MSI’s GE66 Raider Dragonshield review: beautifully extra gaming laptop

If you’re on the market for a portable gaming laptop that serves the dual purposes of running demanding games and making everyone around you jealous, look no further than the MSI GE66 Raider Dragonshield Edition. This rig has a flashy head-turning design, a 300Hz screen, a comprehensive port selection, exceptional build quality, and some of the best gaming performance you can get from a 15-inch laptop. It’s not perfect, and $2,899 is more than anyone needs to spend for great gaming performance. But if you want to be the person with the coolest laptop in whatever room you happen to be in, you won’t be disappointed.

The regular MSI GE66 Raider has a fairly standard gaming-laptop design with a gray aluminum lid and a black deck. That’s why I waited to review the DragonShield edition, which literally looks like part of a spaceship. It was designed by veteran artist Colie Wertz, who worked on the upcoming Dune, The Mandalorian, and the recent Star Wars movies. You can see that influence all over this laptop; both the lid and the keyboard deck are a vibrant orange and black, emblazoned with a sci-fi rendering of MSI’s logo and an intricate grid of panes and components.

There’s a story behind this Raider. Wertz designed it to look like a panel that’s fallen off a spaceship. (It actually comes with a model ship, so you can see exactly where it came from.) It’s clear that he put a lot of work into the Dragonshield’s art — if you look closely at the lid and deck, you can see the countless geometric segments that might make up a spaceship’s panel, and the nuts and bolts that fasten them all together. I love seeing this kind of creative design on a laptop, even though it’s clearly not suitable for every setting. It just shows how much is possible when companies and designers are willing to try.

You can make the rest of the laptop your own. There’s an RGB keyboard with per-key customizable lighting. (My one gripe with the keyboard is that MSI stuck the brightness and volume controls onto the arrow keys, and the Fn key you need to press to use them is half the size of the rest of the keys and wedged between the backslash and control buttons.) To top it off, a gorgeous LED bar runs along the front edge, which offers 16.7 million customizable colors. Regular Raiders have this, too.

Obviously, a kooky design won’t impact your gaming performance or daily usage whatsoever. The rest of this review will give you an accurate picture of what to expect from the regular GE66 Raider as well, and that’s clearly the more pragmatic purchase for most people (you can get one with a 2070 Super for as low as $2,199.99). But if you’re looking to splurge on an eye-popping design, the Dragonshield is about as unique as they come.

Open this up, and you’ll find a Core i9-10980HK, Nvidia’s RTX 2070 Super, 32GB of RAM, 1TB of storage, and a 15.6-inch 300Hz 1080p screen. If you want the best frame rates the Raider can offer, you’ll want to go up to an RTX 2080 configuration (currently, those are only listed on MSI’s website in non-Dragonshield form). But the test system can still handle just about any game at its highest settings (though “handle” is subjective, and I’m using it a bit loosely here).

Diving into the performance, I was impressed to see how well the Raider ran Horizon Zero Dawn — it averaged 80fps on Ultimate settings. Motion was silky smooth as I ran around Meridian, and colors looked pleasantly bright. The laptop also held its own on the incredibly taxing Red Dead Redemption 2, averaging a steady 50fps and never dipping below 45 throughout the built-in benchmark. Those results edge out the RTX 2070 Razer Blade 15 and and beat Asus’ smaller Zephyrus G14 by a significant margin.

The RTX 2070 put up 70fps on Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s highest settings with ray tracing on ultra. That’s playable — it’s slightly better than the RTX 2080 Super Max-Q GS66 tends to score and much better than the G14. It’s actually not too far off of what we’ve seen from the RTX 2080 Super Max-Q Blade 15.

You’ll need to play less demanding titles if you want to see the full glory of the 300Hz screen. Rocket League averaged 250fps on its highest settings (the same result as the Blade 15 and about the best you can expect, since that game caps out at 250). The Raider also breezed through Overwatch on epic settings, averaging 124fps and never dipping below 112.

Outside of gaming, performance is just fine. The i9 and 32GB of RAM are more than sufficient for running numerous browser tabs, apps, and streaming without any slowdowns or uncomfortable heat. The system’s dual fans (53 0.25mm blades) did a fine job of cooling the CPU throughout testing, though the keyboard was almost (but not quite) too hot to be comfortable during the more taxing games.

The MSI GE66 Raider Dragonshield Edition half closed from above.

MSI’s iconic dragon symbol gets a sci-fi makeover.

However, there are better options if you’ll be doing any photo and video work. For one, this screen is optimized for gaming rather than color accuracy (its brightness maxed out at 269.6 nits and it only covered 86 percent of the sRGB gamut and 64 percent of AdobeRGB). But I also wasn’t actually able to run our traditional export test in Adobe Premiere Pro — the export failed every time I tried. MSI insisted that this was a problem on Adobe’s end, but I’ve never had an issue running this test on a gaming laptop before. I’ll update this review if the issue is resolved in the future, but in the meantime I would steer clear of this product if you’ll need to use Premiere Pro.

I saw other glitches that I’d really prefer not to see in a $2,899 product. The Dragon Center app crashed a couple times while I was trying to change settings; I once had to reset the laptop after an update caused the screen to start flickering; I sometimes got notifications saying my drivers weren’t up to date, even when I’d downloaded everything available; and Dragon Center initially wasn’t switching between power profiles correctly, and only began doing so after MSI remotely tapped into the laptop and redownloaded the software.

The Raider contains a 99.9Wh battery, the biggest cell a laptop can have. The battery life (after the power-profile issue was resolved) was not terrible, but not great. I got four hours out of my daily load of office work (including multitasking in around a dozen Chrome tabs and apps and some downloading and file copying, with the screen around 200 nits of brightness, Battery Saver on, and MSI’s Super Battery profile selected). You might get more juice if you turn off the RGB keyboard and LED bar — but why buy this laptop if you won’t be taking advantage of its coolest features?

The MSI GE66 Raider Dragonshield Edition sits in front of a bookshelf, facing slightly to the right.

The light bar and the RGB keyboard blend really nicely into the Raider’s color scheme — they weren’t distracting at all.

The final thing I want to call out here is the port selection, which is one of the best I’ve seen. On the left is one USB Type-C 3.2 Gen 2×2, one USB Type-A 3.2 Gen 2, and one audio jack. On the right are two more USB-A 3.2 Gen 2 ports, as well as a full-size SD card reader. Then there’s even more on the back: one USB Type-C 3.2 Gen 2 that supports DP 1.4, one Mini DisplayPort 1.4, one HDMI 2.0, and one RJ45 Ethernet port, as well as a port for MSI’s 280-watt charging brick. Those accommodate all kinds of gaming peripherals and should cover everything most people need. They’re also spaced out such that you won’t have to get creative with your accessory placement or feel like you’re squeezing stuff in. The one notable absence is Thunderbolt, but I’ll forgive that given the myriad alternatives here.

The GE66 Raider is a formidable gaming laptop that delivers about the frame rates we’d expect from a system with these specs and size. On almost all games, 60fps is in reach, with only small tweaks required for the heaviest titles. The Raider won’t be beating bigger rigs like Razer’s Blade Pro 17, but it’s certainly one of the best 15-inch gaming laptops money can buy. But more importantly: where else are you going to find a luminous, colorful laptop that looks like part of a spaceship?

The MSI GE66 Raider Dragonshield Edition half open from above.

The coolest (but not the coldest) laptop in the room.

With all that said: This is $2,899. It’s a luxury product, and the mind-blowing design will not have much of an impact on your daily experience — but the inconvenient keyboard and the unfortunate the software glitches I experienced certainly do. If you don’t think the Dragonshield’s panache is something you need, you should be just fine with a regular GE66 Raider, a GS66 Stealth, or a Razer Blade 15, which should deliver comparable frame rates with better battery life and (in Razer’s case) more reliable software.

But if your top priority is having a cooler laptop than all your friends, then go ahead and splurge on the GE66 Raider, because it undoubtedly will be. I hope more companies try unique design stuff like this because it makes the whole thing more fun — and at the end of the day, most people are buying gaming laptops to have fun. And if I see you using this in a coffee shop, I will be very, very jealous.

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