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MSI Prestige 14 (2021) Review 2021

The MSI Prestige 14 (starts at $1,099.99; $1,149.99 as tested) gets an Intel Evo update, bringing increased responsiveness and better battery life (along with Wi-Fi 6 and Thunderbolt 4 connectivity) to the company’s 14-inch ultraportable laptop. The design remains largely unchanged from last year’s model, which came in a bold pink. Available in white or dark gray this time around, the all-aluminum chassis is incredibly thin and compact. When opened, the lid props up the keyboard to provide a comfortable angle for typing and better airflow for keeping the components cool. And with its new Intel Core i7-1185G7, the top processor in Intel’s 11th Generation “Tiger Lake” series, the Prestige 14 needs all the help it can get to keep thermals in check. In testing, fan noise was a constant companion, which detracts from this otherwise well-rounded, powerful, and affordable ultraportable.


Tops in ‘Tiger Lake’

Besides the Core i7-1185G7 CPU, our $1,149.99 Prestige 14 test system features 16GB of RAM, Intel Iris Xe Graphics, and a 512GB solid-state drive. Although the Core i7-1185G7 runs at higher speeds (3.0GHz with 4.8GHz turbo) than the Core i7-10710U (10th Generation “Ice Lake”) processor in last year’s Prestige 14, it has only four processing cores and support for eight simultaneous threads versus six and 12, respectively, which attenuates some of its advantages. 

Our test unit sits in the middle of the Prestige 14 Evo line. The $1,099.99 base model features a Core i5-1135G7 processor, while the $1,199.99 model doubles our system’s storage capacity with a 1TB SSD. All three models feature 16GB of RAM and a 14-inch, non-touch display with full HD (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) resolution backed by the processor’s Iris Xe integrated graphics.

MSI Prestige 14 (2021) left angle


How Thin Is Too Thin?

The Prestige 14 is about as thin and light as a 14-inch laptop can get. Like last year’s model, it measures 0.63 inch thick and 12.6 inches wide, but it’s a hair deeper, at 8.6 inches front to back. Despite the ever-so-slightly larger chassis, it’s a couple of ounces lighter than its predecessor at 2.66 pounds. Impressively, the Prestige 14 is trimmer than its 14-inch rival the HP EliteBook 845 G7, which measures 0.7 by 12.7 by 8.5 inches (HWD) and weighs 2.93 pounds. The 13.4-inch Dell XPS 13 is more compact (0.58 by 11.6 by 7.8 inches) but a bit heavier at 2.8 pounds. If you’re looking for the easiest and lightest of travel companions, the Prestige 14 should rank high on your list.

MSI Prestige 14 (2021) rear view

Despite an all-aluminum chassis that’s passed MIL-STD 810G tests against hazards such as shock, vibration, and temperature extremes, the Prestige 14 doesn’t feel as rock-solid and sturdy as other all-metal laptops such as the XPS 13 or the Apple MacBook Pro. The aluminum used for the Prestige 14 feels thin and flexes on the lid and bottom panel. Thankfully, the keyboard deck feels sturdier with less flex under your fingertips when typing. Still, I’d happily tote around a few extra ounces in exchange for a more rigid top and bottom.

MSI Prestige 14 (2021) underside

The backlit keyboard feels roomy and allowed me to get immediately comfortable. The keys offer shallow travel but felt snappy and responsive. They are also some of the quietest keys I’ve used. Also, no keys are shortened, including all four full-size cursor arrow keys.

Overall, the typing experience on the Prestige 14 is outstanding, particularly when you factor in how the bottom edge of the display props up the keyboard. The laptop’s back edge is lifted up by the bottom bezel as you open the lid to lend a 5-degree angle that makes typing exceedingly comfortable.

MSI Prestige 14 (2021) keyboard

I feel less rosy about the touchpad. MSI sticks a fingerprint reader in the top left corner, but you aren’t likely to hit it by accident because of the pad’s extreme width, which mirrors the wide 16:9 aspect ratio of the screen. I have no problem with how wide the touchpad is, and I take no issue with the accuracy with which my swipes, pinches, and other gestures were registered. What I dislike is how flimsy it feels when clicked, particularly along its bottom edge. It offers so much travel that I worry about loose change slipping down its front corners.

MSI Prestige 14 (2021) touchpad


Dim Display, Dynamite Webcam

Like the majority of laptop screens nowadays, the 14-inch, 1080p display features a 16:9 aspect ratio. It’s a natural fit for watching movies but it’s less desirable for scrolling through web pages, spreadsheets, and other documents. The screen can feel a bit cramped, with needless room to the sides of a browser window or Word doc. A taller 3:2 aspect ratio display like that of the HP Spectre x360 14 is at the other end of the spectrum, but even a 16:10 screen like the Dell XPS 13’s makes a big difference in terms of giving you more room to work.

Another gripe is that the Prestige 14’s display is far from the brightest you’ll encounter. The contrast ratio is fine and colors look vivid and accurate, but the image doesn’t pop even at max brightness. I struggled to see details on the screen when seated in direct sunlight, something that is not a problem in my sunny breakfast nook with my MacBook Pro.

MSI Prestige 14 (2021) front view

The laptop’s stereo speakers fire downward and are helped a bit by the tilt of the keyboard deck, which lifts the speakers off the surface of your desk or table. Two long rubber feet also prop up the bottom of the system to help prevent the speakers from being muffled. The audio output is average for a laptop; it suffices for videos and movies but lacks the bass response for enjoyable music playback. 

The 720p IR webcam provides a second way (along with the fingerprint reader) to log in without having to type a password, offering face recognition for Windows Hello. As a videoconferencing tool, the webcam produced a crisp image free of noise with accurate skin tones and colors.

Thunderbolt 4 connectivity is part of the Intel Evo platform, which also mandates long battery life, nearly instant wake from sleep, fast charging, and Wi-Fi 6 networking. The Prestige 14 doesn’t offer many ports, but the two versatile Thunderbolt 4 ports on its left side provide fast data transfers, as well as HDMI and DisplayPort video connectivity. You can use either one to charge the laptop.

MSI Prestige 14 (2021) left ports

On the right side, you’ll find a USB 2.0 (not 3.1 or 3.2) port, a microSD card slot, and a headphone jack. 

MSI Prestige 14 (2021) right ports


Performance Testing: Efficiency Over Raw Power

As the peak of Intel’s new “Tiger Lake” line, our MSI Prestige 14’s Core i7-1185G7 processor is clocked slightly faster than the Core i7-1165G7 found in the Dell XPS 13 and the Acer Swift 5. I rounded out our benchmark comparisons with the AMD-based HP EliteBook 845 G7 and last year’s Prestige 14, which as mentioned used a 10th Generation Core i7.

MSI Prestige 14 (2021) comparison chart

Productivity, Storage, and Media Tests 

PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheeting, web browsing, and videoconferencing. PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the system’s boot drive. Both tests yield a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.

MSI Prestige 14 (2021) PCMark

The 2021 Prestige 14 was slow out of the gate, finishing last in PCMark 10. Still, this is a fast-moving group and all five systems topped the 4,000 points that indicate excellent productivity. Their speedy SSDs also breezed through the PCMark 8 storage exercise.

Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.

MSI Prestige 14 (2021) Cinebench

The Ryzen 7-powered EliteBook took top honors here, followed by last year’s Prestige 14 with its six-core Intel CPU.

Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video editing trial, another tough, threaded workout that’s highly CPU-dependent and scales well with cores and threads. In it, we put a stopwatch on test systems as they transcode a standard 12-minute clip of 4K video (the open-source Blender demo movie Tears of Steel) to a 1080p MP4 file. It’s a timed test, and lower results are better.

MSI Prestige 14 (2021) Handbrake

The results in Handbrake mirrored those from Cinebench, with the new Prestige 14 outrunning the slower-clocked Acer and Dell (and tying its MSI predecessor) but taking four minutes longer than the HP.

We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time. As with Handbrake, lower times are better here. The Photoshop test stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM but can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.

MSI Prestige 14 (2021) Photoshop

The Prestige 14 saved its strongest showing for this test, where it crossed the finish line abreast with the Acer Swift 5 and well ahead of the other systems. 

Graphics Tests

3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.

MSI Prestige 14 (2021) 3DMark

Intel’s midrange and upper-end Tiger Lake chips feature Iris Xe integrated graphics, which kept this year’s Prestige 14 within shouting distance of last year’s model and its Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 discrete GPU. The gap between integrated and dedicated graphics is narrowing, though gamers will still prefer the latter.

Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario than 3DMark, for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess. We present two Superposition results, run at the 720p Low and 1080p High presets. 

MSI Prestige 14 (2021) Superposition

The Prestige 14 approached a playable frame rate in the low-end Superposition test, a feat previous generations of Intel integrated graphics were unable to accomplish. Casual gaming is possible on the Prestige 14 if you keep the resolution and quality settings in check.

Battery Rundown Test 

After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) where available and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop in airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the same Tears of Steel movie we use in our Handbrake trial—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system quits.

MSI Prestige 14 (2021) battery life

One of the chief benefits of the Intel Evo platform is greater battery efficiency. With a three-cell, 52WHr battery powering its 14-inch display, the MSI ran for an impressive 16-and-a-half hours in our video playback test. While that fell short of the outstanding running times put forth by the HP and Acer, it did outlast the previous year’s Prestige 14 by more than three hours.


Solid, If a Step Below More Prestigious Ultraportables

The MSI Prestige 14 hits two key criteria for any successful ultraportable: it’s incredibly compact, and it runs forever. MSI managed to pack a 14-inch screen into a chassis that’s thinner and lighter than many 13-inch laptops. And thanks to its efficient 11th Generation Intel processor, the system’s battery will get you through the longest of workdays on a single charge. The all-metal chassis looks sleek, and despite its compact size, the keyboard is quite comfortable, offering one of the best typing experiences of any ultraportable. 

MSI Prestige 14 (2021) angle view

What holds the Prestige 14 back from a stronger recommendation is a handful of design demerits. The flex in the aluminum lid and bottom panel is concerning, the display could be brighter, and the flimsy touchpad can’t match the excellence of the keyboard. The biggest drawback, however, is the frequent fan noise. It’s not surprising that the cooling fan kicks in during intensive graphical tasks, but it also made itself heard when opening a dozen tabs in Chrome or having more than a few apps running at once. The fan usually cycles off after a minute or two, but it’s still annoying. Ultraportable shoppers seeking better fit and finish may want to spend a bit more for a premium machine like the Dell XPS 13 or the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon.

MSI Prestige 14 (2021) Specs

Laptop Class Ultraportable
Processor Intel Core i7-1185G7
Processor Speed 3 GHz
RAM (as Tested) 16 GB
Boot Drive Type SSD
Boot Drive Capacity (as Tested) 512 GB
Screen Size 14 inches
Native Display Resolution 1,920 by 1,080
Touch Screen No
Panel Technology IPS
Variable Refresh Support None
Screen Refresh Rate 60 Hz
Graphics Processor Intel Iris Xe Graphics
Wireless Networking 802.11ax, Bluetooth
Dimensions (HWD) 0.63 by 12.6 by 8.6 inches
Weight 2.66 lbs
Operating System Windows 10 Home
Tested Battery Life (Hours:Minutes) 16:32

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