MSI Pro DP21 11M review: A capable PC that’s easily beaten
It’s small and fast enough for everyday use, but rivals are faster and more versatile
There’s plenty to like about small form factor PCs, which often deliver desktop-level performance in enclosures that aren’t much bigger than a book – and the MSI Pro DP21 11M tries to continue that trend.
This system is many times smaller than your average office computer, but it’s still packed with high-end Intel processing technology and lashings of connectivity.
The Core i5-based machine we’ve reviewed here costs £457 exc VAT, so it won’t break the bank, and the DP21 11M isn’t available as a barebones design – so it’s ideal if you don’t want to buy and fit your own components.
MSI Pro DP21 11M review: Design
The MSI Pro DP21 11M shares much of its visual DNA with the barebones DP20Z 5M – they both boast slatted front panels and chrome-effect MSI logos. Beyond this, though, the two rigs differ. The DP21 11M is 55mm tall, so it’s noticeably shorter than its stablemate, and its 1.27kg weight makes it a bit lighter too. It’s wider and deeper, though, so it looks more like a hardback book than a DVD box set.
Still, it’s easy enough to slot the DP21 11M into small spaces and onto tiny desks, and getting inside is simple. The top panel slides free to reveal a low-profile CPU cooler, two stacked SO-DIMM slots and the M.2 SSD and wireless card. A removeable bracket can house two 2.5in hard drives or SSDs, and this system supports 100mm VESA mounting without needing an adapter. As with the other MSI, build quality is middling – it’s fine for office life, but it could certainly be better.
Other rigs go further, too. MSI’s own DP20Z 5M has two M.2 connectors, and the Asus PN51 has sole M.2 and SATA ports in a chassis that’s smaller and lighter than either of MSI’s models. Intel’s NUC 11 Pro is more compact than every other PC we’ve mentioned here, too, so it’s a better choice for space-saving.
MSI Pro DP21 11M review: Hardware and performance
The MSI Pro DP21 11M also differs from the other MSI machine in the component department. The DP21 relies on an Intel Core i5-11400 processor with six Hyper-Threaded cores and a peak boost speed of 4.4GHz, and in this £457 exc VAT system it’s joined by 8GB of 3200MHz single-channel memory and a 256GB SSD with mid-range read and write speeds of 2,352MB/sec and 966MB/sec.
That’s not a particularly impressive specification. In our application benchmarks the MSI returned a score of 158. That outpaces the low-power laptop chip inside the Intel NUC, but the AMD CPU inside the Asus scored 240 and the AMD Ryzen 5 5600G APU inside the other MSI scored 243.
The DP21 could only compete in single-threaded tasks, which is a strong area for Intel, but it was a long way behind in multi-threaded tests. The single-channel memory undoubtedly causes a performance drop, but fitting 16GB of dual-channel DDR4 only saw the benchmark score improve to 191. It’s clear that Intel’s 11th-gen chip can’t compete even in ideal scenarios. Its integrated GPU is only about half as quick as the AMD APU’s Radeon chip, too, so it’s less capable in graphical work tasks.
The MSI is also louder than the competition. There’s subtle, low fan noise even when the rig is idling, and the output is noticeable when the MSI pelts through tougher tasks. A quiet office will drown out the noise, but the AMD-powered MSI was virtually silent, and the Asus and Intel PCs are more subtle.
It’s not a great set of test results, but the MSI Pro DP21 11M isn’t too loud or too slow for most work situations. This Core i5-based model will handle any mainstream Office task, some light photo-editing, and any browser-based tool. It’ll have no problem with everyday multi-tasking, like switching between Office tools, communication apps and media players. But if you want to tackle content-creation software or anything else more demanding, you’d be better off with the AMD chips inside the Asus and other MSI devices.
The MSI’s value must be considered, too. This Core i5 model costs £457 exc VAT, but MSI’s faster Ryzen 5 barebones rig costs £299 exc VAT – and you can kit that machine out with memory, an SSD and Windows for less than £500 exc VAT. That Ryzen 5 desktop also only costs £432 exc VAT as a fully-specified machine, albeit with 8GB of single-channel memory.
The MSI is available as a £741 exc VAT configuration with an Intel Core i7-11700 processor, 16GB of dual-channel memory and a 512GB SSD. That spec is fast, but there’s little between that processor and the AMD Ryzen 7 5700G – and that AMD chip is available in the DP20Z for £582 exc VAT. That 5700G machine has 8GB of single-channel memory, but you could buy 16GB of dual-channel DDR4 and it’ll still be cheaper than the Intel-powered MSI. For that money you’d also get a Mac Mini with an Apple M1 processor that outpaces the Core i7 chip too.
Happily, the Core i5-powered MSI still offers better value than the Asus PN51 – which is faster, but costs £387 exc VAT before you add components and an OS. The MSI is a bit cheaper than the Intel NUC too.
MSI Pro DP21 11M review: Ports and features
We’ve seen that the DP21 doesn’t break benchmark records, but it does have lots of USB connectivity. At the front it’s got four USB 2.0 sockets alongside a couple of audio jacks, and at the rear there are four USB 3.2 Gen 1 connectors and HDMI and DisplayPort outputs. There’s also a COM port for legacy serial hardware. On the inside, networking is handled by Gigabit Ethernet, dual-band Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.2. Security is covered by TPM 2.0.
That port selection is great if you want to attach loads of peripherals and external storage, but the DP21 has plenty of omissions, too. There are no faster USB ports and no USB-C or Thunderbolt, and reliance on USB 2.0 in 2022 is disappointing. There’s no Kensington lock slot, and the internals don’t support PCI-E 4.
MSI’s own DP20Z has fewer full-size USB ports but it does include USB-C connectivity. Elsewhere, the Asus has a card reader, infrared sensor and better USB-C ports, the Intel NUC has Thunderbolt 4, and both of those machines have 2.5Gbps Ethernet too.
MSI Pro DP21 11M review: Verdict
This absence of modern features means that the MSI Pro DP21 11M won’t be suitable for some offices, and that’s not this device’s only issue. It’s slower and louder than its AMD-based competitors, too. The Core i5 model we’ve reviewed offers poor value when compared to MSI’s own Ryzen 5 system, and the Core i7 version is expensive.
The MSI Pro DP21 11M is worth consideration if you need loads of USB ports or if you use applications that benefit from Intel’s architecture and single-core speed, but almost everyone will be better-served by MSI’s own AMD-based PC.
MSI Pro DP21 11M Specifications
2.6GHz Intel Core i5-11400
Intel UHD Graphics 730
Windows 11 Home 64-bit
Dual-band 802.11ax WiFi, Bluetooth 5.2, Gigabit Ethernet
4 x USB 3.2 Gen 1, 4 x USB 2.0, 1 x HDMI, 1 x DisplayPort, 2 x audio, 1 x COM
208 x 204 x 55mm (WxDxH)
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