“Bravo,” all right! MSI’s Bravo 15 (starts at $929; $999 as tested) is an all-AMD-powered gaming notebook and the successor of the Alpha 15. This time around, it more than compensates for its predecessor’s lack of CPU grunt with a new “Renoir” Ryzen 4000 series chip, which is head and shoulders faster than comparable Intel silicon you’ll find in laptops in this price range. Although the Bravo 15 falls a touch short in overall gaming performance next to notebooks packing Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1660 Ti, its strong CPU, ample memory, good-size dollop of storage, and a high-refresh AMD FreeSync display make it an excellent value at or just below the four-figure mark, where you’d be hard-pressed to find a GTX 1660 Ti-based notebook equipped the same.
‘Renoir’ Paints Some Serious Power
The upgrade to AMD’s Ryzen 4000 series processors is the single biggest component difference between the Alpha 15 and the Bravo 15, and it’s a big difference maker, too. The six-core, 12-thread Ryzen 5 4600H (3GHz base, 4GHz boost) in the base model is plenty fast to take on Intel’s same-core-and-thread-count Core i7-10750H, but my test unit’s eight-core, 16-thread Ryzen 7 4800H (2.9GHz base, 4.2GHz boost) hits far above it in overall performance.
My test unit (model A4DDR-023) is the better value of the two United States-bound Bravo 15 models because of its stronger processor and extra memory (16GB versus 8GB). The storage for both is a single 512GB solid-state drive with Windows 10 Home, and they also share the 4GB Radeon RX 5500M graphics chip that was used in the Alpha 15. The laptop is backed with a one-year international warranty.
The Bravo 15 also sees a full chassis revamp, with just the black-and-red color scheme from the Alpha 15 carrying forward. For one, I’m glad to see that the garish green lid logo has been replaced by a much subtler silver version.
The build is also improved thanks to the brushed-aluminum palm rest, which was plastic on the Alpha 15. The chassis remains about the same size, at 14.1 by 10 inches, but it’s noticeably thinner, at just 0.85 inch. Its weight is also down about a half-pound, to 4.1 pounds. That makes the Bravo 15 one of the more portable 15.6-inch gaming notebooks on the market.
That said, it’s not the strongest chassis build on the market. The lid is adequately stiff, but the chassis’ lower half flexes without too much effort. I’m not apt to complain, however, since this is not unusual for a gaming notebook in this price range.
The Bravo 15’s 120Hz screen is a strength at its price. The Alpha 15 offered a 144Hz display, so it’s technically a downgrade, but the reality is that the Radeon RX 5500M doesn’t have the horsepower to drive into triple-digit frame rates in most of today’s demanding titles, as the benchmarks will show. The display is otherwise nicely appointed with IPS technology for wide viewing angles, a glare-killing matte surface, and AMD FreeSync adaptive-sync technology for smoother gameplay. (Try finding Nvidia’s G-Sync tech in a machine at this price.) The colors don’t pop, but the picture isn’t undersaturated or lacking for brightness. It’s a solid-enough screen for a laptop in this range.
Red-Only Keyboard Backlighting
The single-color keyboard backlighting on the Bravo 15 is the norm for a budget-grade gaming laptop, so perhaps I was spoiled by the SteelSeries-branded version on the Alpha 15 that allowed per-key RGB customization. The Bravo 15 also drops the number pad.
If it weren’t for what was on the Alpha 15, though, I’d have nothing to complain about with this keyboard. Its keys have a short, snappy feel and a productive layout.
A toggle in the included MSI Dragon Center app allows you to swap the Fn key with the Windows key or disable the Windows key entirely. As you can see below, the buttonless touchpad is offset to the left to line up with the keyboard and space bar.
The pad’s surface has some give before it actually produces a click; I’m not sure if this is an intentional design feature, but it makes a tap-to-click action more intuitive since contacting the surface with a finger moves it a bit as opposed to just hitting a solid surface. The taps (and physical clicks if you press further) are reasonably quiet.
The Bravo 15 gets extra points for its nice-sounding speakers, located under the palm rest, and the smooth video from its 720p webcam. Like most gaming notebooks it lacks biometric-login features such as an IR camera or fingerprint reader.
The Bravo 15 has ample connectivity. The power jack and an HDMI video output reside on the left while a headphone/microphone combo jack, four USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports (those are the 5Gbps kind; two Type-A, two Type-C), and Gigabit Ethernet are on the right.
There’s also a Kensington-style cable-locking notch over there, something that’s always nice to have. It’s somewhat ironic that the AMD-centric Bravo 15 relies on an Intel AX200 wireless card. It’s a solid choice and one of the few available that supports Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax). It also supports Bluetooth 5.
No Longer the Lone AMD Wolf
The Alpha 15 was almost alone among gaming notebooks when it was released for using all-AMD hardware, but the later launch of AMD’s Renoir chips changed that. Dell’s G5 15 SE (2020) is one Renoir-based newcomer, running about $200 more than the Bravo 15 with the Radeon RX 5600M (its only graphics choice), the next GPU up AMD’s mobile-graphics stack from the Radeon RX 5500M and the competitor of the GTX 1660 Ti.
Nvidia’s new laptop-only 4GB GeForce GTX 1650 Ti is the closest comparison to the Radeon RX 5500M in the Bravo 15. It’s currently not all that common, which will inevitably change, though Amazon and Newegg show a fair number of GTX 1660 Ti notebooks for around the Bravo 15’s price. Such notebooks are usually saddled with an entry-level CPU (such as a Core i5) and just 8GB of RAM to get there. Thus, the Bravo 15 strikes a better balance between performance and price.
Let’s see how the Bravo 15 stacks up against its predecessor and several other budget-friendly gamers…
Dell’s mentioned G5 15 SE goes head to head with the HP Pavilion Gaming 15. The other contender is the MSI GL65 9SC, a no-frills machine that’s much less expensive than the rest.
Our first test is UL’s PCMark 10, a holistic performance suite that simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheeting, web browsing, and videoconferencing. The test generates a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better. PCMark 8, meanwhile has a Storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the system’s storage subsystem. This score is also a proprietary numeric score; again, higher numbers are better.
The Bravo 15 rocketed to the top of the PCMark 10 charts followed closely by the Dell. All the others were left far behind (though still fast in their own right; we look for at least 4,000 points in that test). The PCMark 8 scores were predictably even given all these PCs use solid-state boot storage.
Next up is a pair of CPU-crunching tests: Cinebench R15 stresses all available processor cores and threads while rendering a complex image, while in our Handbrake test, we transcode a 12-minute 4K video down to 1080p.
Kinda one-sided, isn’t it? The Ryzen 7 4800H chip in the Bravo 15 and the Dell G5 15 SE put them in an entirely different performance league. It doubles the core and thread counts of the Alpha 15’s Ryzen 7 3750H yet more than doubles its performance in Cinebench R15, demonstrating how much faster the new architecture really is. (And just think, the HP’s Core i7-9750H was the fastest mobile CPU you could get in the price range of these machines just a few months ago.)
The final test in this section is photo editing. We use an early 2018 release of Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud to apply 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG image, timing each operation and adding up the totals. This test is not as CPU-focused as Cinebench or Handbrake, bringing the performance of the storage subsystem, memory, and GPU into play.
The Bravo 15 didn’t stand out here like in the other tests, though it still scored well for a laptop. The HP’s Core i7 chip does boost a little higher, GHz-wise, than the Ryzen chips, so that likely gave it its marginal edge in this “bursty” test that can leverage fast boost clocks run for short periods of time.
We use two benchmark suites to gauge the gaming performance potential of a PC. In the first, UL’s 3DMark, we run two DirectX 11-driven subtests, the mainstream Sky Diver trial and Fire Strike, which is more suited to gaming rigs.
The Sky Diver test is mostly CPU-limited with these laptops, where Bravo 15’s more powerful CPU allowed it to absolutely dominate the Alpha 15 despite using the same graphics card. The difference was less pronounced in Fire Strike where the Bravo 15 surprisingly kept pace with the GTX 1660 Ti-powered HP.
Our other synthetic graphics benchmark is Unigine Corp.’s Superposition, which uses a different rendering engine to produce a complex 3D scene.
I had some software issues with the Bravo 15 in this benchmark that didn’t allow the 720p preset to finish. Nonetheless, the 1080p numbers are more important, where it matched the Alpha 15. That’s no surprise considering this benchmark is almost completely CPU-focused, and as such it couldn’t catch the HP as it did in Fire Strike.
Now we’ll move on to real games. We use the built-in 1080p benchmarks in Far Cry 5 (at its Normal and Ultra presets) and Rise of the Tomb Raider (at its Medium and Very High presets). Far Cry 5 uses DirectX 11, while we flip Rise of the Tomb Raider to DirectX 12.
These are some intriguing results. Far Cry 5 saw the Dell taking the lead, though surprisingly the Bravo 15 was right behind it, not the HP with its faster graphics card. The HP turned the tables in Rise of the Tomb Raider and even beat the Dell. The Bravo 15 in both cases was startlingly faster than the Alpha 15, driving home how important the CPU is for gaming. These are overall remarkably good numbers from the Bravo 15 and indicate it’s well-suited for 1080p gaming.
Battery Rundown Test
For our last benchmark, we measure a laptop’s unplugged runtime while playing a locally stored video with screen brightness at 50 percent and audio volume at 100 percent. We use the notebook’s energy-saving rather than balanced or other power profile, turn off Wi-Fi, and even disable keyboard backlighting to squeeze as much life as possible out of the system.
The nearly seven-hour showing from the Bravo 15 is right on target with MSI’s claims. Like many Intel notebooks, it features dynamically switchable graphics that allow it to use its integrated Radeon GPU on battery. Its newer CPU helps it last much longer off the plug than the Alpha 15, which used the same-rated 51-watt-hour battery. It’s hard to complain about this kind of unplugged life from a gaming notebook.
It’s a Little Warm in Here
The Bravo 15 is cooled by two fans which send their exhaust out the back and left sides of the chassis. Heatpipes are visible through the bottom perforations in the chassis.
I did a 30-minute play session of Rise of the Tomb Raider to bring the Bravo 15 up to temperature. Its fan noise is audible, although it shouldn’t be a disturbance, especially in the presence of background noise. This laptop has about the same noise level as other gaming notebooks I’ve tried in this price range. Here’s how the top side looked through our Flir One Pro thermal camera …
Things get toasty toward the forward edge near the screen, where temperatures peaked over 120 degrees F. Then again, that area isn’t somewhere you would usually put your fingers. The keyboard was cool enough.
Inside is where things got interesting. The GPU-Z software I use to track temperatures reported the Radeon RX 5500M running in the mid-70-degree C range, or about 10 degrees hotter than it did in the Alpha 15, while its CPU scorched in the upper-80-to-upper-90-degree C range. The Alpha 15’s CPU, though much less powerful, ran about 20 degrees cooler on average. I didn’t experience performance problems with the Bravo 15, though it would be nice to see its CPU run cooler.
Another Excellent AMD Value
The Bravo 15 picks up the Alpha 15’s torch and carries it a lot further with its Ryzen 4000 series processor. It offers solid 1080p gaming performance, a FreeSync-enabled display, ample memory and storage in our tested configuration, and a redesigned chassis that looks great. It even gets pretty good battery life for a gaming laptop.
It’s true that gaming notebooks with a GeForce GTX 1660 Ti can be found for around the same price, though they usually skim other specifications to achieve that. The Bravo 15 hits all the right marks for a budget-oriented gaming notebook and earns our Editors’ Choice laurels for being a standout in this category. Well done, MSI…or, as I noted at the beginning, “Bravo!” indeed.
MSI Bravo 15 Specs
|Processor||AMD Ryzen 7 4800H|
|Processor Speed||2.9 GHz|
|RAM (as Tested)||16 GB|
|Boot Drive Type||SSD|
|Boot Drive Capacity (as Tested)||512 GB|
|Screen Size||15.6 inches|
|Native Display Resolution||1,920 by 1,080|
|Variable Refresh Support||FreeSync|
|Screen Refresh Rate||120 Hz|
|Graphics Processor||AMD Radeon RX 5500M|
|Graphics Memory||4 GB|
|Wireless Networking||802.11ax, Bluetooth|
|Dimensions (HWD)||0.85 by 14.1 by 10 inches|
|Operating System||Windows 10 Home|
|Tested Battery Life (Hours:Minutes)||6:55|