Sneak Preview: MSI Summit Tiger Lake-powered business laptop

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A laptop computer sits triumphant on a desk.

Specs at a glance: MSI Summit E14, as tested
OS Windows 10 Pro
CPU 3.0GHz 4-core Intel i7-1185G7 (4.8GHz turbo)
RAM 32GB LPDDR4
GPU Nvidia GTX 1650Ti MaxQ
SSD 1TB Western Digital SN370 NVMe
Battery 52.4Wh 3-cell LiOn
Wi-Fi Intel AX201 Wi-Fi 6
Display 14-inch 1080p IPS
Camera 720p, top bezel mounted
Connectivity
  • one USB-A 2.0 port
  • two Thunderbolt 4/USB-C 4 ports (power delivery support)
  • 3.5mm phone/mic combo jack
  • one microSD card slot
  • fingerprint reader
Price as tested expected retail ~$1,800

Last month, we got a look at one of Intel’s engineering prototype laptops for its new Tiger Lake CPU family. We still don’t have any production Tiger Lake laptops to test, but as of today we’re one step closer with an MSI Summit sales/engineering sample. MSI provided the sample to us mostly for a “photo opportunity,” but they graciously allowed benchmarking as long as we clearly marked the tests as being on a preproduction sample unit.

This model, marked as a sales sample, seems to be a prototype of what will be the Summit E14-087. Our MSI representative warned us that some hardware tuning and details may change between now and launch but confirmed that the chassis itself is exactly as it will be in production. In particular, we expect the power tuning to change—MSI promotes the laptop as having a 10hr+ battery life, which we suspect will not be possible with the 28W cTDP our sample shipped with.

This is not a cheap laptop—we managed to find an early retail listing for this model, and it looks like it will sell for $1,800. However, the device is jampacked with high-end parts, including but not limited to Intel’s newest i7-1185G7 top-of-the-line processor and an Nvidia GTX 1650Ti MaxQ discrete GPU. The laptop also has a distinct, bold style that stands out from its competitors.

Overview

By the standards of gaming laptops, the Summit E-series’ styling is downright restrained. As business laptops go, however, it’s bold and funky. The most immediately noticeable styling standout is the font MSI used to label keys on the keyboard. Although it’s still sans serif, the font is noticeably lighter and more “artistic” than most keyboards’ labels, with a few other touches such as shift-labels (e.g., the @ on the 2 key) being offset diagonally rather than riding immediately above the main label.

In addition to the brightly backlit keys, an eye-catching bronze trim rings around the touchpad. The rest of the laptop is a matte, light-drinking carbon black, with only a small gray MSI logo to relieve it; this makes the unusual keyboard and touchpad stand out even more.

Functionally, the E14’s standout design feature is a 180-degree hinge. This angle also serves to elevate the keyboard (and provide room for cooling airflow) at a comfortable angle, even in a “normal” open position.

The last unusual note about the E14’s design is the only one we really don’t like—the bottom panel, which is also the source of airflow for the E14. Instead of traditional vent openings, the E14 relies on heavy perforation in the rough shape of a city skyline to allow air to flow in and out of the laptop.

The bottom panel is thin plastic, and it feels hard and brittle when removed from the laptop itself. We have concerns about the greater “open” area exposed to potential spills as compared to traditional designs, and we have concerns about the long-term durability of the panel itself.

Although the Summit E14 is long on style, it’s desperately short on ports—there is no video out, no Kensington lock slot, and no dedicated power jack. The left side features two Thunderbolt 4/USB type-C ports; the right side has a single USB 2.0 type-A, a microSD card slot, and a 3.5mm audio combo jack. We expect most users to consider a small USB type-C dock to be a necessity with this laptop—for video out, if for nothing else.

Although the NVMe SSD and Wi-Fi 6 card are properly M.2 socketed and upgradeable, the RAM for the E14 is soldered to the motherboard. This isn’t much of a problem with the model we tested, which came with 32GiB onboard—but it may prove more of a sticking point for users who opt for the other Summit E14 model, which features a 4K display but only 16GiB RAM.

BETA Performance testing

Remember, this Summit E14 is an engineering/sales sample, not a production unit—and our MSI rep asked us to make very certain our readers know that. Some details of configuration or even hardware may change between this sample and final retail units. For example, we strongly suspect that the production systems will be 15W cTDP and not 28W cTDP as our sample unit was—which will significantly decrease performance numbers while significantly increasing battery life.

With that said, this laptop looks like it should be a pretty strong performer. At the 28W cTDP we see here, it seems nearly even with the Intel reference system—which isn’t a real surprise, given that the two systems share a CPU. But it does confirm that the E14 doesn’t have any cooling problems that would decrease its CPU performance. We suspect the final performance will be dead even with the Intel prototype’s at 15W, though, not at 28W. As configured, the E14 did not even come close to its stated 10+ hour battery life.

With single-threaded performance, the advantages of the Summit’s Tiger Lake CPU stand out more clearly—particularly in Passmark and Geekbench 5. Better yet, single-threaded performance on the i7-1185G7 doesn’t take much of a hit when the cTDP is lowered. Although it can and does routinely hit the 28W cTDP even on one thread, it spends more time in single-threaded benchmarking at around 20W TDP.

We can see the Summit’s intent to live with one foot in each of the business and gaming worlds in 3DMark Time Spy tests, in which the system’s GTX 1650Ti MaxQ discrete GPU roughly doubles the integrated Iris Xe GPU’s performance. It’s still no match for the considerably bigger and badder GTX 2060 MaxQ in the ASUS ROG G14 we tested earlier this year—but its fans don’t spin up to the point of wondering if the laptop will lift off the desk and fly across the room, either.

In the less-demanding Night Raid test—aimed at systems with integrated graphics—the lead between the GTX 1650Ti MaxQ and Iris Xe graphics is less impressive. This is mostly a testament to just how stellar Iris Xe is as an integrated GPU. Unfortunately, we had to go by the Intel prototype’s numbers for Night Raid on Iris Xe—the Summit sample errored out consistently on this test.

Finally, the Western Digital NVMe SSD performs like an absolute champ, roughly doubling the performance of the Samsung P991 NVMe SSD in our Ryzen 7 4700U-powered Acer Swift 3 laptop across the board.

Conclusions

The Summit E14 is a business laptop, but its gaming roots are undeniable. That includes everything from its unusually bold styling choices to the discrete GTX 1650Ti MaxQ GPU—which doesn’t seem likely to be useful for anything except gaming, given how stellar the Tiger Lake Iris Xe integrated GPU’s performance is already.

At $1,800 expected retail, this is a pricey system—and while we like most of it, we’re casting some serious side-eye at its thin plastic bottom panel. This material seems less forgivable in a premium-priced system than it might in one aimed at lower budgets. That $1,800, on the other hand, does buy you some fairly serious gaming performance without any accompanying tornado fans like a more serious gaming laptop burdens you with.

We don’t have a final availability date for the Summit series yet, but you should broadly expect Summits to show up in stores and online later this quarter.

The Good

  • The Tiger Lake CPU is a strong performer, particularly in single or lightly multithreaded applications
  • Fan noise is noticeable but not outrageous
  • We love the stand-out styling cues on the keyboard, and we dig the 180-degree display hinge
  • Nice to have an extra Thunderbolt 4/USB type-C port in addition to the one occupied by the charger
  • We were pleasantly surprised by the Western Digital SSD’s high performance
  • Intel Wi-Fi 6

The Bad

  • The price seems a little steep—although, for $200 more than an XPS 13, you get an Nvidia GPU thrown in for gaming
  • The 200-nit display may strike some users as not being bright enough for a premium laptop

The Ugly

  • Although it’s not something most users will notice, we’re worried about durability and impact/weight resistance of the thin plastic bottom panel
  • Production tuning will need to accomplish quite a lot to get the system up to 10+ hours of battery life on the 52.4Wh battery
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