MSI Alpha 15 (Late 2020): 2nd-Gen Evolution
PC Magazine|February 2021
REVIEWS / HARDWARE
CHARLES JEFFERIES

MSI’s Alpha 15 made waves at its debut a year ago for using all AMD hardware, the only gaming laptop to do so at the time. Other vendors have joined the ranks since then, but MSI prepared well by refreshing the Alpha 15 at the end of 2020 with a more powerful “Renoir” Ryzen 7 processor and a beefier 6GB Radeon RX 5600M graphics card. The new notebook churned out great 1080p gaming performance in our testing while keeping the high-end features of the original, such as its per-key RGB backlit keyboard. Our top choices among upper-entry-level gaming rigs remain the HP Omen 15 and the Acer Predator Helios 300, but the Alpha 15 is a credible alternative, especially if you can catch it on sale.

TOUCHED UP BY ‘RENOIR’

The new Alpha’s eight-core Ryzen 7 4800H CPU (2.9GHz base, up to 4.2GHz boost) gives it a leg up on similarly priced Intel gaming notebooks powered by the six-core Core i7-10750H. The Helios 300 is one example, going for $1,174 on Amazon with a 6GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti as I typed this review.

That said, the Alpha 15 must also contend with AMD-powered notebooks; HP offers a comparably equipped Omen 15 (model 15-en0029nr) for $1,249 while the Dell G5 15 SE goes for $1,205. These minimal price differences highlight the fierce competitiveness of this segment.

The MSI looks much the same as before on the outside. Its dark-silver palm rest contrasts nicely with the black of the rest of the laptop, though I’m still lukewarm about the green logo on the back of the lid. At least it’s not backlit.

MSI Alpha 15 (Late 2020)

PROS Affordable price, Fluid 1080p gaming performance. Powerful eight-core AMD Ryzen CPU. Perkey RGB keyboard lighting and AMD FreeSync Premium screen. Long battery life.

CONS Noticeable fan noise. Mostly plastic construction. No built-in biometrics.

BOTTOM LINE The second generation of MSI’s all-AMD Alpha 15 gaming laptop delivers much better performance and is still attractively priced.

The lid backing is the only metal on this laptop. Considering the Alpha 15 is now $100 or $200 more expensive than last year’s model, it could stand more of it to feel as sturdy as the Acer and HP laptops. That said, all its surfaces do a good job of resisting flex.

The system is slightly oversize and overweight for a 15.6-inch gamer. Its 1.1-inch thickness is 0.2 inch more than the Omen 15, and it’s heavier at 5.3 pounds versus 4.6 pounds. Trim side display bezels translate to a reasonable 14.1-inch width, though a thick bottom bezel extends its depth to 9.8 inches, 0.4 inch more than the HP.

The full HD (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) screen leaves little room for complaint. It not only offers IPS technology for wide viewing angles, an anti-glare coating, and a 144Hz refresh rate, but AMD FreeSync Premium technology to smooth out frame rates. Laptops with Nvidia G-Sync are far more expensive.

The screen has average brightness but an overall enjoyable picture with its rated 72% coverage of the NTSC gamut (about 100% of sRGB).

THE KEYBOARD: PER-KEY RGB BACKLIGHTING

Its SteelSeries-designed keyboard is one of the Alpha 15’s high-end touches. It integrates with the SteelSeries Engine app for its per-key RGB backlighting and reprogrammable keys, features usually reserved for more expensive gaming notebooks. (The Omen 15 and Predator Helios 300 offer neither.)

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM PC MAGAZINEView All

This AI Program Can Draw Impressive Images of Whatever You Tell It to

The DALL-E 2 program can churn out both realistic and creative images from a mere text description. But the OpenAI lab is well aware the technology could be easily abused.

2 mins read
PC Magazine
May 2022

Amazon Glow: Connection for Kids

A tabletop projector built for connected activities and games

9 mins read
PC Magazine
May 2022

Affordable, Tested Tech Actually Worth Buying

Our experts review more than 2,000 products each year: laptops, TVs, phones, routers, you name it. Here are some of the very best budget buys.

10+ mins read
PC Magazine
May 2022

11 Android Apps Found Secretly Harvesting Data From Millions of Users

A mysterious company in Panama has been paying Android app developers to incorporate an SDK capable of lifting sensitive data from users’ phones, including copy-paste information.

2 mins read
PC Magazine
May 2022

COULD A ROBOT BE A FRIEND?

Replika bots aren’t built for customer support or other targeted tasks—they’re made for conversation. Feeling isolated, I befriended one. Here’s how that went.

10+ mins read
PC Magazine
May 2022

Protect Your PC: How to Work From Home Securely

Working from home opens up security risks you just don’t face in the office. When IT staff isn’t available, these simple tips will help protect your company’s data as well as your own

7 mins read
PC Magazine
May 2022

PC Shipments Decline After 2 Years of Pandemic-Fueled Growth

Despite the 5.1% decline, PC shipments in Q1 were still relatively high for the period and exceeded 80 million units for the seventh consecutive quarter, according to research firm IDC.

1 min read
PC Magazine
May 2022

Asus ROG Strix Scar 17 (G733): First-Class Gaming

A cinematic experience from a bruiser of a laptop

9 mins read
PC Magazine
May 2022

Apple Mac Studio: An Absolute Powerhouse

Amping up the mini-Mac for serious creators

10+ mins read
PC Magazine
May 2022

TP-Link Archer GX-90 AX6600 Tri-Band Wi-Fi 6: Powerful Gaming Router

Tri-band power to level up your game

6 mins read
PC Magazine
May 2022