Three B’s: It’s big, bright, and built for creators. While MSI is best known for its gaming laptops, its Creator 17 (starts at $2,349.99; $3,799.99 as tested) is an imposing desktop replacement that targets creative pros à la the Dell XPS 15 or the Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED XC. Last year’s version was the first laptop to feature a Mini LED display, and this year’s has the same screen in all its 4K-resolution glory. Hardcore gamers will snub the bright and expansive 17.3-inch panel for its merely average 60Hz refresh rate and lack of Nvidia G-Sync—they can swap out the Mini LED screen for a less expensive configuration with a faster IPS display—but if you want the biggest and brightest laptop for digital content creation, the Creator 17 is a top pick if you can afford its price.
Your $3,799.99 buys you the flagship model in MSI’s Creator 17 series, loaded with not only the dazzling display but an eight-core Intel Core i9-11900H CPU, an ample 32GB of RAM, a huge 2TB solid-state drive, and Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 graphics. The Mini LED display combines 4K (3,840-by-2,160-pixel) resolution with an astonishing 1,000 nits of brightness. Lower-end models serve up a 4K display with a faster 120Hz refresh rate that might be a better fit for content creators who enjoy gaming after hours. A variety of Intel 11th Generation Core i7 and Core i9 processors and GeForce RTX 3060, 3070, and 3080 GPUs are available.
The Creator 17 has a more buttoned-up look than most MSI gaming laptops. You won’t find any aggressive red accents, sculpted vents, or RGB lighting, although the cooling vents on the bottom are arranged in funky geometric shapes. Despite its potent components, the laptop manages to stay fairly cool and quiet, though the bottom panel does heat up during long stretches of intensive graphics work. The keyboard, however, does not get warm. A system of this size is unlikely to spend much time on your lap, so it’s better that your desk heats up rather than the keyboard deck.
The all-metal enclosure is your basic business black and cuts a thin profile. The machine measures 0.8 by 15.6 by 10.2 inches, which is impressively thin for such a large laptop. It’s also relatively light at 5.4 pounds. The Dell XPS 17 is roughly the same thickness and weighs a fraction less at 5.34 pounds with a touch screen (4.87 pounds without one). The LG Gram 17 is by far the lightest 17-inch laptop we’ve seen, weighing a mere 2.98 pounds.
The Creator 17’s aluminum chassis feels sturdy with little give or flex; it’s passed MIL-STD-810G torture tests for shock and vibration. When you’re shelling out nearly $4,000 for a laptop, it’s comforting to know it has a strong chance of holding up to daily wear and tear.
The large expanse of the aluminum lid is a fingerprint magnet and has some flex near its center, but the rigid keyboard deck provides a solid platform on which to type. The keys are quiet when pressed but feel slightly mushy—I wish they had a snappier response. Also, the keys on the number pad are very narrow, making it a bit of a chore to use. With an empty inch on either side of the keyboard, it appears MSI would have room to expand the keypad to make data entry easier.
The keyboard lacks the RGB lighting common to gaming laptops, instead serving up crisp white backlighting with your choice of three levels of brightness.
The touchpad is wide and centered on the palm rest, rather than being offset or centered below the primary keys. For gamers constantly mashing the WASD keys with their left hands while their right hands control a mouse, this positioning might be welcomed, but content creators probably won’t enjoy it as much. During my typing, the mouse pointer jumped around because my right palm was resting on the touchpad.
One last note on the input devices: A fingerprint reader sits below the keyboard for easy, secure logins. In addition, the webcam provides IR facial recognition to let you log into Windows Hello simply by placing your face in front of the camera.
The Display: Mini LEDs Are Big News
Last year’s MSI Creator 17 started the Mini LED laptop trend; Acer recently released new Predator gaming laptops with the technology and rumor has it that Mini LED screens will show up in Apple’s next MacBook Pros. The obvious benefits of a Mini LED display are increased brightness and improved contrast and color accuracy. The smaller the LEDs lighting your pixels, the more local dimming zones there are to help make the bright parts of an image brighter and the dark parts darker. The display’s high peak brightness, stellar contrast, and accurate color are critical for creative pros, especially those that work with HDR content.
As mentioned, the MSI’s display is rated for 1,000 nits of brightness, and our testing shows it comes close to hitting that impressive figure. Max brightness actually comes close to hurting your eyes in average indoor lighting. The screen’s 4K resolution makes fine details look sharp, and its matte finish does a fine job of fighting glare and reflections.
The only average aspect of the display is its refresh rate, which as I said will disappoint any content creators by day who are also gamers by night. Acer’s Mini LED Predators feature 165Hz refresh rates, but you’re stuck with the familiar 60Hz rate with the Creator 17. The display also lacks Nvidia’s G-Sync, which matches the screen’s refresh rate with the GPU’s frame rate in games for smooth, tear-free visuals.
The MSI’s stereo speakers are also merely average, which is a disappointment given the laptop’s generous dimensions that could allow for a punchier set. Audio output reached only a moderate level at full volume, and music playback lacked bass.
With both Type-A and Type-C USB ports, including one of the latter with Thunderbolt 4 support, as well as HDMI and Ethernet connections, the Creator 17 has a well-rounded input/output collection. On the left side, you’ll find a pair of USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A ports, the Ethernet jack, a headphone/microphone jack, and the power connection.
On the right side reside one USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C port with DisplayPort support, one Thunderbolt 4 port, an HDMI port, and a full-sized SD card slot.
My only complaint would be that having the same types of USB port grouped together on each side is not as useful as having one of each type on each side would be. For right-handed mousers, for example, which describes most of us, it’s handy to have a USB-A port on the same side as your mousing hand.
Performance Testing the MSI Creator 17: ‘Tiger Lake’ Attack
For our benchmark charts, I pitted the Creator 17 against other high-powered desktop replacements in the form of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4, Dell XPS 17, and Dell Inspiron 16 Plus. To round things out, I added a comparably equipped 17-inch gaming laptop, the Alienware m17 R4. All of the systems feature Core i7 or Core i9 processors and Nvidia GeForce RTX graphics.
The main benchmark of UL’s PCMark 10 simulates a variety of real-world productivity and content-creation workflows to measure overall performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheeting, web browsing, and videoconferencing. We also run PCMark 10’s Full System Drive test to assess the load time and throughput of a laptop’s storage. (See more about how we test laptops.)
Three benchmarks focus on the CPU, using all available cores and threads, to rate a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads. Maxon’s Cinebench R23 uses that company’s Cinema 4D engine to render a complex scene, while Primate Labs’ Geekbench 5.4 Pro simulates popular apps ranging from PDF rendering and speech recognition to machine learning. Finally, we use the open-source video transcoder HandBrake 1.4 to convert a 12-minute video clip from 4K to 1080p resolution (lower times are better).
Our last productivity test is workstation specialist Puget Systems’ PugetBench for Photoshop, which uses the Creative Cloud version 22 of Adobe’s famous image editor to rate a PC’s performance for content creation and multimedia applications. It’s an automated extension that executes a variety of general and GPU-accelerated Photoshop tasks ranging from opening, rotating, resizing, and saving an image to applying masks, gradient fills, and filters.
Clearly, productivity will be no problem. We view any PCMark 10 score above 4,000 points as a good indication that a laptop can handle everyday tasks such as Microsoft Office or Google Docs operations without breaking a sweat. With a score north of 6,000, the Creator 17 is comfortably above the threshold. The MSI also scored extremely well in our storage test, which indicates that its 2TB SSD is as speedy as it is spacious. Its Cinebench CPU score was lower than most of its competitors’, but it kept up with the high-powered pack in our HandBrake and Photoshop tests, ably delivering the goods for content creators.
We test Windows PCs’ graphics with two DirectX 12 gaming simulations from UL’s 3DMark, Night Raid (more modest, suitable for laptops with integrated graphics) and Time Spy (more demanding, suitable for gaming rigs with discrete GPUs).
We also run two tests from the cross-platform GPU benchmark GFXBench 5, which stresses both low-level routines like texturing and high-level, game-like image rendering. The 1440p Aztec Ruins and 1080p Car Chase tests, rendered offscreen to accommodate different display resolutions, exercise graphics and compute shaders using the OpenGL programming interface and hardware tessellation respectively. The more frames per second (fps), the better.
The Alienware dominated these tests, with the MSI finishing second in both 3DMark Time Spy and the GFXBench 5 tests. Both systems feature GeForce RTX 3080 graphics, but the Creator 17’s GPU has 8GB of video RAM versus the Alienware’s 16GB. The MSI easily outpaced the Lenovo and Dell laptops with RTX 3050 or 3060 GPUs, showing it has more than enough muscle to handle image and video editing and other content creation chores.
Because the Creator 17 features such a high-end GPU, I also threw some 3D games at it. In our Rainbow Six: Siege benchmark, it averaged 221 frames per second (fps) at 1080p resolution with Ultra quality settings. In the same test, it managed 154fps at 1440p and 80fps at its native 4K resolution. In the more demanding Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, it averaged 66fps at 1080p with Ultra High quality settings, dropping to 51fps at 1440p and only 32fps at 4K. With image quality settings dialed back to Medium, it managed playable frame rates of 88fps at 1080p and 69fps at 1440p. The MSI may be intended for creators, but it can certainly indulge you in a little gaming after work.
Battery and Display Tests
We test laptops’ battery life by playing a locally stored 720p video file (the open-source Blender movie Tears of SteelTears of Steel) with display brightness at 50% and audio volume at 100%. We make sure the battery is fully charged before the test, with Wi-Fi and keyboard backlighting turned off.
We also use a Datacolor SpyderX Elite monitor calibration sensor and its Windows software to measure a laptop screen’s color saturation—what percentage of the sRGB, Adobe RGB, and DCI-P3 color gamuts or palettes the display can show—and its 50% and peak brightness in nits (candelas per square meter).
You’ll need to keep the Creator 17 near a wall outlet. It fell short of the seven-hour mark in our video rundown, finishing dead last among this group of desktop replacements. The next shortest battery life in this group, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4’s, was more than two hours longer than the Creator 17’s.
The MSI’s Mini LED display probably didn’t do it any favors in battery life, but it does provide an exceptionally bright image, coming close to its rated 1,000 nits in our brightness measurement. It also performed very well in our color gamut coverage tests, though not quite as well as the Dell XPS 17. I found the colors of the Creator’s display to be vivid and accurate with outstanding contrast.
Stellar Screen, Priced to the Skies
Cutting-edge technology is often accompanied by a painful price, and the MSI Creator 17 with Mini LED display is no exception to this rule. The screen is simply a marvel, providing an incredibly bright image with remarkable contrast for content professionals. At a price that approaches $4,000, however, our test configuration is likely beyond the budget of enthusiasts and makes sense only for workstation-class creative pros who seek the best display for their endeavors. Lower-end Creative 17 models are more versatile and affordable, but force you to sacrifice Mini LED bragging rates (though their higher refresh rates would make the MSI better able to pull double duty as a creative machine and gaming rig).
As mentioned, Apple is expected to release new MacBook Pro models this fall with an overhaul that could include Mini LED displays, so it might be worth waiting to see the next generation of the 16-inch MacBook Pro before pulling the trigger on the Creator 17.