MSI’s twin, budget gaming laptops, the Sword and Katana, quickly became popular when they launched, owing to them lying in an entry-level sweet spot of price, performance, styling and features. This updated MSI Katana 15 is noticeably cheaper than many other gaming laptops and, in a market where traditionally cheap rivals have ballooned in price, can it be our new, bang-for-buck winner.
Table of Contents
|Screen||15.6-inch, matte, 144Hz, 1,920 x 1,080, IPS display|
|Processor||3.5-4.7GHz Intel Core i7-12650H CPU|
|Memory||16GB DDR5-4800 RAM|
|Graphics||6GB GDDR6 Nvidia GeForce RTX 4050|
1 x USB-C 3.2 Gen 1
2 x USB-A 3.2 Gen 1
1 x USB-A 2.0
3.5mm audio jack
|Speakers||2 x 2-Watt|
|Extra Security||TPM 2.0 module|
|Dimensions||359 x 259 x 25mm|
Features, Ergonomics and Design
The MSI Katana 15 is a matte-black, monolithic machine that belies its budget looks. The updated, RGB keyboard might technically be four zoned but the smooth transitions of colours and pattern adjustability make it look much more expensive.
The embossed dragon logo on the lid is subtle and only shows up in certain light, but that means you can also, just about, hide it in an office – but use the MSI Center app to make a lighting profile where all the back-lighting is white and cover the translucent WASD keys when the boss walks past.
It’s generally well built and solid. Our only gripe is that the screen can wobble a bit when knocked, but we’ve seen far worse and it’s not enough to blight all of your web conferences. The hinge can also lie the screen down flat.
The IPS screen has a Full HD resolution and a 144Hz refresh rate. It’s bright and displays a crisp and clear Windows Desktop. Colours aren’t the most vibrant but they’re not dull.
This level of chromatic vibrancy extends into multimedia. There’s also some light banding in colour transitions which gets much blockier in monochromatic gradients. However, we’ve seen worse and it’s only distracting in very dark scenes. Contrast is actually pretty good with details being visible in dark and light areas, but they can still vanish in particularly bright highlights and dark shadows.
The fast, 144Hz refresh rate combines with decent pixel response time to keep fast-moving objects looking smooth and sharp. Only pro, FPS-shooter players might grumble. Ultimately, it’s a decent, all-round screen.
The twin, 2-Watt speakers are better than average. They get quite loud and there’s reasonable fidelity from top to bottom. There’s even a modicum of bass.
Above the screen is a functional HD webcam. It can get rather grainy in low-light but it’s partnered by a very good, dual-microphone array that does an impressive job of capturing clear audio in a noisy environment, making it good for conferencing and streaming.
The keyboard functions like it looks – i.e. it’s impressive. The clear-sided, Scrabble-tile keys are well-weighted, comfortable and accurate for extended typing and gaming. The clear, WASD keys might not be for everyone, but it’s becoming a standard for gaming laptops. There are plenty of shortcut keys for media and other functions, and even a reduced size number pad. The arrow keys aren’t full-sized but they’re not squished and are very usable. We like it.
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The trackpad is smooth and accurate but it does sound a smidge rattly when tapped and the buttons are a little stiff. We’re nitpicking though.
All in all, there are no obvious failings on the MSI Katana 15. It’s generally a joy to interact with and rivals many dearer rivals.
People like seeing the lollies/candies/sweets/snacks, Lego and weird things we add to our photos so we’ll start saying what they are. In our MSI Katana 15 review photos, we’re using a Loom Band bracelet made by the reviewer’s daughter.
Inside our review unit of the MSI Katana 15 is a 3.5 – 4.7GHz Intel Core i7-12650H processor with six Performance cores and four Efficiency cores. It’s flanked by 16GB of quick, DDR5-4800 RAM and a fast, not-large 512GB NVMe drive (there’s space for another).
It’s worth noting that our review unit is something of a hybrid variant that is like an updated, Intel 13th-gen, MSI Katana 15 B13V model but with the 12th-Gen Intel processor that we saw in the older Katana 17.
In the general-computing PCMark 10 test, the MSI Katana 15 scored a respectable 7,483 which is well above average for any kind of budget laptop. In the Cinebench CPU rendering tests it scored 2,213 in the drag-race R15 test and 13,762 and longer R23 (stability) test. These are decent scores that are mid-range for the entire laptop market.
Our MSI Katana 15’s 3D performance came via an Nvidia GeForce RTX 4050 with 6GB of GDDR6 RAM. It’s Nvidia’s lowest-end laptop GPU, but it’s not incapable – especially when paired with a Full HD screen.
In these regards, MSI has recently been reminding us all of the potential performance boost afforded by Nvidia’s DLSS 3 and second-gen, ray-tracing-focused, RT2 Core technologies which explain why its low-to-mid-range RTX 4000-series GPUs can be better than an RTX 3060 – especially in budget gaming laptops.
More importantly, the RTX 4050’s actual benefits have already manifested in our reviews of the 12th-Gen Katana 17 (with a 3050 Ti) and the launch-version of its twin, MSI Sword (with an 11th-Gen Intel CPU and an RTX 3060). Our Katana 15’s combination of 12th-Gen parts and the RTX 4050 demonstrate genuinely better performance than both of these as we can see below…
In the difficult ray-tracing tests, 3DMark Speed Way and Port Royal, the MSI Katana 15 scored 1,991 (average 20fps) and 4,799 (average 22.22fps) respectively. These aren’t the best scores, but the fact it even ran the benchmarks is notable. You’ll be able to get some ray-tracing goodness out of games but you’ll need to lower the details or resolution on the most hardware-demanding titles.
In the AAA-title-a-like game tests, 3DMark Time Spy and Fire Strike Extreme, the MSI Katana 15 scored 9,038 and 9,583 respectively, which translates to frame rates of 53.3fps and 44.2fps. Those are generally playable scores, but you’ll likely need to drop some settings to avoid fps-plummetation in trickier games.
In the easier 3DMark Night Raid test, the MSI Katana 15 scored 54,579 which equates to 540.5fps, illustrating that it will have few issues playing casual and competitive games.
In the older, CS:GO test, which stresses the whole system, the Katana averaged 374fps for the whole test and this only dropped to 83fps in the slowest, one per cent of frames (1% Low test). In many ways, this is the core test as it demonstrates that the MSI Katana 15 (and Nvidia’s RTX 4050) can compete where it matters, with an all-round, well-put-together system. Impressive.
Laptop Noise and Cooling
The Katana 15’s cooling comes via is MSI’s Cooler Boost 5 system which uses shared CPU and GPU heat pipes, along with an enhanced fan and exhaust design. It’s dripped down from MSI’s premium gaming laptops and does a good job of keeping the Katana 15 cool and quiet. It can sometimes ramp up to a low, non-distracting whoosh in general usage, but it only becomes a loud, low whoosh when under sustained heavy load or the ‘Cooler Boost’ setting is activated, forcing the fans to max.
On the left of the MSI Katana 15 are two USB-A ports: a version 3.2 Gen 1 and a version 2.0. They might be a bit closely packed for some chunkier connectors, but having two together like this helps with connecting dual-dongle RGB headsets where the second socket is used for powering the lights.
On the right is a Gigabit Ethernet port for lag-free-LANning, an HDMI 2.0 port, plus two, USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports – a USB-A and a USB-C (with PowerDelivery). There’s also a 3.5mm audio jack.
Inside there’s Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.2 for wireless connections.
We’d prefer to see HDMI 2.1, to enable 120Hz-gaming on external displays but, otherwise, it’s a very usable collection.
Portability and Battery Life
For a budget gaming laptop, the MSI Katana 15 feels well built. The main chassis is solid and doesn’t flex while the lid is generally robust and only flexes a little when a twisting force is applied. The hinges can wobble a bit but they keep the screen stable on a solid surface. We expect it to survive a life of being lugged to LANs but remember, it’s still a budget gaming laptop, so take a bit more care of it.
The MSI Katana 15 weighs 2.29KG and the (refreshingly) smallish power brick and cables add an extra 745g to the mix. That’s not overly heavy for a gaming laptop but you’ll notice it if you carry it around all day.
There’s only a 53Wh battery inside. This helps keep the weight down, but it only ran our PCMark 10 Modern Office test for a modest 7 hours 7 minutes. That’s actually good for a gaming laptop – especially one with such a small battery, but there will be few times you won’t need to carry the PSU around with you.
Price, Availability and Alternatives
Our variant of the MSI Katana 15 has an RRP of $2,499 which isn’t cheap in an inflated market but is still enough to win it a Great Value Gaming Laptop Award. However, at the time of going to press, it can be found on sale for $1,799. That means that it’s currently, not just our Best Value Gaming Laptop, it’s our Best Value Laptop, overall.
We haven’t seen too many recent rivals at this price point. The Acer Nitro 5 is a fine alternative, though, and you can find some very attractive variants of those on sale, here. Those include a 12th-Gen version with a superior RTX 4060 for the same price! We look forward to reviewing the updated model.
If you want an MSI Katana 15 with a 13th-Gen Intel processor, or a variant with a more-powerful GPU, you can find the newest range here. Just expect to be paying significantly more for those models.
MSI Katana 15 review: Should you buy it?
MSI recently commissioned us to write about the benefits of DLSS 3 on an RTX 4050-wielding Katana and so we’ve been particularly keen to see how our rigorous testing aligned with the supplied third-party data sets.
What we can say is that the MSI Katana 15 isn’t just a good budget gaming laptop, it’s a very good laptop indeed. The combination of styling, build quality, ergonomics and features are all attractive and it offers great value, whether on sale or not. There are no significant weak points and if you want a more powerful version, they’re readily available.
Modest battery life
A bit heavy
Muted on-screen colours
MSI Katana 15 Scores
The combination of styling, build quality, performance and features mean the MSI Katana 15 is a steal at this price.