The MSI Creator Z16 is a hybrid-style laptop that combines the benefits of portable AAA gaming with that of a mobile workstation, designed with creatives in mind as an Nvidia Studio laptop. MSI is already a familiar name in the world of both dedicated gaming and professional ultrabooks, though it seems the MSI Creator Z16 specifically has its sights set on stealing some thunder from Apple MacBook laptops thanks to some attractive features optimised for creatives.
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.
Video and photography editors are sure to love the display’s 100% DCI-P3 colour coverage and touch screen, while anyone keen to squeeze in some gaming will appreciate the 120Hz refresh rate.
In fact, 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, with the style, ports and battery life of a portable workstation. 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 generalising, there are better-optimised devices out there that focus solely on creatives, so unless you’re someone who really wants or requires a hybrid device, you’d be better off getting a laptop dedicated to a specific group of people or task.
MSI Creator Z16 review: price
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. Our review model comes equipped with 16GB of memory (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.
We can’t locate this configuration on the US-based website, but the lowest possible configuration is instead equipped with 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.
The RTX 3060 GPU is the only graphics card available across all of the different specifications we saw, so either way, you’ll be getting 6GB VRAM. 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.
MSI Creator Z16 review: power and performance
The 11th-gen Intel i9 processor and RTX 3060 GPU are fantastic at eating through video and photography edits, which is exactly the sort of power needed by industry professionals.
It might feel a little overkill for multitasking, but the 16GB of RAM actually 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.
Still, 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.
Speaking of, it managed a respectable 44FPS in Cyberpunk at max settings with DLSS enabled, so its merit as a ‘part-time’ gaming laptop is wholly justified. You can easily run less demanding games like Valorant to take advantage of the 120Hz display, and while no audio editor in their right mind would edit without some professional quality headphones, the speakers built into the MSI Creator Z16 are loud and have sufficient depth and bass to enjoy playing games or watching movies without them.
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-optimised laptop to suit your exact needs.
MSI Creator Z16 review: display
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 colour 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.
MSI Creator Z16 review: features
The design is going to be divisive, but there's plenty to love about it. The plain metallic grey colour feels a tad boring, 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. The look overall feels very bland and industrial, but given this is also a gaming device that could be a breath of fresh air from the usual monstrous vents and flashy RGB lighting.
The chassis is robust and constructed from solid metal, weighing in at 2.2 kg with the entire laptop measuring up at 359 x 256 x 15.9 mm. 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.
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.
See the issue? 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. If you have a USB-C style monitor or a dedicated docking station then you’ll be okay, but the choice to not include a standard external display connection feels frankly bizarre.
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. For a gaming device, those are some pretty stellar numbers as you usually see less than 4 hours on products like a ROG Zephyrus S17.
For a portable workstation though, you’ll get significantly longer on machines like the Dell XPS 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.
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. Colour accuracy and frame rate are lacklustre, but it will get you through any work calls without needing to buy a dedicated alternative.
The keyboard and touchpad look strangely small given how much empty space is available on the base of the laptop, but typing on it was highly satisfying, and the touchpad was highly responsive and tactile. It might take some getting used to from a design perspective, but the functionality is there even if the style feels rather spartan.
Should you buy the MSI Creator Z16?
The MSI Creator Z16 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-optimised devices available for less.
The only GPU option being an RTX 3060 also feels a little lacklustre, 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.
In all, the Z16 feels like it could be a fantastic hybrid laptop for creatives who want to play games and don’t want to buy and separate devices, but it needs a final polish to iron out the current issues before it can compete against dedicated gaming or Nvidia Studio laptops.