MSI Katana 15 (2023) review: an ideal first gaming laptop

Does just the right things to be a good entry-level gaming laptop

MSI Katana 15 (2023) in a gaming desk setup
Great Value
(Image: © Future / James Holland)

TechRadar Verdict

The MSI Katana 15 (2023) balances design and performance with a relatively affordable price to be a great option for those seeking their first or at least an affordable gaming laptop. It has solid 1080p performance and everything – except for the battery life and trackpad – is good enough.


  • +

    Solid 1080p gaming performance

  • +

    Good entry level price

  • +

    Fast refresh rate

  • +

    Ideal for a first gaming laptop


  • -

    Trackpad not great

  • -

    Mediocre battery life

  • -

    Styling is a bit old

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MSI Katana 15 (2023): One-minute review

The MSI Katana 15 (2023) makes solid 1080p gaming in laptop form just a little more accessible. It’s not the flashiest or most awe-inspiring looking option on the market. In fact, it somewhat resembles those loud-and-proud gaming laptops from before the pandemic. But, it delivers where it counts for those that are not quite ready to drop $2,000 on something to play the latest AAA title at the absolute highest settings.

So, for those with a limited budget, the MSI Katana 15 (2023) is among the best gaming laptops to pick from. There are some compromises, such as the styling and battery life, as well as a flaw or two, but the overall package provides a good quality gaming experience where you won’t feel the portable’s limitations.

After all, the best budget gaming laptops strike a balance between design, performance, and price. And, the MSI Katana 15 (2023) does just that, making it ideal as someone’s first gaming laptop. 

MSI Katana 15 (2023): Price & availability

  • How much does it cost? Starting at $999 (about £785 / AU$1,543) 
  • When is it available? Available now
  • Where can you get it? Available in the US, UK, and Australia 

Starting at $999 (about £785 / AU$1,543) for the base configuration reviewed here, the MSI Katana 15 (2023) just squeezes into that budget category of gaming laptops. While you can find other gaming laptops for less, they’re not likely to sport specs as good as the entry model here, which comes with a 13th-Gen Intel Core i7, 16GB of RAM, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 4050 and 1TB SSD. Instead, you’ll have to stick with options sporting older internals like 11th or 12th-Gen Intel Core CPUs and Nvidia RTX 3000 series GPUs at best.

Consider the Acer Nitro 5. It goes for the same price but sports a 12th-Gen Intel Core CPU and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti. Of course, the Nitro 5 has a cheaper base configuration that goes for $769.99 (about £606 / AU$1,189), but you’re getting a generations-old Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650.

That said, you can certainly find pricey versions of this laptop as a max configuration with a price tag of $1,899 (about £1,492 / AU$2.933) comes equipped with an 13th-Gen Intel Core i9, 32GB of RAM, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 4070, and 1TB SSD. Considering the specs, that’s actually not a bad price, though you’re still limited to the same 15.6-inch 1080p @ 144Hz display.

Just be aware if you’re in Australia, you’re getting these same models, but they’re equipped with 12th-Gen Intel Core processors which start at AU$1,799. Those in the UK have access to a single model of the MSI Katana 15 (2023) with a 13th-Gen Intel Core CPU, which goes for £1,299.

  • Price score: 4 / 5

MSI Katana 15 (2023) in a gaming desk setup

(Image credit: Future / James Holland)

MSI Katana 15 (2023): Specs

The MSI Katana 15 (2023) comes in a number of configurations, with our review model also being the base one. The main differences between options comes down to whether you get an Intel Core i7 or i9 and whether you choose an Nvidia GeForce RTX 4050, 4060, or 4070. Intel Core i9-equipped models also come with 32GB of RAM instead of 16GB.

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These are the specs for the MSI Katana 15 (2023)
ComponentBase / review configurationTop configuration
Price$999 (about £785 / AU$1,543)$1,899 (about £1,492 / AU$2.933)
CPUIntel Core i7-13620H Intel Core i9-13900H
RAM16GB DDR5-5200MHz 32GB DDR5-5200MHz
Screen15.6-inch FHD, IPS-Level 144Hz 15.6-inch FHD, IPS-Level 144Hz
Ports1x USB-C 3.2, 2x USB-A 3.2, 1x USB-A 2.0, HDMI 2.1, 3.5mm Combo-Jack1x USB-C 3.2, 2x USB-A 3.2, 1x USB-A 2.0, HDMI 2.1, 3.5mm Combo-Jack
WirelessWi-Fi 6 AX201, Bluetooth 5.2 Wi-Fi 6 AX201, Bluetooth 5.2
Camera720p 720p
Weight4.96 lbs (2.25 kg) 4.96 lbs (2.25 kg)
Dimensions14.13 x 10.20 x 0.98 inches (359 x 259 x 25mm)14.13 x 10.20 x 0.98 inches (359 x 259 x 25mm)

Regardless of whichever configuration you choose, the display is the same 15.6-inch 1080p screen with a 144Hz refresh rate. The ports stay the same as does the keyboard, trackpad, and webcam. Even the weight stays the same. The only variation in configurations come down to the two Intel Core CPU options, the three Nvidia 4000 GPUs, and the RAM.

MSI Katana 15 (2023): Design

  • Styling is a bit out-of-date
  • Decent display with fast refresh rate
  • Good enough keyboard but not trackpad

Gaming laptops have come with a lot of compromises for being able to run powerful specs and function competently as a gaming battlestation over the years. Many newer options have solved a lot of those issues such as battery life and portability. That’s not quite the case with the more budget portables. And, that’s certainly not the case here.

The MSI Katana 15 (2023) is thick and heavy with the tough plastic body more reminiscent of gaming laptops from a few years ago. In fact, this portable has somewhat older stylings to match. Of course, this is a budget option for gamers and, as such, prioritizes its core competency – gaming – over more minor appointments. That’s probably why the one notable forward-thinking design choice here is the shared pipe design where the heat pipes, visible through the venting underneath cross over both the CPU and GPU to keep things cool.

MSI Katana 15 (2023) in a gaming desk setup

(Image credit: Future / James Holland)

The display here is not anything to write home about. It’s a 15.6-inch 1080p screen that is not going to blow you away but will do what it’s supposed to. However, it does come with a speedy 144Hz refresh rate for smoother looking performance in competitive games.

Staying on theme, the keyboard is comfortable enough to use, whether typing or gaming, but its flat keycaps are not going to feel as luxurious as a good mechanical keyboard. That said, it does offer a full layout with an included numpad, which I usually don’t see in gaming laptops. And, the WASD keys have transparent keycaps so that they pop out visually. On top  of that, there are plenty of on-the-fly secondary functions marked on the keycaps.

The one place I would say the MSI Katana 15 (2023) doesn’t quite hit that “good enough” benchmark is with the trackpad. While no gaming laptop’s trackpad has been capable of keeping up when actually gaming, this one is a pain to use even during normal use as it’s not the most responsive and seems to lag a little when tracking. At least the port selection is more than enough with an Ethernet, HDMI, and USB-C with power delivery on hand along with three USB-A ports and an audio combo jack.

  • Design score: 4 / 5

MSI Katana 15 (2023): Performance

  • Well optimized for gaming
  • Webcam is fairly low-resolution
  • Speakers are decent
MSI Katana 15 (2023): Laptop benchmarks

Here's how the MSI Katana 15 (2023) performed in our suite of benchmark tests:

3DMark: Port Royal: 4,621; Fire Strike: 20,199; Time Spy: 8,620
GeekBench 6: 2,394 (single-core); 12,727 (multi-core)
25GB File Copy:
Handbrake 1.6: 4:27
CrossMark: Overall: 1,892; Productivity: 1,808; Creativity: 2,025; Responsiveness: 1,768
Far Cry 6 1080p (Ultra) 81 fps
Cyberpunk 2077: 1080p (Ultra) 38.50 fps
Web Surfing (Battery Informant): 2:39:56
PCMark 10 Battery Life (Gaming): 0:41 

As much as it may sound like I’ve been complaining or nitpicking on the MSI Katana 15 (2023) for just being good enough in many departments (and there’s a bit more of that to come), I was actually impressed with the performance. My first thoughts after just a short time using it was how MSI managed to include and optimize powerful enough components in every regard so that I would rarely hit the laptop’s limits.

I had no issues running Control at the highest settings with ray tracing on. Far Cry 6 similarly was rock solid at high settings. The only time I really had to compromise was with Hogwarts Legacy where I needed to turn off all ray tracing and go down a level in the settings to get rid of stuttering. 

MSI Katana 15 (2023) in a gaming desk setup

(Image credit: Future / James Holland)

When we ran our benchmarks, the results mostly confirmed what I experienced when running AAA titles. For instance, Far Cry 6 achieved a very respectable 81 fps while Assassin’s Creed Valhalla was able to get 78 fps. Of course, the MSI Katana 15 (2023)’s Cyberpunk 2077 results are not inspiring, just barely missing 39 fps at max setting. However, the Nvidia GeForce RTX 4050 isn’t that robust when it comes to max settings with ray tracing on. Another gaming laptop with an RTX 4050, the Lenovo Legion Pro 5i got a not much better 44 fps with the same settings.

Most gamers these days also have interest in streaming while playing. Unfortunately, the webcam is barely acceptable. It has a 720p resolution so it doesn’t offer the sharpest image, and it can be grainy especially when the lights are dimmed.

Though the speakers also fit into the “good enough” category, that’s actually a win considering the speakers on laptops are generally pretty abysmal. They do sound a little boxy and don’t have much low-end, but they’re still decent and good enough for you to know what’s happening in-game. Plus, there’s plenty of audio customization including spatial audio via the Nahimic software.

Beyond the Nahimic app, the MSI Center is the main piece of proprietary software here and it does the usual, monitoring internal temperatures and how heavy of a load the laptop is under as well as allowing for a few customizations like turning on and fine tuning a game mode so that you don’t accidentally press a Windows key in the middle of a game and suffer the consequences.

  • Performance score: 4.5 / 5

MSI Katana 15 (2023) in a gaming desk setup

(Image credit: Future / James Holland)

MSI Katana 15 (2023): Battery life

  • Very short battery life
  • Disappointing performance during benchmarks

When it comes to battery life, gaming laptops have never been at the forefront. They’ve generally offered a much reduced amount of usable time compared to other laptops due to having to power a GPU along with typically more demanding tasks, i.e. games. While some gaming notebooks have managed to improve on that, at least during regular non-gaming use, the MSI Katana 15 (2023) hasn’t.

In our web surfing test, it managed to last just two hours and 40 minutes while on the PCMark battery test, it didn’t even last an hour. That’s disappointing to say the least. Even though most gaming laptops generally can’t be used for long without being plugged in, these results are among the worst I’ve seen in a portable of this kind.

  • Battery score: 3 / 5

Should you buy the MSI Katana 15 (2023)?

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MSI Katana 15 (2023)
PriceThe MSI Katana 15 (2023) offers some relatively powerful specs for a very reasonable price.4 / 5
DesignThe looks aren’t the most stunning but most everything is capable enough.4 / 5
PerformanceThe MSI Katana 15 (2023) has enough power for very solid 1080p gaming, though the webcam is underwhelming.4.5 / 5
BatteryThe battery life is not good, even for a gaming laptop.3 / 5
Average ratingWhile much of what’s on offer is just good enough, the gaming performance and price make this ideal for an entry-level gaming laptop.4 / 5

Buy it if...

You’re looking for your first gaming laptop
It’s not the most stylish gaming portable available and many of its appointments are not going to wow, but it offers really good 1080p performance making it a great option for a first gaming laptop.

You’re on a budget
While you could go cheaper, the MSI Katana 15 (2023) just hits that budget range while offering powerful enough components to keep up for the next couple years.

Don't buy it if...

You want something light and portable
This gaming laptop is on the bulky side and is not the easiest to carry around, not to mention its battery life is not good enough for on-the-go use.

You want the best of the best
The MSI Katana 15 (2023) is a study in compromise for getting good gaming at a cheap price. If you want something with the top components and 4K resolution, look elsewhere.

MSI Katana 15 (2023): Also consider

If our MSI Katana 15 (2023) review has you considering other options, here are two laptops to consider... 

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ComponentMSI Katana 15 (2023)Asus ROG Zephyrus G15MSI GT77 Titan (2023)
PriceStarting at $999 (about £785 / AU$1,543)Starting at $1,499 / £1,599 / AU$2,599Starting at $4,299.99 (about £3,570 / AU$6,240)
CPUFrom Intel Core i7-13620HAMD Ryzen 9 5900HS (Ryzen 7 5800H CPU in UK and AUS)Intel Core i9-13980HX (Up to 5.6 GHz)
GPUFrom NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4050Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 - RTX 3080Nvidia GeForce RTX 4080 - RTX 4090
RAMFrom 16GB DDR5-5200MHz16 - 32GB64 – 128GB DDR5 4800MHz
StorageFrom 1TB SSD512 GB - 1TB SSD2 TB – 4 TB SSD
Screen15.6-inch FHD, IPS-Level 144Hz16" UHD+, 16:10 (3840 x 2400 WQUXGA) / FHD+ 16:10 (1920 x 1200, WUXGA)17.3-inch IPS, 4K 144Hz Mini LED, HDR 1000, 100% DCI-P3
Ports1x USB-C 3.2, 2x USB-A 3.2, 1x USB-A 2.0, HDMI 2.1, 3.5mm Combo-Jack2x USB Type-C 3.2 Gen 2, 2x USB Type-A, 1x MicroSD, 1x HDMI 2.0b, 1x 3.5mm combo jack, 1x RJ45 Ethernet, 1x Kensington lock3x USB 3.2 Gen 2, 2x Thunderbolt 4 w/ DP, 1x HDMI 2.1, 1x Mini DisplayPort 1.4, 1x 3.5mm combo jack
WirelessWireless Wi-Fi 6 AX201, Bluetooth 5.2Wifi 6, BluetoothWi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.2
Camera720p NoneIR 720p HD w/shutter
Weight4.96 lbs (2.25 kg)4.19lbs (1.9kg)7.28 lbs (3.30 kg)
Dimensions14.13 x 10.20 x 0.98 inches (359 x 259 x 25mm)13.97 x 9.59 x 0.78 inches (355 x 243.5 x 19.9 mm)15.63 x 12.99 x 0.91 inches (397 x 329.95 x 23.11 mm)

Asus ROG Zephyrus G15
The Asus ROG Zephyrus G15 is the closest one can get in a gaming laptop to that Ultrabook experience. It’s fairly petite and lightweight with a respectable eight-hour battery life. Plus, it has excellent performance for a fairly reasonable price.

Read our full Asus ROG Zephyrus G15 review


MSI GT77 Titan (2023)
The MSI GT77 Titan is just that – a titan. Not just in size but in performance as well. Sure, the fans can get a little loud and the price is really, really high. But, this powerhouse should be the definition of a desktop replacement.

Read our full MSI GT77 Titan (2023) review

How I tested the MSI Katana 15 (2023)

  • Tested for a week
  • Pushed it as hard as possible gaming-wise
  • Played with various settings

I used the MSI Katana 15 (2023) for about a week, playing a number of demanding games like Hogwards Legacy, Control, Gotham Knights and Far Cry 6. While doing so, I ran the games at various settings, particularly at the highest ones with ray tracing on wherever possible, and took note of the results. I also tested each aspect of the laptop from the keyboard and trackpad to the webcam and speakers.

After spending time with the MSI Katana 15 (2023), it’s clear that the company managed to make a machine that’s able to make the most out of its parts for a good gaming laptop that’s perfect for those looking for an entry-level or their first gaming laptop.

I’ve spent the last few years reviewing tech gear for gaming and otherwise, where I’ve gotten a feel for what to look for and how to put a piece of kit through its paces to see whether it’s worth the recommendation. 

Read more about how we test

First reviewed August 2023

James Holland

James Holland loves audio gear! So much so that he covers all the ins and outs, good and bad for Tech Radar and T3. Where does that so-called expertise come from? Not only is he a lifelong music-lover but he also works in the music industry and is a musician. When not testing headphones or listening to music, he loves to travel, rage at the latest PC games, and eat off-the-beaten-path but not too off-the-beaten-path food.