MSI Prestige 14 Evo Review: Portability, But at What Cost?

Intel launched the new Evo brand along with its 11th Gen laptop processors in late 2020, and laptops that have earned this label are now appearing in the Indian market. If you see this sticker on a laptop, it means that the manufacturer has worked with Intel to improve its designs and reduce weight, while maintaining certain standards with regard to performance, battery life, and other parameters. Evo laptops must deliver on specific user experience targets such as being able to wake quickly from sleep, and must support modern standards such as Wi-Fi 6, Thunderbolt 4 and quick charging through USB Power Delivery.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the evolution of a few older ideas. These “key experience indicators”, as Intel calls them, are the result of the Project Athena initiative. You might also remember Intel’s Centrino branding, which shifted the focus of selling laptops from CPU power to features like Wi-Fi, or the Ultrabook campaign which emphasised portability. Intel will be promoting Evo laptops built by all its partner brands quite heavily throughout this year.

One of those brands is MSI, which you might know better for its gaming laptops and PC components. The Taiwanese company branched out into slimmer, more sober-looking laptops for power users a few years ago and now has a wide range of general-purpose designs for everyday users. The Prestige series of stylish, ultraportable laptops has recently been refreshed with Intel’s 11th Gen Core CPUs, and the new Prestige 14 Evo, as its name suggests, was designed around Intel’s Evo concept.

Can this relatively low-profile brand compete with popular multinational manufacturers? Intel sent Gadgets 360 an MSI Prestige 14 Evo review unit as a representative of its Evo portfolio, and here’s everything you need to know about it.

The MSI Prestige 14 Evo has a relatively sober exterior

 

MSI Prestige 14 Evo design

Even the box that this laptop arrives in is remarkably slim. The Prestige 14 Evo measures 15.9mm thick and weighs 1.29kg which is impressively portable for a 14-inch laptop. The body is all metal and there’s a choice between Pure White and Carbon Grey, plus a Rose Pink edition. I had a Carbon Grey unit, and it actually looks like a very deep blue. The lid has a matte sandblasted finish which looks pretty sober. You can see MSI’s new angular logo at the top-centre. Fingerprints and smudges aren’t a huge problem.

I’m not a fan of the shiny blue chamfered border around the lid – it’s distracting, especially under bright light, and takes away from the otherwise minimalist design. The hinge is designed to raise the rear of the laptop’s lower half when opened, for a more comfortable typing angle and also to allow better clearance for the vents on the bottom. I like the fact that this laptop can be opened and closed with just one finger and the lower half stays in place. The lid can also be pushed back nearly 180 degrees.

Thin screen borders are actually part of the Evo platform’s design goals. The side borders are extremely narrow but there’s enough space on top for a webcam plus an infrared sensor which works with Windows Hello biometric authentication. The lid can flex and wobble quite a bit if pressure is applied, but the screen doesn’t seem to warp too badly. MSI has gone with a non-glossy finish which is thankfully not reflective.

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Opening the hinge inclines the lower half of the MSI Prestige 14 Evo, and it can open to nearly 180 degrees

 

You’ll notice a few quirks in the keyboard layout. I’m happy to see that the keys are full-sized and well-spaced, and that there are dedicated paging keys as well as a proper arrow cluster. Strangely, the Fn modifier is to the right of the spacebar and impinges on the right Ctrl key but there’s also an unnecessary extra slash key just next to it, and plenty of space on the left.

The trackpad is enormous, and also has a distractingly reflective blue metallic rim. There’s a fingerprint sensor in the upper left corner, and while a lot of space around it is wasted, the overall size of the trackpad means that isn’t a problem. Intel obviously wants Evo to be a high-end brand, but I think the brightly coloured stickers on the wrist rest detract from this on an otherwise slick-looking laptop.

You get two Thunderbolt 4 Type-C ports on the left, both of which can fall back to USB 4 and can also be used for charging as well as DisplayPort video output. On the right, there’s a single Type-A port which sadly only works at USB 2.0 speed, a microSD card slot, and a 3.5mm audio jack.

The MSI Prestige 14 Evo is extremely portable and packs a lot of features into the footprint of what would have been a 13-inch laptop a few years ago. Even the USB Type-C charger is a relatively small square puck but still has a 65W output rating. There’s also a Prestige 14 (non-Evo) model with a discrete GPU which has exactly the same weight and dimensions. If you want a larger screen, the Prestige 15 offers up to a 4K resolution and also has more physical ports in a 1.69kg package.

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The trackpad is oversized and has a fingerprint sensor in the upper left corner

 

MSI Prestige 14 Evo specifications

Intel’s Evo sticker de-emphasises the CPU generation and tier – the familiar Core i7 name is barely a visual footnote now. In fact, more attention is called to Intel’s new Iris Xe GPU, which is actually integrated into the CPU (as opposed to the discrete Iris Xe Max, as seen in the new Acer Swift 3X) Nevertheless, we have an 11th Gen ‘Tiger Lake’ CPU here, in this case the top-end Core i7-1185G7 which has a 12-28W rated TDP range, and runs between 1.2GHz and 4.8GHz. It has four cores with Hyper-Threading, supports PCIe 4.0, and leverages Intel’s 10nm SuperFin manufacturing process.

MSI has gone with a 14-inch full-HD “IPS level” screen that delivers “close to 100 percent” of the sRGB colour gamut. It’s a low-power panel with a relatively low 300nit maximum brightness, and as mentioned, has a non-reflective surface. The battery capacity is 52Wh and MSI claims you can get 12 hours of productivity per charge. Fast charging means you should be able to get an hour and a half of use after a 15-minute charge.

The base variant of the Prestige 14 Evo, priced at Rs. 95,990, has an 11th Gen Core i5 CPU, and there are a few RAM and storage configuration differences as well. My review unit has the Core i7 CPU, 16GB of LPDDR4 RAM, and most interestingly, a 512GB PCIe 4.0 SSD, all for Rs. 1,06,990. While the RAM is soldered down, the SSD is a standard, replaceable M.2 module manufactured by Phison. There’s also Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1. The webcam has a 720p video capture resolution.

My review unit had Windows 10 Home, though MSI says it will also offer Windows 10 Professional. There was an evaluation version of Norton LifeLock Security and also some of MSI’s own utilities. The awkwardly named MSI Center for Business and Productivity starts up automatically on boot, but requires users to quit it manually and restart it in Administrator mode on first use, which could be confusing. It isn’t very well designed and doesn’t offer a lot of features – certainly nothing that justifies its name. You can change performance profiles (High performance, Balanced, Silent, or Super Battery. There are also a few basic diagnostics and a charge limiter that could help extend the useful life of your battery.

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The keyboard has a slightly non-standard layout but is comfortable to use

 

MSI Prestige 14 Evo usage and performance

After setting up the laptop, the first thing I did was drop the Windows display scaling from 150 percent to 125 percent which makes much better use of screen space. Windows 10 automatically updated itself to the 2H20 release. The non-reflective display is quite pleasant, but colours aren’t especially vivid. Sound from the speakers is clear but not very loud. The keyboard is a little too soft although the keys do have good travel.

General-purpose usage was generally pleasant but not perfect. I did notice that the laptop didn’t always wake instantly when I opened the lid – it took several seconds, usually after having been left for more than a few hours. The fingerprint sensor and face recognition both worked well.

The area to the left of the trackpad, where your left wrist is likely to rest, gets quite warm when the laptop is in use – and to an uncomfortable degree when stressing the hardware or when charging. At least the cooling fan never gets loud enough to be distracting.

The trackpad is centred to the body of the laptop, not the natural typing position, so your right wrist will have to rest on the trackpad itself while typing. Palm rejection is usually good, but even slight motions tend to shift weight and make the trackpad physically click, which is sometimes interpreted as an unintended click or right-click.

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The sole USB Type-A port on the MSI Prestige 14 Evo only works at USB 2.0 speed

 

As for benchmarks, the 11th Gen Core i7 CPU did perform well. CineBench R20 achieved 570 and 2,248 points in the single- and multi-threaded runs, while POVRay finished its render test in 2 minutes, 31 seconds. V-Ray put up CPU and GPU scores of 6,596 and 32 respectively. PCMark 10’s standard and Extended runs produced scores of 4,671 and 4,641 respectively.

7Zip managed to compress a 3.24GB folder of assorted files in 2 minutes, 3 seconds. Transcoding a 1.3GB AVI file to H.265 took just 1 minute, 9 seconds. CrystalDiskMark reported phenomenal sequential read and write speeds of 4987.6MBps and 2505.6MBps respectively for the PCIe 4.0 SSD, while random reads and writes were also impressive at 1390.5MBps and 1639.5MBps respectively.

While the integrated Iris Xe GPU isn’t aimed at gamers, the MSI Prestige 14 Evo still managed a score of 3312 in the Unigine Superposition benchmark running at the 1080p Medium preset. 3DMark’s Time Spy and Time Spy Extreme tests returned scores of 1,840 and 839 respectively. Firing up a few games, I found that Rise of the Tomb Raider managed a decent 38fps running at 1280×720 at its Medium quality preset. Far Cry 5 averaged 49fps at Normal quality at the same resolution, which is good enough for light entertainment on the go.

I was able to get through a full working day with a little power left over at the end, using the Prestige 14 Evo for document editing, Web surfing, emails and chats, and streaming a few short videos. Battery Eater Pro ran for 1 hour, 50 minutes which is pretty good for such a portable laptop. You shouldn’t have to worry about charging in the middle of your work, but that’s also relatively quick. Starting with a fully drained battery, I saw the charge level at 30 percent after 20 minutes and 72 percent in an hour.

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The bright blue chamfered rim on the lid is impossible to miss when light hits it

 

Verdict

There will always be some sacrifices when cramming powerful hardware into ultraportable laptops, but overall MSI has done well, and the package you get is fairly balanced while offering value for money. If you prioritise portability, you should definitely check out this laptop. It doesn’t have the discrete Iris Xe Max GPU like the similarly priced Acer Swift 3X, but these two Evo laptops are comparable in many ways including hardware and portability.

You might not agree with all of MSI’s design choices. My biggest issues are the way the left wrist rest gets warm, and the lack of high-speed Type-A USB ports. These are issues that got in the way of everyday usage, and really should be considered as part of the Evo platform spec. It’s possible to tweak the performance profile to favour cool, quiet operation, but you shouldn’t have to do this and sacrifice performance.

If you can live with these issues, you’ll find the MSI Prestige 14 Evo’s construction quality is very good, and it’s well suited for productivity on the go. The 11th Gen Core i7 CPU performed well in a variety of tests, and even light gaming is possible if you lower your settings.

Priced starting at Rs. 95,990, the MSI Prestige 14 Evo is an ultraportable that’s well worth considering, and is an interesting showcase of Intel’s vision for the Evo platform. We’ll no doubt see more competitors in this space, and also several based on AMD’s Ryzen 5000-series mobile CPUs. This is also around the same price that the current-gen MacBook Air, powered by Apple’s own M1 processor, sells for. If you’re looking to buy a new thin-and-light laptop this year, things just got a lot more interesting.


Is MacBook Air M1 the portable beast of a laptop that you always wanted? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.



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