MSI Creator 15 Review: A Well-Balanced Laptop for Games or Work

Illustration for article titled MSI Creator 15 Review: A Well-Balanced Laptop for Games or Work
Photo: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo

Creator-focused and gaming laptops can sometimes be indistinguishable from each other. Both usually have a high-end specs to transcode videos as quickly as they load graphically intensive games, enough ports to transfer raw image files from cameras and hook-up streaming equipment, and sometimes even 4K displays. But something like gaming laptop maker MSI’s Creator 15 comes with a few neat extras to make more colors pop or sounds more vibrant—things that would matter less to gamers and more to filmmakers or musicians.

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And as far as how the MSI Creator 15 is positioned among other laptops of its class, it’s one of the more reasonably priced ones too. But still not cheap. The one reviewed here comes stocked with an Intel Core i7-10875H, Nvidia RTX 2060, 16 GB (8 GB x 2) DDR4-2666MHz RAM, 1 TB NVMe SSD, and a 15.6-inch 1080p 60 Hz touch-screen display with 72% of the NTSC color gamut, which is roughly equivalent to 100% of the sRGB color gamut and pretty standard amongst costlier laptops. The max brightness is only 360 nits according to our tests, which seems on the low side for a creator-focused laptop.

All that will cost you around $1,900, although a fully-loaded model with a 4K touch-display and an RTX 2080 Super Max-Q is closer to $2,900. Compared to something like the HP ZBook Create G7, where its base-model costs $2,750, the MSI Creator 15 is way more appealing on price alone and it will still do nearly everything you need it to do. The display colors aren’t as rich, the sound of the bass not as deep as the ZBook, but that was created with professionals in mind. Professionals who are willing to pay for displays that can pump out more colors than this laptop. The MSI Creator 15 is something more for students or someone just starting their creative career journey, and it still offers more features and comparable performance than the $2,800, 16-inch MacBook Pro—though its lower-resolution display with narrower color gamut isn’t as nice as the MacBook Pro’s, which handles the wider P3 color gamut and has a 3072 x 1920 resolution.

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The chassis design is one of my favorites out of all the laptops I’ve ever tested. To be fair, I am partial to laptop designs that don’t try to emulate expensive sports cars. But the MSI Creator 15 is particularly nice, right up there with Razer’s laptops and MSI’s own GS66 stealth, one of our favorite gaming laptops. The logo on the lid blends in subtly with the all-back matte chassis, which looks sleek and professional and isn’t too much of a fingerprint magnet. The keys are large and well-spaced for nearly any sized hands, although missing my favorite feature on all keyboards, the number pad. (Years spent doing data entry and other customer service-related things made me used to one.)

The Creator 15 does have some heft to it, but the entire thing weighs only 4.6 lbs., so it’s still convenient to carry around. Most of that hefty feeling actually comes from the laptop’s thickness, which is 0.72 inches. Definitely not the thinnest laptop around, but this thing was made to do some serious creative work on the go, so I’d expect, and want, some sturdiness.

Performance isn’t bad either, although it’s hard to go wrong with an Intel Core i7-10875H and Nvidia RTX 2060 graphics cards. Sure, Intel’s 11th-gen processors with Iris Xe Graphics is starting to roll out across all major laptop brands, and Nvidia just came out with new graphics cards, but it will be a while before we start seeing RTX 3000 cards in laptops. Not to mention the Core i7 in the Creator 15 is able to hit a higher turbo frequency than the 11th-gen i7s, so you’re still getting a powerful kit for under two grand.

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In our usual array of tests, the MSI Creator 15 took 8.5 minutes rendering a 3D image in Blender, 8.75 minutes transcoding a 4K video to 1080p 30 fps in Handbrake, and its battery lasted a decent six hours and 10 minutes—not the up to nine hours of battery life MSI advertises for this laptop, but battery mileage will always vary depending on how hard you push it. However, compared to other laptops six hours is just okay; The Dell XPS 15 and MacBook Pro 13 both have battery lives of over eight hours.

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This laptop plays nice with games, too. At 1080p on ultra (or highest graphical setting), the Creator 15 averaged 65 fps in Total War: Warhammer II, 70 fps in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, 83 fps in Far Cry 5, 187 fps in Overwatch, 44 fps in Metro Exodus with ray tracing off, and did an average 7.6 ms turn-time in Civilization VI. All that is in line with what the RTX 2060 should get in a system specced like the Creator 15. And with a display that’s only 60Hz, you don’t really need a more powerful graphics card.

Like most other similar laptops with a 10th-gen Intel processor, thermals are usually a concern for me. Depending on how the cooling system is designed and what materials were used to create the chassis, skin temps around the keyboard could exceed 50 C (122 F) and the CPU could throttle a bit. MSI’s Creator 15 doesn’t run as hot as some other laptops, but it’s not immune to the heat Intel’s Core i7 puts out.

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180-degree display hinges.
180-degree display hinges.
Photo: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo

The Core i7 reached a max temperature of 98 C (208.4 F), which caused some minor throttling. Skin temps around the keyboard stayed decently cool, hitting a peak of 48 C (118.4 F). I could still feel my fingers start to clam up when held on the keyboard for several minutes, but nothing uncomfortable enough that made me want to stop playing Overwatch all together. The middle of the keyboard got the hottest, sometimes reaching up to 54 C (129.2 F). The palm rest area below stayed the coolest, barely registering any warmth on my skin.

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While the max temperature of the center of the keyboard isn’t the greatest, it’s not something you’ll have to worry about while gaming or performing any other tasks because your fingers either won’t be anywhere near there, or you’ll be doing something that doesn’t push the system nearly as much.

There are a few trade-offs in terms of the display and sound system, and if you want a more powerful graphics card you’ll obviously have to shell out some more cash. But compared to other, big-name creator-focused laptops, there’s no reason not to consider the MSI Creator 15. It does nearly everything a MacBook Pro or Razer Blade 15 Advanced can do for hundreds of dollars less. The design is gorgeous, and the thermals are better than other similar laptops. The Creator 15 is great all-around.

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README

  • Competitive price compared to other creative-focused laptops.
  • Decent amount of ports, including USB 3.0, USB-C, and SD.
  • Attractive design and well-spaced keyboard.
  • Display could have richer colors.
  • Doesn’t attract a lot of fingerprints.
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Staff Reporter, Reviews at Gizmodo. Formerly PC Gamer, Maximum PC.

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DISCUSSION

“...and its battery lasted a decent six hours and 10 minutes”. They have a 99.9Wh battery - that’s hitting the limit of battery capacity allowed and still getting only 6 odd hrs makes me wonder if power management wasn’t all that great. And, this adds to the weight as well

“...thermals are usually a concern for me.”. For a lot of folks. Who wants an uncomfortably hot laptop? I’d trade thinness for a comfortable one any day.

“The palm rest area below stayed the coolest, barely registering any warmth on my skin.”. None of the laptops will have any palm rest temperature issue, since all of theme batteries underneath and the batteries are not allowed to heat up beyond a certain temperature.

They advertise an amazing cooling solution with thin fan blades - Just marketing, or really effective? Having used it, only you can tell:)