver and a wedge to pop the metal back panel off, but there are more than a dozen screws to remove and it’s possible to break the plastic retainer clips, so proceed with caution.
With the back panel off, the SSD is easily accessible, but the memory is on the other side of the motherboard. That means detaching ribbon cables, removing the battery, and removing additional screws. I followed this guide and was able to complete the process, but upgrading the RAM isn’t an easy process.
Daily Usage, Battery Life, and Overall Impressions
After the few weeks I’ve lived with the Stealth 15M, I’ve really grown to like it. The thin and light form factor is genuinely nice and makes the laptop feel better to use. Yes, it’s lower-powered than a full gaming laptop and because of that it won’t be the best choice for every kind of user, but Intel and MSI have succeeded in making this laptop feel more portable than any other gaming laptop I’ve tried.
Functionally, it’s a winner. The keyboard feels good to use with nice tactile feedback. The touchpad is reliable and not overly sensitive. The speakers also get reasonably loud, though gamers will still want to use a gaming headset. The screen is bright and color-rich. Battery life is also decent at around 4.5 hours max using PCMark 10’s Modern Office Battery Test in Super Battery Saver Mode.
At the same time, you can also see where each of these areas was scaled back to keep the cost down. The keyboard is only single-zone RGB, so it’s all or nothing and has noticeable hot spots under the 7 and H keys. The touchpad has integrated buttons instead of dedicated clickers. The speakers are actually pretty good but do tend toward distortion at higher volumes. The screen also doesn’t get as bright as some of the pricer RTX 30-series laptops available today.
But, for all of that, it’s still a very nice laptop for both work and gaming. I like that it has enough power for any productivity task I want to take on and when it’s time for gaming, I’m not stuck playing on low settings. The added ports make it easy to connect a keyboard, mouse, and gaming headset. Even the built-in webcam is pretty good for conference calls during the day.
Put another way, this is a laptop that aims to dominate the middle. It marries the ultrabook with the gaming laptop in smart, budget-conscious ways. I, like most gamers I know, simply can’t afford to spend $3000 on a new gaming laptop. The MSI Stealth 15M allows users to have the best of both worlds with high refresh rate gaming at high settings while maintaining a form factor that’s perfect for work or school. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of those ultra-premium notebooks, but for gamers who want a little bit of both, it’s a great option.
The product described in this article sent on loan by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.