MSI Katana GF66 review: great gaming performance on a budget

The MSI Katana GF66 combines affordability with top-end Intel and Nvidia tech

MSI Katana GF66
(Image credit: Future)
T3 Verdict

The MSI Katana GF66 has an 11th-gen i7 Intel CPU and an Nvidia RTX 3050 Ti under the hood, and yet won't cost you much money at all – and that makes it an appealing package overall, even if there are some compromises make to keep it as affordable as possible.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Affordable price point

  • +

    Plenty of performance

  • +

    DLSS and ray tracing

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Screen doesn't stand out

  • -

    Limited lighting customisations

  • -

    Ordinary design

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The MSI Katana GF66 does double duty as a contender for not only one of the best gaming laptops on the market but also for one of the best student laptops on the market – assuming you're a student with a decent budget who likes to do some regular gaming.

Of particular note are the 11th-gen Intel Core i7-11800H CPU and Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti GPU that we have packed into this laptop, meaning that it's going to speed fairly rapidly through even the most demanding tasks, and run the latest titles that PC gaming can offer.

Whether you're interested in the battery life or the typing experience of the MSI Katana GF66, our review should answer all your questions – and help you to figure out whether or not this affordable gaming laptop from MSI should be your next computer upgrade.

MSI Katana GF66 review: screen and design

MSI Katana GF66

(Image credit: Future)

The MSI Katana GF66 comes with a bright, sharp 15.6-inch IPS LCD display running at a 1,920 x 1,080 pixel resolution, and with a 144Hz refresh rate. It does the job nicely – whether you're gaming, spreadsheeting, streaming movies or anything else – and while there are certainly better panels out there, this is good enough for the price you're paying. There's a thick chin at the bottom, but the side and top bezels are respectably thin, and you get an integrated webcam above the screen.

In terms of overall design, this is one of the more understated gaming laptops that you're going to come across, with black plastic dominating and little in the way of lighting or any aesthetic flourishes. The keyboard only glows one colour – red – so if you're after something that you can really dig into in terms of customisation (and that will sync with your other gaming accessories in terms of illumination) then you might want to look elsewhere for your next laptop.

Measuring 359 mm x 259 mm x 24.9 mm (14.1 inches x 10.2 inches x 0.98 inches) and weighing in at 2.25 kg (nearly 5 pounds), this is more portable than a lot of gaming laptops, and we can imagine carrying this around in a rucksack quite comfortably. Perhaps the most flamboyant design touch is the use of raised grilles underneath to help with airflow, but then you're not going to be seeing them a lot of the time. There are further air vents around the sides and at the back.

When it comes to ports and connections, the laptop comes with a good selection of them: an Ethernet port, a 3.5 mm combination headphone and mic jack, one USB-C port (USB 3.2 Gen 1), one USB-A port (USB 2.0), two USB-A ports (USB 3.2 Gen 1), and an HDMI output that maxes out at a 4K resolution and 60Hz refresh rate. That should take care of all your peripheral and accessory requirements, though we would have also liked to see a fingerprint sensor to make it easier to log into Windows.

MSI Katana GF66 review: performance and features

MSI Katana GF66

(Image credit: Future)

The MSI Katana GF66 comes with some impressive internals: three configurations are available, and our review unit came with an 11th-gen Intel Core i7-11800H, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti, 8GB of RAM and an 512GB NVMe PCIe SSD. RTX 3050 and RTX 3060 options are also available, but any GPU option gives you the latest ray tracing tech and the DLSS (Deep Learning Super Sampling) feature from Nvidia that uses artificial intelligence to improve frame rates.

This laptop can play the best games comfortably at a 1080p resolution, though not at the same frame rates that more expensive and more capable laptops will. With Red Dead Redemption 2 set up to use almost all of the 4GB graphics RAM, for example, we were getting around 40-60 frames per second. For all but the most demanding gamers, it's got more than enough oomph under the hood, and the stereo 2W speakers do an okay job of adding audio as well.

In the well-known Time Spy 3DMark benchmark, the laptop reached a score of 5,440, which is just below the gaming laptop average of 5,730 – not blistering performance then, but you're not paying for blistering performance. You do get very good performance, and at a very good price, together with some of the latest Nvidia graphics tech for smooth and sharp gameplay. Add in that the laptop stays relatively cool and quiet while gaming too, and it's an appealing package overall.

While you're never going to buy a gaming laptop for its battery life, the MSI Katana GF66 doesn't do too badly in this department, dropping by about 30 percent an hour when streaming video at maximum brightness – so you'll get about three hours of movies and shows in total, though that is obviously going to drop sharply when you start running some high-end games on it. We wouldn't plan to be away from a power socket for too long with this particular laptop.

MSI Katana GF66 review: price and verdict

MSI Katana GF66

(Image credit: Future)

Check the widgets on this page for the latest prices for the MSI Katana GF66, but at the time of writing the model that we reviewed will cost you just under £1,000 – for a laptop with some top-end silicon from Intel and Nvidia inside it, and one that's capable of playing even the most demanding titles smoothly, we'd say that's a very decent price indeed. Yes, other laptops are more powerful and will get you faster frame rates, but they're also going to give your bank balance more of a hit.

MSI has made some compromises to get to that price point though, which you should be aware of before you take the plunge and purchase this particular model: nothing about the design or the audio or the screen particularly stands out here, and it is a bit of a lacklustre computer in certain areas. Perfectly understandable, considering how affordable the MSI Katana GF66 is, but you need to weigh up everything together when deciding on your next laptop.

Bear in mind too that the MSI Katana GF66 does a capable job as a general purpose laptop too – and if you're taking it into the office or lecture halls then that ho-hum design suddenly becomes an advantage, because you're not going to draw too much attention to yourself. The typing and trackpad experience are both fine, though if you're only doing basic computing on your laptop, you probably want something thinner and lighter.

It's the combination of a relatively low price and impressive gaming performance that would make someone consider the MSI Katana GF66 over anything else out there. If you like the looks of the laptop and you're keen to get some new Intel and Nvidia technology to play around with, then we think this is one of the best options available at the moment at the lower end of the price scale.

David Nield

Dave has over 20 years' experience in the tech journalism industry, covering hardware and software across mobile, computing, smart home, home entertainment, wearables, gaming and the web – you can find his writing online, in print, and even in the occasional scientific paper, across major tech titles like T3, TechRadar, Gizmodo and Wired. Outside of work, he enjoys long walks in the countryside, skiing down mountains, watching football matches (as long as his team is winning) and keeping up with the latest movies.