Intel’s Tiger Lake mobile platform came out of the gate swinging, with excellent performance and improved power efficiency. The early Core i7-1185G7 development platform we evaluated set several mobile processor records in our benchmarks, and retail notebooks were just as strong when they arrived. So far we’ve reviewed two such notebooks from ASUS and Dell, but both of those targeted the 2-in-1 segment and commanded a bit of premium as a result, due to their smaller sizes and expanded feature sets. For folks who don’t mind (or rather, prefer) the traditional clamshell form factor, and would like to save a couple hundred bucks, MSI has a solution in its new Prestige 14 EVO laptop.
MSI’s Prestige 14 EVO might look somewhat familiar to readers with eagle eyes and elephant memories. In our Tiger Lake performance preview, we ran all of our tests on an unnamed proving ground manufactured by MSI. This laptop bears more than a striking resemblance to that test platform, including the port array, spacious trackpad with a fingerprint reader, and even the way the display props the notebook up off a desk with its innovative hinge construction. We wouldn’t go so far as to say that that laptop is the Prestige 14 EVO, but it certainly could have been a pre-production prototype. At any rate, let’s meet the retail ready MSI Prestige 14 EVO…
At this machine’s foundation, we have Intel’s Core i7-1185G7, which is the same processor we saw in our Tiger Lake preview. This is the current top dog in Intel’s ultraportable mobile lineup, thanks to having the most aggressive clock speeds of the bunch. Unlike the Core i7-1165G7 in the notebooks we’ve reviewed before, Intel’s top-dog Tiger Lake CPU doesn’t have a 15 Watt configuration, but instead uses a configurable range between 12 and 28 W. OEMs can configure the CPU however they like based on their system’s design, and MSI confirmed to us that the Prestige 14 EVO uses the 28 W setting. Just like other Tiger Lake notebooks, the Core i7-1185G7 has Intel’s Iris Xe graphics, which we’ve found to be pretty speedy for an integrated solution.
For memory, the Prestige 14 EVO has 16 GB of LPDDR4X memory clocked at 4266 MT/sec. That’s a pretty standard configuration for all the Tiger Lake notebooks we’ve looked at and gives plenty of bandwidth for both the CPU and integrated GPU. That memory is soldered to the motherboard though, so don’t count on upgrading later. For storage, there’s a PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSD with 512 GB of capacity and a Phison controller, which should be both very quick and plenty spacious for most users. This drive has the standard M.2 2280 form factor, so upgrading later is no issue.
Networking options on the Prestige 14 EVO are spartan. Intel’s 802.11ax and Bluetooth 5.0 combination handle all wireless duties. It’s Wi-Fi performance is pretty speedy, though, as we found it can hit 220Mbs downloads while in the same room as our AP, or around 180Mbps from across the house. Bluetooth paired to our wireless mouse and headset simultaneously, without issue. The downside is the lack of wired Gigabit Ethernet, but most smaller notebooks have to do without a wired connection as well, so this is not unusual.
MSI Prestige 14 EVO Build Quality And Aesthetics
MSI built the Prestige 14 EVO from an all-aluminum shell in a Carbon Gray finish, though white is also available. The lid casing has has a tinge of blue to it, depending on how the lights hits. The machine’s 12.55″ x 8.46″ footprint is a touch larger than the other Tiger Lake 2-in-1 systems that we’ve looked at, but that’s because this notebook houses a slightly larger 14″ 1080p display. The bezels are pretty modest as you’d expect, so the size is still pretty small. Thanks to the full aluminum body and frame, the Prestige 14 EVO weighs in at just 2 lbs, 11 oz on our scales. Overall it weighs just about the same as the ASUS Zenbook Flip S while occupying only a couple of additional square inches.
The display hinge acts as something of a prop for the Prestige 14 EVO’s base, lifting it up off the desk by a couple of millimeters to make for better air flow than sitting flat. As we mentioned above, the display measures 14″ diagonally and has a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080. This IPS display can handle 100% coverage of the sRGB spectrum with a maximum brightness of 400 nits. Indoors, the screen gets plenty bright, and outside it wouldn’t be great for direct sunlight but should do just fine in the shade. There’s a nice anti-reflective coating on the display giving it a matte finish.
Above the display sits a 720p HD webcam flanked by a pair of noise-canceling microphones. The image captured by the camera is pretty average. It’s not the sort of thing you’d want to record or do much streaming with, but it’s plenty capable for Skype and Zoom meetings. Windows Hello facial recognition enthusiasts will have to look elsewhere, though, as the webcam does not have infrared sensors. Buyers looking for biometric authentication need not worry, though, as there’s a fingerprint reader we’ll get to shortly.
The microphones do a really nice job of blocking out the environment and focusing solely on our voice. The microphone is far-field capable, so activating Cortana from across the room was no problem. For speakers, MSI includes stereo drivers tuned with MSI’s Nahimic 3 spatial audio. Just like most laptops, the speakers lack bass, but have plenty of definition in vocal ranges, which makes them great for online meetings and most YouTube content. Those who want more can use the built-in headphone jack and some external speakers, of course.
Below the display sits a nice backlit keyboard. The keys were plenty comfortable to type on, and this review was produced using it. We had no problems with doubled input or dropped keystrokes. Key travel is specced at 1.5 millimeters, which is pretty shallow, but typical for notebooks in this size class. Backlighting is very handy in the dark or in dimly lit rooms, and the LED lighting is plenty bright there. We were most comfortable with the brightness turned down to around 70% in MSI’s configuration utility.
The Prestige 14 EVO’s trackpad is very wide and houses the built-in fingerprint reader. All of the typical Windows 10 gestures are supported, including scrolling with two fingers and swiping to switch apps. The fingerprint reader had no problem registering our fingerprints and logging into Windows via Windows Hello. We did find that while using the trackpad, the fingerprint reader would occasionally get in the way, though.
MSI gave the Prestige 14 EVO a useful set of ports. On the right is a USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A port, a micro SD card reader, and an analog headset jack that works with four-pole headsets with an integrated microphone or plain old stereo headphones. On the left is a pair of Thunderbolt 4 ports with the customary USB Type-C connector. These ports are backward compatible with Thunderbolt 3 peripherals and any USB spec. They can also drive secondary displays at up to 4K and 60 Hz. These ports also host the 65 W charger MSI includes with the notebook.
MSI Prestige 14 EVO Software Experience
For the most part, the Prestige 14 EVO’s software experience can be described as “just Windows,” which is likely a good thing for most consumers. Our test unit came with Windows 10 Home version 2004 (Spring 2020) preinstalled. Most of the other software consisted of drivers and control panels for the included hardware. MSI also shipped the unit with a Norton trial pre-installed, but it would get in the way during testing as it begged us to upgrade, so that had to go.
To control all of the hardware in the Prestige 14 EVO, MSI’s Center for Business and Productivity came preinstalled. While the name sounds like some sort of non-profit organization, the CBP gives users control over power and fan profiles, keyboard control, and more. Unfortunately, each time we opened the utility, we were prompted to register an account on MSI’s website. That’s completely optional, however, as we were not limited in how we could interact with the system’s hardware. In that respect, it’s kind of silly to have an account system at all.
The Performance tab is where all the fun happens. Here we can choose from one of four fan profiles, including a Silent profile that dials back system performance to keep the machine super quiet. The High Performance option kicks the fan into gear at all times to maximize cooling and performance, while the balanced profile will allow the blower to shut off once temperatures reach a specific threshold. These profiles didn’t seem to have much effect on performance during our benchmark runs, however. Those tests usually don’t require all-out performance at all times, though. We did find that the High Performance fan profile prevented performance from dropping drastically from run to run, especially when we ran Cinebench in a loop to test thermals. We’ll talk more about that later on.
MSI Center for Business and Productivity includes other information about the system, too. The System Analysis tab shows the product name, BIOS revision, and some hardware details. The Support tab has a system checker which shows free storage and RAM space, and has a battery optimization section. The Best for Mobility option will charge the battery to 100% all the time, while other options will limit the charge to either 60 or 80 percent of maximum to make sure the battery endurance doesn’t decline over time.
Now that we’ve become acquainted with the MSI Prestige 14 EVO, it’s high time we put this lightweight powerhouse through its paces…
MSI Prestige 14 EVO: Benchmarks And Performance
To test the MSI Prestige 14 EVO, we updated the system with all of the latest updated available via Windows Update and MSI’s utility. In this case, that means updating the existing Windows 10 Home 2004 installation, as the 20H2 did not automatically get installed. All drivers and preinstalled apps were updated to the latest available from MSI, too. Then we ran each benchmark at least three times, taking the median of our scores. Since the Tiger Lake-based system is running at the upper limits of Intel’s TDPs, we also bumped the fan profile to the maximum and pushed the Windows performance slider to Best Performance and re-ran a selection of benchmarks that way, as well.
The ATTO disk benchmark is a fairly quick and simple test which measures read/write bandwidth and IOPS across a range of different data sizes. We get a pair of results at each data point: bandwidth measured on MB per second (or GB per second if the result is that high), and input/output operations per second (IOPS).
The SSD in the Prestige 14 EVO is a Phison-branded drive, model SM280512GKBB4S-E162. That’s quite a mouthful, but it’s using a Phison PCIe 4.0 NVMe controller, and it shows. Raw bandwidth pushes upwards of 5 GB per second on reads and 2.3 GB/sec for writes. Transactional performance is very solid, too, as it hits nearly 100k reads at the 4kB transaction size, and on 80k writes.
Things start off strong for the MSI Prestige 14 EVO, as it takes the top spot in this web-based test. That margin of victory is pretty modest, however, as the ASUS and Dell Tiger Lake machines are right on its tail. We already knew that Tiger Lake represented an incredible boost over even Ice Lake when it comes to single-threaded performance, so this test mostly shows that all is right with the world.
The previous version of Maxon’s rendering benchmark, Cinebench R20, uses a long, sustained load, which makes it a good indicator of how well the cooling system in a notebook performs. This version is a pure CPU benchmark, and we tested both single-threaded and multi-threaded performance here.
Once again, MSI takes the top spots in our test. And again, its single-threaded advantage over its 15 W peers is minimal. The same can be said for multi-threaded performance here, although there definitely is around a 4-5% advantage. Unfortunately, the Best Performance slider in Windows combined with the aggressive fan profile doesn’t really gain much, either. We’ll dig into this as we discuss thermal performance on the next page.
Recently, Cinebench R23 burst onto the rendering scene (heh), boasting new features like a sustained test and support for Apple’s M1 SoC found in the recent 2020 Mac mini, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro. The score scaling has changed, too, so these scores are not at all comparable to the last iteration.
Finally, it seems the Mac mini (and by extension, the Mac notebooks) might have finally met their single-threaded match. Almost. The Prestige 14 EVO scores within a couple percentage points of the Apple machines. More importantly for Windows users, it put up the very best single-threaded performance among our entrants. However, the Ryzen 7 4800U in the Lenovo Slim 7 came along and swept the multi-threaded benchmark by a significant margin thanks to its eight cores.
Geekbench is a cross-platform benchmark that simulates real world processing workloads in image processing and particle physics scenarios, among many others. We tested the notebooks featured here in Geekbench’s single and multi-core workloads.
Geekbench tells much the same story as Cinebench. There’s a measurable difference between the 28 W TDP of the Prestige 14 EVO and the 15 W CPUs in the Dell XPS 13 9310 2-in-1, but at 6% on the multi-threaded test, it’s pretty modest. That’s still enough to bump MSI’s notebook up over the hexacore 9th generation CPU with a much higher 45 W TDP in the Alienware m15 R2, which is pretty outstanding.
PCMark 10 uses a mix of real-world applications and simulated workloads to establish how well a given system performs productivity tasks, including image and video editing, web browsing, and OpenOffice document editing. While these scores appear to be all over the place, the systems are sorted by their overall PCMark score, which is the third (gray) bar in each cluster.
In PCMark, the MSI notebook essentially ties for the highest overall score with both the other Tiger Lake entrants, as well as systems with discrete graphics cards. The integrated Iris Xe graphics and the higher TDP actually power this system to the second-highest Digital Content Creation score of all systems with integrated graphics, and second overall. The 28 W TDP hasn’t managed to separate itself from the pack, however.
3DMark has several different graphics tests which focus on different types of systems. UL seems to have discontinued support for Cloud Gate, but fortunately there are a couple of tests remaining that run well on integrated graphics.
Sky Diver and Night Raid are both lighter-duty tests. Sky Diver targets the DirectX 11 API, and finally the Prestige 14 EVO takes home a dominant 20% victory over the other Tiger Lake notebooks. The higher TDP no doubt pays off here, since this benchmark takes a while to run. The extra thermal headroom of the high-performance profile doesn’t really help much, though. The DirectX 12 Night Raid test sees a similar margin of victory over the ASUS and Dell ultraportables, although the high-powered Ryzen 9 4900HS integrated GPU in the ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14 pushes within 10%. Regardless, both of these tests are nice, big victories.
On the other hand, Fire Strike’s Ultra preset can bring powerful desktop systems to their knees. Seeing the Prestige 14 EVO dominate once again is no surprise, thanks to its extra thermal headroom. Dell’s XPS 13 9310 can push closer thanks to its Ultra Performance preset, and that’s ground that MSI’s top fan profile can’t make up. When both systems are at their defaults, however, MSI scores over 25% better than the Dell on this test, and the same goes for the ASUS ZenBook Flip S.
GRID Autosport is a cross-platform racing simulation developed by Codemasters. The developer wanted to make up for GRID 2, which released to mediocre reviews from critics and gamerse alike. Codemasters set out to improve GRID Autosport‘s handling and environment rendering to make it a true racing simulator. The third GRID game is built on Codemasters’ EGO engine that boasts more realistic physics and damage systems to add a bit of danger and some extra realism to the racing. Codemasters also tuned its graphics engine to perform well over a wide variety of mainstream systems, which makes it a great test for systems with integrated graphics. Codemasters also promotes that GRID Autosport is “optimized for integrated Intel HD Graphics”, which is certainly something. We tested at 1080p with the High image quality preset.
MSI has no integrated competition in this title. Much like the 3DMark tests, this system is 20% faster than other Tiger Lake notebooks. It’s also nearly three times as fast as systems stuck with Intel’s old UHD Graphics solution, like the 10th gen XPS 13 from last year or the ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 5. Both of those systems have CPUs based on Coffee Lake with Gen 9.5 graphics.
Gears Tactics is a much more recent title that runs on the Unreal 4 Engine. It’s a pretty fun tactical real-time strategy game, and has a wide array of graphics options that can look pretty great if the system is up to the challenge. We turned off all the automatic frame rate adjustments, turned the resolution up to 1080p, and then tested at Low, Medium and High details settings.
In Gears Tactics, all of the systems are good and warm before they ever get to the benchmark, since the game takes so long to load and navigate the menus. In this case, MSI puts up the best scores on the Medium and High presets, although it’s not by much. On the Low setting, this notebook actually gets eclipsed by the 15 W Tiger Lake systems. We’re not entirely sure why that’s the case, as we had the latest drivers. We even let the system cool down between runs, yet none of those results varied much from these scores. It’s not like performance is bad, though; 72 fps is more than the display can handle, and we might actually get less fan noise by turning on Vsync.
We run a custom 1080p HD video loop test developed in-house, to prove out battery life with our test group of machines. In all tests, Windows 10 Quiet Hours has been enabled and the displays are calibrated with lux meters on pure white screens to as close to 115 lux as possible. For the average laptop this is somewhere between a 40-60 percent brightness setting. In the case of the ThinkPad X13, this required lowering the brightness to 18 on the slider in the Windows 10 sidebar.
Despite its higher scores across the board in our performance benchmarks, the Prestige 14 EVO gives up very little in terms of battery longevity. The 52 Wh battery is approximately the same as what we found in the XPS 13 with Tiger Lake, and the higher-performance MSI machine only gives up around 5% battery life. Don’t forget that the 14″ display’s 83.75 square inch footprint is around 5% larger than the 79.5 square inches of the Dell’s 16:10 13.3″ display too. In other words, we can chalk up part of the difference to the additional area the backlight has to illuminate. That means 423 minutes of battery endurance considering the system’s performance level is pretty impressive. It may not last as long in a CPU-intensive scenario, but those typically run better while plugged in anyhow.
Next up it’s time to dig into the system’s internals and examine thermal performance before we wrap it up with our conclusions…
MSI Prestige 14 EVO: Teardown, Thermals And Our Verdict
The bottom of the Prestige 14 EVO has an enormous mesh vent, which should allow air to move quite freely into the system, especially considering how the hinge props the system up off the table, providing the chassis with a five-degree lift angle that lets plenty of air in. This mesh design takes a cue from many of the top selling desktop cases of 2020, which trade absolute silence for better air flow, which in-turn allows the fans to spin more slowly for better acoustics.
Gaining entry to this MSI notebook is as simple as removing seven Philips head screws. There’s a “factory seal” sticker sitting over the one in the center. We’re not a big fan of this sort of tamper prevention system, and many states have passed right to repair laws negating the need to warn users. We haven’t seen a sticker like this in quite a while, but it didn’t stop us from opening our review unit. Once we got the screws out, a little help from a guitar pick helped pop all of the tiny tabs free from their retention slots and the bottom cover came right off.
Once we get into the Prestige 14 EVO, we can see that the thermal system is fairly straightforward. If we flip back to the heat pipe and blower combination found on other Tiger Lake systems like the Dell XPS 13 9310, that system had dual fans, a more elaborate heat-pipe setup, and additional thermal barriers. However, the Prestige 14 EVO’s fan is quite a bit bigger than the smaller dual fans in the Dell system. This straightforward, single-fan thermal design solution might explain why MSI’s faster fan profile didn’t result in much extra performance. The motherboard is quite large, as well, and the system’s 14″ chassis gets put to good use.
Below the motherboard, we see the system’s 52 Wh battery, which is about the same as many other ultraportable notebooks we’ve tested. It’s secured by a handful of screws, making it theoretically possible to replace should it give out. To the battery’s right sits the discrete Phison SSD in a standard M.2 slot. It’s a relief that MSI makes this user replaceable, since the whole system isn’t a brick if its flash storage gets maxed-out or worn out over time. On each edge sits the pair of 2 W speakers, which are long, narrow drivers that lack some bass, but do well with good volume for midrange and high-end output.
MSI Prestige 14 EVO Thermal Performance
If the performance numbers on the previous page and the photos above don’t totally give it away, we’ll just come out and say it: from a thermal standpoint, the MSI Prestige 14 EVO is in a challenging spot. Out of the box, its fan gets pretty loud compared to 15 W designs, a necessary evil considering the excellent performance of this system’s Core i7-1185G7. Fortunately, MSI’s Center for Business and Productivity provides a Silent fan profile that will keep the fan much quieter at the cost of performance, if you so choose.
To see how loud and how hot the system gets at default, we turned to Cinebench R23’s 10-minute throttle test. At the seven to eight minute mark, we started recording temperatures and fan noise. The hottest point we could find was at the vent, which pushes air up between the chassis and the display. Internally, HWiNFO recorded CPU temperatures of 95 degrees Celsius, which is around 200 degrees Fahrenheit at the CPU package, which is toasty but well below the Core i7-1185G7’s max 100 C operating temperature. The air coming out of the system warmed the bottom display bezel to higher than 131 degrees F, which is just shy of 55 C. And throughout all of this, the system only bled off about 6% from its peak Cinebench score, which means thermal throttling isn’t a major issue with the Prestige 14 EVO.
That’s pretty warm, but fortunately it’s not in a place where you hands would normally touch. The keyboard never got uncomfortable, and we think this temperature isn’t higher just because of the extra airflow provided by the tilt of its display. Regardless, we’d never want this thing on our legs during periods of long, sustained used, when CPU temperatures reach their maximum. During regular, day to day use though, it shouldn’t pose a problem. Once the Prestige 14 EVO had time to cool down, for example, the CPU got back down to around 45 C (113 F) and the surface temperatures went even lower.
The Prestige 14 EVO is louder than most of 15 Watt TDP notebook designs we’ve tested as well. The sound emitted by the cooling fan is not a high-pitched whine, though. It’s just a rush of air pushing out of the vent, up and away from the display. At its loudest, we measured between 51 and 52 decibels at a distance of 24 inches from the vent. That’s louder than the others, as we said but, since its fan noise pitch character isn’t annoying, we weren’t bothered by it.
When idle, the Prestige 14 EVO is still louder than most ultraportables because the fan never spins down when using the default profile. We still measured 36 to 38 dBA with our sound meter, which is just a bit higher than the 30 dBA noise floor of our room. That’s just barely a whisper, though the fan never totally spins down. Users who want absolute silence can choose the Silent fan profile, which trims back the maximum clock speeds and allows the fans to spin down to inaudible levels.
MSI Prestige 14 EVO Review Take-Aways And Conclusion
MSI built a sturdy, fast, and lightweight notebook with the Prestige 14 EVO. The all-aluminum frame and chassis look great and contribute to a system that’s never a burden to carry in a backpack or under the arm. This machine’s thin profile also doesn’t spoil the typing experience, as we liked the backlit keyboard an awful lot, too. Expandability is no problem thanks to a pair of Thunderbolt 4 ports, and having to deal with the dongle life is never an issue, thanks to the USB Type-A port and micro SD card reader as well.
Pricing is another area where the Prestige 14 EVO shines. This system with a top-end Core i7-1185G7, 16 GB of LPDDR4X memory, and a 512 GB PCIe 4.0 SSD is just $1,149. That also gets you a vibrant 14-inch 1080p display, fingerprint and SD card readers, and Thunderbolt 4 expansion. Meanwhile, the Tiger Lake edition of the Dell XPS 13 with its swank 16:10 touch display and slightly slower Core i7-1165G7 is more than $1,400 from Dell right now. Folks who don’t mind the slightly larger footprint and want more performance than the compact Dell machine can offer would do well with the MSI Prestige 14 EVO, though the MSI machine doesn’t have quite the same fit and finish as something like the XPS 13.
If there’s any nit to pick with this MSI laptop it’s thermal performance. We can’t help but wonder if some extra speed is locked away behind a thermal system that struggles to keep its 28 W CPU under target temperatures. Thankfully, this is forgivable because of its premium, light-weight design and reasonably well-behaved acoustics. Users who want the best top-end performance in this weight class for a very attractive price point would be well-served to look into the Intel Tiger Lake-powered MSI Prestige 14 EVO.