MSI has finally refreshed its entire gaming laptop lineup for 2021 in early May. While some models continue the lineage from 2020, other models have be repositioned and/or renamed. In this short guide, let us examine two subjects as succinctly as possible: What has MSI improved this year? How do the new models stand in the lineup?
MSI Gaming Laptops 2021 vs 2020
Before going into what has changed, in this case it may be interesting to go over what has stayed the same. Most notably, the designs of MSI's 2021 gaming laptops have remained virtually indistinguishable (save for the new Sword models) from last year.
This means that the 16:9 aspect ratio has been retained, even though MSI's 2021 Creator series premium laptops / workstations have migrated to 16:10. The taller aspect ratio is more conducive to providing a larger viewing area in a more portable chassis and is seeing a revival in recent years.
Another constant relates to the decision to stick to Intel chips, while ASUS (and to a lesser extent Lenovo) is leading the way with AMD chips in its 2021 ROG gaming laptop lineup. AMD's Zen 3 Cezanne processors are able to boost to higher clock speeds and are slightly more efficient, though the difference in real-world usage is unlikely to be obvious.
What has been improved is most notable on three fronts:
RTX 30-Series GPU
NVIDIA's RTX 30-series GPUs are considered by many to be one of the most important releases in the firm's history. They offer around 50% performance boost while being more efficient than, and similarly-priced as, the RTX 20-series.
At CES 2021, MSI already upgraded part of its gaming laptop lineup with these new GPUs. Just a few months later, they are now updated with Intel's Tiger Lake CPUs.
New Display Options
Ever higher refresh rate has become the name of the game in recent years in this market. This year, 17.3-inch and 15.6-inch models have access to identically-spec'd panels (that differ only in size). All these displays, even the standard option in the most affordable model, are IPS, which is a plus.
New is the 4K UHD panel with 120Hz refresh rate. It is joined by two QHD (2560x1440) panels that refreshes at 165Hz and 240Hz respectively.
New I/O Options
Alongside the new Intel chip and the HM570 chipset that comes with it, many models in MSI's 2021 gaming laptop lineup now support new I/O options such as Thunderbolt 4, USB 3.2 Gen2, WiFi 6E, Bluetooth 5.2, and PCI Express Gen4 SSDs.
This "privilege", however, is limited to the higher-end models.
MSI 2021 Gaming Laptop Models Explained
In short, MSI now markets five main gaming laptop series. From the top of the line to the entry point, they are GE76 / GE66 Raider, GS76 / GS66 Stealth, GP76 / GP66 Leopard, GL76 / GL66 Pulse / Crosshair, and GF76 / GF66 Katana / Sword.
If you have read our article on the same subject for 2020, you may notice that the GL models are no longer "Leopard", and that the GF models are no longer "Thin". This is indeed a confusion move. More important, the GF76 / GF66 are now to the GL76 / GL66 what the GL was to the GP: the same laptops in plastic chassis. Further, the GF76 / GF66 are literally no longer thin—they are now the thickest models in MSI's 2021 lineup.
GE76 / GE66 Raider vs GS76 / GS66 Stealth
The Raider models continue to occupy the top of the lineup. This year, however, the Stealth models offer much of the same configurability: They can be configured with the same Tiger Lake i9 CPU, RTX 3080 GPU, 4K 120Hz display, 64GB of memory, and PCIe Gen4 SSD. They also boast the same 99.9Wh battery, the largest in the industry today.
The main difference is that the Stealth can be configured with RTX 3060 graphics at the low end, drops one USB port and the Mini DisplayPort, is 20% thinner and lighter, and has less extensive RGB lighting.
GP76 / GP66 Leopard
The Leopard models occupy the midrange. Compared to the Raider and Stealth models, they lose a number of premium features: The 4K UHD display is gone, as does the QHD 240Hz panel. Battery size is reduced by 1/3, and the Thunderbolt 4 port is gone.
In terms of power, the GP76 / GP66 also loses the Core i9 CPU and RTX 3080 GPU: they are topped at Core i7 and RTX 3070 respectively.
On the plus side, the per-key RGB gaming keyboard by SteelSeries from the higher-end models is retained.
Pulse GL76 / GL66 vs Katana GF76 / GF66
As discussed earlier, the GL models are now confusingly called Pulse; and GF, Katana. There are also the Crosshair and Sword models that are essentially the same laptops in different colors.
While previously the GL75 / GL65 was the Leopard in plastic, the new Pulse / Crosshair models have metal chasses but are less generously-spec'd. At the same time, the new Katana / Sword models are their plastic-clad sisters with roughly the same specifications otherwise.
At this entry-level, these gaming laptops are topped out at Core i7 and RTX 3060. They lose WiFi 6E, though WiFi 6, which was all new just a year ago, is standard. Unexpectedly, they only have PCIe Gen3 for SSDs.
The Pulse / Crosshair models have access to the 165Hz QHD display options, but the Katana / Sword models, being the entry-point, are only available in FHD.
Last but not least, they lose the per-key RGB-lit keyboard by SteelSeries: the Pulse / Crosshair models still have RGB lighting, though the Katana / Sword models have to do with single-color backlight (Red for Katana, Blue for Sword).
For more detailed comparison, you can use our feature-rich comparison tool. Here are the links for the 15.6-inch models and 17.3-inch models respectively.
You can welcome also to find more details on these laptops in the Related Products section below.