Notebookcheck

Review MSI S20-i541 UltraSlider Ultrabook

Daniel Schmidt (translated by A Kammel), 05/27/2013

Low budget at a high price. An Ivy Bridge-based convertible with an IPS panel, SSD and THX sound for less than 1000 Euros (~$1293). Can this work? We have put the MSI S20-i541 through the mill.

For the original German review, see here.

The 11.6-inch convertible S20-i541 made by MSI has to compete against the likes of the Toshiba Satellite U920t-100 and the Sony Vaio Duo 11 SV-D1121X9EB, trying to leverage its rather low price point of less than 1000 Euros (~$1293). But next to other ultrabook-based convertibles, there is also competition from the high-powered and large-sized range of the tablet market. Plus, some of these devices such as the Acer W700-53334G12as cost around 100 Euros (~$129) less.

These competitors offer approximately the same performance as the S20-i541. All of them come equipped with a Core i5 (Ivy Bridge) and 4 GB of RAM as well as a 128 GB SSD. This review will show whether the MSI S20 manages to trump the other devices in terms of its overall impression - despite its lower price tag.

Case

How we test - Case

Front view.
Back view.

The chassis of the MSI S20-i541 UltraSlider is 302.6 millimeters wide, 196.1 millimeters long and 19.8 millimeters thick, making it somewhat smaller than the Toshiba U920t. This still feels clunky in comparison to a tablet or even the Acer W700 which measures no more than 12 millimeters in height.

The materials look more like plastic, although the base unit is supposedly made from aluminum. Unfortunately, the first impression solidifies itself once we touch the device. The white frame around the display shimmers slightly, trying to look like nacre - and failing miserably. The chassis comes with a silver finish which doesn't really fit the white display frame.

Its display is not torsion-resistant at all. Worse: Applying enough pressure from behind is actually sufficient to trigger the touchscreen. At least the sliding mechanism works well, running smoothly. Just a little push against the lower display boundary is enough to force the display back, sliding on two plastic rollers built into the base units. We are also quite impressed by the stiff display hinges which keep the screen safely in its current position. An angle of up to 90 degrees between the base unit and the display is possible.

The build quality of the base unit could be better. Some clearances are rather uneven, especially between the front of the keyboard and the rest of the case. As expected, the base unit is more torsion-resistant than the display, but it creaks noticeably.

Still, the test device rests comfortably in the hand. The rounded edges don't cut into the user's palms. It might be prudent to place the MSI S20 on the ball of the hand since 1160 grams can get unergonomically heavy when stabilized only with the wrist. The battery cannot be replaced and there is no option to connect an external battery to a battery port (such as with the Sony Vaio Duo 11).

Connectivity

How we test - Connectivity

All existing ports work reliably, but they are clustered on the right hand side of the S20. We would have liked the card reader to be positioned on the front, but it is inconveniently placed on the back. But there was also a positive surprise: Although MSI does not state this explicitly, the card reader is not only capable of reading SD and MMC cards, but also SDHC cards, allowing the internal storage to be easily expanded by up to 32 GB. Unfortunately though, the card reader is placed directly below the processor, a spot which gets quite warm when the convertible operates under full load. This may not be a problem for our fingers, but we didn't feel comfortable leaving the SD card in its reader while performing the CPU stress tests.

Both the volume rocker and the rotation lock can be found on the back. This is of some concern especially in the case of the volume rocker which may be needed more often than the rotation lock. Generally speaking, the ports could have been distributed more evenly in order to prevent a possible cable tangle on the right hand side with Line In/Out, HDMI, power adapter and two - unfortunately very stiff - USB 3.0 cables. On the left, only an Ethernet cable can be plugged in.

Back side: Card reader, volume rocker, rotation lock, vents.
Back side: Card reader, volume rocker, rotation lock, vents.
Left side: Gigabit Ethernet.
Left side: Gigabit Ethernet.
Right side: Power button, HDMI, USB 3.0, 3.5 mm Line In/Out, USB 3.0, power adapter.
Right side: Power button, HDMI, USB 3.0, 3.5 mm Line In/Out, USB 3.0, power adapter.
Front side: Microphone.
Front side: Microphone.

Communication

In contrast to its competition, the MSI S20 includes Gigabit Ethernet next to the obligatory Wi-Fi module (802.11 b/g/n). The Intel Centrino Wireless-N 2230 only works in the 2.4 GHz range, yielding average signal strength. Ten meters away from the router, two out of four bars are reached, leading to average loading times when browsing to Notebookcheck.com. The S20 utilizes Intel's Wireless Display technology, enabling the screen content to be streamed to any TV with an Intel Wireless Display receiver.

The S20 does not come equipped with a WWAN modem, having to rely on external HotSpots or tethering-enabled devices in order to access the World Wide Web on the go.

Accessories

There is not much included with the S20, just a 40 watts power adapter and a protective cover / bag (plus a warranty sheet, a service brochure, two quick start guides and a driver/utility disk). A full manual can be downloaded from the MSI website. There are no additional accessories which are associated explicitly with this device.

Maintenance

MSI's convertible has been constructed in a maintenance-friendly way. The rear panel is held by just six screws - one of which is covered by a warranty sticker. The equipped SSD is connected via mSATA making it easy to replace with a larger one should the need arise. The one RAM slot in use could be equipped with modules of up to 8 GB. Unfortunately, the manufacturer doesn't appear to be okay with the user fiddling around with the innards of the convertible: MSI mentions the possibility of such extensions, but states in the manual that only official service personnel are allowed to perform these procedures.

Warranty

MSI offers 24 months of warranty - while an additional year costs 139 Euros (~$179) more. This is quite a steep price, especially so since we are talking about a mere bring-in service.

Input Devices

How we test - Input Devices

Keyboard

The island-style keyboard is a bit cramped since the sliding mechanism requires approximately half of the space of the available space on the base unit. Thus it measures 260 x 100 millimeters, coming with 87 keys. The QWERTY keys are 14 x 14 millimeters large, offering precise strokes and a subtle clicking sound. Key travel is fine. Actually, this would be a more than decent keyboard if it didn't sag so noticeably in its center whenever pressure is applied. The keyboard isn't even plane, the keys reach different heights, something which we do not only feel but also see. Thus, we cannot recommend the S20 for prolific writers although it should suffice for infrequent smaller texts.

The S20 doesn't have a trackpoint or a touchpad.

The keyboard of the MSI S20-i541 UltraSlider.
The keyboard of the MSI S20-i541 UltraSlider.

Touchscreen

The capacitive multitouch screen is capable of handling up to ten fingers simultaneously. It has to be precise and highly reactive in order to be of any use within the touch-optimized Modern UI of Windows 8 in tablet mode - and it is. MSI's solution is fast and reliable with both gestures and simple touch. The position sensor works well too. In laptop mode, the rotation lock is activated automatically in order to prevent accidental screen rotation (although this can be deactivated with the hardware switch on the back if necessary).

Lavishly sized software keys on the touchscreen.
Lavishly sized software keys on the touchscreen.
The split keyboard is perfect for typing while holding the device in both hands.
The split keyboard is perfect for typing while holding the device in both hands.

Display

How we test - Display

The panel (N116HSE-EA1 series) is made by Chimei Innolux, which also supplies Asus and Samsung. Unfortunately, MSI seems to use older panels - both AIDA64 and the PCWizard 2012 reveal the display to have been manufactured in December 2011.

The 1920x1080 pixels of its 16:9 Full HD display offer up to 16.7 million colors (8-bit). The pixel density of 190 ppi leads to sharp images. In addition, viewing angles of this IPS display are superb. Like many other manufacturers, MSI uses a glossy display, deciding against any anti-glare coating in order to boost color vibrancy. But of course this choice requires the panel to be bright enough to overcome any reflections. On average, the S20 reaches mediocre brightness levels of 293.4 cd/m² with up to 310 cd/m² in the upper left of the screen. Acer's W700 offers a brightness of 355.2 cd/m² while the display of the Toshiba U920t only yields 262.8 cd/m². One major disadvantage of the MSI S20: Maximum brightness while running on battery drops to 233 cd/m².

310
cd/m²
296
cd/m²
296
cd/m²
304
cd/m²
308
cd/m²
290
cd/m²
297
cd/m²
273
cd/m²
267
cd/m²
Distribution of brightness
Information
X-Rite i1 Basic Pro 2
Maximum: 310 cd/m²
Average: 293.4 cd/m²
Brightness Distribution: 86 %
Center on Battery: 233 cd/m²
Black: 0.31 cd/m²
Contrast: 994:1

The S20's contrast ratio of 984:1 is great, taking the top spot closely ahead of Acer's tablet (972:1) and the Satellite U920t (789:1). Black levels of 0.31 cd/m² are good as well, being on par with those of the competition. A brightness homogeneity level of 86% is also quite decent.

Color space rendition is not so great, especially with AdobeRGB, but also in the case of the sRGB color space. Thus, the panel is not suited for professionals, but neither are its competitors (which fare even worse). Luckily, graphic designers are not part of the S20's target group.

Concerning color accuracy, the panel overshoots by a long shot. While blues and yellows are fine, greens and cyans aren't. Whites could be more accurate as well: The measured color temperature of 6019 K differs considerably from our recommendation of 6500 K. Color saturation is another issue, with greens drifting into yellows, yielding a noticeable yellowish tint. This is especially annoying since green is the standard background color of the Modern UI of Windows 8. At times, this reminded us of old DOS times. At least grayscale rendition is okay. While a trained eye is able to make out some deviations, they shouldn't be of concern during actual daily usage.

Color accuracy (before calibrating in sRGB color space)
Color accuracy (before calibrating in sRGB color space)
Grayscale (before calibrating in sRGB color space)
Grayscale (before calibrating in sRGB color space)
Color saturation (before calibrating in sRGB color space)
Color saturation (before calibrating in sRGB color space)
MSI S20-i541 vs. sRGB
MSI S20-i541 vs. sRGB
MSI S20-i541 vs. AdobeRGB
MSI S20-i541 vs. AdobeRGB
MSI S20-i541 vs. Acer W700
MSI S20-i541 vs. Acer W700
MSI S20-i541 vs. Toshiba U920t
MSI S20-i541 vs. Toshiba U920t


Outdoor usage of the MSI S20 (cloudy skies).
Outdoor usage of the MSI S20 (cloudy skies).

Unfortunately, the brightness throttling issue of the S20 while running on battery prevents it from being truly recommendable for outdoor usage, especially in direct sunlight. But even a cloudy sky can be too bright if a wrong viewing angle on the highly reflective screen is chosen. Sitting directly in front of the laptop helps, with the S20 relying on its good contrast ratio. Still, even then a place in the shade might be preferable.

Viewing angles of the screen are great, as is often the case with IPS displays. Some slight color inversions occur beyond extreme horizontal angles of +/- 60 degrees and there is an acceptable halation effect in the upper left corner. Plus, the lower right part of the screen exhibits signs of the underlying illumination showing through in the dark.

Viewing angles of the MSI S20-i541.
Viewing angles of the MSI S20-i541.
A small halation effect and some showing through of the background illumination.
A small halation effect and some showing through of the background illumination.

Performance

How we test - Performance

The MSI S20-i541 UltraSlider is powered by an ULV Intel Ivy Bridge CPU manufactured using the 32 nm process. The Core i5-3337U comes with four threads and two cores, both clocked at a base speed of 1.8 GHz, clocking down to 800 MHz while idle. There is also a Turbo Boost 2.0 mode of up to 2.7 GHz (single-core mode) and 2.5 GHz (dual-core mode) respectively. With a TDP (thermal design power) of 17 watts, the CPU is one of Intel's more power-efficient models.

The processor is accompanied by 4 GB of RAM and the well-known Intel HD 4000 onboard graphics solution (without any dedicated memory) clocked at 350 to 1100 MHz which has become the de-facto standard for upper middle class ultra-mobile Windows devices.

System info MSI S20-i541 UltraSlider
System info CPU-Z
System info CPU-Z
System info CPU-Z
System info GPU-Z
DPC latency (YouTube stream)
System information MSI S20-i541 UltraSlider

Processor

CPU stress test
CPU stress test

Unfortunately, the CPU performance doesn't manage to match our expectations. While up to 2.40 points could have been reached in the Cinebench R11.5 Multi-CPU benchmark, only 1.82 was measured. This is not due to throttling issues (the Turbo Boost works perfectly with up to 2.5 GHz), but possibly due to the single channel RAM. Even the Acer W700 with its throttling issues yields 2.18 points in the same test thanks to its dual channel RAM - the base frequency which also clocks at higher speeds than that of the S20. This results in a de-facto CPU performance similar to that of an older Core i3-350M. The S20 fares better in the less RAM-demanding wPrime benchmark, yielding similar results to a nominally slightly weaker Core i5-3317U. MSI has saved on the wrong things here - the S20 should definitely have shipped with dual channel RAM.

Waste heat management works reliably, enabling the CPU to always make use of its maximum clock speed during our stress tests. Only while running on battery is the processor clocked down to 2.0 GHz - which is still well within the Turbo Boost range.

Cinebench R11.5 - CPU Multi 64Bit (sort by value)
MSI S20-i541 UltraSlider
HD Graphics 4000, 3337U, SanDisk U100 128 GB
1.82 Points ∼10%
Acer W700-53334G12as
HD Graphics 4000, 3337U, Toshiba THNSNS128GMCP
2.18 Points ∼12% +20%
Toshiba Satellite U920t-100
HD Graphics 4000, 3317U, Samsung MZMPC128HBFU
2.39 Points ∼14% +31%
Sony Vaio Duo 11 SV-D1121X9EB
HD Graphics 4000, 3317U, Toshiba THNSNS128GMCP
2.35 Points ∼13% +29%
Toshiba Satellite Pro L670-170
Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) HD Graphics, 350M, Toshiba MK3265GSX
1.84 Points ∼10% +1%
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 15 0301-DFG
Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) HD Graphics, 350M, Seagate Momentus 5400.6 ST9250315AS
1.87 Points ∼11% +3%
Acer TravelMate 8372TG
GeForce 310M, 350M, WDC Scorpio Blue WD6400BEVT-22A0RT0
1.84 Points ∼10% +1%
wPrime 2.0x - 1024m (sort by value)
MSI S20-i541 UltraSlider
HD Graphics 4000, 3337U, SanDisk U100 128 GB
698.287 s * ∼8%
Sony Vaio Duo 11 SV-D1121X9EB
HD Graphics 4000, 3317U, Toshiba THNSNS128GMCP
717 s * ∼8% -3%
Sony Vaio Tap 20 SVJ2021V1E
HD Graphics 4000, 3317U, Toshiba MQ01ABD100
681.1 s * ∼8% +2%
Acer Aspire M3-481-53314G50Mass
HD Graphics 4000, 3317U, Seagate Momentus Thin ST500LT0 12-9WS142
709.707 s * ∼8% -2%
Microsoft Surface Pro
HD Graphics 4000, 3317U, Micron RealSSD C400 MTFDDAT064M
653.981 s * ∼8% +6%

* ... smaller is better

Cinebench R10 Rendering Single 32Bit
3657
Cinebench R10 Rendering Multiple CPUs 32Bit
7352
Cinebench R10 Shading 32Bit
4455
Cinebench R10 Rendering Single CPUs 64Bit
4568 Points
Cinebench R10 Rendering Multiple CPUs 64Bit
9406 Points
Cinebench R10 Shading 64Bit
4234 Points
Cinebench R11.5 CPU Single 64Bit
1.09 Points
Cinebench R11.5 CPU Multi 64Bit
1.82 Points
Cinebench R11.5 OpenGL 64Bit
10.77 fps
Help

System Performance

During daily usage, Windows always remained responsive, running absolutely smoothly. Still, a more detailed analysis reveals that certain components negatively affect performance, leading to the S20 staying behind our expectations within both the PCMark 7 and the PCMark Vantage benchmarks. The culprit seems to be the slow SSD, slower than any of the competition. Again, MSI should have taken more care when fine-tuning the inner components of the S20.

PCMark Vantage
1024x768 Result (sort by value)
MSI S20-i541 UltraSlider
9011 Points ∼38%
Lenovo ThinkPad T430s
14503 Points ∼62% +61%
1024x768 HDD Score (sort by value)
MSI S20-i541 UltraSlider
13441 Points ∼20%
Toshiba Satellite U920t-100
42463 Points ∼63% +216%
Lenovo ThinkPad T430s
54000 Points ∼81% +302%
PCMark 7
Score (sort by value)
MSI S20-i541 UltraSlider
3873 Points ∼56%
Acer W700-53334G12as
4311 Points ∼62% +11%
Toshiba Satellite U920t-100
4443 Points ∼64% +15%
Sony Vaio Duo 11 SV-D1121X9EB
4803 Points ∼69% +24%
Sony Vaio Duo 11 SV-D1121X9EB
4803 Points ∼69% +24%
Lenovo ThinkPad T430s
4519 Points ∼65% +17%
System Storage (sort by value)
MSI S20-i541 UltraSlider
4001 Points ∼56%
Acer W700-53334G12as
5350 Points ∼75% +34%
Toshiba Satellite U920t-100
5184 Points ∼73% +30%
Sony Vaio Duo 11 SV-D1121X9EB
5384 Points ∼75% +35%
Sony Vaio Duo 11 SV-D1121X9EB
5384 Points ∼75% +35%
Lenovo ThinkPad T430s
5147 Points ∼72% +29%

Legend

 
MSI S20-i541 UltraSlider Intel Core i5-3337U, Intel HD Graphics 4000, SanDisk U100 128 GB
 
Acer W700-53334G12as Intel Core i5-3337U, Intel HD Graphics 4000, Toshiba THNSNS128GMCP
 
Toshiba Satellite U920t-100 Intel Core i5-3317U, Intel HD Graphics 4000, Samsung MZMPC128HBFU
 
Sony Vaio Duo 11 SV-D1121X9EB Intel Core i5-3317U, Intel HD Graphics 4000, Toshiba THNSNS128GMCP
 
Lenovo ThinkPad T430s Intel Core i7-3520M, Intel HD Graphics 4000, Intel SSD 520 Series SSDSC2BW180A3L
4.8
Windows 8 Experience Index
Processor
Calculations per second
6.9
Memory (RAM)
Memory operations per second
5.9
Graphics
Desktop performance for Windows Aero
4.8
Gaming graphics
3D business and gaming graphics
6.2
Primary hard disk
Disk data transfer rate
7.4
PC Mark
PCMark Vantage9011 points
PCMark 73873 points
Help

Storage Solution

AS SSD
CrystalDiskMark
HDTune

The MSI S20 ships with a 128 GB U100-SSD made by SanDisk, 25 GB of which is reserved for a recovery partition. 94 (real) GB remains for the operating system as well as the user's programs and files. Of course, an SSD will always be faster than a traditional HDD - especially considering access times - but as far as SSDs go, this is one of the weakest, with access times of more than 0.5 ms like any cheap entry-level SSD.

This is especially evident when waking the system from sleep, taking 11 painful seconds where the W700 only required 1.5 seconds to return to the modern UI.

AS SSD
4K Read (sort by value)
MSI S20-i541 UltraSlider
7.6 MB/s ∼10%
Acer W700-53334G12as
17.03 MB/s ∼22% +124%
Toshiba Satellite U920t-100
17.39 MB/s ∼22% +129%
Sony Vaio Duo 11 SV-D1121X9EB
17.91 MB/s ∼23% +136%
4K-64 Read (sort by value)
MSI S20-i541 UltraSlider
26.12 MB/s ∼4%
Acer W700-53334G12as
135.52 MB/s ∼20% +419%
Toshiba Satellite U920t-100
283.62 MB/s ∼43% +986%
Sony Vaio Duo 11 SV-D1121X9EB
131.95 MB/s ∼20% +405%
Access Time Read (sort by value)
MSI S20-i541 UltraSlider
0.524 ms * ∼2%
Acer W700-53334G12as
0.17 ms * ∼1% +68%
Toshiba Satellite U920t-100
0.151 ms * ∼0% +71%
Sony Vaio Duo 11 SV-D1121X9EB
0.225 ms * ∼1% +57%

Legend

 
MSI S20-i541 UltraSlider Intel Core i5-3337U, Intel HD Graphics 4000, SanDisk U100 128 GB
 
Acer W700-53334G12as Intel Core i5-3337U, Intel HD Graphics 4000, Toshiba THNSNS128GMCP
 
Toshiba Satellite U920t-100 Intel Core i5-3317U, Intel HD Graphics 4000, Samsung MZMPC128HBFU
 
Sony Vaio Duo 11 SV-D1121X9EB Intel Core i5-3317U, Intel HD Graphics 4000, Toshiba THNSNS128GMCP

* ... smaller is better

SanDisk U100 128 GB
Transfer Rate Minimum: 61 MB/s
Transfer Rate Maximum: 298.1 MB/s
Transfer Rate Average: 274 MB/s
Access Time: 0.4 ms
Burst Rate: 64.4 MB/s
CPU Usage: 8.3 %

Graphics Card

GPU stress test
GPU stress test

MSI uses Intel's integrated HD Graphics 4000 solution. Such an onboard solution is never truly suited for gaming, but more than sufficient for web browsing, office usage and video playback.

The GPU works with a base clock speed of 350 MHz which increases to a constant Turbo Boost level of 1100 MHz under full load. Still, our benchmark results are sobering. When compared to its direct competitors, the MSI S20's GPU fares rather well, but only because Acer's HD 4000 is throttled while the U920t experiences the same single channel RAM problem as the S20 (at least clocking at 800 MHz instead of the S20's 667 MHz). If everything is done right, serious performance improvements are possible - as can be seen by taking a look at the well-performing Sony Vaio Duo 11.

The stress test is no challenge for the S20. GPU and memory clock speeds are always at the maximum. The only issue: The GPU gets up to 90 °C hot. Once this threshold is reached, a loud fan kicks in, cooling the GPU down to 87 °C. It then turns itself off, starting the cycle anew. While running on battery, the GPU is clocked down to its base speed of 350 MHz - leading to a corresponding drop in performance.

3DMark 06 - 1280x1024 Standard AA:0x AF:0x (sort by value)
MSI S20-i541 UltraSlider
HD Graphics 4000, 3337U, SanDisk U100 128 GB
3539 Points ∼9%
Acer W700-53334G12as
HD Graphics 4000, 3337U, Toshiba THNSNS128GMCP
3682 Points ∼10% +4%
Toshiba Satellite U920t-100
HD Graphics 4000, 3317U, Samsung MZMPC128HBFU
3898 Points ∼10% +10%
Sony Vaio Duo 11 SV-D1121X9EB
HD Graphics 4000, 3317U, Toshiba THNSNS128GMCP
4889 Points ∼13% +38%
Sony Vaio Duo 11 SV-D1121X9EB
HD Graphics 4000, 3317U, Toshiba THNSNS128GMCP
4889 Points ∼13% +38%
3D Mark
3DMark 06
 1280x1024
3539 points
3DMark 11539 points
3DMark Ice Storm23641 points
3DMark Cloud Gate2903 points
3DMark Fire Strike400 points
Help

Gaming Performance

Running smoothly: Pinball FX 2.
Running smoothly: Pinball FX 2.

As expected, gaming performance is nothing to write home about. High-end games such as Crysis 3 never cease to stutter even with the lowest quality settings, being no fun at all. Only some less demanding, older titles work well with medium details. Of course, the performance is more than sufficient for all the simpler games - such as the pre-installed Pinball FX 2 app - which can be purchased in the Windows Store.

low med.high ultra
Fifa 13 (2012) 75.545.526.515fps
Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2012) 32.5115fps
Crysis 3 (2013) 1997fps

Emissions

How we test - Emissions

System Noise

ARM or Atom-based tablets tend to be constructed without any moving parts or fans, operating without any noises. Of course, this does not hold true for a Core i5-based ultrabook convertible. The small fan is always active, reaching acceptable noise levels of 33.9 dB(A) while in office mode. Unfortunately, it throbs, pulsating all the time. Even the different eco settings didn't help with this annoying noise effect.

Under full load, the fan becomes a lot more noticeable in order to dispose of all the heat, reaching up to 40 dB(A) during our combined Prime95 and FurMark stress test, yielding an average result right in-between the W700 (37.4 dB(A)) and the Toshiba U920t (44.7 db(A)).

The S20 is no silent ultrabook, but its noise emissions are okay - or would be okay if it weren't for the annoying pulsations of the fan.

Noise Level

Idle 30.9 / 31.1 / 33.9 dB(A)
Load 35.4 / 40.6 dB(A)
 
    30 dB
silent
40 dB
audible
50 dB
loud
 
min: , med: , max:    Voltcraft sl-320 (15 cm distance)

Temperature

Combined stress test.
Combined stress test.

The waste heat management system works rather well, managing to dissipate all heat perfectly while idle, keeping all surface temperatures low. A maximum temperature of 28.6 °C is reached beneath the base unit, next to the CPU. This is also the hottest spot under full load, reaching up to 39.1 °C. Still, both the laptops made by Toshiba (up to 45.6 °C) and Acer (41.2 °C) get noticeably warmer.

The S20 is perfectly capable of handling a multi-hour combined stress test with Prime 95 and FurMark, getting hot (both CPU and GPU reached up to 96 °C during our test) but never crashing or exhibiting any throttling issues. The CPU was still clocked at almost 1900 MHz with the GPU sticking close to its maximum levels at 1050 MHz. Despite all this power, the convertible remains rather cool and silent. The cooling system works well enough so that a subsequent 3DMark06 run yielded the same results as if it had been performed right from the idle state.

 22.0 °C23.0 °C26.5 °C 
 21.8 °C22.1 °C25.5 °C 
 21.7 °C23.9 °C25.2 °C 
Maximum: 26.5 °C
Average: 23.5 °C
28.6 °C28.0 °C23.5 °C
28.2 °C27.0 °C23.4 °C
26.0 °C24.9 °C23.1 °C
Maximum: 28.6 °C
Average: 25.9 °C
Power Supply (max.)  33.7 °C | Room Temperature 22.6 °C | Voltcraft IR-360

Speakers

The MSI S20 ships with two strangely positioned stereo speakers beneath the base unit. The S20 employs THX TruStudio Pro Sound which is supposed to guarantee an "optimized sound experience" for music, movies and games. Even if this claim holds true with external speakers, it most certainly doesn't with the integrated ones. At full volume, everything sounded distorted while the highs fell flat. Bass was almost non-existent. However, sound output via HDMI and the 3.5 mm Line In/Out port worked perfectly fine.

The integrated microphone was a major disappointment. Despite several attempts to reconfigure the device (Windows 8 did show some spikes in the recorded volume) we were unable to record our voice. Thus, the S20 can only be used for video calls by plugging in an external microphone - which is a pity since the webcam was very reliable.

The speaker grilles.
The speaker grilles.

Energy Management

How we test - Battery Life

Power consumption

While idle, the S20 only uses a mere 6.3 to 10.8 watts. The Acer W700 (up to 7.4 watts) and the Toshiba (5.3 to 9.3 watts) require even less power to operate, while the Sony convertible needs 5.4 to 11.4 watts. This shouldn't come as a surprise considering its unthrottled hardware.

Maximum power consumption levels during the combined FurMark and Prime95 stress tests (with all radios active and full display brightness) were around 32.1 watts, close to the U920t's 31.7 watts, but more than the Acer tablet (28.2 watts) with its heavy throttling. Again, the Vaio Duo 11 (40.5 watts) turns out to be the most power-hungry.

These results are not unexpected, although we would not have minded to see better standby power consumption values. The power adapter (40 watts) is sufficiently large.

Power Consumption

Off / Standby 0.1 / 0.4 Watt
Idle 6.3 / 9.9 / 10.8 Watt
Load 27.8 / 32.1 Watt
 
Key: min: , med: , max:         Voltcraft VC 940

Battery Life

Battery runtimes don't yield any surprises either. The 3-cell 43 Wh battery is one of the larger ones with only Acer trumping the S20 with a 55.5 Wh battery.

We used Battery Eater Reader's Test to determine the S20's maximum battery runtimes, deactivating all radios, activating the energy saving profile and setting screen brightness to its minimum. The resulting value of 8 hours and 3 minutes is quite good.

Under full load - simulated with Battery Eater's Classic Test, setting screen brightness to maximum while activating all radios - a decent minimum of 2 hours and 32 minutes is achieved.

More close to actual usage scenarios is the Wi-Fi test, where we activate the energy saving profile and set the screen brightness to 145 cd/m². We were quite happy with the resulting battery life of 5 hours and 13 minutes, two hours more than Toshiba's laptop despite nominally higher power consumption levels - this result is partly due to the S20's larger battery (by 5 Wh). In summary, the MSI S20's battery runtimes don't leave much to be desired, considering the usual results for convertibles.

Battery Runtime
Idle (without WLAN, min brightness)
8h 03min
WiFi Surfing
5h 13min
Load (maximum brightness)
2h 32min

Verdict

How we test - Verdict

MSI S20-i541 UltraSlider
MSI S20-i541 UltraSlider

The MSI S20-i541 UltraSlider leaves behind very ambivalent impressions. The specifications sound great on paper, but unfortunately, MSI has cheated a bit. The S20 ships with rather slow PC3-10600 DDR3 RAM in single channel mode as well as a sluggish SSD. Both reduce performance while probably increasing profit margins for MSI. The display seems to have been manufactured on the cheap as well - especially its greens come with a strong yellow tint. Its maximum brightness is limited to 233 cd/m² while running on battery and while this does not prevent outdoor usage, it complicates it. Unfortunately, build quality and choice of materials for the chassis are not perfect either.

That being said, for an RRP of 999 Euros (~$1291), the S20-i541 is an affordable convertible ultrabook which has more than enough power for all common applications. Both the Toshiba U920t (1249 Euros, ~$1614) and the Sony Vaio Duo 11 (1399 Euros, ~$1808) are much more expensive. If you don't mind the color rendition inaccuracies of the display and the mediocre build quality while requiring a device with decent battery life then the MSI S20-i541 might be exactly the right device for you. If you want to save even more, the great Acer W700-53334G12as with its stellar runtimes is highly recommendable.

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Specifications

MSI S20-i541 UltraSlider
Processor
Graphics adapter
Intel HD Graphics 4000, Core: 350-1100 MHz, Memory: 665 MHz, Shared Memory, 9.17.10.2875
Memory
4096 MB 
, one module, DDR3, PC3-10600
Display
11.6 inch 16:9, 1920x1080 pixel, 10 point multitouch, LED backlight, IPS, LED backlight, glossy: yes
Mainboard
Intel HM77 (Panther Point)
Harddisk
SanDisk U100 128 GB, 128 GB 
6 Gb/s, replaceable mSATA module, 94 GB free
Soundcard
Realtek ALC269 @ Intel Panther Point PCH - High Definition Audio Controller
Connections
2 USB 3.0, 1 HDMI, Audio Connections: 3.5 mm Line In/Out, Card Reader: SD/MMC, Sensors: Light sensor, Intel WiDi
Networking
Realtek RTL8168/8111 Gigabit-LAN (10/100/1000MBit), Intel Centrino Wireless-N 2230 (b g n ), 4.0 Bluetooth
Size
height x width x depth (in mm): 19.8 x 302.6 x 196.1 ( = 0.78 x 11.91 x 7.72 in)
Weight
1.16 kg ( = 40.92 oz) Power Supply: 142 g ( = 5.01 oz)
Battery
43 Wh Lithium-Ion, 3 cells, Battery runtime (according to manufacturer): 6 h
Price
999,00 Euro
Operating System
Microsoft Windows 8 64 Bit
Additional features
Webcam: HD (30fps@720p), Speakers: Stereo speakers, Keyboard: Chiclet keyboard with 87 keys, Keyboard Light: no, Bag, manual, power adapter (40 watts), Test version of Norton Internet Security, PuzzleTouch, Battery Calibration, pre-installled apps, 24 Months Warranty

 

[+] compare
Glossy packaging.
Glossy packaging.
Unboxed and ready.
Unboxed and ready.
Not much in that box...
Not much in that box...
... apart from a bag for the convertible.
... apart from a bag for the convertible.
Slid open.
Slid open.
And with the display upright.
And with the display upright.
Side view.
Side view.
It comes with an IPS display...
It comes with an IPS display...
... and three blue LEDs: Plugged in, HDD and power.
... and three blue LEDs: Plugged in, HDD and power.
Back view.
Back view.
Power button, HDMI and USB.
Power button, HDMI and USB.
The Gigabit Ethernet port.
The Gigabit Ethernet port.
3.5 mm Line In/Out, USB, power adapter.
3.5 mm Line In/Out, USB, power adapter.
The bottom side.
The bottom side.
Fan, rotation lock and volume rocker.
Fan, rotation lock and volume rocker.
A card reader next to the volume rocker.
A card reader next to the volume rocker.
Opening the case voids the warranty.
Opening the case voids the warranty.
The power adapter can handle up to 40 watts.
The power adapter can handle up to 40 watts.
Some preinstalled apps.
Some preinstalled apps.

Similar devices

Devices with the same GPU and/or Screen Size

» Review Toshiba WT310 Tablet
Core i5 3339Y, 0.825 kg

Links

Price Comparison

Amazon.com

Show results on Amazon.com

Pricerunner n.a.

Pro

+More-than-decent battery life
+IPS panel with superb viewing angles
+Great contrast ratio
+Reasonably priced
 

Cons

-RAM only in single channel mode
-Most ports are located on the right hand side
-Mediocre build quality
-Throbbing fan
-Not very rigid (low torsion-resistance)
-Strong color tint of the display
-Decreased brightness while running on battery

Shortcut

What we like

The battery life is better than that of its direct competitors.

What we'd like to see

Dual channel RAM would have boosted the performance considerably.

What surprises us

We wouldn't have expected to find such a mediocre build quality (especially concerning the keyboard) in this high-price segment.

The competition

Some of its competitors are the Acer Iconia W700-53334G12as tablet, the Toshiba Satellite U920t-100 ultrabook, the Sony Vaio Duo 11 SV-D1121X9EB ultrabook and the Microsoft Surface Pro tablet.

Ratings

MSI S20-i541 UltraSlider
05/16/2013 v3
Daniel Schmidt

Chassis
73%
Keyboard
75%
Pointing Device
83%
Connectivity
62%
Weight
94%
Battery
90%
Display
80%
Games Performance
62%
Application Performance
93%
Temperature
93%
Noise
79%
Add Points
68%
Average
79%
82%
Convertible *
Weighted Average
> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Archive of our own reviews > Review MSI S20-i541 UltraSlider Ultrabook
Author: Daniel Schmidt, 2013-05-27 (Update: 2013-06- 6)