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swadeadday magazine 😙😴😘 MSI Katana GF66 Review: Poor Battery, Small Trackpad | WIRED
MSI Katana GF66
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Rating:

5/10

WIRED
12th-Gen performance boost. Fast and suitably bright display. Good gaming keyboard. Fairly portable.
TIRED
Lack of true budget models. Poor battery life. Small trackpad.

Gaming laptops are an ever expanding breed, especially in 2022 when machines with powerful graphics cards extend far beyond the traditional hefty devices with flashing RGB you may  expect in this field. Oddly, the MSI Katana GF66 sits more firmly in the past, though not necessarily in a bad way. 

It’s a laptop made for PC gamers who don’t want to splash out for the highest quality of materials and design as well as top-tier performance. As a result, there are a few compromises to accept. And perhaps the hardest to swallow is that, even though the Katana presents itself as a value proposition, higher prices across the board and a lack of low-end GPU options limit this laptop’s appeal.

The model of the MSI Katana GF66 I tested isn’t the most wallet-friendly available, sporting a 12th-Gen Intel Core i7-12700H chip, the mid- to low-tier Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060, 1 TB SSD, and 16 GB RAM—all for a price of $1,399 (£1,399). There’s a small but significant difference between the UK model I tested and its US equivalent, with the former featuring a faster 240-Hz display, and the latter, a 144-Hz panel. Both are 15.6-inch, with the Katana GF76 being the 17-inch version of this machine. You can venture as low as a $1,100 model and get a RTX 3050, 512 GB SSD, and 8 GB RAM instead if you’re looking for the cheapest option from this range.

Spec Bump
Photograph: MSI

The Katana GF66 is certainly a step up from the previous model, with a new 12th-Gen Intel chip being the biggest change. You can comfortably break the 60 frames-per-second mark in graphically demanding titles like Borderlands 3, and even get above 100 fps in Ghost Recon: Breakpoint—all on Ultra settings at 1080p. For fps fanatics, testing saw around 110 fps in Apex Legends on the same settings. To take full advantage of the 240-Hz display, you’ll have to apply lower Medium settings and reduce the resolution to 720p. The 144-Hz model available in the US should allow for around Medium settings at 1080p to hit the maximum frame rate. 

Comparing these results with our favorite budget gaming laptop of last year, the Acer Nitro 5—also sporting an RTX 3060—it offers between a 10 to 25 percent bump. Frame-rate-focused titles see the biggest difference, with Apex offering similar frames at 1080p Ultra that it offered at 1080p Low settings on the comparable model.

The performance gives little to complain about, and the same goes for some key performance-adjacent factors. The fans aren’t overly intrusive, even when this laptop really gets going, and, despite this, it never gets overly hot to the touch. The steady performance is matched by a strong display. OK, it doesn’t bring remarkably vibrant colors, but the 1080p resolution provides suitable detail, it gets reasonably bright for a gaming laptop—coping with most indoor conditions, but you won’t be using it outside—and the 240-Hz panel has pleasingly smooth gaming across all titles.

Much of this laptop’s appeal is the value it offers with its lower-end models. However, being aimed at a budget market does not mean other components outside of horsepower have been neglected. The keyboard is a delight to use and ideal for gaming—some pleasing but not overbearing crunchy feedback as well as bags of travel. The trackpad is also fairly clicky and responsive, but I know gamers will be whipping out an external gaming mouse for playing with this one. Nevertheless, it’ll do the job outside of gaming.

Beleaguered Battery Life
Photograph: MSI

The keyboard and trackpad may serve when not gaming, but the battery does not. Performance is limited away from a charger, so gamers won’t want to take advantage of this device's decent portability. But if you’re considering buying this as an all-arounder, battery life is an issue even when carrying out productivity tasks. You’ll get a measly four to six hours depending on your workload.

MSI faces two key hurdles with this gaming machine—taking on some stiff competition and an increasingly nonbudget price as laptop costs get a bump across the board. The brand has gotten swiftly out of the gates with its 12th-Gen model, so we’re yet to test the equivalent models from rivals—including the Acer Nitro 5 and Lenovo Legion 5.

The lower end of the Katana GF66 price range is restricted by offering no non-RTX card options such as the GTX 1660 Ti, 1650 Ti, or 1650. The lowest-priced model offers up a Core i5 chip and 3050 Ti for $1,100—a limited spec for over $1,000. 

This isn’t the full picture globally though, with an appealing Core i7 and RTX 3050 Ti team-up available for £899 ($1,107) in the UK. A direct price conversion would seem to show little difference, but this isn’t always reflected in the cost, with many US and UK products priced more closely than ever before, and you’ll often see UK devices priced higher. Take the newly announced Apple MacBook Air M2—set at $1,199 in the US and £1,249 in the UK .

Nevertheless, it is the gaming laptops that do opt for non-RTX cards that seem likely worthy of the attention of those who value, well, value in 2022. You may have to sacrifice some performance, but if you’re after a portable vehicle for your higher-refresh-rate PC games, that also beats buying a gaming PC and monitor combination for cost, it’s still the way to go. But, with the MSI Katana GF66 and its $1,000-plus pricing alongside poor battery life, the necessary compromises feel too hard to swallow.