Who Is This AMD Notebook FOR? MSI Bravo 15 Review
The AMD-based notebooks that we have taken a look at so far have been geared towards specific purposes. It all started with the ROG Zephyrus G14, which was geared towards folks who are willing to pay a little bit more for a compact form factor that can pull double duty for both creator-focused tasks, rendering tasks, and gaming as well. Then there was the TUF A15, which was a slightly larger laptop, but it was lot more affordable and it came with a Ryzen 7 4800H and an RTX 2060. I feel like that was a really good balance of CPU and GPU horsepower.
And then there is this MSI Bravo 15. I’m not really sure who this is targeted towards because on one hand it is the highest performing budget notebook that I have ever seen, but at the same time it struggles in some key areas. MSI says that it is a gaming laptop, but it sort of isn’t at the same time so this was a really tough laptop to evaluate. Let’s take a deep dive and see where the Bravo 15 stands in the current notebook market.
Price & Models
I’m going to start with pricing, which is really good actually for the whole series. Starting at $929 USD you get a Ryzen 5 4600H, 8GB of RAM, 512GB SSD, and an RX 5500M with a 120Hz display. Adding $70 to that upgrades you to our version featuring the 8-core/16-thread Ryzen 7 4800H, 16GB of RAM, but it still sticks to that RX 5500M. The $1,000 gaming notebook category is super competitive these days, so we expect at least GTX 1660 Ti-level graphics at that price. Even with AMD CPU’s there is an RX 5600M in the Dell G5 SE, which you know will hit $1,000 in Dell’s frequent sales. While ASUS is offering a GTX 1660 Ti in their $1,000 TUF A15.
Build & Design
Let’s start with exterior impressions, and I’m just going to say it’s pretty decent for the price. Don’t expect an aluminium construction, it’s mostly a plastic chassis with brushed textures on the lid, which I don’t like because 2 or 3 months down the road that’s not going to look like the day you unboxed it. The hinge is pretty strong, I didn’t experience any wobble, in fact if my memory serves me well this feels stronger than the TUF A15. Overall, the build is pretty amazing for the price. I have to give it to MSI for that.
The interior space is pretty low profile, which I like, but I really wish they went with a sandstone finish. I just can’t vouch for how long this brushed texture will last with skin oils or other things that make contact with it, so that’s something to look out for. The keyboard layout is pretty standard. Weirdly, a lot of the function keys up top don’t have any secondary functions, they are just blank. It would have been nice to see all the immediate playback buttons or controls mapped to those function keys, but that could just be me. The keys themselves are good, the travel distance is short, but to my surprise I got used to them really quickly. Personally, I prefer them over the TUF A15, and if you type a lot or game a lot these will do the job just fine. The keyboard is backlit with red LEDs, unfortunately there is no RGB lighting, so you can’t tweak the colours. The brightness levels are okay, and I have nothing to complain about here.
However, my biggest frustration with this notebook is the trackpad. It is a plastic smooth finish, which is okay, and it has support for Windows Precision drivers, but it just isn’t secured properly. What do I mean by that? Well if you are clicking on something you would either tap or press the primary left or right buttons, but in this case while tap works okay if you press it doesn’t actually register. You have to press it even harder to get something to work. It’s almost like a two-step process. I feel like the trackpad itself is sort of loose, and that to me was pretty annoying and frustrating.
Webcam & Speakers
This is the webcam test on the Bravo 15. The video quality is okay, I guess you can’t really expect anything greater at this point. The microphone is decent, there is a bit of compression with my voice, but I ironically it sounds way better than the GS66 Stealth that I checked out recently, which is significantly more expensive than this laptop. They placed the microphone where it’s supposed to be, you don’t hear any fans which is great, so this should be fine for casual Skype or Zoom meetings. The speakers are bottom facing, it’s a classic move by MSI so don’t expect them to blow your mind away. In fact, for the same price point, I feel like the TUF A15 has a better speaker system than this one because ASUS did some really interesting design tweaks within the chassis to enrich the sound signature.
Moving on to ports, most of them are located on the right-hand side, which I’m sure is going to be a problem when you use an external mouse. Now supposedly MSI did this to make sure that the hot air exhausts from the left-hand side, which is away from your typical external mouse position. However, if you are a left-hand user that would be a bit of an issue. On the right-hand side you get a Kensington lock, LAN port, two USB 3.1 Gen1 Type-C ports – which is very surprising for a $1,000 laptop – another two USB Type-A ports, and an audio jack. Switching over to the left you get power-in and HDMI 2.0. Do note that all USB ports are Gen1 5Gbps, so it’s not the fastest out there. I think this is going to be a regular occurrence on lower-end AMD notebooks.
The display is 15.6-inches, it’s 1080P IPS-level with a refresh rate of 120Hz. Unfortunately, MSI’s IPS-level marketing is not really accurate because this is bad, like really bad. As you can see it only covers 61% sRGB, 45% Adobe RGB, and 45% DCI-P3. If you value colour accuracy don’t even think about getting this. The screen doesn’t get bright, the max that it can achieve is around 290 nits, which is pretty poor for outdoor visibility. And finally, there is that 120Hz refresh rate. It’s pretty awesome for gaming, it’s a welcome upgrade if you are coming from a 60Hz display.
Upgradability & Battery Life
In terms of upgradability, you have quick access to the two RAM modules, maximum supported capacity is 64GB. The primary NVMe SSD is easily accessible and there is an additional M.2 slot for expansion, which is pretty cool. I really like this layout, it looks organized in my opinion. The SSD drive speeds are good, but they are not crazy fast, especially when you compare it to the TUF A15 or even the more expensive notebooks like the Blade 15 or the GS66 from MSI.
The battery capacity is 51Wh, but to our surprise when we ran our light load test it lasted longer than our GS66, which has almost twice the capacity and an RTX 2070 Super Max-Q. Switching gears to our heavy load tests and that smaller capacity does come at a disadvantage, with it only lasting for about an hour.
CPU Power & Thermals
Moving on to performance, starting with Cinebench and right away it looks like something really interesting is going on. Even though the Bravo 15 technically has the same Ryzen 7 4800H and 16GB of RAM – just like the A15 – it’s losing by a pretty significant amount in the multi-core tests, while single core seems pretty much identical.
Let’s dive a bit deeper to see what’s going on now. Remember that just like every other notebook we test them in the highest performance modes, and so for the Bravo 15 it is the highest performance setting that can be enabled through the Dragon Center utility. Starting with an all-core load of AutoDesk Maya, it looks like MSI’s Extreme performance mode fluctuates clock speeds in an effort to hit predefined temperature targets. That results in temperatures shooting right up to 95°C while the frequency is all over the place from 3.35GHz all the way up to 3.5GHz. During this time the CPU package power was around 50W, which is close to the top of AMD’s 54W spec. Then around the 7.5 minute mark CPU power cuts to 45W, which reduces both frequencies and temperatures. Diving down a bit further you can see that there is about a 200MHz of difference between Balanced and the Extreme performance mode on the Bravo 15, but that is quickly cut to about 100MHz later in the test.
You might be wonder how does this compare to the ASUS TUF A15? Well on that notebook both Turbo Mode and Balanced start much higher and then Balanced mode takes a nosedive pretty early and evens out to a lower speed than MSI. Turbo Mode continues on a bit further and then eventually levels out to a higher level than the Bravo. What this tells us is at their highest performance modes or in shorter bursts in Balanced power mode the A15 will beat the Bravo in CPU focused tests. However, if the test is longer, the MSI in Balanced mode will probably have the edge. I will be going over the expected temperatures and behaviors of these CPUs in another article, so definitely stay tuned for that.
Let’s finish off the rest of the real-world benchmarks. In Blender you can see that the Bravo 15 is being edged out again, which is completely in-line with our expectations. In Adobe Premiere, which uses AMD’s discrete card for acceleration, it’s pretty obvious that the RX 5500M causes a pretty big performance penalty in rendering versus something like an RTX 2060, even when it’s paired with a super fast CPU. Davinci Resolve shows this too, but make no mistake the 4800H really helps things out here. Meanwhile Handbrake is a super CPU intensive test, so the Bravo 15 gets pretty good results. Honestly, it’s amazing to see a $1,000 notebook with a 4800H overcoming a $2,500 Intel-based machine, like the Aero 17 HDR XB. The WinRAR result isn’t surprising since the SSD on this machine isn’t the fastest.
Gaming Power & Thermals
Before getting into gaming benchmarks, let’s first see how the Bravo 15 behaves when both the CPU and GPU are under load in Doom Eternal. As temperatures increase the CPU frequencies are all over the place, with a variance of 1GHz, even as it hits just about 90°C. Meanwhile the CPU package power is between 35W and 38W. What is probably happening here is AMD’s boost algorithms are simply trying to maximize clock speeds in a more lightly threaded environment. GPU temperatures are hotter than we would have expected for a supposedly efficient design, but that could be due to the Bravo 15’s cooling design. Another possibility for the higher temperatures are those clock speeds. MSI pushes them to just over 1660MHz, which is actually higher than AMD’s maximum boost frequency of 1645MHz, so technically you could consider that as a mild overclock.
Now before I get into the gaming benchmarks, I do want to talk about my gaming experience with the Bravo 15, because trying to get some games to run on this machine was a nightmare. For instance, Red Dead Redemption 2 failed to run on this laptop. There were other games like Far Cry 5 and Jedi Order that engaged the integrated GPU instead of the discrete graphics card. Now this isn’t MSI’s fault. In fact, it’s more to do with AMD’s drivers and how they work within Windows as of the latest update. You see most of the control over the iGPU and the discrete GPU switching has been handed over to Windows, which means the operating system can get confused sometimes as to when it needs to switch one or the other, especially when a game launches without exclusive fullscreen mode. Keep in mind that this only happens when an AMD GPU and an iGPU is detected, not when an NVIDIA card is installed. The only way to get around this is to manually set which graphics processor is used and that isn’t done in AMD’s control panel anymore. You need to get into the Windows graphics settings, make sure ‘classic app’ is selected and then browse to the game’s executable files. Once that is found you can override the Windows default and associate that app with the high performance discrete card. I really hope that this gets fixed soon because it’s a mess right now. Luckily this was only an issue that we encountered with a few games.
Speaking of which, the gaming results were decent, but I think the most interesting aspect of these frame rates is that they are only a few FPS better than the Zephyrus G GA502 that I reviewed last year. That thing has a pretty slow Ryzen 7 3750H CPU that was probably a bottleneck for a GTX 1660 Ti. This notebook has it the other way around, it has a massively powerful 4800H backstopping a pretty weak graphics card. Basically, gaming isn’t really the Bravo 15’s strength, at least not for the price MSI is charging for it.
The acoustic performance was respectable, it didn’t sound like a jet fan like the GS66 Stealth, so that is welcome. Also, there weren’t any troublesome hot spots on the chassis, which is excellent.
Time to wrap this up. The MSI Bravo 15 isn’t really a gaming laptop. When you are building a gaming laptop you are looking for something that has balanced CPU and GPU power, you want to make sure that both offer relatively components offer good performance. While the Ryzen 7 4800H is a good option for people who value CPU processing, the RX 5500M graphics card is a real weak point. It is a weird combination to pair with an 8-core/16-thread processor. I think the best analogy is like fitting a Ferrari with bicycle wheels. Nevertheless, I have to give credit to MSI for what they have achieved with the Bravo 15 because it offers pretty good build quality for the price and the keyboard is nice. However, if you are in the market for a $1,000 USD gaming laptop you shouldn’t get this. You should definitely look somewhere else, specifically look for a notebook with a mightier graphics card.
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