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MSI Creator 17 A10SFS review

A high-powered laptop for multimedia producers

MSI Creator 17 A10SFS
(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

The MSI Creator 17 is a fine example of a new category of creator notebook that fall between hard core gaming rigs and high-powered workstations. The focus is on digital multimedia production, powered here by the latest Intel CPU and Nvidia GPU tech, so there's masses of raw horsepower to play with. The stand out feature for content creators is the novel 17" IPS screen which is the first laptop we've seen using micro LEDs for backlighting. This delivers fantastic brightness and contrast, much improved HDR playback, and nearly 100% of the RGB colour gamut for more accurate colour reproduction. Screen performance is outstanding with rich and even tones throughout. However, you're paying a hefty premium for this novelty, and for ZAR 53,000 (£2499) the flimsy body shell and cheap looking hinges feel like a bit of a letdown.

For

  • Ground-breaking screen tech
  • Premium keyboard
  • Good bundled software

Against

  • Disappointing body shell
  • Awkward trackpad position
  • Expensive

Two-minute review

The MSI Creator 17 is the beefed-up version of the older Creator 15 and, like its predecessor, it caters to the relatively new category of digital multimedia creators. This covers a wide range of users from social media influencers to graphic designers, amateur film makers and music producers. 

Spec sheet

(Image credit: Future)

Here is the MSI Creator 17 A10SFS configuration sent to Tech Radar for review:

CPU: Intel Core i7-10875H 2.3GHz
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 SUPER Max-Q (8GB GDDR6)
RAM: 32GB DDR4
Screen: 17.3" UHD (3840 x 2160), Mini LED, 255ppi, IPS-Level
Storage: 1TB NVME SSD (+1 M.2 slot empty)
Ports: 3x Type-A USB 3.2 Gen1, 2x Type-C USB 3.2 Gen1 (1x Thunderbolt), 1x (UHD @ 60Hz) HDMI, 1x RJ45, 1x microSD card reader
Connectivity: WIFI  6
Camera: HD type 30fps@720p
Battery: 80Whr, 4-Cell Li-Ion
Weight: 2.3 kg
Size: 396.1 x 259.4 x 20.25 mm
Price: ZAR52,000 (£2443)

Of course, with the very latest Intel i7 (10th generation) and NVidia's ray tracing-enabled RTX graphics chips, combined with a whopping 32GB of RAM, it makes for a seriously high-end gaming machine too. It's easily the equal of the pure-play top-end mobile gaming rigs from other brands, but there are some thoughtful touches that keep things professional. 

It's the first laptop we've ever seen using micro LED screen technology at full UHD resolution: that's an array of more than 200 tiny LED's distributed around the screen area to create a for more even backlight than that created by the handful of full-size LEDs found on most other laptops. With the detailed control of the screen image that micro LED delivers it's possible to produce much bigger range of colours, and more contrast and brightness too. Its HDR like we've never seen it before, with much better blacks and a much more even tonal range for HD movies. This matters to content creators, obviously, who demand colour accuracy on the work they're producing, so that their creations appear precisely as they intended, whether they're looking to impress their clients or their social media followers.

The keycaps of the keyboard are boldly labelled and have very decent travel and enjoyable tactile feedback. It's backlit for working in darkened environments like control rooms, edit suites and recording studios. There's a decent set of ports including two USB-C, one of which also supports Thunderbolt, for even faster transfer of very large files.

Normally we take a dim view of crapware installed on PCs masquerading as value adds, but the bundled suite of Cyberlink software for video effects, audio production and image colour correction is on par, or better than, other leading freeware widely used by creatives. MSI also claims this model is optimised for other leading apps from Adobe and others.

Undeniably, at this premium price we definitely feel entitled to premium materials throughout, but the Creator 17 let's itself down with aluminium body panels that feel as thin as a cooldrink can , and a plastic encased hinge mechanism that does not inspire confidence.

Price

The MSI Creator 17 A10SFS is on sale for R52,000 (£2443) from a few online-only retailers in South Africa.  Many variants are available with more basic screens, lesser graphics, less RAM and storage.  

Despite its solid reputation in the gaming community MSI seems to be mis-stepping in the pricing of this products, specifically in the notoriously price sensitive South African market. Similar specced PCs, albeit without the innovative micro LED screen, are available for around 30% less.  This may also explain why this model is not available from any other mainstream retailers, including Evetech, which is usually a reliable MSI stockist. 

The older MSI Creator 15 A10 with a 15" HD panel and the lesser Nvidia 1660i is available from Evetech for ZAR 32,000. 

MSI Creator 17 A10SFS

(Image credit: Future)

Design

While the MSI Creator 17 feels balanced and solid in hand there is no getting around the cheap silver plastic finishes on the deck and underside. The cutting-edge screen is, thankfully, protected with an aluminium skin on the lid. Otherwise the plastic deck is almost featureless but for the pinprick texture pattern above the keyboard which could easily become an unhygienic dirt trap. 

We enjoyed the "arty" lattice patterns used for the vents on the sides and the rear, and also on the air intakes on the underside, but the hinges, while smooth enough in operation, look unsophisticated and cheap covered in moulded plastic.  

The backlit keyboard has conspicuously large labelling using an exceptionally heavy font. We appreciate both the full-size arrow keys and the number pad, but not the way the arrow keys overlap the number keys, creating endless mistyping. And we encountered a similarly frustrating situation with the position of the oversized trackpad. Its aligned with the middle of the combined keyboard/number pad, rather than the middle of the keyboard portion, resulted in near constant accidental brushes from both palms and fingers, even with the sensitivity turned down.

Finally, on a large multimedia-oriented we were disappointed to find no dedicated media control keys. but the fingerprint sensor built into the corner of the trackpad worked quickly and reliably.

Benchmarks

Here’s how the MSI Creator 17 A10SFS performed in our suite of benchmark tests:

3DMark: Sky Diver: 34,144 ; Fire Strike: 16,738 ; Time Spy: 7,192 

PCMark 10 Extended: 4 590 Essentials, Photo 11,251, Video 3,967, Rendering 3,260, Digital Content Creation 5,259, Gaming 13 530

Cinebench R15: CPU 1736cb, OpenGL 128.67fps

Performance

CPU and GPU

It's important to keep in mind that this is simply a high-end multimedia laptop configuration and not a true workstation laptop. So, it's less high-torque Tesla and more V8 muscle car.  As such it uses sheer processing power to render out video frames or manipulate high resolution bitmaps. And horsepower it has in abundance. The Intel Core i7-10875H at 2.30 GHz is one of the most popular high-power CPUs, prized for its stability, and that is supported in the creation of visual media by Nvidia's GeForce RTX 2070 Super, the near-top mobile variant of it's latest ray tracing RTX graphic chips. 

Combined with a whopping 32 GB of DDR4 RAM, this makes for a formidable powerplant for any kind of heavy lifting from HD video editing to multitrack audio mixing. Certainly, our experiments in video rendering produced better results than any similarly specced laptop we have tested.

COOLING

But that would all be for nought if the PC starts throttling processing speeds as it overheats: an issue which seems to afflict many modern gaming rigs. So we like that MSI places emphasis on cooling in all its high-spec laptops, and this is no exception with no less than 7 cooling pipes (most PCs have 3 or 4) and redesigned fans sporting the thinnest blade designs ever seen on a laptop. In our experience this didn't seem to make much difference to overall cooling, which was above average, but made for a much quieter running machine. This is important because, unlike gamers, digital workers are more likely to be disturbed by incessant fan noise.

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SCREEN

However, the only truly innovative aspect of this product is the ground-breaking screen technology: mini LED screen illumination. Instead of backlighting the panel with a handful of conventional LED bulbs the so-called Tru Pixel system from MSI uses 240 mini LED bulbs. The result is that backlighting is far more even, far brighter with nearly 1000:1 contrast and, most important of all, consistently provides close to 100% RGB colour palette. This wide colour gamut is crucial for the creative arts, obviously, and the brightness allow for confidently working outdoors in sunlight.

In our tests adjusting the brightness and contrast settings resulted in a silken and subtle changes across the entire panel that were a wonder to behold. It's not perfect, of course. There is still some drop-off at the far edges of the screen that wouldn't occur with an OLED screen where each individual pixel illuminates itself and there is no backlighting involved (like the Dell XPS or the HP Spectre series).

But overall, the screen truly shines, literally with around 1000 nits of brightness, and also by preventing light leakage so blacks stay beautifully solid. This unique feature is certainly a winner for graphics arts professional arts.

BATTERY

Battery life is nothing special. The Tech Radar battery half-life test achieved 2 hours and 33 mins on standard settings. which matches up with MSI's claim of 7 hours of "productivity".

Bundled software

Cyberlink software scores exceptionally high in our tests:

- Cyberlink PowerDirector 365
- Cyberlink PowerDirector Essential
- CyberLink PhotoDirector 10

SOFTWARE

We were initially wary of the pre-installed software bundle from MSI. To our mind most serious multimedia producers looking for a laptop of this class are already heavily invested in their own favourite software tools for video editing, design, illustration and audio production. Bloatware would be more of an annoyance than a value-add or selling point. However, the various packages PowerDirector, ColorDirector and AudioDirector from Cyberlink, come with a strong reputation and are a great jumping off point for creators moving into new disciplines.

Should I buy it?

MSI Creator 17 A10SFS

(Image credit: Future)

Buy it if...

You are serious about visual arts

To justify this price tag you would need to be aiming for professional quality multimedia production, and you're either a postgraduate student in this field or you're a freelancer writing this off as a business expense. Then the extraordinary mini LED display panel, with its awesome rich and accurate colour reproduction makes  the most sense. Oh, and you don't want anything as obvious as an Apple MacBook, obviously.

You are a serious gamer after hours

This multimedia powerhouse has top gaming spec at its heart. From the 10th Gen i7 to the Nvidia RTX 2070 and the whopping 32GB RAM, expect to play everything on high and ultra-settings, and the large 1TB SSD means no need to archive old games to a slower HDD.

Don't buy it if...

You are a gamer with graphic design aspirations

Sure, this will render all your amateur creative endeavours effortlessly, but you could achieve very similar results with a gaming-grade PC for half the price. Which means more beer money, naturally.

You are doing technical drawing or animation 

While this PC will handle these tasks with aplomb, you would likely be better off with a workstation running something like Nvidia's Quadro graphics which is optimised for computer assisted drawing and modelling. It will likely cost less too.

Originally reviewed: 28 October, 2020