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MSI P65 Creator 8RF review: A slimline creative powerhouse

14 Jan 2019
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
1,999
inc VAT

This versatile workstation is slim, lightweight and very powerful – but build quality is sadly lacking

Pros 
Light and slim
144Hz display
Plenty of power
Cons 
Suspect build quality
Not enough storage
Terrible touchpad
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The MSI P65 Creator is an unusual hybrid of laptop styles. The manufacturer markets it as a kind of creative workstation for intensive photo and video-editing, yet it has the sort of specification we most frequently associate with out-and-out gaming laptops, like the HP Omen 15 (2018) or Dell’s Alienware range.

In fact, the P65 Creator’s core specifications are almost identical to those of the Omen 15. That means it’s undoubtedly capable of running Photoshop and Premiere – but what makes it better suited to such tasks than a regular gaming laptop?

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MSI P65 Creator 8RF review: What you need to know

Look down the spec sheet and you’d have to say nothing at all. This is a MaxQ laptop with a 144Hz, 15.6in, 1080p IPS non-touch display. Inside it has a six-core, 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-8750H, with 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. Graphics are provided by an Nvidia GTX 1070 GPU. That’s a gaming laptop specification through and through, particularly the high refresh-rate display.

However, the MSI is uncommonly light. It tips the scales at a comparatively dainty 1.8kg, so it’s 28% lighter than the 2.5kg HP Omen (2018). In feel, it’s a lot closer to the Dell XPS 15 and the 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro, both of which are also aimed firmly at creative professionals.

MSI P65 Creative 8RF review: Price and competition

With a price of £1,999, you’re paying quite a bit for that lighter weight. The HP Omen 15 is £400 less for an identical specification, right down to the 144Hz display. In fact, the HP comes with an additional 1TB mechanical hard disk in addition to the 256GB SSD.

You can cut the price if you opt for the P65 Creator 8RE (£1,699), but this doesn’t have the 144Hz display and uses a less powerful Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU.

That makes the Dell XPS 15 a tempting alternative. For around £1,649, the Dell can be configured with the same CPU, RAM and double the SSD capacity at 512GB. You’re only getting a regular non-touch 1080p display and a less powerful Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti graphics chip, however.

In fact, the only comparable thing that’s pricier than the P65 is Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pro, coming in at £2,349 for the base model. It has the same CPU, RAM and storage as the MSI, but features professional-grade AMD Radeon Pro 555X graphics.

MSI P65 Creator 8RF review: Design and features

The P65 is marketed at photo- and video-editors on the move. That means it needs to be light and robust, so build quality is obviously paramount. Unfortunately, while MSI has hit the mark in some ways, there are numerous problems with the execution.

Let’s begin with the good stuff: the MSI P65 Creator 8RF is seriously light. Many beefy laptops are too heavy to carry around with you in a laptop bag all day, but at 1.8kg the P65 Creator is as good as it gets for a laptop this powerful. Even the power supply isn’t too weighty at 508g, and it’s relatively slim and compact.

The laptops itself is slim, too, measuring a mere 18mm with the lid closed, and the thin bezels surrounding the screen add to the impression of elegance. I’m not a huge fan of the white finish and gold trim, but that’s subjective. This is not an ugly laptop per se.

So, looks aren’t the problem. The problem is the construction, which, for a laptop costing well north of £1,500, is woeful. Push down on the metal area above the keyboard and you’ll see the whole surface deviate, with gaps appearing between the keyboard surround and the hinge covering above. Push hard enough and it actually moves enough to engage the power button.

Then there are the unsightly lips all around the laptop’s edges and uneven cutouts around the laptop’s ports. These spoil the overall feel and make the whole thing look embarrassingly messy.

On that note, while the laptop is reasonably well appointed with ports and sockets, the way they’ve been positioned – on the right and left edges only – leaves a lot to be desired. I’d have preferred HDMI and mini DisplayPort sockets at the rear, keeping the right and left-hand sides clear for mouse use. And, while it’s nice to have three full-sized USB 3.1 Type-A sockets, considering this is supposed to be a laptop for creative types, I’d have hoped for more than a single USB Type-C Thunderbolt 3 port. It’s also disappointing to see that there’s no SD card slot.

The keyboard isn’t bad. I like the way MSI has resisted the urge to add a numeric keypad; this means the keys are comfortably centred, rather than shifted to the left as on the HP Omen 15 and so many similar laptops. It’s pleasant to type on as well: each key has a quiet, light, short travel action and, while I’m not a huge fan of the half-height Enter key, I’ve found it easy to adjust to.

The touchpad, on the other hand, is a bit of a disaster. It has a heavy click that makes it tiresome to use, yet at the same time it manages to be over-sensitive to accidental brushes of the thumb while typing. The fingerprint reader embedded in its top left corner is a nifty touch, but overall this is not a nice pointing device.

MSI P65 Creator 8RF review: Display

It’s a bit odd to find a 144Hz panel on a laptop that’s officially not a gaming machine but, from a technical perspective, it’s a pretty good display. MSI’s True Color control app lets you switch between various modes, from Rec.709 and sRGB mode in the “Designer” mode through to “Office”, “Movie”, “Anti-Blue” (which reduces blue light output) and “Gamer”, all of which have slightly different colour profiles and sets of adjustments.

The default is sRGB, in which mode the laptop reproduces 83.5% of the sRGB colour gamut, at a maximum brightness of 313cd/m2. I measured a contrast ratio of 1,152:1, and a very impressive colour accuracy delta E measurement of 1.4 (the lower this score the better). That outclasses the HP Omen (2018) on every count, and the Dell Alienware m15 too.

In short, even though it may have been designed primarily for gamers, this is an unusually good screen for professional visual applications. There’s even a calibration tool built into the True Color software for those who want to tune the display to their own needs. Only three calibrators are supported at the current time, however, namely the X-rite i1 Display Pro, the SpectraCal C3 and the SpectraCal C6.

MSI P65 Creator 8RF review: Core components and performance

The MSI P65 Creator 8RF is a bit of a beast under the hood. It’s built around the excellent Intel Core i7-8750H, which runs at a base clock speed of 2.2GHz and can Turbo Boost up to 4.1GHz. Six physical cores with Hyper-threading enable it to process 12 concurrent threads, and in the 8RF it’s backed by 16GB of RAM and Nvidia GTX 1070 graphics. That’s plenty of power for editing RAW files in Photoshop or 4K video projects in Adobe Premiere CC.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, the MSI gave a strong showing in our in-house media benchmarks. It’s on par with the best performing Core i7-8750H-based machines we’ve reviewed, and a notch faster than the Razer Blade 15.

Graphics performance is pretty good, too, thanks to that Nvidia GPU. The MSI P65 Creator happily matched its rivals’ benchmark scores, delivering the GFXBench Manhattan test at 144fps and the Metro: Last Light benchmark at 138fps in Full HD with high detail. As long as you choose your settings carefully, you should be able to enjoy that ultra-smooth display at native resolution in most games.

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Battery life isn’t usually all that great on heavyweight laptops but if you stick to low-power tasks, the MSI keeps chugging for a fair while. In our video rundown test with the screen set to 170cd/m2 the P65 lasted 5hrs 51mins before giving up the ghost.

Needless to say, you can expect that to fall dramatically if you’re playing games or rendering video projects, but it means you can rely on the P65 for everyday office tasks for a good chunk of the day without having to worry about plugging in.

The one big shortcoming is the curious decision to partner the P65’s high-end components with only a 256GB PCIe SSD. I’d expect more storage for this sort of cash: for serious gamers and creatives alike, 256GB is going to run short pretty quickly.

MSI P65 Creator 8RF review: Verdict

The MSI P65 Creator 8RF might be a gaming laptop at heart, and merely masquerading as a workstation for creative professionals. Yet, believe it or not, that’s not a terrible concept. It’s certainly powerful enough for a creative role, and its 15.6in display is generously sized, colour accurate and gloriously smooth. Plus, the whole thing’s light enough not to weigh you down too much.

The problem is that it simply isn’t well enough made to justify the premium price tag. Build quality is suspect, the ports are in the wrong places and the touchpad is horrid.

If what you really want is a gaming machine, therefore, I recommend you go for the HP Omen 15 (2018) which has superior build quality and represents considerably better value for money. Or, if you’re sold on the idea of a laptop that can do it all, consider the Dell XPS 15. The screen and the GPU are less gamer-friendly but it’s solidly built, good value and a pleasure to work on – none of which I can say about the P65 Creator 8RF.

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