Intel has talked a big game about its new 11th generation processors. They're faster, powered by artificial intelligence, and finally have decent built-in graphics. However, if you only get laptops that look and feel the same as they did last year, the effects will have no impact.
That's what makes Intel's partnership with MSI so special this year. The couple unveiled the "Summit" line of thin and light laptops, a new venture for the gaming-focused company.
These new laptops are more than just a first for MSI, however. They also show the future of what thin and light laptops can be and how Intel's closer association with the final product drives us into that future.
Prototyping the future
When a new processor starts up, Intel usually creates a reference model and shows it to its device partners. It's an example of what the new processors can do, and highlights some of the features that manufacturers can use in their new laptops. However, Intel took a different approach with the 11th generation Tiger Lake.
MSI was called in as a partner at the beginning of the process to design and actually build this reference model. At CES 2020, when Tiger Lake was first announced, MSI and Intel exchanged notes about these first Tiger Lake systems.
"We got systems from them all along, in parallel with development boards," Fredrik Hamberger told Digital Trends. He is general manager for premium and gaming notebooks at Intel. “This enables us to carry out complete system tests and user experiences. Whether it's thin and light games, creations, or background noise suppression on video calls. You really can't do that with a generic board. You need to have a complete system. "
It is critical for Intel to enable system-level testing at a much earlier point in time. Earlier reference models mean earlier delivery to other partners. That is more time to collaborate on designs and more time to move to the 11th generation faster.
That early reference model from MSI was the Prestige 14, an example of a super-thin, portable laptop that now comes with Intel Iris Xe graphics under the hood. This Prestige 14 was one of the first Tiger Lake laptops to be demonstrated using the platform's new features. Thanks to the Xe graphics it could play games, thanks to the four lanes of PCIe 4.0 it could be saved faster and it has a battery life of over 10 hours.
But MSI had something completely new up its sleeve. A new brand and design that would help the company enter a new market.
"When MSI began developing this system, we knew we needed a partner who could capitalize on and highlight the years of innovation, performance and leadership that we have worked so hard to create," said Clark Peng, vice president of Notebook Product Management Division at MSI. "Together we are realizing a vision for next-generation platforms for the mobile communications market."
This early partnership would also lead to something completely new: the “Summit” laptop series, the company's first entry into the world of non-gaming, thin and light laptops. In this close collaboration between Intel and companies like MSI, the ecosystem can really shine.
Reach the top
At IFA and just a day after Intel launched in Tiger Lake, MSI announced two laptops in its new line of products: the Summit E and Summit B. These are business laptops – highly portable, high-performance devices. They're also adopting a radically new design language, especially given MSI's legacy as a games brand.
"We chose the name 'Summit' because it embodies a meeting of executives, the culmination of skill and perseverance," said Henri Chen, chief design officer of MSI Notebook Division. “Its visual profile is shaped by minimalist and modern design philosophies and is intended to appeal to the unique tastes of today's business people. Our new logo takes a similar approach with sharp, straight lines and characters that represent the appearance of the line. "
It has a MacBook-like sense of style, but goes well with laptops like the HP Specter x360 and Dell XPS 13. From the beveled edges to the thin bezels, it's clearly meant to add a touch of class and luxury.
"We probably meet face to face several times a year," said Fredrik Hamberger from Intel to Digital Trends about the close relationship with the manufacturers. "We'll research, MSI will research, we'll talk to end customers. We'd go back and forth for months wondering if this was the right addition to MSI's portfolio. With consumers, developers, and gamers, we felt like we were can deliver something really unique with this platform with Tiger Lake-U together with the platform from MSI. "
Often times, laptop manufacturers work on design concepts months or even years in advance of launch. Matching the timing of a design with the introduction of an exciting new processor doesn't always work, which is holding back the impact of both this laptop and new processors. But with the MSI Summit series, the stars agreed.
We believed that designing and offering new thinner and lighter products would be possible for consumers.
The Summit laptops are of course more than just a new look. MSI said that working closely with Intel on the Tiger Lake platform enabled the unique value proposition of these laptops.
"With the expected performance for Tiger Lake processors, we believed that designing and offering new thinner and lighter products would be possible for consumers and attractive to users," said Derek Chen, global sales for MSI's notebook division and marketing manager.
MSI didn't want to compromise on performance, but still wanted these machines to be as portable as possible. How small are you
The premium option with its 4K screen, the Summit E is 0.67 inches thick and 2.86 pounds. The Summit B now has a 1080p screen that is 0.63 inches thick and weighs 2.95 pounds. There are 15-inch versions of these laptops as well as a Summit E13 with a 360-degree hinge.
Well, these aren't the thinnest or lightest laptops in the world, but considering what these laptops can do thanks to Tiger Lake, it's impressive. Whether it's improved content creation capabilities using DL Boost with machine learning or the new Iris Xe graphics, Tiger Lake makes thermally constrained laptops like this far more capable for work and play.
The Summit B uses Intel's new Iris Xe graphics, which Intel says is twice as powerful as last year's Ice Lake Iris Plus graphics. In the meantime, the Summit E uses an even more powerful GTX 1650 Ti. This makes the Summit E14 one of the first 14-inch laptops with such powerful graphics.
The Summit laptops are interesting in their own right, but show the hand of Intel in steering the ecosystem and influencing the future of its platform.
Intel's collaboration is deep
Intel's commitment to the end product has never been so practical. With programs like Project Athena and Evo, Intel is leading manufacturers to the systems it wants to see now more than ever. Even advanced form factors have been created based on concepts like foldable screens.
In this example with MSI, however, it becomes clear that Intel's collaboration goes far beyond certification or design idea. She wants to work with device manufacturers to develop better systems.
"Our engineering teams worked together as one engineering team to make sure that when these systems came out the door they brought the best of MSI and the best of Intel together," said Fredrik Hamberger of Intel. "We're bringing large organizations on both sides to make sure they're fine-tuned. We have a very unique approach that is deeper collaboration than you will otherwise see in the industry."
The egalitarian nature of Windows PCs is its strength with its endless range of options and choices. This is what sets them apart from the MacBooks and Chromebooks in the world. But it can also open the door to products that do not meet Intel's own standards. Sometimes a single sour experience is enough to tarnish the entire Windows PC ecosystem in a customer's eyes.
In the end, a tighter handshake between internal components and external hardware creates a more consistent and cohesive user experience. This is a huge incentive for the Mac to move to Apple Silicon.
It's a delicate balancing act that Intel is forced to take. Hamberger emphasized that partnership and not control is the goal of cooperation.
"It comes from delivering better customer experiences," said Hamberger. “How can we lift the ecosystem? Then we rely on such projects. This not only applies to these projects, but also helps to boost the entire industry. "
If the entire ecosystem grows, it will be a win for Intel.