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MSI Creator Z16 review

A niche choice for gaming content creators

The MSI Creator Z16 on a sideboard
(Image: © Future)

TechRadar Verdict

The MSI Creator Z16 is a laptop marketed towards content creators but actually works better as a hybrid device for creatives and gamers. It's a great laptop, but this middle ground means it doesn't particularly excel at either, instead, sitting the fence as a middling alternative for folks looking for a single device for work and play.

Pros

  • +

    Fantastic high-refresh screen

  • +

    Golden 16:10 display ratio

  • +

    Great general performance

Cons

  • -

    No HDMI or Display port

  • -

    Battery life is lackluster

  • -

    Fans can get really loud

Two-minute review

The MSI Creator Z16 is an Nvidia Studio laptop, design for content creators or hobbyists who dabble in creative applications, though its specifications also make it a pretty decent gaming machine, with features that should attract people looking for an all-in-one solution.

MSI is already a familiar name in the gaming laptop market and professional ultrabooks, so the jump into creative-optimized devices wasn't too much of a stretch given that portable workstations. It’s certainly taken some inspiration from the MacBook Pro series, featuring a 16-inch 16:10 display, something that MSI has previously dubbed as the ‘golden ratio’ thanks to its proven boost to productivity, alongside a stylish, minimalistic chassis. 

While it doesn’t make a song and dance about design over flashier products like the Acer ConceptD series it’s packing some seriously powerful internal hardware that make it a great fit for a wide range of content creators.

The display is fantastic for video and photography editors thanks to its 100% DCI-P3 color coverage and touch screen, while anyone keen to squeeze in some gaming will appreciate the 120Hz refresh rate.

The top of the MSI Creator Z16

(Image credit: Future)

The MSI Creator Z16 could be considered as a solution for the 'best' of both worlds for those in creative professions who want the power to run demanding games as well as equally demanding applications. It’s a very modern concept that hasn’t reduced the idea of a gaming laptop to be covered in outlandish RGB lighting and an edgy chassis.

Its downfall is that by being an all-rounder, there are better creative workstations and gaming laptops available and at a much lower budget. If you don't mind having a laptop with a 'gamerish' design, a device with similar specifications to our review model can be picked up for under $1,600 / £1,400 / AU$2,000, such as the Asus TUF Dash.

The only GPU option being an RTX 3060 also feels a little lackluster, and it would have benefitted greatly from an additional option for an RTX 3070 in for those who need some additional power. The lack of HDMI is also a bother for anyone who frequently uses additional displays, and makes the laptop incompatable with equipment like graphics drawing tablets.

Overall, this is a very capable creative laptop, so it’s unlikely you would be disappointed in your purchase if bought on sale, but its steep price tag is off-putting when you realised that there are better-optimized devices available for less.

Price and availability

Spec sheet

Here is the MSI Creator Z16 configuration sent to TechRadar for review: 

CPU: Intel i9-11900H
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 (6GB VRAM)
RAM: 16GB LPDDR4 (3200MHz)
Screen: 13.3-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) touch
Storage: 1TB SSD (PCIe, NVMe, M.2)
Ports: 2x USB-A 3.2, 2x USB-C with Thunderbolt 4, microSD card reader, combi audio jack
Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6E,  Bluetooth v5.2
Camera: 720p 30fps
Weight: 4.9 lbs/ 2.2KG
Size: 14.13 x 10.08 x 0.64 inches  / 359 x 256 x 15.9 mm

There are a few different configurations of the MSI Creator Z16 available depending on what region you’re in, so it’s fairly difficult to pin down a standard price tag. 

The model we have in for review has 16GB of RAM (out of a possible 64GB according to the MSI website, though we’ve not seen a configuration that high) alongside an Intel i9-11900H processor, an RTX 3060 graphics card and 1TB of SSD storage you can expect to pay £2,349 (around $3,120 / AU$4,400 is directly converted).

Frustratingly, we can’t locate this configuration on the US-based website, but the lowest possible configuration we did find is packing an Intel i7-11800H and 32GB of RAM for $2,599.99, so make sure you keep your eyes on the specifications before buying - if something looks too good to be true then it likely is, and you might end up with a less powerful laptop than you intended.

There are two sides to these prices. For a creative workstation laptop, that's not especially high, but it is pricey for a gaming laptop at this configuration. Many of the features can be found on more affordable machines like the Asus ROG Zephyrus which gives you plenty of other options on the market.

Design

A side shot of the keyboard on the MSI Creator Z16

(Image credit: Future)

The plain metallic grey color of the chassis is playing things safe, with the MSI dragon logo located on the top of the case, but etched so lightly that it’s difficult to see it unless you catch it in the right light. There are no frills or bold design choices. In fact, if this had lower specifications it almost looks like it could be a fleet device, rolled out en mass to schools and workplaces.

It's an okay design, nothing hideous but it does feel a tad boring when you look at what's on offer elsewhere. The slightly industrial look is fine and could even be considered as a breath of fresh air from the usual monstrous vents and flashy RGB lighting seen on gaming laptops if you're more exposed to that type of hardware.

The chassis is robust and constructed from solid metal, weighing in at 4.9 lb with the entire laptop measuring up at 14.13 x 10.08 x 0.64 inches. It’s perfectly portable at that size and fits into a standard backpack or satchel back, and that solid construction feels reassuring if you need to travel around with it frequently. We certainly didn't notice any scratches of marks after a couple of weeks of carting it around.

Benchmarks

Here’s how the MSI Creator Z16 performed in our suite of benchmark tests:

3DMark: Night Raid: 34,457; Fire Strike: 15,570; Time Spy: 6,433
Cinebench R20: 3,959 points
GeekBench 5: 1,575 (single-core); 7,772 (multi-core)
PCMark 10 (Home Test):  6,614
Handbrake:
Blender: (Classroom); (Fish Cat)
Pugetbench Photoshop:
832
Pugetbench Premiere:
680
PCMark 10 Battery Life: 6 hours 11 minutes
Battery Life (TechRadar movie test): 6 hours 19 minutes

You’re getting plenty of ports, but with a single, glaring issue. On the left, you’ll find a standard headphone/mic jack, a USB-Type C port, USB-Type A port, and the power port, while on the right you get a MicroSD reader, another USB-Type C port, and another USB-Type A port.

A huge problem however, is that for some reason MSI has opted to not include an HDMI or Display Port, with is highly unusual given how often they’re used in both creative offices and gaming environments. You're restricted to docking the device using the thunderbolt connections via a docking station, but that's not good enough for folks who would use a graphics drawing tablet on their projects.

The touchpad looks strangely small given how much empty space is available on the base of the laptop. Rather than having distinct buttons for left/right mouse clicks, this is a single panel so its easy to make mistakes and incorrectly press the wrong function, but it only took a few hours of using to adjust. It's also responsive and has a nice feel to it, so while we would always reccomend using a mouse for productivity, it'll suffice in a pinch.

The keyboard has a similar issue, appearing too small for the device itself, but typing on it was actually a fantastic experience. It might take some getting used to from a design perspective, but the functionality is there even if the style feels rather spartan. This is powered by SteelSeries, which has a pretty good reputation for its gaming keyboards, but besides the RGB lighting there's nothing much to suggest this is a 'gaming first' keyboard.

The MSI Creator Z16 in an official Nvidia Studio laptop, which is effectively a badge awarded by Nvidia that states it's been designed from the ground up with creative professionals in mind. It’s clear that it deserves that badge too when you get a look at the display. 

Its 16-inch screen has slim bezels, much like the MacBook pro. Unlike the MacBook Pro however, you get touch functionalities with that display which can be useful when navigating around webpages and applications, giving it a leg-up over Apple flagship. The resolution is a slight disappointment, coming in at 2560 x 1600 resolution rather than 3072 x 1920 or even full 4K screens seen in many creative workstations these days.

Having a 4K display isn’t a requirement, and its inclusion would certainly push down the refresh rate but for such a lofty asking price it feels like you’re getting a raw deal by trying to compromise between playing games and editing high-resolution photographs and video footage.

Brightness is fine, measuring in at around 398 nits which is above average for a premium laptop, but the display is very glossy which makes using the device in a brightly lit environment difficult. You shouldn’t run into any issues if you’re using the laptop inside, such as in an office, but be sure to stay away from any open windows during the day.

If you need color accuracy then the MSI Creator Z16 has it in bags, with 100% sRGB, 91% AdobeRGB, and 93% P3 coverage for incredible saturation and depth. This isn’t an OLED display so you won’t be getting a sharp contrast, but this is still a very professional grade screen.

Performance

The touchpad on the MSI Creator Z16

(Image credit: Future)

The 11th-gen Intel i9 processor and RTX 3060 GPU are ideal for powering the demanding applications used by creatives, which makes this ideal for video and photography editors. It would also be great for digital artists if it didn't lack that HDMI port, but if you use a mouse to sculpt or render then you'll still see the benefit.

The 16GB of RAM on our unit is fine for playing games, but for actual creative work it feels a tad limiting, only managing to open 20 or so Chrome Tabs alongside Adobe Photoshop before the laptop started to show signs of slowing down, which isn’t something you want from a device packing some otherwise serious hardware.

An upgrade to 32GB for creatives is a must, especially if you deal with 3D software such as Maya or Blender and want to have any hope of running a few applications at the same time. 

The RTX 3060 GPU is also the only graphics card available across all of the different specifications we saw, so either way, you’ll only be getting 6GB VRAM. Again, this is plenty enough to play most recently released games thanks to Nvidia DLSS magic, but it might feel underpowered if you’ve been using more powerful mobile hardware like an Nvidia or AMD workstation GPU or even a beefier model from the current RTX 30 series.

The speakers built into the MSI Creator Z16 are loud and have sufficient depth and bass to enjoy playing games or watching movies without headphones should you need too. They're not the best we've ever heard (with the Dell XPS 15 has notably more bass), but they're very pleasant to listen to.

The keyboard on the MSI Creator Z16

(Image credit: Future)

Even with games, benchmarks and tasks thrown at it, the MSI Creator Z16 coped well with keeping its cool. The fans audibly kicked in around 15 minutes after opening up Adobe Premier, and even when playing Cyberpunk 2077 it was cool enough on the underside to comfortably rest on a lap.

The noise from said fans is pretty loud, but this is again contextual. For a gaming laptop it's hardly anything unusual, but that volume doesn't stack up well against the fanless MacBook Pro 16-inch if you're going to be working in a shared environment.

It managed an average of 44FPS in Cyberpunk at max settings with DLSS enabled, so its merit as a ‘part-time’ gaming laptop is wholly justified. It would be better for running less demanding games like Valorant to take advantage of the 120Hz display.

We ran some benchmarks to see how the MSI Creator Z16 stacks against rival products like the Dell XPS 15 and the recently released MacBook Pro 16-inch. In Geekbench the Z16 scored 7,772 in the multi-core test, placing it well above the average of 4,854 seen in most ‘premium’ devices, narrowly beating the Dell XPS 15. The MacBook Pro 16-inch thrashes that with 11,838 though so if you’re a macOS purist you will have plenty of reasons to stick with Apple.

Apple similarly beat the MSI Creator Z16 in another creative benchmark, achieving 71.32 FPS in a fast handbrake test against the Z16’s 39.48 FPS. This doesn’t mean that MSI’s offering isn’t a capable laptop for folks in creative industries, but for anyone looking for the best of the best, you may want to shop around to find a better-optimized laptop to suit your exact needs.

Webcam

The wbecam on the MSI Creator Z16

(Image credit: Future)

You get a built-in 720p webcam on the display, which is fairly mediocre but most laptop webcams are, and it’s a blessing to get one at all on a device like this. The framerate gets choppy even though it's described as being capable of 30fps, and the sensor struggles in environments that are not brightly lit, with lots of background noise present if you're not situated directly in front of a light source.

MSI also includes an IR camera for Windows Hello facial authentication, so you can use your face to log into the laptop. If you need to look professional in meetings or want to give streaming a try, we would recommend you check out our list of the best webcams or best Logitech webcams on the market.

Battery life

The battery life is either great or subpar depending on if you’re coming at this from a gaming or workstation angle, achieving 6 hours and 11 minutes in the PCMark 10 battery simulation and 6 hours 19 minutes on a looped video playback test.

That's a great result for a gaming laptop, with most devices we review averaging between 4-5 hours when idle, and less when playing a demanding game. The Alienware m17 R4 is an incredibly popular machine for example, but that can barely crawl past the two-hour mark.

For a portable workstation though, you’ll get significantly longer on machines like the Dell XPS 15 and MacBook Pro 16-inch, so if you need to work away from a power outlet frequently you might want to consider the battery potential before buying the MSI Creator Z16.

Buy it if...

You want a single laptop for work and play
It's a niche market, but for content creators who also want a single device to play games on, this is an ideal choice over something like the Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch

You need a stealthy gaming laptop
Some folks don't like the angry designs or flashy RGB lighting, and that's okay. The MSI Creator Z16 looks pretty professional by most standards, making it ideal to take to work or school.

The underside of the MSI Creator Z16

(Image credit: Future)

Don't buy it if...

You're a digital illustrator or graphic designer
The lack of HDMI is truly baffling, and with so many people in the industry using tools like a graphics drawing tablet that require one, it's pretty hard to recommend this to every creative professional.

You don't need a hybrid solution
If you don't need one device to run games and creative applications then you'll get a better optimized product for either of those roles elsewhere.

You're on a budget
This is a seriously pricey laptop, and there are far more affordable gaming laptops on the market that could be used for creative work in a pinch.

Jess Weatherbed
Jess Weatherbed

Jess is a former TechRadar Computing writer, where she covered all aspects of Mac and PC hardware, including PC gaming and peripherals. She has been interviewed as an industry expert for the BBC, and while her educational background was in prosthetics and model-making, her true love is in tech and she has built numerous desktop computers over the last 10 years for gaming and content creation. Jess is now a journalist at The Verge.