MSI Summit E15 (2021) review
A laptop oozing 11th-gen functionality
- 4K screen looks fantastic
- Attractive design with bronze styling
- Poor battery life
- Good but not great performance
- Jittery 4K video playback
The MSI Summit E15 delivers medium-to-high performance on a range of productivity tasks and its styling complements any office environment. With an 11-gen chipset and 4K display, its utility for creative professionals is especially appealing. However, its battery life is not the best when playing 4K video on high brightness settings.
Should I buy the MSI Summit E15?
The Summit E15 was born out of MSI’s recent move into the world of premium business laptops, and for a company known more for its gaming laptops, MSI has done a decent job producing a system that performs well overall for both work and play.
The E15 sits at the top of the company’s E Series line-up and packs several features that should appeal to professionals who need a steady workhorse. Content creators will get a kick out of the E15’s 4K professional-grade display and 11th-Generation Intel Tiger Lake-U CPU, which breezes through tasks optimized for multithreading. However, the E15’s 4K display does tax the battery considerably, so if staying power is a big concern, you may consider a lower-resolution 1080p display option that should have more legs for your working day.
MSI Summit E15 price and specs
In Australia the pricing for the MSI Summit E15 starts at AU$1349. The review unit we tested (the MSI Summit E15 A11SCS-091AU) is priced at AU$2,999. A full list of configurations and prices can be found on the MSI website. Here are the specs of the machine we reviewed:
MSI Summit E15 (2021) Specs
Processor: Core i7-1185G7
Operating system: Windows 10 Pro
RAM: 32GB DDR4/3200 Mhz
Storage: 1TB NVMe SSD
Graphics: Nvida GeForce GTX 1650 Ti with Max-Q Design, 4GB GDDR6
Display: 4K 15.6-inch UHD (3840x2160), IPS-Level
MicroSD slot: Yes
Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.1
Dimensions: 356.8 x 233.7 x 16.9mm
Design and styling
Like its 2021 range of gaming laptops, MSI has done extremely well producing a very slim machine — it measures just 16mm thick. At 1.65kg, it’s lightweight but not amazingly so: A look at our spec database shows laptops like the Surface Pro 7 + (0.90kg), and Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano (0.80kg) weigh in considerably lighter. Still, this didn’t seem to make much difference carrying it about, as the weight seems fairly evenly distributed across the unit.
As far as styling, MSI have produced a laptop that looks like a premium work system, but with a hint of gaming vivacity thrown in for good measure. Its chassis is chiselled and angular, and its carbon black presence should blend into any boardroom or business meeting. Its design is like a scaled-down version of the MSI GS66 Stealth, a 2021 gaming offering, but with tapered edges and stand-out detailing.
The E15 shows-off a bronze MSI logo on the upper surface of the lid and a band around the trackpad that provides some flair and accentuates the premium feel. It also hints suggestively at there being something special inside, which there is: an Intel 11th-generation CPU.
I found even more bronze styling where I least expected it: There’s hidden “Summit” branding along the inner edge of the chassis below the keyboard side of the hinges. This added detail only becomes visible when you flip the top lid to 180 degrees. Most notably, the word “Summit” faces away from the user, meaning your colleagues sitting across from you will read it correctly, but it will read backwards to you.
Sturdiness and toughness
The MSI isn’t the most robust laptop we’ve used, but it’s not all plastic fantastic either. A good amount of aluminum does provide some sturdiness around the keyboard and trackpad. Here the laptop feels very much like a gaming laptop, a tribute to the maker’s gaming pedigree. Testing the chassis with some pressure suggests it might stand up reasonably well to workday bumps and scrapes.
However, the thin display doesn't inspire confidence, and will flex with enough torque applied to its top or sides. We fear it could be dinged a little if dropped, or impacted by a sharp object, so you’ll want to wrap it in a soft case from the get-go. Still, these concerns are trifling considering the panel’s thinness. Plus, for an IPS-level panel with this pixel count, it’s well worth being a little more vigilant to keep the display safe.
On inspection, the hinges seem especially tough. I found flipping the screen through 180 degrees worked flawlessly, with the screen holding its position when it was left at varying degrees throughout the movement arc. There was also no wobble, which was very reassuring.
The keyboard, trackpad and audio
The E15 has discreet air vents that appear on the inside edge of the chassis near the furthest edge of the keyboard. This adds to the overall low-profile appearance — there being no other openings visible except the ports left and right of the keyboard.
The vent’s positioning means that air is blown directly onto the screen, which has the effect of diminishing unwanted sound and making the E15 fans as quiet as a mouse. Having said that, this unit could have done with some extra audio slits. The E15 promises hi-res audio, yet the speakers sound tinny and a little distant.
Shooting across to the E15’s keyboard, the keys can best be described as bouncy, in that they aren’t firm, but aren’t mushy either. The laptop’s base tapers from its thickest point underneath the hinges toward where your hands are resting. This has the effect of angling your wrists slightly upwards. Like raising your feet while sitting on the couch, this felt super comfortable.
I found the keyboard to be highly responsive for typing and had no trouble reaching 60 words per minute. However, considering the ample space that’s been dedicated to the keyboard, MSI could have added a full-sized keyboard with a Numpad, and its absence feels like a lost opportunity for professionals who deal with numbers in their everyday work schedules.
Regardless, the key travel is acceptable and I liked the right-side placement of the function key that made switching the backlighting and other functionality on and off easier. Backlighting is a single blue colour but can be switched through four different modes of brightness for a variety of lighting conditions. The trackpad is compact and responsive, and seemed to work fine without any hitches.
The 4K display
My review unit’s 4K display was a real eye-catcher. Video playback was incredibly detailed and appeared crystal clear with colours that looked true to life. Skin tones, especially, were brought to life with the high pixel count, revealing pores in subjects' faces.
My only qualm was the smoothness (or lack thereof) of 4K video content when the brightness was flipped to around 90% or above. The display has a 60Hz refresh rate, which is not unusual for a business laptop, but at times our 4K video looked a little jittery and I found myself thinking a higher refresh rate would have done wonders for smoother playback.
Dialing down the brightness seemed to work well to iron out these wrinkles, as did dropping the video to 1080p. Still, with a 1080p version of the machine available for a lower price, I began to question whether the 4K option is worth the money. This point was reinforced after our battery test, which we will get to later.
On the up-side, the display’s anti-glare had me covered no matter where I planted myself to work. In full sunshine with sun shining directly onto the screen, or in dappled light, it remained equally visible, making the Summit E15 a toy I could take anywhere.
The E15 has a full enterprise selection of ports except an Ethernet port, which is not surprising considering its slenderness. On board, you’ll find a HDMI port, 3.5mm audio jack, two USB 3.2 gen 2 Type A ports, a MicroSD card slot and two USB Type-C ports with Thunderbolt 4.
The addition of Thunderbolt 4 is a neat feature that should be a big plus for creatives needing to tackle projects, especially video projects where they need to transfer large 4K video files. It allows you to send video signals to two 4K displays and one 8K display, and also speeds up data transfer since it supports 32Gbs data transfer via PCI Express, instead of the 16Gbs with Thunderbolt 3.
Beneath its frame, the MSI Summit E15 sports a Core i7-1185G7, a quad-core CPU based on the Tiger Lake-U 11th-gen architecture. It’s supposedly ideal for work applications in laptops and ultrabooks, and Intel’s performance testing shows the CPU operates between 1.2Ghz and 4.3Ghz, which means it has plenty of kick. My benchmarks didn’t prove that wrong, but they did show the CPU to be merely a high performer, rather than an outstanding one. At least in this laptop's configuration and paired with its GeForce GTX 1650 Ti GPU.
Purely anecdotally, I found the Summit responded quickly and I barely had to wait long for tasks to finish. This was especially the case when opening applications and at boot up, where the Summit is ready to use in a jiffy. The machine's 11th-generation chipset supports PCle 4.0, which is a notable step-up from PCle 3.0 and improves data transfers from the SSD.
But what about empirical data on the E15’s suitability for business productivity? For this, I ran the PCMark 10 Overall benchmark, which provides an indication of performance in a range of tasks that would be commonly used in an office setting. The E15 scored 4733, which indicates decent performance on a range of productivity tasks. This score beat the Surface Pro 7+ and Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano, but was pipped at the post by the HP Envy 14.
In the Cinebench R15 benchmark, which taps into a CPU's multithreading abilities, the E15 performed strongly but was bested by the MSI Prestige 14. I expected a little better performance here, but the result still shows the Summit can slog it out in heavy tasks with enough gusto to see you through whatever you’re doing. The MSI Prestige’s Comet Lake chipset features six cores to the E15’s four cores, and that could certainly explain the results.
In 3DMark, the MSI Summit E15’s 11th-gen processor made light work of the Time Spy 1.2 benchmark, proving it has enough power to deliver fairly good performance in games. With its GeForce 1650 Ti with Max-Q, it could certainly hold its own in a range of less graphically demanding favourites in a Steam library. However, it’s important to bring this into context. The E15’s benchmark scores fall significantly short of what you’d expect to see in the top gaming laptops, so even if you get a chance to launch a game during your lunch break, you’d probably want to give AAA games a pass.
Why speed isn’t everything
Our benchmark’s may show a mixed bag when it comes to processing speed in the E15, and if you didn’t know better you could be tempted to blame the laptop's discrete GeForce 1650 Ti with Max-Q design, which is getting a bit long in the tooth. But in truth, there’s practical utility in putting a real GeForce card inside a business laptop. For one, the E15’s GTX 1650 gives you CUDA support for applications like Adobe Photoshop, as well as Nvidia NVENC/NVDEC encode/decode. So, while benchmarks results are tempting to be seen as the be-all, end-all, there’s a lot to be said for how extra software support can improve optimised applications.
For a premium business laptop, decent battery life can make all the difference, especially during these pandemic times that find us working in parks and other locations where wall outlets aren't immediately accessible. With some irony, the Summit didn’t quite reach the summit of battery performance in our battery testing. In fact, it fell short of all our comparison laptops.
To test the battery, I played a 4K video at 92% brightness and with the volume set to 50%. Cheap headphones kept the noise to a minimum while the laptop played itself down from 100% battery power to Standby Mode. The E15 managed 6 hours and 26 minutes, which is a few hours short of where it probably should be for a productivity machine. But as mentioned earlier, a 1080p variant should go considerably longer. In fact, MSI says the lower-res version boasts 16 hours of battery life.
The MSI Summit E15 delivers medium-to-high performance in productivity benchmarks and offers visual style to boot. With an 11-gen chipset and 4K display, its utility for creative professionals is especially appealing. Battery life is not the best when playing 4K video on high brightness settings, but a 1080p version may give you more power to play with.
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