The MSI Alpha 15 is a part of MSI's new Alpha series that includes all AMD components. That was a little concerning given AMD's track record in mobile devices, but on this particular machine, the company managed to go toe-to-toe with Nvidia.
CPU: AMD Ryzen 7-3750H
GPU: AMD Radeon RX5500M
Storage: 512GB SSD
Display: 15.6-inch, 1080p, 144Hz
Size: 14.1 x 9.8 x 1.1 inches
Weight: 5 pounds
For just $999, the MSI Alpha 15 offers solid graphics performance; a colorful, 15.6-inch, 144Hz display; and a comfortable keyboard with per-key lighting. However, AMD did not fare well against Intel, causing the MSI Alpha 15 to suffer from middling CPU performance. Top that off with below-average battery life and a poor set of speakers. It wasn't the best showing for MSI.
Although the MSI Alpha 15 might not be one of the best cheap gaming laptops around, it's still a solid overall gaming machine worth considering.
MSI Alpha 15 (A3DDK) price and configuration options
There are only two configurations of the MSI Alpha 15. The one I tested costs $999 and is outfitted with an AMD Ryzen 7-3750H processor, an AMD Radeon RX5500M GPU with 4GB of VRAM, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB NVMe SSD and a 144Hz display.
For $100 less, at $899, you'll drop to 8GB of RAM and a 120Hz display.
If you're looking for something a little different but around the same price, check out our best entry-level gaming laptops page.
MSI Alpha 15 (A3DDK) design
I appreciate the MSI Alpha 15's simple, matte black chassis, as it doesn't flaunt gaudy red or blue colors as most gaming laptops do. Instead, it has curves on its hood resembling those on a race car, and in between them is a green thunderbird, which would be cool if it wasn't peeling off like a sticker as soon as I got the laptop. The MSI Alpha 15's hinge features a hint of MSI red, with glossy, red lines forming a wide V at the center.
The interior contrasts with the exterior by covering the deck in dark gray, which looks nice when combined with the per-key RGB-lit keyboard. While the per-key lighting is a rare find on a sub-$1,000 gaming laptop, the lighting could be brighter. There are dedicated buttons above the keyboard for the power, keyboard lighting and fans.
At 14.1 x 9.8 x 1.1 inches and 5 pounds, the MSI Alpha 15 is a bit chunky for a 15-inch laptop. It was closer in size to the Lenovo Legion Y545 (14.2 x 10.5 x 1~1.1 inches, 5.3 pounds) than the HP Gaming Pavilion 15-dk0046nr (14.2 x 10.1 x 0.9 inches, 4.9 pounds) and the Asus ROG Zephyrus G GA502 (14.2 x 9.9 x 0.8 inches, 4.5 pounds).
MSI Alpha 15 (A3DDK) ports
There are enough ports on the MSI Alpha 15 to satisfy most gamers.
The left side features a security lock slot, an RJ45 Ethernet port, an HDMI port, a mini DisplayPort, one USB 3.1 port, one USB Type-C port, a headphone jack and a microphone jack. The right side has a power jack, an SD card slot and two USB 3.1 ports.
MSI Alpha 15 (A3DDK) display
For a gaming laptop just under $1,000, the MSI Alpha's 15.6-inch, 1080p display is great, as it's relatively colorful and bright. It also features a 144Hz refresh rate as well as AMD FreeSync, which is fancy tech that's designed to eliminate screen tearing in-game by syncing the refresh rates between the display and the GPU.
In the Mulan trailer, the titular character's blemished metal armor was held together by woven crimson fabrics that screamed bloody murder on the Alpha 15's screen. When Mulan and her father were conversing in their dimly lit home, the red and blue objects in the background were visible, albeit out of focus. In the same scene, Tzi Ma's wrinkles and pores were very detailed.
In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the contrast between the lush greenery and Lara Croft's blue shirt immediately caught my attention. Despite being under the shadows, the leaves that grew over the mountainous range were defined. Lara's silky brown hair was incredibly sharp, as I could see each strand coming off of her head.
According to our colorimeter, the Alpha 15's display covered 107% of the sRGB color gamut, which crushes the 77% entry-level-gaming-laptop average. It is also the only gaming laptop that rose to the triple digits, surpassing the Legion Y545 (99%), the Pavilion 15 (66%) and the Zephyrus G (71%).
At 311 nits of brightness, the Alpha 15's panel once again toppled the competition, including the category average (272 nits). The Legion Y545 (300 nits), Pavilion 15 (241 nits) and Zephyrus G (240 nits) all had dimmer screens.
MSI Alpha 15 (A3DDK) keyboard and touchpad
Click-click-clacking on the MSI Alpha 15's keyboard was satisfying, as its keys offered smooth feedback and decent travel.
I nailed 79 words per minute on the 10fastfingers.com typing test, soaring above my usual 70-wpm average. The keys offered a good amount of resistance and were relatively clicky for an entry-level gaming laptop.
I was also happy to see that the keyboard had per-key RGB lighting. You can customize your keyboard lighting via the SteelSeries Engine 3 app. You can easily change the lighting by using the button on the keyboard or manually changing each key in the app. There are also presets you can edit, like Rainbow Split, Freeway and Aqua.
The 4.3 x 2.4-inch touchpad was relatively smooth, but the discrete buttons were a little stiff. But Windows 10 gestures, like three-finger tabbing and two-finger scrolling, were smooth and responsive, thanks to the Windows Precision drivers.
MSI Alpha 15 (A3DDK) audio
The audio from the Alpha 15's speakers was like the result of someone shoving the cheapest Bluetooth speaker they bought on Amazon inside a tin can. The opening guitar riff of Sum 41's "The Hell Song" was shallow and soft, while the power chords just sounded like straight noise. The cymbals were appropriately sharp in the background, but overall, there wasn't enough impact. The vocals were supermellow and should've been much brighter.
In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Lara's footsteps sounded crinkly and hollow, as opposed to thick and sturdy, against the stone steps of the tomb I was exploring. Even when I launched an arrow at the wall, the resulting snap was weak, not offering enough bass to give it a punch. The drums that played in the background of this particular puzzle moment also suffered because of the absence of quality bass.
- The best computer speakers available now
Even with the Nahimic audio app, the sound wasn't great. The app includes four presets: Music, Movie, Communication and Gaming. Within each preset are settings for surround sound, volume stabilizer, voices, bass and treble.
MSI Alpha 15 (A3DDK) games, graphics and VR
My weapon? The MSI Alpha 15's AMD Radeon RX5500M GPU with 4GB of VRAM. My target? Middle-earth: Shadow of War (Ultra, 1080p). The result? 66 frames per second displaying a group of bad-mouth orcs that I seamlessly dismembered with a sword in one hand and beat to a pulp with Celebrimbor's hammer in the other.
On the Shadow of the Tomb Raider benchmark (Highest, 1080p), the MSI Alpha 15 averaged 35 fps, surpassing the 27-fps entry-level-gaming-laptop average. Though the Alpha 15 managed to beat the Pavilion 15's Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 GPU (31 fps), it faltered against the GTX 1660 Ti in the Legion Y545 (50 fps) and the Zephyrus G (36 fps).
The Alpha 15 ranked similarly on the Hitman benchmark (Ultra, 1080p), reaching 72 fps. That beats the matching 57 fps from the category average and the Pavilion 15. However, the Legion Y545 (95 fps) and the Zephyrus G (73 fps) topped the Alpha 15.
On the Grand Theft Auto V test (Very High, 1080p), the Alpha 15 scored 41 fps, once again sliding past the entry-level-gaming-laptop average (36 fps) and the Pavilion 15 (39 fps). The Legion Y545 and the Zephyrus hit a much higher 62 fps and 57 fps, respectively.
Don't count the Alpha 15 out on VR, because it nailed 8.2 out of 11 on the SteamVR Performance Test, crushing the category average (5.8) and the Pavilion 15 (5.9). The Lenovo Legion Y545 wasn't too far ahead with 8.6, but this time, the Zephyrus G beat them all with 9.2.
MSI Alpha 15 (A3DDK) performance
Packed underneath the MSI Alpha 15's deck is an AMD Ryzen 7-3750H processor with 16GB of RAM that juggled 40 Google Chrome tabs and five 1080p YouTube videos while Shadow of the Tomb Raider ran in the background. But despite its real-world performance, the Alpha 15 didn’t do as well on our synthetic benchmark tests.
On the Geekbench 4.3 overall performance test, the Alpha 15 scored 13,980, tumbling below the 15,302 entry-level-gaming-laptop average. The Alpha 15 came close to the Zephyrus G, which has the same CPU. But both laptops were crushed by their Intel alternative: the Core i7-9750H CPU in the Legion Y545 (23,868) and Pavilion 15 (21,326).
The Alpha 15 took 14 minutes and 51 seconds to transcode a 4K video to 1080p on our HandBrake benchmark, falling short of the category average (14:32) and the Zephyrus G (14:23). It didn't even come close to the Legion Y545 (8:51) or the Pavilion 15 (10:42).
MSI's 512GB NVMe SSD copied 4.97GB of data in 10.5 seconds, for a rate of 485 megabytes per second. That tops the entry-level-gaming-laptop average (337 MBps), and it left the Legion Y545's 128GB SSD (189 MBps), the Pavilion 15's 256GB SSD (351 MBps) and the Zephyrus G's 512GB SSD (424 MBps) in the dust.
MSI Alpha 15 (A3DDK) battery life
While gaming laptops have a reputation for poor battery life, that's simply not the case anymore. Power-hungry RTX machines such as the Razer Blade 15 (2019) and the Gigabyte Aero 17 HDR have been able to get over 5 hours of battery life, so that leaves less-demanding laptops like the MSI Alpha 15 with no excuse.
When the Alpha 15 continuously surfed the web over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness, its battery died after 3 hours and 55 minutes, which is more than 1 hour short of the 5:15 average for entry-level gaming laptops. The Legion Y545 (3:38) did worse, but the Zephyrus G (4:48) and the Pavilion 15 (5:26) lasted longer.
MSI Alpha 15 (A3DDK) webcam
While I am happy that MSI managed to fit a tiny webcam on a superthin top bezel, the 720 shooter isn't great.
It managed colors well enough, highlighting the green in my shirt and the red in a co-worker's shirt behind me. However, the entire ceiling was blown out because of the lights. My hair was not only blurry but also pixelated, so it basically looked like a pile of mush. If you're going to stream or get into content creation, we recommend checking out our best external laptop webcams page.
MSI Alpha 15 (A3DDK) heat
The MSI Alpha 15 stays relatively cool. After I played Shadow of the Tomb Raider for 15 minutes, the underside of the chassis hit its hottest point of 117 degrees Fahrenheit, which is over our 95-degree comfort threshold. However, it only ever felt warm to the touch thanks to the plastic. The center of the keyboard and touchpad measured 103 and 85 degrees, respectively.
On our basic heat test, in which we stream a 15-inch 1080p video, the underside reached 86 degrees, the keyboard hit 85 degrees and the touchpad measured 76 degrees.
MSI Alpha 15 (A3DDK) software and warranty
MSI's Dragon Center is one of the best gaming software around. Within the latest version of the app, you can customize the performance level and fan speed of your laptop to get the most power out of your machine. You can also monitor the usage of your CPU, storage, memory, fans and even Wi-Fi. There's a Gaming Mode and a Creator Mode that you can use to prioritize power to specific apps, including games or creation apps such as Photoshop.
MSI also includes third-party apps such as ColorDirector 5, AudioDirector 7, PhotoDirector 10 and PowerDirector 17. Best of all, there's very little Windows 10 bloatware.
The MSI Alpha 15 does all right for a $999 gaming laptop. It boasts a solid graphics card; a colorful, 144Hz display that puts the competition to shame; and a comfortable keyboard with rare per-key lighting. However, its AMD CPU doesn't perform as well as its Intel-laden opponents. Plus, the battery life is a little short, and the speakers are weak.
For the same price, you can get the Lenovo Legion Y545, which will net you better performance, great speakers and a more understated design.
However, overall, the Alpha 15 is a solid choice if you're looking for an Intel-alternative gaming laptop.