With the PS42 8RB, MSI is taking a bold step away from its gaming roots and diving into a competitive segment dominated by giants like Apple and Microsoft. Its new thin and lightweight ultrabook is designed for creators, a broad group every laptop manufacturer is trying to win over.
The PS42 8RB is an interesting, and mostly successful, debut. Looking beyond its polarizing design, this 14-inch machine is one of the most compact devices you can purchase with a dedicated GPU. It has an excellent range of ports for business professionals, and the display is both sharp and vivid.
But for $1,300, you can do better. Short battery life, poor speakers and a dismal webcam make it difficult for us to recommend the PS42 ahead of other ultrabooks at this price.
MSI PS42 8RB Price and Configuration Options?
Our $1,299 review unit packs an Intel Core i7-8550U CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD along with a dedicated GeForce MX150 GPU for gaming.
If you want to save money, you can opt for the $899 base model. But it has lower specs across the board, including a Core i5-8250U CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and integrated graphics. A $1,099 midtier model doubles the storage of the base model and bumps the graphics back up to a GeForce MX150 GPU.
The PS42 is the DeLorean of laptops: sleek, brash and definitely not for everyone. The ultraportable's design has a sleek aluminum exterior, but opening the lid reveals an interior filled with unique design cues, some of which will transport you back to the future.
Between the centered circular power button and the LED indicators on the deck, this thin and lightweight laptop is the sort of device you'd find in an '80s sci-fi film in which the director predicted what future gadgets would look like based on the products of the time.
I'm a fan of the look, but not everyone will be. The laptop's silver lid has a swanky brushed- aluminum finish topped with MSI's Lamborghini-like dragon logo. A keyboard with white backlighting and Tron-like font spans the width of the compact deck next to three white LED indicators for power, charging and Wi-Fi status.
A faint white Prestige logo sits below the keyboard above an oddly shaped, chrome-trimmed touchpad. There is also an eye-catching rectangular vent that surrounds the circular power button on the top of the deck.
The durability of the PS42 is a mixed bag. The aggressively shaped hinges do a good job keeping the lid from wobbling, but I noticed that the deck flexed considerably when I pressed down on the keyboard. Also, the laptop's aluminum surfaces don't feel as premium as those on other metal laptops we've tested.
The edge-to-edge display keeps the overall footprint of the PS42 to a minimum, but competing ultrabooks are smaller. At 12.6 x 8.7 x 0.6 inches and 2.6 pounds, the PS42 has a bigger footprint than the 14-inch MateBook X Pro (12 x 8.5 x 0.6 inches, 2.9 pounds), but it doesn't weigh as much.
The same goes for the Asus ZenBook 13 UX331UN (12.2 x 8.5 x 0.5 inches, 2.7 pounds). However, the razor-thin HP Spectre 13 is both more compact (12 x 8.8 x 0.4 inches) and lighter (2.4 pounds) than the PS42.
Next to the LED indicators on the left side of the chassis are a headphone/mic jack, a second USB Type-C port and an HDMI. The PS42 charges via a standard power jack.
The PS42's 14-inch, non-touch 1080p display is detailed and vivid, but those qualities are constrained by a low maximum brightness.
When I watched a trailer teasing the upcoming live-action film Aladdin, the ornate gilding on the magic oil lamp that contains the whimsical blue Genie shimmered in a dimly lit cave. And the bright and rich red vest worn by Alladin stood out in the dark setting.
A trailer for the indie sci-fi film Prospect also looked great on this IPS panel. Seeing the knobs, switches and dials in the background of a lab scene made me appreciate the film's attention to detail. The turquoise-and-red suit worn by actress Sophie Thatcher provided a pop of color on the muted, ominous planet in which the film is set.
The PS42's panel covers 116 percent of the sRGB color gamut, making it less colorful than the MateBook X Pro (124 percent) and the ZenBook 13 (119 percent), but more vivid than the Spectre 13 (111 percent) and the premium category average (114 percent).
The PS42's screen registered an average of 243 nits of maximum brightness. That's dim compared with the premium laptop average (311 nits). The MateBook X Pro topped the brightness charts (458 nits) and ZenBook 13 was also more luminous (296 nits) than the PS42. The PS42, at least, got brighter than the HP Spectre 13 (247 nits). Because it has a matte finish, the PS42's display is still visible under bright conditions.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The island-style keyboard on the MSI PS42 provided a comfortable typing experience despite having shallow keys.
Although the backlit keyboard's 0.9 millimeters of key travel falls well short of our preferred 1.5mm, it makes up for it with an ideal actuation force of 72 grams. Clicky feedback and well-spaced, full-size keys make the MSI P42's keyboard one of the snappiest I've used on a laptop this slim.
Low key travel aside, I do have a few minor qualms with the PS42's keyboard. For one, there isn't enough contrast between the translucent font and the silver key caps. Also, I noticed a bit of flex in the chassis when I smashed down hard toward the center of the keyboard.
I scored 111 words per minute on the 10fastfingers.com typing test, above my 109 wpm average. Because of the slick, shallow keys, I ended up making more errors than normal, with an accuracy rate of 91 percent compared with my typical 95 percent.
MORE: Best Hard Drive Speed
Adding to the quirkiness of this laptop is the touchpad, which has a flat bottom and curved top corners, making it look like a slice of bread. Awkwardness aside, I had no issues using the small, 3.8 x 2.2-inch touchpad to navigate Windows 10 using gestures like pinch-to-zoom, three-finger swipe to open apps and two-finger scrolling. An oblong fingerprint sensor is poorly positioned in the top-left corner of the touchpad for faster, more secure login.
When cranked to max volume, the bottom-firing speakers on the PS42 8RB get loud enough to fill a medium-size room, but you'll be doing a disservice to your ears. When I listened to Death Cab for Cutie's "Northern Lights" at maximum volume, Ben Gibbard's vocals sounded veiled and distorted. Lowering the volume improved clarity, but the pop/alternative song remained hollow and lifeless.
When I switched tunes to Kanye West's emotional ballad "Street Lights," the thudding drum rhythm in the background sounded more like someone knocking on a wooden door than a hammering rumble. West's synthesized voice was clear, albeit, hollow.
You can adjust the speaker's surround-sound effect using the included Nahimic software, but it won't improve the quality of the speakers.
The MSI PS42 was very fast and stable in our rest-world performance test, which involved loading 20 Google Chrome tabs. Even when I played four 1080p videos -- two on YouTube and another pair on Twitch -- the laptop never stuttered. I typically notice lag when switching between tabs under such a heavy workload, but the MSI was as smooth as silk.
However, our review unit, which came equipped with an Intel Core i7-8550U CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD, landed mixed results on our lab tests. The PS42 scored an 8,748 on the Geekbench 4 overall performance test. That result is significantly worse than what the MateBook X Pro (Core i7-8550U, 13,769), the ZenBook 13 (Core i5-8250U, 12,999) and the HP Spectre 13 (Core i7-8550U, 13,090) achieved. The premium laptop average (12,533) is more than 30 percent higher than the PS42.
The 512GB M.2 SATA SSD inside the PS42 didn't perform well, either. It needed 31 seconds to duplicate 4.97GB of mixed-media files for a rate of 164 megabytes per second. Again, the MateBook X Pro (512GB NVMe PCIe SSD, 282.7 MBps), the ZenBook 13 (203.6 MBps, 256GB SSD) and the Spectre 13 (339.3 MBps, 256GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD) handily outpaced the MSI. The premium laptop average (484.1 MBps) is nearly three times faster.
Having matched 65,000 names with their corresponding addresses in 1 minute and 38 seconds, the PS42 8RB topped the MateBook X Pro (1:49) on our Excel Macro Test, but fell short of the premium laptop average (1:28). The ZenBook 13 dominated the competition (1:10).
The MSI redeemed itself on one of our tougher tests, taking just 20 minutes to convert a 4K video into 1080p resolution using the HandBrake app. The MateBook X Pro (27:18) took significantly longer to complete the same task, and the ZenBook 13 (23:02) and the average premium laptop (20:06) also lagged behind.
MSI did what it does best by blowing away the competition in our gaming tests. The PS42 is one of the most portable laptops with a dedicated GPU, which enables it to play most modern titles at low-to-medium settings.
The Nvidia GeForce MX150-equipped PS42 scored a 125,326 on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited graphics test, trouncing the Spectre 13 (UHD Graphics 620; 75,114) and narrowly topping the MateBook X Pro (GeForce MX150; 116,359) and the ZenBook 13 UX331UN (GeForce MX150; 115,880). The premium laptop average is 90,387.
The PS42 8RB also did well in our real-world tests. The laptop played the racing game Dirt 3 at a smooth 132 frames per second. The Spectre 13 (57 fps) and premium laptop average (77 fps) were far behind, and even the other GeForce MX150-equipped laptops -- the MateBook X Pro (117 fps) and the ZenBook 13 (114 fps) -- couldn't keep up.
The biggest shortcoming of the PS42 8RB is its battery life. Lasting only 6 hours and 22 minutes on our Laptop Mag Battery Test (Continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness), the PS42 powered down hours before the MateBook X Pro (9:55) and the ZenBook 13 (9:11). The MS42 had better endurance than the short-lived Spectre 13 (5:16), but it fell well short of the premium laptop average (8:13).
The MSI PS42's webcam is borderline useless. As Dell's XPS laptops have proved, dropping the webcam below the display just isn't practical. Alas, that's where the camera resides on the MSI PS42.
Because of its orientation, taking a selfie with the 720p snapper is a nuisance. With the lid in a natural, 90-degree position, the camera aimed directly at my chest and cut off most of my face. I had to push the display back another 45 degrees or so to get the camera to look up at me. At that point, the webcam got a nice view of the inside of my nose, at least, when the lens wasn't blocked by my fingers.
Nonetheless, the image captured by the webcam is sharp, albeit not bright enough to accurately capture colors. The gray lines in my black plaid shirt were nonexistent and my shadow-covered face looked menacing from the awkward angle.
As a gaming laptop brand, MSI knows a thing or two about heat management. Unfortunately, the dual-exhaust setup on the PS42 doesn't quite cut it. The center of the hinge reached a toasty 109 degrees after playing a 15-minute full-screen HD video. The underside, at 98 degrees, also topped our 95-degree comfort threshold.
The touchpad (78 degrees) and the center of the keyboard (88 degrees), at least, remained at a manageable temperature under the heavy workload.
Software and Warranty
The MSI PS42 is teeming with preinstalled software, most of which you won't need. MSI brings the True Color app, which lets you adjust the display's brightness and color temperature or select from six presets, including Gamer, Anti-Blue, sRGB, Designer, Office and Movie. There is also the MSI Dragon Center, which is a more granular version of the Windows Task Manager. A Battery Calibration app, Nahimic audio software and support tools also come courtesy of MSI.
A dozen or so third-party apps take up precious storage space. Included among the bloatware is Norton Security Scan, Candy Crush Saga, Evernote, Hidden City and Music Maker Jam, to name a few.
The PS42 8RB is a work in progress, but a solid first effort, nonetheless. The thin and lightweight laptop has a stylish design, a vivid display and a wide range of ports. The best thing it has going for it is the dedicated GeForce MX150 GPU. While the graphics card doesn't provide the raw gaming power of other MSI machines, it still blows away the ultrabook competition.
However, competing laptops offer more for the money. The MateBook X Pro costs a bit more, but you get a GeForce MX150 GPU along with a 3K touch screen display and almost 10 hours of battery life. The ZenBook 13 UX331UN is another good option, with a bright, vivid display and more than 9 hours of battery life. Ultimately, these laptops give you everything the PS42 has to offer, but with longer endurance.
Still, if you were worried about MSI straying from its gaming roots, don't be. The PS42 is a reassuring mainstream debut for MSI, and hopefully the sign of a bright future.
Credit: Laptop Mag