MSI PS42-8RB (Intel Core i7, 8GB RAM, GeForce MX150) Review – a compact work laptop that ticks almost all the boxes

Much of my delight in using the MSI PS42-8RB has to do with how light it is, how great the color-vivid matte display is (even outdoors), and how seamlessly the laptop can “switch” from video marathon device to long writing and Photoshop workstation. It’s MSI’s first attempt at an “ultrabook” and is meant primarily for content creators. It’s not perfect, but it’s almost there.

The PS42 comes in three variants. Our review unit is the middle one, the PS42-8RB. Let’s do this.

Design, Build, and Portability

Weighing only 1.19kg and being only 15.9mm thick, the entire laptop is lighter than it looks. I carried it around the house like a thick, metal-cold clipboard, letting me get more work done wherever I sat with it. When I first carried it in my backpack, I had to double check if it was actually there, because of the deceptive weight difference. You’re going to bring this laptop with you wherever you go, promise. On that note, you may want to buy a cushioned sleeve for the PS42 to guard against scuffs, bumps, and drops – even though it’s surprisingly resistant to scratches in my few weeks of use.

The PS42’s predominantly aluminum body is solid and sturdy, light and lean, but this boxy and shiny silver design is not for everyone, especially if you prefer a conservative look. But I’m thinking this no-frills approach is what allowed MSI to avoid compromising the ports, keyboard, thermals, and battery life (more on each below) – aspects often problematic for some thin and light notebooks. After all, MSI wasn’t gunning for thinnest, lightest, and prettiest but comfortable for long use and completely functional.

Compact and modern. While the Lenovo Ideapad 310-14 (left) and the MSI PS42-8RB (right) have the same display size diameter (14 inches), the PS42’s lack of top and side bezels make for a more compact, tight, and easy to bring build. Yes, the Lenovo here is a budget laptop and is in this pic only for design comparison purposes. 

No one will mistake the PS42 for a Macbook Air clone but that super vivid and nearly bezel-less display (more on that later) will keep turning heads at cafes and wherever you find yourself working – it’s just that good.

A few times, I had to hand over the laptop to friends to convince them that the PS42 was not made of plastic. In their hands, they knew it was metal. They still couldn’t wrap their heads around how light it was, which clued me in on how heavy their office-issue and installment-bought work laptops were.

The overall look, and even the fonts on the keys, are not like what you see on more pedestrian-looking laptops. Also, note the absence of stickers on the left palm rest area. That’s because all those stickers are at the bottom of the laptop. 

Here’s a nice touch. On the left side of the keyboard are 3 neatly placed indicator lights: power, battery, and WiFi. Small touches like this are appreciated.

If you have to nitpick, there’s some minor wobble on the display, and some flex when you press down on the keyboard’s center and on the grille flanking the power button – but none of these are causes for worry. Despite nitpicks, carrying the laptop around (with the lid open or closed) gives no impression of a flimsy plastic build. It feels solid in your hand, and that’s reassuring.

Display

No two ways about it, so here goes: the PS42’s matte 14-inch Full HD display is awesome: vivid colors, great contrast, excellent viewing angles (top, bottom, side to side), and assured comfy visibility even outdoors (the matte screen really helps). It’s not everyday that I get to use a matte display this bright and detail-crisp.

Yeah, I was mesmerized by that crisp display. 

The PS42 display covers 116 percent of the sRGB color gamut and registers 243 nits of maximum brightness. Both of these will make artists who prefer a matte display happy.

The top and side bezels are tiny (at only 5.7mm) giving you an illusion that it’s all screen – there’s a “fullness” to seeing photos and videos in their full screen glory. Then you notice the bezels below are thick enough to house the webcam and MSI logo. This makes me think the display could have maybe stretched to 14.5 inches. Perhaps in the next iteration?

Superb viewing angles. The Lenovo Ideapad 310-KB on the left already lost contrast and showed color shifts. The MSI PS42 on the right still delivers the visual goods. Of course it’s not fair to compare the PS42 to a budget laptop, I only want to show you how good the display is. 

That gorgeous display is not a touchscreen, but the highly responsive touchpad and right-most column of Page up and Down keys (more details below) on the keyboard help with document and onscreen navigation. I still occasionally touch the display though. But I’m not sure I’d like a touchscreen, because that would mean some screen wobble every time you tap or swipe.

With the lid closed, you can’t lift to open the lid (display) with one finger, which would have added oomph to having that awesome display. Awww. I would have loved that. But I do love the flat-on-the-table mode (with the display pushed far back) is great for carrying the laptop around like a clipboard.

Shiny in every angle. 

Oh, and the screen wakes up from sleep in 3-4 seconds.

Lastly, there’s a great feature called MSI True Color accessible by right-clicking on an empty space on the desktop. You can then either choose to Tune Display or select any of the color profiles available: Gamer (bright and color-balanced), Anti-Blue (night mode, for reading), sRGB (leans toward warmer hues), Designer (vivid colors), Office (bright and good contrast), and movie (with dynamic range slightly pulled up). When writing, I use the Office color profile. You can also access MSI True color via the icon tray menu near the clock, and accessing it there allows for fine tuning each profile.

Sound Quality

I love how loud the speakers are, even though they’re found under both sides of the laptop. I fired off cooking videos and movie trailers after first boot and the dialogue sounded clear and crisp. Usually, the volume at 80% is perfect (At 100% volume, however, audio starts to sound strained).

So yeah, decent quality and loud audio, plus that great display, make for an awesome video binging device. Just a note though, there’s not a lot of bass, to this untrained ear at least.

Keyboard

I enjoyed the full-sized keyboard – it’s not cramped, no keys are deformed (too small, too thin, or too big), there’s good travel (comfy despite being shallow), typing is quiet, and there are four levels of backlighting. You don’t have to press too hard on each key for it to register, so your long typing sessions won’t be a problem. I’m a touchtypist and love typing on the PS42’s keyboard.

For those long nights of working in the dark. The PS42 has 4 levels of backlighting. Above is the maxed out setting. 

The right side column of keys (Home, Page Up, Page Down, End) help with navigating your way up and down a webpage or a document. Old school people will like this. I do.

The palm rests don’t seem to get warm enough to be uncomfortable. So again, long typing is great. And the touchpad is so “accessible” when you’re a touchtypist (more on the touchpad below) – that’s because when your right index finger (pointy) is on the home row (the J key), your right thumb can effortlessly reach the touchpad’s center and swipe and tap as needed.

There are some very slight drawbacks though.

Good reason to have the Function key on the right side, instead of the usual left side: to control screen brightness, volume, and keyboard backlighting levels with just one hand. 

First, the left Alt key is a little too far to the left, so that doing an Alt+Tab can end up pressing Space+Tab. Overtime, I adjusted. Second, the Fn key is on the right side (got used to it quickly) and for good reason – so you can control, by pressing and holding Fn + relevant keys, screen brightness, volume, backlighting, etc.

Now, because the left Ctrl key is beside the Windows key, without a Fn key in between, you can easily press and hold Ctrl + Windows Key + Left or Right arrow key to move between virtual desktops. I loved this set up since my writing flow involves constantly switching between image folders and webpages and Photoshop and many open text editors.

Okay. The third very slight drawback is about backlighting. There’s not a lot of contrast between the silver keys and letter markings that light up. It’s a bit odd seeing the keys barely backlit under moderately lit environments, but when it’s really dark, there’s no problem; you can see the backlighting well.

Touchpad

I never found the touchpad wanting in any respect, even though it’s small and the fingerprint sensor is on the upper left part. It’s very responsive – no cursor jumps, and every swipe and tap is precise. It’s plastic, not glass, doesn’t feel cheap at all.

There are no physical left and right buttons on the touchpad’s bottom, but pressing on the lower right part (right click) and left part (left click) works. Now, the fingerprint sensor on the upper left side was never an issue for me. I coped. But if you’re used to moving your fingers on a very large touchpad, you may need to get used to it.

Overall, whether you’re a clicker or a tapper, the touchpad works superbly.

It’s really this light. And you won’t be scared of it bending the wrong way and damaging it. The PS42 has a solid build. 

More on the Fingerprint Sensor

Having fingerprint sensor login via Windows Hello means you won’t have to type in a PIN or password each time you log in. That’s super convenient on the PS42, especially when you just pulled it out of your bag and need to start work right away.

While I never had problems with accessing the fingerprint sensor, or even accidentally swiping on it, perhaps it would be better if it was found alongside or on top of the power button, which is dead center above the keyboard is naturally, visually, calling out. 

Ports

Everything is here – two Type A USB 3.1, two Type C’s, a full-sized SD Card, HDMI, mic-audio out. Everything content creators need, like that full-sized SD Card slot, which photographers and videographers complain about on most thin and light laptops that boast of being thin and therefore light on ports.

All the ports you need. Top: barrel charging port, HDMI, Type C (3.1), mic-audio combo jack. Bottom: lock, full-sized SD card, Type C (3.1), two Type A USB (3.1). 

It would have been great though if the Type C ports could also be used to charge the laptop, that way you can charge it with high ampere powerbanks. That way, MSI could do away with the barrel charging port altogether.

Lastly, and I was not able to test this: according to MSI, the PS42 Intel Core i7 variants (there are two) have a Type C USB port that can connect to an external GPU (for better experience in gaming and faster render times when editing videos) and a 4K monitor. That in itself makes the PS42 (the Core i7 variants) a kind of investment.

Performance

The mix of an 8th Gen Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, 512 SSD, and NVIDIA MX 150 (25 watts) meant no slow down or sluggishness the entire time we were using it – even with Chrome tabs reaching 20 while switching to VLC with a video playing and Photoshop and office documents open. This is clearly overpowered if all you do is light document work and lots of browsing and YouTube. But if you open 150-page position papers in Word and super heavy Excel files, plus you need Photoshop work done, then this is your laptop. Launching and switching between lots of apps and virtual desktops was fluid and smooth.

Work and Play. Here’s a good laptop on which to get things done, catch on those series you love, and play PC games. 

I’m not a avid PC gamer, but casual games during the course of this review included downloading and playing Modern Combat 5: Blackout with maxed out graphics. No problems despite setting max FPS to 60. I wasn’t able to do some video editing or super heavy graphic work during the course of the review, Swirling doesn’t process a lot of heavy photos.

But having a 25w MX 150 video card means you can really do some gaming on the side, without having to pull down the framerates embarrassingly low.

Battery Life

As I said in the opening, we got around 7 hours of abuse from the PS42’s 4 Cell, 50 Whr Lithium Polymer battery, and that’s with a mix of full-screen video watching in nearly always full brightness, browsing with so many Chrome tabs open, and multiple document work and Photoshop that require a few virtual desktops to make them manageable. Like I said, this is for content creators and workers.

The PS42 looks nothing like the usual Windows laptops with big bezels and a plastic body. 

Without videos and with only browsing and writing, with brightness at 50% and no backlit keyboard, I got longer usage time – about 8 hours. That battery life, upon consideration, is acceptable given that the PS42 variant we have has a dedicated 25w 2GB video card. Take note that individual usage may differ and may end up draining or prolonging the laptop’s battery life.

Stand by power on the PS42 is also excellent, as I ended up simply closing the lid and moving to another work place to continue where I left off. No embarrassing inexplicable power drains.

I still wish the PS42 had Type C ports that could take in power bank charging, for those times when a wall socket can’t be found.

Webcam

The PS42’s HD (30fps) webcam is probably the device’s key letdown. Because it’s on the bottom of the display, same with the Dell XPS 13 and other nearly bezel-less laptops; so the webcam will peer at you from under your nose. So best get your nose hair trimmed. Your fingers on the keyboard will also appear gigantic, they being so close to the webcam.

Grainy HD webcam. 

While the field of view is wide enough, the output video is pixalated, even during daylight, and even more so under indoor lighting. I wish the top bezel had been slightly thicker, if only to accommodate a webcam that’s more eye-level, and not under-your-nose-level. Maybe in the next iteration. Right now, you can turn the webcam on and off on the PS42 by pressing and holding Fn and pressing F6.

Having said these, the PS42 can still deliver competent Skype or Google Hangouts video calls. Just not good-looking ones.

Storage

The PS42 unit I have comes with a 512GB SSD (NVMe PCIe Gen3) with an OS and a files partition. That’s more than enough space for the usual user. And an SSD means faster read and write speeds compared to an HDD.

Now, while I do wonder if the price could have been pulled down (or if MSI could have offered a variant) with only a 128GB SSD, I can’t dismiss the added convenience to graphic artists and videographers who need that massive SSD space for their work.

Palm Rest Coolness (and overall cooling)

If you use your laptop for hours on end, your palms won’t get uncomfortable with the PS42. Upon first boot, and with tons of Windows updates happening, the left underside did got warm, but not debilitatingly so. After that episode, even when I tried to abuse PS42 with about 20 Chrome tabs loaded (a few of them YouTube), a few Firefox tabs running, Adobe Photoshop Express, six Word documents, a video playing in VLC, Google Hangouts on, and with Windows Defender running a quick scan, the palm rest never got annoyingly hot.

Cool even after long hours of use. 

Keep in mind that the PS42 has a predominantly metal chassis, so if thermals were not given much thought in the design, the device would be too hot to place on your lap, which it’s not. So this is a testament to how well MSI’s Cooler Boost Technology (with 2 dedicated fans and 3 heat pipes) work.

MSI PS42-8RB Full Specs

Windows 10 Home
Intel Core i7-8550U
14.0 FHD IPS (1920×1080) with thin bezels
8GB RAM (DDR4-2400, 1 slot, max 16GB)
512GB PCIe SSD
GeForce MX 150 (25W) 2GB GDDR5
HD 30fps@720p Webcam
White Backlit Keyboard, 4 levels of brightness
802.11 ac WiFi + Bluetooth v4.2
2x 2W Speakers
Fingerprint Sensor
1 x mic-in/headphone-out combo jack
2x Type C USB 3.1 Gen 1
2x Type A USB 3.1 Gen 1
1x SD Card Reader
1x HDMI (4K @ 30Hz)
4-Cell Li-Polymer 50 Whr Battery, 65W adapter
1.19kg Weight
1 Year Warranty + 3 Months upon registration
Php 76,995

The Verdict

Because of how nice it is to use (great display, sound, speed, comfy backlit keyboard, touchpad, large storage, port selection, fingerprint login) and its weight (plus the solid build), you will end up bringing the PS42 everywhere; and in the process you’ll enjoy it, and get more work done – hey, nothing wrong in being both happy and productive.

And that’s how much smaller in footprint the PS42 is compared to a traditional, bezel-full 14-inch laptop. 

The only possible downsides are the webcam (its awkward placement and low resolution), the average battery life (maybe not so bad given the dedicated 25w GeForce MX 150), the boxy-silver design (I was iffy at first, but got used to it), and the price (for which you get a great laptop, overall, plus the ability to plug in an external GPU for added performance boost, something not many P80k-ish laptops offer). So yeah, the MSI PS42-8RB is not perfect, but darn near close to ticking all the boxes.

If you’re fine with the shiny silver finish (some of us want low key and conservative) and can live with the webcam (you can always do video chats on your smartphone), then the MSI PS42 8RB-210PH with 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD, Intel Core i7-8550U, GeForce MX 150 25W (2GB GGDR5) priced at PHP 76,995, is highly recommended. It’s portable, powerful, and pleasant to use.

Hands down, a good first attempt by MSI in creating a great productivity laptop. 

Now, if you want everything here but in a package with slightly more battery life, a processor that matches (not exceeds) your not so demanding needs, and a for lower price, then the PS42 8M-211PH with 8GBRAM, 256GB SSD, Intel Core i5-8250U, and Intel HD620 Shared Graphic for PHP 54,995, should hit the sweet spot for you.

Check out MSI on Facebook for details on where you can buy the PS42.

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Design and Build
Display
Keyboard
Touchpad
Ports
Performance
Battery Life
Speaker Sound
Portability
Webcam
Storage
OVERALL
The mix of a great display, loud sound, awesome keyboard + touchpad, super lightweight body, compact and solid build, all the ports you need, plus good-enough battery life means you'll bring the PS42 with your everywhere, and in the process get more work done. And there are the added bonus of having a 25w GeForce MX 150 video card (for Photoshop and not-so-heavy video editing, and gaming on the side) plus the ability to connect to an external GPU, make the P74,995 MSI PS42 Core i7 8GB RAM 512GB SSD variant a great laptop investment. Of course, if you don't need that much processing graphic power, the more affordable (P54,995) Core i5 version (sans the discrete video card) will make you just as happy, since it retains everything else the Core i7 variants have.

Author

Irwin Allen Rivera loves his wife's cooking so much he's now twice the man he used to be. His English essay won a Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature in 2012. His philosophical-horror story appeared in Philippine Speculative Fiction 8 (2013). He was managing editor and lead writer of Sites and Symbols 2 (2005), a coffee-table book about buildings in UP Diliman - his alma mater (BA Philosophy; MA Creative Writing continuing). He worked at the UP Diliman Information Office before shifting to web content writing. His sudden fiction, "Notwithstanding Pigs," initially a Friendster testimonial, appeared in Philippines Graphic (2006) and in Very Short Stories for Harried Readers (2007). He used to write for www.technoodling.net.