MSI Prestige 14 review: Workhorse power in a thin-and-light shell

It packs a 6-core Comet Lake U and a GeForce GTX 1650 Max-Q into a 2.8-pound body.

Today's Best Tech Deals

Picked by PCWorld's Editors

Top Deals On Great Products

Picked by Techconnect's Editors

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2

Does it even matter how fast it is?

One thing that you should always keep in mind when buying a PC is to pick the right tool for the job. If you have the need for a 6-core CPU and GTX 1650 GPU in a 2.8-pound laptop, rock on. But if all you really do is open up a few Chrome tabs, Word, and Outlook, and watch Netflix, do you really need a 6-core CPU and GTX 1650? Probably not.

One good measure we have for that is PCMark 8’s work test, which simulates everyday productivity tasks. A score of 2,000 or more indicates your PC is up to the job. For the most part, it doesn’t really matter which laptop you pick for the job, as just about any modern laptop will do the job. 

We did, for kicks, throw in the score from the laptop when set to its painfully slow Super Battery mode. The score of 2,086 just barely squeaks by the 2,000-score threshold for acceptable performance. For reference, it's a little faster than the 1,717 score eked out by an Atom X7-z8700 CPU in a Surface 3. We can tell you that Surface 3 was painfully slow to use, too.

msi prestige 14 pcm 8 work IDG

For the most part, if all you do is lift Outlook, PowerPoint and Chrome—almost any modern laptop is nearly indistinguishable from another to the normal person.

Prestige 14 GPU performance

MSI has reiterated many times that although it includes a GeForce GTX 1650 Max-Q in the laptop, it didn’t do that for gaming. Still, a discrete GPU should open the door to some play. Using the 3DMark Sky Diver benchmark, the Prestige 14 easily sweeps away all of the older Intel integrated graphics laptops, as well as those based on Intel’s newer Ice Lake 10th-gen Core i7-1065G7. It also easily dispatches Nvidia’s GeForce MX150 laptops, and AMD’s current Ryzen APUs.

For reference, we also include the performance of the GeForce GTX 1650 inside of Dell’s larger and heavier XPS 15 7590. As you can see, you do give up a hefty chunk of performance going with the Max-Q GPU—but you save on weight and size, too.

Overall, gaming should mostly be fine if your expectations are moderate.

msi prestige 14 3dmark sky diver overall IDG

Although not pitched as a gaming laptop, the performance of the GTX 1650 Max-Q is a huge step over that of a GeForce MX150, and both Intel’s and AMD’s best integrated graphics chips.

CPU vs. GPU vs. IGP

If the GeForce GTX 1650 Max-Q isn’t for gaming, then why have it? Well, one reason MSI likely picked it over the more practical GeForce MX250 is its capability in encoding. With its newer Turing chip, the GeForce GTX 1650 Max-Q supports Nvidia’s NVENC hardware encoder and decoder. The older Pascal-based MX250 GPU doesn’t.

With hardware support for NVENC, the Prestige 14 gives you a lot more flexibility than a laptop with an MX250 GPU. To see the impact on performance we used the newest version of HandBrake and encoded a 4K file using the 1080p 30 fps H.265 preset. As you can see the GTX 1650 comes in a bit faster.

More important is the flexibility. Application support for Intel’s QuickSync and Nvidia’s NVENC varies widely, so having it as an option at all is likely more important than just how fast it is.

msi prestige 14 cpu vs igp vs dgpu handbrake encode performance IDG

The Prestige 14 gives you the option of using Intel’s QuickSync, Nvidia’s NVENC or the CPU cores for encoding.

Prestige 14 battery performance

Our last standard benchmark is a battery life test. For that, we loop a 4K video using Windows' Movies&TV app, with the laptop's display brightness set to 250-260 nits, Wi-Fi set to Airplane mode, and a pair of earbuds plugged in with volume set to its midpoint. 

Overall, we’d rate the Prestige 14’s run time as adequate. Don't blame the hotshot GPU and CPU; the 4K panel is the most likely culprit.

If you look at the results below, almost every laptop on the bottom of the list features a high-resolution display. Battery size matters, too: While the Dell XPS 15 7590 can produce better results using a 4K panel, it also has a massive 97-watt-hour “gas tank.” The standout battery life numbers come from laptops with 1080p FHD screens.

The test is “realistic” because if you’re trying to watch a movie on a train, plane or automobile, every minute counts. It's also fair to say that video playback performance on any modern laptop is essentially cruise control. Most of the video is handled with dedicated circuits in the integrated graphics, so the CPU and the accompanying GPU should be asleep and using minimal power.

If you were to do something much more battery-intensive like browse the web (yes, that’s a battery drain) or run Photoshop, you can probably lop off a third to half of the battery life. If you're going to encode a video or push the GPU hard—you probably shouldn’t expect more than an hour to an hour and a half at best.

MSI could have solved this, of course, by using a larger battery. But then the laptop wouldn’t be as light.

msi prestige 14 battery IDG

Battery performance on the Prestige 14 is OK to meh—but what do you expect with a 4K panel?

Thermal Throttling

The testing above is isolated to either the CPU or the GPU. For most functions, that’s fine. But for the times when you load up both chips, you could encounter some new problems. YouTube tech star Dave Lee ran into some with his Prestige 14 unit, and  we’ve seen this with Dell’s XPS 15 under long simultaneous workloads. No surprise, our Prestige 14 hits this wall, too.

For the first test, we ran OpenCL Luxmark 3 with the Luxball model. The test uses Open Compute Language to ray-trace an image. OpenCL can be run on CPUs and GPUs, so for the first test, we run OpenCL on just the Prestige 14’s GeForce GTX 1650 Max-Q. We also run the test using all four of the available power presets for the laptop. It’s the first chart we ran, and here it is again.

msi prestige 14 cinebench r15 nt power profiles IDG

MSI’s Prestige 14 features four power profiles as part of its Creator Center, and each greatly impacts overall performance.

As you can see, there are huge CPU performance hits depending on the profile selected on the Prestige 14. But what about the GPU? As you can see in the chart below, even when the CPU is basically locked at 400MHz, this GPU-based OpenCL test is essentially a tie.

This second result tells us MSI’s power profiles don’t gate GPU clocks as part of its power savings plan. It also confirms that LuxMark properly doesn’t care how fast the CPU is running, because this particular test is supposed to be a GPU OpenCL load.

msi prestige 14 luxmark 3 luxball gpu load only IDG

Using just the GPU on the Prestige 14, the performance is essentially the same on this OpenCL test when limited to the GPU.

What happens when you stress both the GPU and CPU at the same time? We tasked the Prestige 14 with the same OpenCL load, adding the CPU’s x86 cores too. Performance improves, even on the 400MHz Super Battery mode.

Everything is fine until you set the laptop to High Performance. Rather than scaling up the performance, the laptop hits a wall and actually drops below using just the GPU alone.

Why? We believe that loading up the CPU and the GPU simultaneously with such a heavy workload simply pushes the laptop beyond its cooling or power limits, which causes the slowdown.

During Luxmark, the GPU’s clock speeds alone would stick to 1,500MHz for most of the run. With the CPU also putting out heat, the GPU’s clock speeds drop to 900MHz. That’s enough to drop overall performance even with both working.

msi prestige 14 luxmark 3 luxball cpu and gpu load IDG

You can see what happens when you push the MSI Prestige 14’s CPU and GPU very hard simultaneously in Luxmark 3.0. Rather than seeing a higher score in High Performance mode, we actually see its score plummet.

Conclusion

With so many layers of nuance, MSI’s Prestige 14 is not an easy laptop to review. We basically think the main fact that sets the Prestige 14 apart from the pack is its weight and the potential performance of the components inside.

To help think about this, we made a chart with the weight of the Prestige 14 against those of other comparable laptops with discrete GPUs. 

msi prestige 14 dgpu weight comparison IDG

Though it has compromises, the MSI Prestige 14 essentially weighs as much as an XPS 13 while offering a GPU typically found in an XPS 15.

For reference, we also include a Dell XPS 13 7390, which has a 4K touch screen. The 4K screen and touch adds a few ounces on the Dell but it has a 6-core CPU with only integrated graphics. Huawei’s MateBook X Pro is similar in screen size, and heavier—but it tops out with an 8th-gen 4-core CPU and GeForce MX250 graphics.

The only real natural competitor to the Prestige 14 is the Razer Blade Stealth 13, which features the same GTX 1650 GPU and an Intel Ice Lake Core i7-1065G7 GPU. Although we haven’t reviewed the latest Razer Blade Stealth 13, other reviewers say it's faster than the Prestige 14 when both CPU and GPU are working heavily. It’s also heavier by almost half a pound, mostly due to the thicker aluminum body, and the additional heat pipes and fans.

Of course, you could just step up to a 15.6-inch laptop, which would get you far more CPU and GPU performance—at the cost of a lot more weight.

So, the question you should ask yourself is how much every ounce matters to you. If you must have 6 cores and a GTX 1650 in as light a package as possible—and you’re willing to accept the limitation of the platform—we can heartily recommend the MSI Prestige 14. If, however, you’re ticked off by giving up any performance for “just” another 8 ounces, then you might want to look elsewhere.

But let’s make sure to say it’s still fairly amazing to get this much hardware in this light of a laptop.

msi prestige 14 13 Gordon Mah Ung

The footprint of the MSI Prestige 14 (middle) is—no surprise—between that of 13.3-inch (top) and 15.6-inch laptops (bottom).

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.
At a Glance
  • MSI's Prestige 14 offers an impressive amount of hardware in a laptop weighing less than 3 pounds.

    Pros

    • Six-core Core i7-10710U and GeForce GTX 1650 Max-Q GPU
    • Very bright, 100-percent Adobe RGB panel
    • Amazingly light considering the CPU and GPU inside

    Cons

    • Chassis can flex
    • Can hit performance wall under heavy CPU and GPU loads
    • Speakers sound like Kazoos
Related:
1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2
  
Shop Tech Products at Amazon