This is our detailed review of the mid-2019 MSI GL63 gaming laptop, in a mid-tier configuration with a Core i7 processor, Nvidia GTX 1660Ti graphics and dual-storage.
The GL63 is not a new model by any means, it’s merely a hardware refresh with some slight refinements in this 2019 iteration, sold as GL63 9SD and 9SDK variants. Our test versions is, in fact, the GL63 8SD variant available here in Europe with the 8th gen Core i7-8750H processor, but given how similar the 9750H and 8750H are, our findings also apply to the 9SD/9SDK variants more widely spread in most regions.
The elephant in the room is the Nvidia chip, which the GL63 does an excellent job at keeping at bay even when overclocked, thanks to its competent thermal module. However, whether the solid performance and thermals are enough to put this on your list is debatable, given its old design, old screen choices, and the traits offered by the newer models available these days from the competition.
Down below we’ve gathered our impressions on all this laptop’s strong points and quirks, so make sure to go through the lengthy review if you’re planning on buying one of these mid-2019 MSI GL63 mid-range gaming notebooks, and don’t hesitate to get in touch in the comments section at the end if you have any feedback or questions.
The specs sheet as reviewed
|MSI GL63 8SD|
|Screen||15.6 inch, 1920 x 1080 px resolution, IPS, 60 HZ, matte, LH Philips LGD05C8 panel|
|Processor||Intel Coffee Lake Core i7-8750H, six-core (i7-9750H on retail models)|
|Video||Intel HD 630 and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti 6GB 80W (GeForce 430.86)|
|Memory||8 GB DDR4 2666 MHz (2x DIMMs)|
|Storage||1x 128 GB SSD(M.2 80 mm PCIe x2 – Kingston RBUSNS8154P3GJ) + 1 TB SSHD (2.5″ bay – ST1000LM049)|
|Connectivity||Intel 9560 1×1 AC WiFi with Bluetooth 5.0, Killer E2400 Gigabit LAN|
|Ports||3x USB-A 3.1, 1x USB-C gen 2, HDMI 2.0, miniDP, LAN, SD card-reader, headphone and mic, Kensington Lock|
|Battery||51 Wh, 180 W power adapter|
|Size||383 mm or 15.07” (w) x 260 mm or 10.23” (d) x 29.5 mm or 1.16” (h)|
|Weight||2.32 kg (5.11 lb), .55 kg (1.21 lbs) power brick, EU version|
|Extras||red backlit keyboard (optional RGB keyboard on SDK variants), NumPad, 2x 3W stereo speakers, HD webcam|
While this 8SD version of the GL63 is available in some regions, most of the world gets an updated GL63 9SDK configuration, which is similar to the one here, but with a few important changes: gets the 9th gen Core i7-9750H processor, gets a better quality and faster 120 Hz screen and an RGB backlit keyboard.
Design and exterior
Aesthetically, the GL63 shows its age, as this is not one of the newer compact designs with slim bezels, but a full-size laptop with chunky pieces of plastic around the screen, a full-size footprint and a total weight of 2.3+ kg.
But while you’re not going to buy one of these for its looks and craftsmanship, it’s definitely not a bad device to live with and looks and feels like many of the MSI gaming laptops of recent years. That means that brushed metal is used for the interior and lid-cover, with plastic on the sides and bottom, but there’s a fair bit of flex in the chassis and the lid-cover, so you should put this inside a protective sleeve when carrying it in your backpack.
The black and red aesthetics are pretty clean, with few visual obstructions once you peel the stickers on the arm-rest, but there’s still a panel-lit Dragon Shield on the lid and an always-on power button. The black aluminum also shows off smudges easily, as expected.
As far as practicality goes, the case is nicely rounded and there are no sharp lips and corners, the hinges keep the screen well in place and allow it to lean back to about 160 degrees on the back, and the IO is lined on the sides, with most of the ports on the left edge. You’ll still need both hands to lift up the screen, and MSI uses some annoying plastic side-feet on the bottom, alongside a set of small rubber feet, which come in contact with the surface and might scratch your desk over time. I’d reckon they went this route in order to mitigate the chassis’s flex, but it’s not a very smart solution and a complete redesign of the underside would have been the smart way to go with it.
Down below you’ll also find the air intake grills, with the exhausts on the back edge, as well as some large speaker grills, and that’s because this laptop gets the large and punchy speakers we’ve seen on other MSI laptops in the past.
As for the IO, there’s mostly everything you’ll need on this laptop, except for Thunderbolt 3 support.
Keyboard and trackpad
The GL63 implements a variation of the SteelSeries keyboard that MSI puts on most of their laptops, with red-backlighting in this implementation, but with optional per-key RGB lighting on the 8SDK and 9SDK variants.
The layout is mostly fine, with a full-sized main deck of keys, full-sized arrows, and a smaller NumPad section. The Windows key is still on the right, like on all the other MSI laptops, but there’s an option to switch the FN and Windows keys in the included Dragon Center app. The Delete key is also oddly placed at the top of the NumPad, and not above Backspace, as on most other 15-inch laptops with a NumPad.
The keys feel soft to the touch and offer good feedback and the keyboard is very quiet, however, the fairly deep stroke and the fact that you need to press the keys firmly in order to actuate correctly makes them somewhat unforgiving, and for me translated in below average typing speed and accuracy, just like on the GE75 Raider I’ve tested a while ago.
For mouse, MSI went with a non-clickable touchpad with physical click buttons below. It’s an averagely-sized surface made out of plastic, with Synaptics hardware and Precision drivers. It feels alright to the touch and handles swipes, taps, and gestures well, plus the surface doesn’t rattle when tapped firmer. However, the mechanical click buttons are stiff and clunky, so you’ll most likely want to hook an external mouse even with daily use.
This aside, I should also add that there are no biometrics on this laptop.
MSI offers the GL63 series with either a 60 Hz IPS or a 120 HZ TN screen, the same they’re using on the GE63 Raider series.
Our sample came with the former option, and this is where MSI cut a corner with our configuration of the GL63 8SD, opting for a rather mediocre display. It’s a matte FHD IPS panel, but with a refresh rate of 60 Hz and sub-par brightness, contrast and viewing angles by today’s standards, as you can tell from the data beneath, recorded with a Spyder4 sensor.
- Panel Hardware ID: LG Philips LGD05C8 (LP156WFC-SPP1);
- Coverage: 66% sRGB, 47% NTSC, 49% AdobeRGB;
- Measured gamma: 2.3;
- Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 220 cd/m2 on power;
- Contrast at max brightness: 630:1;
- White point: 6700 K;
- Black on max brightness: 0.35 cd/m2;
- PWM: No;
- Response time: ~25 ms BTW.
Now, this will do fine for everyday use as long as you’re staying indoors, in dimmer environments. It won’t suffice in brighter places though, or for anyone used with better quality panels.
The updated GL63 9SDK is still available with these two-panel options, no longer ships with this panel, but an improved quality, brighter and faster 144 Hz option, which puts the GL63 on par with its direct competitors like the Acer Nitro 5, Lenovo legion Y540 or the Asus TUF FX505 lineup.
Hardware and performance
Our test model is a mid-range configuration of the MSI GL63, with the Core i7-8750H processor, 8 GB of DRR4 2666 MHz RAM (single stick, works in single channel), dual graphics, with Intel UHD 630 and the dedicated Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti 80W chip, as well as dual storage, with a 256 GB M.2 PCIe x2 SSD and a 1 TB 2.5″ 7200 rpm HDD for mass storage.
Retail models ship with either the 8th gen CPU on the GL63 8SD/8SDk variants, or the 9th gen Core i7-9750H GL63 9SD/9SDK models. Given how the i7-9750H is just a bumped-up iteration of the 8750H, as explained in this article, you’re most likely not going to feel a difference between the two in daily use, unless you work with applications that can benefit from its increased amount of L3 cache.
The components are accessible inside, where you’ll also find the battery, wireless module, and the speakers system. The GL63 is internally similar to the GE63 Raider variant, which means it uses a small-sized bar-shaped battery placed between the hinges, a complex cooling system and leaves most of the bottom for speakers.
Getting to these components is a bit tricky though, as it requires you to remove the plastic underbelly. For that, you need to take care of the screws, all visible on the back, but careful that there’s actually a warranty sticker on top one of them, which suggests that getting inside can void the warranty in some regions (like here in Europe, but the legislation differs in the US and Asia).
You’ll need to be extra careful when taking the back panel out, and start from the front and left side, as the side that includes the HDMI/DP ports need to come out last, as the ports are slotted into the plastic edge. You’ll find clips on Youtube that explain the process, and if you can’t find them for the GL63 series, you’ll definitely find some for the GE63 line, which is designed just the same.
Moving on to actually using this laptop, it handles everyday tasks smoothly and mostly quietly. The fans switch off with casual use on battery, and although they’re active while plugged in, they still run quietly and you’re not going to hear them in a normal environment.
You’re not going to get such a laptop just for browsing and movies, though, I’d expect you’ll also run more demanding tasks and games. We’ll get to games in a second, but first we’re going to test the CPU’s performance in demanding loads, and we do that by running Cinebench R15 for 10+ times in a loop, with 2-3 seconds delay between each run, with the laptop in the Sport Shift profile in the included Dragon Center control application and fans on Auto. As far as I know, the Turbo Shift mode does not have an impact on the CPU, that’s why we didn’t opt for it on these tests, but we’ll use it later on once we test the combined CPU+ GPU loads.
Most implementations of this CPU return high-scores for the first Cinebench runs and then settle a little lower as the CPU heats-up and can no longer maintain its maximum Turbo speeds for more than a few seconds.
This performed a little bit poorer than expected, as it settled for Turbo Boost speeds of only 3.0 GHz out of the box, a TDP of 45 W and temperatures of around 80 degrees Celsius, translating in scores of 950+ points. Details below.
These are rather low frequencies for a 45W TDP, as most other implementations of the i7-8750H settle at around 3.2-3.3 GHz out-of-the-box and scores of around 1050 points. This is not the first MSI laptop that performs this way in the Cinebench loop test, but the behavior can be addressed with undevolting, and our test unit ended up stable in benchmarks and real-use at -150 mV.
In this case, the CPU settled for scores of 1100+ points, Turbo Boost speeds of 3.5 GHz, a TDP of 45 W and similar temperatures of 80 degrees Celsius. Details below.
Power Limit Throttling is the limiting factor here, and XTU did not allow us to further up the TDP limit, so in the end, our GL63 sample ended up at roughly 90% of what the 8th gen i7 processor is capable of delivering in a best-case implementation. Thermally, there’s a hefty headroom that could allow MSI to further improve the performance if they decide to up the Power Limit in a future BIOS update, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for it.
Despite this behavior in the Cinebench loop test, the CPU actually runs at high frequencies with games and benchmarks, especially once undervolted, as you’ll see below.
We first ran our set of standard benchmarks on the default profile, and here’s what we got:
- 3DMark 13 – Fire Strike: 13016 (Graphics – 14684, Physics – 15402);
- 3DMark 13 – Time Spy: 5924 (Graphics – 5611, CPU – 5051);
- Uniengine Superposition Extreme: 3005;
- PassMark: Rating: 4791, CPU mark: 11074, 3D Graphics Mark: 8767;
- GeekBench 4.1.1 64-bit: Single-Core: 4681, Multi-core: 18016;
- CineBench R15 (best run): CPU 1034 cb, CPU Single Core 174 cb;
- CineBench R20 (best run): 2285;
- x264 HD Benchmark 4.0 32-bit: Pass 1 – 193.56 fps, Pass 2 – 70.24 fps.
Keep in mind that the default profile includes just 8 GB of RAM running in single-channel, which takes a toll on tests like Geekbench.
Next, we also ran some of the tests on what we call a Tweaked profile, with the CPU undervolted at -150 mV and the GPU overclocked at + 200 MHz Core, + 300 MHz memory in Dragon Center, on the Turbo profile, but still with 8 GB of RAM.
- 3DMark 11: P17777 (Graphics: 21745, Physics: 11769);
- 3DMark 13 – Fire Strike: 15214 (Graphics – 16980, Physics – 16061);
- 3DMark 13 – Time Spy: 5924 (Graphics – 6072, CPU – 5206);
- Uniengine Superposition Extreme: 3252;
- PCMark 08: Home Conventional – 4269;
- PCMark 10: 5150 (Essentials – 8564, Productivity – 6905, Digital Content Creation – 6269);
- GeekBench 4 64-bit: Single-Core: 4693, Multi-core: 18089;
- CineBench R15: CPU 1228 cb, CPU Single Core 172 cb;
- CineBench R20 (best run): 2638;
- x264 HD Benchmark 4.0 32-bit: Pass 1 – 194.25 fps, Pass 2 – 75.12 fps.
The Tweaked profile leads to 3-5% CPU performance gains, due to undervolting, and overall excellent scores, on par with the best i7-8750H implementations out there. The GPU scores also increase by 5-10%, due to the +200 MHz frequency boost, which applies to both Base and Turbo clock speeds. It’s also important to add that the Tweaked profile also leads to a slight drop in CPU and GPU temperatures in demanding loads, as you can see in the following 3DMark logs, as well as down below, in the gaming performance section.
With that out of the way, let’s look at some gaming results.
The GL63 is powered by a Turing GTX 1660 Ti graphics chip, which is a snipped version of the RTX 2060 chip, without RTX and Tensor cores, but within 10% of its performance in regular games.
We ran a couple of titles representative for DX11, DX12, and Vulkan architectures, on three different profiles:
- FHD Sport Default – Sport Shift in Dragon Center, fans on Auto, default settings
- FHD Turbo OC – Sport Shift in Dragon Center, -150 mV undervolt, fans on Auto, GPU overclock with Dragon Center: + 200 MHz Core, + 350 MHz memory, just 8 GB of RAM in single-channel
- FHD Turbo OC Dual – the same, but with 16 GB of RAM in dual-channel
The Auto fan profile performed well on this implementation, ramping up the fans when needed and keeping them quiet with daily use, so we didn’t have to switch the fans on Cooler Boost. Yes, the GPU fan spins faster on Cooler Boost, which allows the GPU to run at slightly higher clocks and lower temperatures, but the profile also increases noise levels (47 dB on Auto, 50+ dB on Cooler Boost), and as you’ll see from our findings, the performance/thermal gains don’t justify opting for Cooler Boost.
|FHD Sport Default||FHD Turbo OC||FHD Turbo OC Dual|
|Battlefield V (DX 12, Ultra Preset, Ray-Tracing OFF)||68-86 fps||72-88 fps||78-94 fps|
|Far Cry 5 (DX 11, Ultra Preset, SMAA)||71 fps||73 fps||89 fps|
|Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (DX 11, Ultra Preset)||105 fps||112 fps||115 fps|
|Rise of Tomb Raider (DX 12, Very High Preset, FXAA)||45 fps||52 fps||59 fps|
|Shadow of Tomb Raider (DX 12, Highest Preset, TAA)||56 fps||60 fps||74 fps|
|The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (DX 11, Ultra Preset, Hairworks On 4)||48-66 fps||50-70 fps||58-88 fps|
- Battlefield V, The Witcher 3 – recorded with Fraps/in-game FPS counter in campaign mode;
- Far Cry 5, Middle Earth, Tomb Raider games – recorded with the included Benchmark utilities.
The HWinfo logs below show the CPU and GPU speeds and temperatures in Farcry 5, Battlefield V and Witcher 3 on the Default profile, with the fans on Auto, which keeps them running at 5100 rpm (CPU) and 4200 rpm (GPU), which translates in about 46-47 dB at head level on our review unit.
Switching to the Turbo OC profile has no impact on fan noise, but improves both the CPU and GPU frequencies.
Adding two slots of RAM has no visible impact on the CPU/GPU speeds, but it does translate in improved fps counts in all titles, as shown above.
Switching the fans to CoolerBoost does have an impact on CPU/GPU temperatures and a slight impact on the GPU’s clock speeds in Witcher 3, but the gains are minimal.
Lastly, unplugging the laptop limits the CPU and GPU’s performance, but most games are still perfectly playable in this case, as the CPU still averages 3.3 GHz and the GPU 1.64 GHz, something most other laptops cannot rival on battery.
If you don’t want to dig through the logs, this is what we got in Witcher 3:
- Standard profile (Sport Shift, fans on Auto, 46-47 dB): CPU: ~3.9 GHz, 80 C; GPU: ~1.7 GHz, 71 C;
- OC Profile (Turbo Shift, -150 mV undervolted CPU, GPU, +200 MHz Clock/ +350 MHz Memory, fans on Auto, still 46-47 dB): CPU: ~3.9 GHz, 77 C; GPU: ~1.85 GHz, 72 C;
- OC Profile with CoolerBoost (the same, but fans at 50-51 dB): CPU: ~3.9 GHz, 69 C; GPU: ~1.9 GHz, 65 C.
All in all, the MSI GL63 squeezes excellent performance out of the hardware inside, thanks to the competent thermal module and its ability to keep the components at bay, even with an overclocked GPU, which once tweaked matches the performance of the higher end RTX 2060 chips in standard games. You’ll also have to tweak the CPU to run at its best, but that’s an easy slider adjustment in XTU.
Emissions (noise, heat), Connectivity and speakers
The GL63 gets a competent thermal module, the kind you’d normally expect from a higher-end laptop, with two high-cfm fans and a complex array of heatpipes.
That’s why it’s perfectly adequate to keep the i7 CPU and 1660Ti GPU in check and allows the GL63 to run cooler than most other laptops in its class, both on the inside and on the outside. You don’t even have to bother switching from the Auto fan profile, even if turning to Cooler Boost allows the components to run 5-10 degrees cooler, but that’s with the expense of increased noise, at 50+ dB at head-level on CoolerBoost, from the 46-47 dB on Auto.
With everyday use, the fans switch off while the laptop runs on Battery on the lower-power modes, and we didn’t notice any coil whine or electronic noise on our sample, which means the mechanical HDD is the only thing preventing this from running perfectly quiet. The fans kick on when plugging the laptop and switching to High Performance, but they keep quiet and you’re not going to hear them in a normal environment.
*Daily Use – streaming Netflix on Edge for 30 minutes, fans on Auto (off)
*Load Default – playing Far Cry 5 for 30 minutes, Sport Default Profile, fans on Auto (46-47 dB)
*Load Overclocked – playing Far Cry 5 for 30 minutes, Turbo OC profile, fans on Auto (46-47 dB)
For connectivity, there’s Wireless AC and Gigabit Lan on this laptop, and both work well. We’ve mostly used our review unit on wireless, and the Intel 9560 with the latest drivers proved to be fast and reliable, but this is just a 1×1 wireless implementation, thus slower than some of the 2×2 variants out there.
Much like the other MSI laptop, the GL63 steps in front of the competition when it comes to audio quality. The internal schematics show that most of the area beneath the palm-rest is allocated to speakers, with a set of large 2x 3W chambers. They’re not as loud as I expected, peaking at about 80 dB at head-level, but they sound clean and fairly rich for laptop speakers, with bass noticeable from around 90 Hz.
There’s also an HD camera on this laptop, placed at the top of the screen and flanked mi microphones, and it’s alright for occasional use, but nothing to brag about.
MSI sacrificed the size of the battery when they opted to implement that beefy set of speakers, as there was only enough room to fit a 51 Wh tubular battery between the hinges. That’s an update from the 41 Wh battery on the previous versions, but you’re still not going to get much in terms of battery life with this notebook, and its placement right next to the heatpipes might also lead to accelerated degradation due to high-temperatures exposure.
Here’s what we got with our sample, with the screen set at 50% brightness, which is roughly 120 nits.
- 12 W (~4+ h of use) – text editing in Google Drive, Better Battery Mode, screen at 50%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 12 W (~4+ h of use) – 1080p Youtube fullscreen in Edge, Better Battery Mode, screen at 50%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 11.5 W (~4+ h of use) – 1080p Netflix fullscreen video in Edge, Better Battery Mode, screen at 50%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 18 W (~2 h 30 min of use) – browsing in Edge, Better Performance Mode, screen at 50%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 50 W (~1 h of use) – Gaming – Shadow of Mordor, Maximum Performance Mode, screen at 50%, Wi-Fi ON.
This configuration of the GL63 comes with an adequately sized 180 W charger, which can keep up with the system demands even with the overclocked GPU. The laptop doesn’t charge via USB-C.
Price and availability
The MSI GL63 is available in stores around the world in various configurations, with 8th and 9th gen Core i5/i7 processors and Pascal or Turing graphics.
The GTX 1660Ti variant reviewed here starts at around $1200 in the US and 1200 EUR over here, with a Core i7 processor, and goes to about 1500 USD with a Core i7-9750H processor and 512 GB SSD. The RTX 2060 variant sells for $100 extra, and that might be worth the difference if you’re interested in RayTracing. All these ship with the 120 Hz TN panel with 3 ms response time, as well as the SteelSeries RGB keyboard, not the red version on our test model, but 1060 versions are also available from $1100, with he 60 Hz screen and red-backlit keyboard.
There are quite a few GTX 1660 Ti mid-range gaming laptops out there, and while there are a few reasons to consider the MSI GL63 in this class, there are also a handful of others that can steer you towards the competition.
We’ll start with the positives, and the thermal implementation is the number one selling point of this line: it delivers excellent performance once tweaked and keeps both the components and the outer shell cool, without running extremely noisy. The speakers, the IO and the RGB keyboard on the SDK variants are the others, but everything else is on par or a downgrade compared to the alternatives out there, and that includes the screen options, the overall build quality, and battery life.
As mentioned earlier, the GL63 is an old design and shows its age. Most of the alternatives are more compact, sturdier built and even lighter, offer larger batteries and even better screens with a IPS 144 Hz panel, while the GL63 sticks to an older generation 120 Hz TN screen. It’s not one of those awful TN screens of the past and still a good choice for games, but the limited viewing angles and content shifting characteristic to TN panels are not something I would like to deal with in a 2019 laptop, especially one that doesn’t come as cheap as I would have expected.
In fact, competitors like the Acer Nitro 5 and Nitro 7, Asus ROG Scar III and TUF FX505, the Lenovo Legion Y540 or the Dell G5 Gaming are more affordable, and outmatch the GL63 in a handful of departments. Yes, the GL63 still sets the bar at performance and thermals, but the others come close as well, as you can find from our reviews.
Bottom point, it’s hard for me to recommend this product as of mid-2019. If you’re looking for excellent performance and thermals, yes, it could be an option to consider if you find it for a great price down the road, but as it is right now, I think there’s better value in some of the newer SKUs from the competition.
That wraps up our review of the MSI GL63 gaming laptop, but the comments section down below awaits your impressions and feedback, so feel free to disagree with my conclusions, add your questions and thoughts.