[Review] Play Cyberpunk 2077 On the Go: MSI GL65 Leopard
Every now and then, a brand new game comes along that's so hyped up that you find yourself willing to kit yourself out with new gear just to enjoy it at its full potential. For the latter part of 2020, that game was Cyberpunk 2077.
Unfortunately, the release of the game was plagued with constant complaints of low performance, including shoddy frame rates, textures not being loaded, strange NPC behaviour and more. Although a number of launch day bugs have since been patched, the game still maintains its reputation of being notoriously tough on machines.
This is why we were super intrigued (and admittedly slightly skeptical) when MSI handed us the GL65 Leopard gaming laptop and told us that it would suffice to traverse Night City at high settings with.
Here are my thoughts on the laptop, and how it fared after spending some time with it.
In terms of looks, the GL65 looks like your average MSI gaming laptop with the red dragon logo smack dab in the center of a plain black chassis. Two ridges placed on each side of the logo lend an aggressive gamer-like aura to the overall design, while the word 'Leopard' is emblazoned on the back of the laptop. The lid and deck are made of metal, which feels rather solid and premium, while the bottom is plastic with a generous amount of vents to assist with airflow.
Overall, you'd definitely recognise it as a gaming machine upon first sight, which can be a good or bad thing depending on your personal preference in aesthetics.
Being a gaming laptop, the GL65 has prioritised refresh rate when it comes to the display. The FHD 144Hz screen offers buttery smooth gameplay that looks and feels really good. The colours are also vibrant, making it fine for basic creative work as well, unless you're planning to do colour grading or other accuracy-dependent work.
It's fares decently even under natural daylight, and visibility shouldn't be an issue unless you enjoy working directly under the noonday sun. As for light bleed, there were a couple of noticeable patches along the top and bottom edge, as pictured below. However, this will depend on your particular unit.
As with most modern laptops, the bezels are slim and subtle on the top and sides, while the chin is slightly thicker and houses the MSI logo. On the top, you'll find a basic webcam that should suffice for video calls - unfortunately there's no privacy shutter, so y'all paranoid people will have to stick to (ha ha) sticking some tape on it.
The lid itself has quite a lot of flex in it, and attempting to lift the lid with one hand will result in the laptop rocking backwards due to the center of gravity placed pretty far back along the chassis, so I'd recommend opening it carefully with 2 hands instead.
The keyboard is sufficiently springy and tactile, which would make for a great typing experience if not for the unconventional placement of certain keys. The greatest offender would be the Windows key which is placed only on the right side, creating a lot of frustration when I try to open the start menu only to realise it's not there.
One could argue that it was shifted there to prevent accidental presses while gaming, but since it can be deactivated via software I really don't see the necessity of removing it from the left-hand side. Other strange key placements include the brightness and volume keys, which have been incorporated into the arrow key cluster instead of being located in the function key row as usual. And since the function key is on the right, you can no longer adjust the two settings using just one hand, which is pretty annoying.
On the bright side, it does have full-sized arrow keys and a numberpad for those who utilise them often. You can also choose from a red-backlit keyboard or a full per-key RGB version by SteelSeries.
The power button is isolated from the main keyboard, which I like. Next to it, you'll find another two buttons that toggle the Cooler Boost and cycle through the keyboard lighting modes respectively.
The touchpad is decent, though nothing to shout about. Do note that the touchpad is not clickable and has 2 physical buttons instead.
MSI boasts 5x larger speakers on this model, but to be honest, the audio quality is your typical laptop fare, and the fans get pretty loud under load. You'll probably want to stick to a headset for this. Less noise pollution in public too :)
As for ports, MSI has very generously blessed the GL65 with a wide array of ports. On the left, you'll find:
1x RJ45 Ethernet port
1x HDMI (4K @ 30Hz)
1x Type-A USB3.2 Gen1
1x Type-C USB3.2 Gen2
Audio and mic jacks
And on the right:
2x Type-A USB3.2 Gen1
1x SD (XC/HC) card reader
1x Charging port
While I can appreciate the inclusion of a full-sized SD card reader and 2 display options, I do feel that the placement of some ports could use some work though. The charging port is positioned smack-dab in the middle of the right side, along with 2 USB ports towards the front edge. These will inevitably get in the way of your mouse hand unless you plan to only use the touchpad.
And now, showtime. The GL65 comes in a variety of configurations, with ours being the highest-specced variant in the family. It's running an Intel Core i7-10750H processor, RTX 2070 Super graphics, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of SSD storage.
Since Cyberpunk was its main claim to fame, that was the first game I tried out. I admit that I was somewhat surprised that handled it at high settings with no issue. With DLSS off, we got around an average of 65 FPS, while turning DLSS on improved the frame rate to an average of 90 FPS, which honestly exceeded my expectations.
Since it shrugged off the high preset without breaking a sweat, I further tested it out with ray tracing (DLSS on), and still got around 60 FPS, which was impressive. Running on the ultra preset knocked the FPS down to around 50, but it was still extremely playable if you're not super fussy about it.
And now that it's been certified Cyberpunk-capable, I put it through the usual slew of synthetic and built-in gaming benchmarks, with the results as below.
As expected, it breezed right through all the games tested at high and ultra settings, with a minimum of 60 FPS for all titles. If gaming is your main focus, then the GL65 certainly does the job. I do feel that at least 1TB of storage should be the standard nowadays though, what with many triple A titles packing huge file sizes.
Thermals and Battery Life
Surface temperatures on the GL65 are acceptable. It gets pretty hot near the top while under load, but the important bits where you'd lay your fingers and palms while gaming stayed at a comfortable temperature.
Inside, you'll find 2 fans and 7 heat pipes to keep the internals cool, while vents line the top, bottom, and left side of the laptop. It irked me a little that the design was asymmetrical (no vents on the right, with the space left unused) but I was happy about the generous amount of vents on the bottom.
The fans get pretty loud while gaming, so you'll need a headset if you want to listen to music or enjoy in-game audio.
In terms of battery life, the 51Wh battery was unspectacular, delivering 3-4 hours of video playback and significantly less while gaming. As usual, I'd recommend gaming with the power plugged in for performance anyway, but do take note that the power brick itself is pretty heavy at around 830g, bringing the total weight of the package to just above 3kg.
Overall, the MSI GL65 Leopard certainly delivers the gaming performance needed for even Triple A titles. The monitor is also a treat for the eyes with its high refresh rate, and the overall build quality of the exterior felt solid enough.
However, some things to note are the odd keyboard layout, mediocre speakers, and painfully average battery life.
If you're using this as a desktop replacement where you'll have external peripherals connected and hook it up to a power source at all times, then it is certainly a good candidate for gaming with impressive firepower.
For more info, you can head over to the official product page here.