MSI’s Creator Z16 is one of a new batch of “Creator” laptops that have been popping up in the last two years from companies traditionally focused on gaming. They tend to take the kind of specs you might see in a gaming laptop and cram them into a thinner chassis that looks more like something you might bring to a boardroom.
While you could certainly use the Z16 for gaming – it features a discrete RTX 3060 GPU and a powerful “Cooler Boost” cooling system – it looks MacBook-style with a silvery gray finish, a barely-there dragon logo, and rounded corners. There’s a 16:10 QHD+ screen with a 120Hz refresh rate (my favorite aspect ratio for productivity devices). It comes with Windows 10 Pro. And the video conferencing capabilities — especially the speakers — are a solid upgrade from what I often expect from a gaming laptop. The system would be a fantastic multimedia machine.
Unfortunately, it’s not priced like a multimedia device – it’s priced like a workstation. That makes it a generally good laptop that’s a bit oddly priced. It is priced below the leading laptops in this zone. My test device (the cheapest on the MSI website, although I’ve found a few cheaper SKUs at other retailers) has a Core i7-11800H, GeForce RTX 3060 GPU, 2560 x 1600 touch display, 32GB of RAM, and 1TB of storage for $2,599.99 (currently listed at $2,349.99). what MSI claims is a limited time).
A comparable one Dell XPS 17 (with a larger screen but lower resolution) has the same MSRP, and a 16″ MacBook Pro with comparable RAM and storage is $500 more at $3,099. But the Z16 is certainly still an expensive laptop – a Gigabyte Aero 15 with the same specs costs a few hundred less Walmart (although it’s sold out as of this writing – there’s 16GB Model at Best Buy for $1,899 which you could easily upgrade). And it comes with a few flaws that are uncharacteristic of a laptop in this price range. While I can see that this product has an audience, those who can afford to spend more should definitely do it.
The first thing to note: this laptop is according to. Z16 fans jumped into action the moment I launched Cinebench, and they stayed with me throughout the entire benchmark run. The noise wasn’t audible from the next room, but it was certainly loud enough to be a distraction since I was working at the same table.
MSI has made a big fuss about the new cooling system, which claims to feature “the world’s thinnest 0.11mm sharp-edged fan blade.” These fans didn’t seem quite able to handle the performance of those specs, even with the high-performance profile selected in MSI Control Center (which optimizes the Z16’s performance limits and cooling behavior for heavy workloads). (By the way, this control center was much smoother to use than iterations I’ve had to use on previous MSI laptops, so props to MSI for that.) The Z16’s 30-minute Cinebench score was lower than the 10-minute Cinebench score result, and the CPU reached a very constant 95 degrees Celsius throughout the benchmark. Basically, this wasn’t a MacBook scenario where the Z16 would take anything we threw at it without a sweat – it worked hard.
That heat wasn’t that much of an issue in our real-world Premiere Pro 4K export test, which the Z16 completed in three minutes and nine seconds. That’s a competitive score and faster than almost any Windows laptop I’ve tested. But the Z16 only has a 769 on it Puget Systems benchmark for Premiere Pro, which tests live playback and export performance. the Aero 15 Hit that handy.
Temperatures were more controllable during the Geekbench suite and especially the Compute benchmark, which utilizes the GPU more than the CPU. Interestingly, Geekbench Compute was also the only test where the MacBook Pro models didn’t blow the Z16 out of the water.
While the Z16 doesn’t quite top its category, you’re getting real graphics performance overall – and certainly more than you’d expect from a thinner and lighter big-screen device. It seems like a compelling package – but that’s before we talk about battery life.
The battery life is bad. Even with the Z16’s Battery Saver profile and the keyboard backlight and GPU off, I still managed to get under five hours of continuous work at medium brightness — almost four and a half hours on average. And my workload isn’t anywhere near what this machine is capable of — mostly bouncing between a dozen Chrome tabs and overdoing the occasional Zoom call. You should certainly expect less when doing something more draining on the battery.
The Z16 just isn’t realistic as a portable laptop with this battery capacity. We wouldn’t necessarily expect a laptop in this category to last all day, but this result disappoints even large-format competitors. I regularly spent between seven and eight hours on the last Dell XPS 17 I reviewed. And of course, even the more powerful 16-inch MacBook Pros last at least twice as long. We are no longer in an era where strong performance means shaving hours off a device’s battery life, even for thin and light products.
MSI Creator Z16 benchmarks
|Cinebench R23 Multi||10350|
|Cinebench R23 Single||1437|
|Cinebench R23 Multi Loop for 30 minutes||9991|
|Geekbench 5.3 CPU Multi||8613|
|Geekbench 5.3 CPU Single||1555|
|Geekbench 5.3 OpenCL / Compute||89287|
Performance aside, the Z16 is generally a well-built and good-looking device. It’s quite thin, only 0.63 inches thick. It’s sturdy and has a comfortable finish – a step above most MSI devices I’ve tested before when it comes to build quality. The display in particular is beautiful and the 120Hz refresh rate makes scrolling a very smooth experience. Details are crisp – I had no problem sorting through a stack of photos for light editing. I also appreciate that there’s a row of handy hotkeys on the right side of the keyboard, which is a little more convenient to reach than the row of functions.
But the biggest pleasant surprise for me were the speakers. There are four of these, and they sound great, easily approaching the volume of a decent external speaker. I could hear both the bass tones and quieter mid-tones that I don’t typically hear from laptop audio. Did you know there’s a sweet, subtle harmony in Harry Styles’ first chorus? fall? I didn’t until I heard it on the Creator Z16 for the first time.
These qualities also make the Z16 a solid machine for productivity and entertainment. But they may not be as important to the Z16’s target audience as some of its glitches. And there are a few things that are surprising in a device at this price point.
While the port selection should be decent for general use (two Thunderbolt 4, two USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A, a microSD reader and a headphone jack, in addition to a DC-in for the barrel charger), there is no HDMI. This can be inconvenient for people who need specific external displays or tablets for their work – which is at least part of the Z16’s professional demographic.
I also had a terrible time using the keyboard on my device. The spacebar occasionally didn’t register my right thumb tap — my co-workers can confirm that I’ve consistently sent Slack messages with missing spaces. MSI didn’t have a replacement unit available to send to me, but says it’s not an issue they’ve heard of before. However, the fact that I received a device with this issue has me a bit worried about the durability of the buttons.
There’s also no 4K screen option. There are also some upgrade issues – Teardowns have shown that the RAM is a whole pill due to the motherboard placement. And – most frustrating for me – there is bloatware. I was getting antivirus nagware popups as soon as I opened this thing and I had to close all my tabs and restart the device to uninstall it. I complain when I see something like this on $1,000 devices. It’s unacceptable that MSI should ship $2,600 laptops with crapware pre-installed — it’s the equivalent of Hulu pushing ads at people looking for their highest subscription tier. While this won’t degrade your experience long-term if you uninstall it right away, it still leaves a sour taste in my mouth.
Ultimately, the Creator Z16’s strongest selling point is the performance it packs into such a thin and attractive body. Many workstations of this size, including the Aero 15 and XPS 17, are noticeably thicker – and the similarly thin MacBook is also significantly more expensive.
But I’m not sure if this argument is strong enough. The battery life in particular is a significant compromise for anyone who might want to use this away from their desk for long periods of time. And given the number of other concerns I have with this device that are really out of character for such a premium tier I think most Folks married to this price point who don’t mind poor battery life will have a better time with the Aero, which we’d expect to deliver similar performance but with much better port selection and repairability (albeit in a bulkier chassis) for even less money. Those looking for an all-purpose multimedia device who don’t necessarily need the performance of the Z16 can expect better battery life and a premium experience from the XPS 17. And people who can afford to spend more money will get a massive improvement on all fronts from the MacBook Pro. That doesn’t make this a bad device, but it does mean it’s mostly aimed at people for whom thinness is a top priority.
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