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MSI Creator Z16 vs. Dell XPS 17

There’s been a discernible trend lately toward laptops designed especially for creators. They’re larger, starting at 15 inches and going up from there, and they’re more powerfully equipped with Intel H-series CPUs and faster GPUs than we’re accustomed to seeing in non-gaming laptops. They make for great video-editing laptops as well as photo-editing laptops. The Dell XPS 17 epitomizes that trend, equipping up to an eight-core Core i9 processor and Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 GPU. We loved the laptop’s performance, packed into a small chassis given its 17-inch 16:10 aspect ratio display.

There’s a new challenger in the space, namely the MSI Creator Z16, which even has the target user in its title. It sports a 16-inch 16:10 display, up to the same Core i9, and the RTX 3060 as its only graphics option. Can this upstart take on the excellent XPS 17?

Specs

  MSI Creator Z16 Dell XPS 17
Dimensions 14.13 inches x 10.08 inches x 0.64 inches 14.74 inches x 9.76 inches x 0.77 inches
Weight 5.07 pounds 5.34 pounds
Processor Core i7-11800H
Core i9-11900H
Intel Core i5-11400H
Intel Core i7-11800H
Intel Core i9-11900H
Intel Core i9-11980HK
Graphics Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 Intel UHD graphics
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060
RAM 16GB, 32GB 8GB, 16GB, 32GB, 64GB
Display 16.0-inch QHD+ (2,560 x 1,600) IPS 17.o-inch FHD+ (1,920 x 1,200) IPS
17.0-inch UHD+ (3,840 x 2,400) IPS
Storage 512GB, 1TB, 2TB solid-state drive (SSD) 512GB, 1TB, 2TB, 4TB, 8TB SSD
Touch Yes Optional
Ports 2 x USB-A 3.2 Gen 2
1 x USB-C 3.2 Gen 2
1 x USB-C with Thunderbolt 4
1 x 3.5mm audio jack
microSD card reader
4 x USB-C with Thunderbolt 4
3.5mm audio jack
SD card reader
Wireless Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.2 Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1
Webcam 720p 720p
Operating system Windows 10 Pro Windows 10 Home or Pro
Battery 90 watt-hour 97 watt-hour
Price $2,599+ $1,599+
Rating 3 out of 5 stars 4 out of 5 stars

Design

Dell XPS 17 front view showing display and keyboard.
Dell XPS 17

MSI is best known for its gaming machines, but it has a line of more mainstream laptops. The Creator Z16 is a fitting example — it eschews the usual gaming aesthetic for a much more conservative design. It has simple lines, rounded corners, and a “space gray” color scheme that’s reminiscent of the Apple MacBook Pro 16. Only some extra venting gives it away as coming from a company that specializes in gaming.

The Dell XPS 17 is also conservatively designed, but it maintains its own identity. It sports silver aluminum on the lid and bottom chassis, with a black interior highlighted by a carbon fiber keyboard deck that’s soft and more comfortable than the Creator Z16’s metal palm rests. Double-anodized chrome along the edges adds some flair and scratch resistance, and the XPS 17’s lines are sleek and perfectly balanced. It’s a lovely laptop that outshines the Creator Z16.

Both laptops are well built, though. Neither will exhibit much in the way of flexing, bending, or twisting, with robust chassis that inspire confidence in their long-term viability. The MSI is constructed entirely of CNC machine aluminum, while the XPS 17 is all machined aluminum other than the carbon fiber on the keyboard deck. These aren’t cheap laptops, and they don’t feel like them.

The Creator Z16 is the smaller machine thanks to its 16-inch 16:10 display compared to the XPS 17’s 17-inch 16:10 panel. But the difference isn’t as pronounced as you might imagine. The MSI is a little more than half an inch narrower than the XPS 17, but it’s a little deeper thanks to the XPS 17’s much tinier bezels all around the display. The Creator Z16 is thinner at 0.64 inches compared to 0.77 inches and just a bit lighter at 5.07 pounds versus 5.34 pounds. The XPS 17 manages to pack a significantly larger display into a chassis that’s not much bigger than the Creator Z16’s.

The MSI Creator Z16 open in front of a window.
MSI Creator Z16

Both laptops have good keyboards, with plenty of travel and snappy, precise mechanisms. We’d likely lean toward the XPS 17’s version if push came to shove, but both will please fast-touch typists. The Creator Z16 stands out — and once again shows off its gaming roots — with per-key RGB backlighting compared to the XPS 17’s simpler three-level, single-color backlighting. The XPS 17’s touchpad is vastly superior, being much larger thanks to using all the available space on the palm rest and being more pleasant to use thanks to a click that’s quieter and more responsive than the Creator Z16’s, which is also too small.

Connectivity is a mixed bag. The Creator Z16 has better legacy support thanks to a couple of USB-A ports, but only one of its USB-C ports supports Thunderbolt 4. The XPS 17 has four Thunderbolt 4 ports, which means you’ll be using dongles to connect to USB-A devices, but you’ll have more high-speed, flexible ports for plugging into docks and such. The XPS 17 also has a full-size SD card reader compared to the Creator Z16’s microSD card reader, making the Dell more useful for creators. The Creator Z16 enjoys the faster Wi-Fi 6E standard compared to the XPS 17’s standard Wi-Fi 6 and more up-to-date Bluetooth 5.2 compared the Dell’s Bluetooth 5.1.

Performance

The side ports of the MSI Creator Z16.
MSI Creator Z16

Both laptops can be equipped with up to eight-core Core i9 CPUs and the RTX 3060 GPU (the only option on the Creator Z16). We reviewed both laptops with the Core i7-11800H CPU and RTX 3060 GPU. Unsurprisingly, they performed similarly, trading punches from one benchmark to another.

For example, in Cinebench R23, the XPS 17 scored 1,525 in the single-core test and 10,145 in the multi-core test, compared to the Creator Z16’s 1,444 and 9,615. In Pugetbench, which runs in Adobe’s Premiere Pro, the XPS 17 scored 692 while the Creator Z16 achieved a faster 738.

Both are very fast laptops well-suited for the kinds of demanding tasks that creators will perform. They’ll keep up with moderately heavy photo- and video-editing workflows.

If you want to do some gaming on the side, the XPS 17 is faster than the Creator Z16. In all our gaming tests, including Civilization VIBattlefield V, and Fortnite, the Dell was a few frames per second faster than the MSI.

Display

The Dell XPS 17 sitting in front of a window.
Dell XPS 17

The XPS 17 offers a choice between 17-inch 16:10 Full HD+ and UHD+ IPS displays, while the Creator Z16 offers only a 16-inch 16:10 QHD+ (2,560 x 1,600). We reviewed the XPS 17’s UHD+ display, and it was a beauty. It was bright at 491 nits, offered wide color gamut support at 98% of AdobeRGB and 100% of sRGB, exhibited one of the best color accuracy scores we’ve seen at a DeltaE of 0.39 (less than 1.0 is considered excellent), and enjoyed very high contrast for an IPS display at 1,530:1. It’s a display made for the most discerning creator.

The Creator Z16’s display demonstrated mixed performance. It offered three settings that optimized the display for different uses. Its best setting was P3, which had better than average brightness of 385 nits (well under Dell’s display) and reasonably wide colors at 91% of AdobeRGB and 100% of sRGB. Color accuracy was excellent at 0.76 (again, lower than the XPS 17). The contrast wasn’t nearly as strong, though, at 800:1 — under our preferred 1,000:1 threshold.

The XPS 17 has a superior display across the board. It’s a better creator’s display than the Creator Z16’s.

Portability

MSI Creator Z16 closed view.
MSI Creator Z16

The Creator Z16 is slightly smaller and lighter than the XPS 17 and significantly thinner. While neither of these is a small laptop, they both manage to pack a lot of power into chassis that can still fit into a backpack.

Both laptops have large batteries, the Creator Z16 at 90 watt-hours and the XPS 17 at 97 watt-hours. But even with its larger, higher-resolution display, the XPS 17 gave the Creator Z16 a run for its money. The Dell lasted for just 16 minutes less in our web browsing test, at just over five hours compared to just under 5.5 hours. In our video test that loops a local Full HD Avengers trailer, the XPS 17 managed 10.25 hours to the Creator Z16’s 8.2 hours.

Neither of these laptops will get you through a full day of demanding productivity tasks, let alone editing photos or video. But between them, the XPS 17 is the longer-lasting laptop.

Conclusion

Dell XPS 17

The Creator Z16 is an expensive laptop, starting at $2,549 for a Core i7-11800H, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, and the QHD+ display. At the high end, it’s $3,000 for a Core i9-11900H, 32GB of RAM, and a 2TB SSD. There’s no more affordable option available.

The XPS 17 offers more flexibility, starting at $1,599 for a Core i5-11400H, 8GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, the Full HD+ display, and Intel UHD graphics. That’s a great productivity laptop but won’t work for creators. At the high end, you can spend as much as $5,300 for a Core i9-11980HK, 64GB of RAM, an 8TB SSD, the UHD+ display, and the RTX 3060. That’s a lot of money, but it buys a beefy creator’s workstation.

The MSI Creator Z16 puts up a good fight, but in the end, the Dell XPS 17 holds onto its top spot among large laptops. It’s better looking, is just as fast or faster, has better battery life, and can be built into an even more powerful machine. It’s a creator’s dream laptop.

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