One would think that in the laptop manufacturing world a 14" system with a gaming capable GPU was simply taboo. The offerings in this class are limited at best and, in most cases, do not offer the flexibility to configure the system to exact specifications. Thankfully, with the release of the MSI MS-1022, the options available have broadened. Apparently, someone at MSI was listening to the plaintive cries of laptop users who craved a smaller form factor laptop that didn't suffer from an acute case of GPU anemia.
The MS-1022 arrived on US shores about 2 weeks ago and did so amidst a great deal of speculation. Conflicting reports of the system's specifications were posited by various sources but now, with system in hand, I am able to report on the final release version of this highly anticipated laptop.
Fully configured, the MS-1022 comes in at a hair under 5lbs (4.95lbs) which is impressive for a system with the following credentials:
- Support for Pentium M Processors (Dothan/Sonoma)
- Support for up to 2GB DDR2 (400/533) using 2 SODIMM slots
- 14" Widescreen WXGA Glossy LCD
- Integrated Bluetooth
- Nvidia GeForce Go 6200 w/128MB Turbo Cache
- 5-in-1 Media Card Reader
Now that we know what's under the hood, the question remains, "does the MS-1022 represent a powerful new entrant in the thin and light class which is worthy of serious consideration?"
14" WXGA+ Glossy LCD (1280 x 768)
Pentium M 760 (2.0GHz 533MHz FSB)
1GB DDR2 533 (2 x 512MB Supertalent)
100GB 5400RPM Hitachi Hard Drive
8X Dual Layer/Format DVDRW
Intel Pro Wireless 2915 (802.11a/b/g)
6 Cell Li-Ion Battery
Chassis Design and Build Quality:
I have been suitably impressed with the build quality of MSI’s entire line of laptops and the MS-1022 is no exception. Much like the MS-1029 and MS-1032 (among a few others), the MS-1022 is constructed from a combination of aluminum alloy and ABS plastic. The underside of the system uses an aluminum alloy which provides a good deal of structural rigidity, virtually eliminating chassis flex. The LCD, though mounted in a plastic housing, is surprisingly flex free. Perhaps it is a product of the smaller screen but closing the lid with one hand from either corner does not result in any bending. Pressing on the plastic on the back of the LCD will result in screen “rippling” if enough pressure is applied, however, I felt the protection was more than adequate.
The MS-1022’s keyboard is a pleasure to type on and a significant improvement over the vagueness exhibited by the keyboard in the MS-1029. The keyboard is also much quieter than the MS-1029’s. The unit tested did exhibit a modest (and I do mean modest) amount of flex on the right-hand side of the keyboard though other units did not demonstrate the same flex.
From a design perspective I would consider the MS-1022 to be “stylishly understated”. The now familiar charcoal (near black) color is used liberally with silver accents used sparingly. The system is impressively thin and feels deceptively lighter than its actual weight making it an ideal system for those on the go.
Let’s make no mistake, the Nvidia GeForce Go 6200 used in the MS-1022 is not a graphics powerhouse, but it’s no slouch either, especially for a laptop of this size. For those folks looking to have a lightweight laptop that will handle last generation games at medium settings and newer ones with the “eye candy” turned way down, the MS-1022 is equal to the task. The GPU comes stock clocked at 300 core and 600 memory and there was significant headroom for overclocking. Using Coolbits a stable overclock (w/ no artifacts or tearing) of 385 core and 755 memory was achieved. All benchmarks were run using the drivers provided on MSI’s driver/utility disc and results are provided below.
Sisoft Sandra benchmarks were performed for the CPU, memory and file system to ensure that there were no unusual bottlenecks or degraded performance. No such deviations were found from what could be expected from the same components in a system with similar chipset.
Stock Core & Clock
The MSI MS-1022’s glossy type 14” WXGA LCD is spectacular in all regards. Colors are vivid, contrast is good if not excellent and brightness is astonishing. In fact, default brightness might be considered to be too bright by some so adjusting the settings might be advisable (colors will look a bit more washed out at the highest brightness). Viewing angles were quite good with glare in a well lit rooming affecting visibility before the screen actually began to wash out. That being said, we found that the MS-1022’s glossy screen was not nearly as reflective as that of the MS-1029.
With MSI’s System Control Manager (SCM) set to “High Battery Performance”, screen brightness set to 30% (1 tick below the default for the SCM profile) and WiFi on, Windows XP reported 3 hours and 15 minutes remaining. A rundown test was also performed while viewing a DVD with the same SCM and brightness settings but WiFi off and the system lasted for 2 hours and 15 minutes before Windows forced standy. All in all, these results are not exemplary nor disappointing for a system with these specifications and a 6 cell battery.
During times of continuous and heavy disk access some warming could be detected on the right palmrest over the hard drive. “Detected” is the most appropriate word as the warming was nominal at best. The underside of the system stays quite cool making it perfectly comfortable for use on one’s lap for an extended period (being careful not to block the intake vent which is locked on the bottom of the unit). Warm air from the CPU and GPU exhausts out the back of the system so there should be no discomfort for either left or right-handed mouse users.
The MSI MS-1022’s sound was surprisingly crisp and clear which is most likely owing to the Azalia compliant audio solution. Volume was also more than adequate. Midrange and bass are, however, nearly non-existent which is to be expected in most laptops of this form factor, if not larger.
For those laptop users who are in search of a lightweight system which will feed their video game addiction when they must be away from their beloved desktop gaming rig, the MSI MS-1022 might well fit the bill (albeit with significantly reduced settings and FPS). Overall I found little to complain about in this system as the build quality was up to the standards MSI has quickly become known for, the keyboard was responsive, comfortable and quiet, the system ran cool even under load and the LCD was sharp and vivid. I feel no compunction whatsoever highly recommending this thin and light laptop system.
Graphics performance (relative to form factor)
Runs cool and quiet (though fan is on at all times)
Low system weight (relative to form factor)
USB ports located on the left and right at the very front of the system (not ideal for connecting various peripherals)
Trackpad mouse click buttons are a tad on the small side