MSI Sword laptop review

MSI Sword review

MSI recently released a bunch of new laptops. Among them were the twin MSI Sword and MSI Katana designer laptops which were differentiated in a Luke Skywalker vs Darth Vader manner with white-blue vs black-red liveries. At the time we weren’t sure which colour combo would be called what in Australia. However, here we are with a full-production version of a black-and-red MSI Sword. At half the price of it’s higher-powered siblings, is it a bargain or bust?

The MSI Sword has been designed by Japanese designer, Tsuyoshi Nagano who is, “A Japanese illustrator, famous for his cover artwork on  “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms” video game series since 1980s. He has dedicated on gaming series for a long time and makes him a professional creators. His art style is realism, has influenced many other series such as Dynasty Warriors.” [sic]

We wrote about the superficial design issues here. But what’s the official retail version like?

[Update] We’ve since reviewed the MSI Pulse GL76 which represents a minor upgrade on the MSI Sword.

KEY SPECS OF THE MSI Sword

15.6-inch, matte, 144Hz, 1920 x 1080, non-touchscreen, IPS LCD; 1.9-4.6GHz Intel Core i7-11800H CPU; 16GB RAM; 512GB NVMe HDD; Nvidia RTX 3060; 53.5Wh battery; 2.25KG. SKU: Sword 15 A11UE, Full specs here.

Design and Handling

As designer laptops go, we’re not overly impressed. MSI’s Dragonshield and Tiamat laptops look special, this does… n’t. As we said in the First Look…

‘The Chassis is a black, rigid plastic with a back-lit, red, LED keyboard. The stamped dragon logo on the lid is so subtle that you won’t see it in many lighting conditions. The subtle design elements on the chassis are so subtle that we struggle to actually describe them. It’s basically a matte black laptop. At least the lid and palm rest have subtle indentations to keep the lines from being too straight and dull. That all said, we really like the design. It’s just weird that a highly-regarded designer signed off on it rather than an in-house artisan.’

The livery is simple but effective while the keyboard and trackpad are well-designed and comfortable to use.
The livery is simple but effective while the keyboard and trackpad are well-designed and comfortable to use.

There’s no thin bezel surrounding the MSI Sword’s screen. The top is especially thick. Embedded in the middle is (unusually) a Full HD webcam, though. It’s worth noting that the screen does wobble quite a bit when knocked, but it’s generally solid when on a solid surface.

The Scrabble-tile keyboard is full sized and there’s even a mini numberpad on the right. While we’re glad not to see half-height arrow keys, what remains are certainly reduced in size.

The trackpad is responsive, smooth and has responsive key-presses.

The 144Hz screen is very smooth but not quite as smooth as the 240Hz and 300Hz units that we’ve seen elsewhere. It’s still very good though. Both colour and monochromatic gradients are impressively smooth. However, dynamic range is mediocre with detail being lost in bright and dark areas. Be prepared for enemies to jump out of shadows and get you.

The speakers are modest with average volume. While they don’t get too loud they don’t have much bass or punch. The treble is modest too.

Connectivity of the MSI Sword

Left-hand side ports of the MSI Sword.
On the left are two, USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 ports.
Right side.
On the right is a USB-C 3.2 Gen 1 port, USB-A 2.0 port, Gigabit Ethernet and HMDI 2.0 port.

Inside there’s Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.2.

Performance

Many high performance laptops in the market still utilise Intel’s 10th Generation processors so we were keen to see how the MSI Sword’s, 11th Gen, octa-core, 1.9-4.6GHz Intel Core i7-11800H CPU fared. Flanked by 16GB of DDR4-3200 RAM and a 512GB NVMe drive (there’s space for another one) it managed 6554 in PCMark 10 which is the fastest score we’ve seen from any Intel laptop on this site (the Ryzen-based Zephyrus G15 still beats it). In our other processor-based, rendering tests it scored 1937 in Cinebench R15 and 10,769 in Cinebench R23 so it was a similar story: only the Ryzen is faster. So, while that’s a very impressive step-up in performance from Intel, it’s still behind AMD.

The MSI Sword uses Nvidia’s, third-tier, RTX 3060 GPU for 3D performance. In 3DMark Time Spy it managed 7360 (an average of 47fps) which is some way behind more expensive rivals and similar to the similarly priced, 3060-sporting Acer Predator Helios 300. In 3DMark Fire Strike Extreme it managed 8647 (39.2 fps) which is the lowest we’ve seen. In the Port Royal Ray Tracing test it managed only 4186 (19 fps) which is rather low too. Still, with a Full HD screen it’s not like there are going to be many games it can’t play at max detail settings and it will handle old, competitive games with no worries.

Portability

We’re a little concerned about the strength of the lid when it comes to portability: it’s not the strongest so be aware of accidentally bashing it. Meanwhile, the small, 53.5-Watt battery unsurprisingly only lasted for a pitiful 3hrs 41mins. Still, it helped keep the weight down to a portable 2.25KG.

Spinal Tap would appreciate this laptop. But the lid's not the strongest.
Spinal Tap would appreciate this laptop. But the lid’s not the strongest.

Other Features

The MSI Center app has overclocking, monitoring and config features but isn’t quite as intuitive as some other variations of MSI’s control centre software.

The underside and PSU.
The underside and PSU.

The fan can get loud when maxxed but in reality it doesn’t top-out too often. It’s certainly audible when under heavy load though.

Should you buy the MSI Sword laptop

At $2,199 the Sword is half the price of many high performance laptops (although we found the Luke Skywalker, blue-and-white version available for $100 less, here). It’s also worth noting that MSI is currently running a Winter Sale with some hefty discounts (and a free gift). While the 3D performance isn’t earth shuddering it will still play most games at max settings. There’s little that it does wrong so we’re happy to recommend it. It’s again worth noting that there are also Core i5 versions available for $300 less if you don’t mind losing some processing power. Its main rival is arguably the Acer Predator Helios 300. While that offers similar performance and a larger battery, it’s also heavier and noisier, meaning we prefer the Sword.

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