MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU?

JT JT 23 April 2020
MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU?

MSI’s P65 is their laptop for content creators, but is there more to it than just being a silver version of the GS65 gaming laptop? Let’s find out in this detailed review and see if it’s a laptop you should consider.

MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU?I’ve got the 9SF model, so there’s an 8 core Intel i9-9880H CPU, Nvidia RTX 2070 Max-Q graphics, 32gb of memory in dual channel, a 15.6” 4K 60Hz screen, and a 1TB M.2 NVMe SSD.  For network connectivity it’s got gigabit ethernet, WiFi 5 and Bluetooth 5.MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU?

The P65 is very similar to MSI’s GS65 gaming laptop, it’s basically using the same design and chassis with a few differences. The whole laptop has a matte space grey finish and is mostly made out of aluminium, or aluminum for my US friends, and this includes the lid, interior and bottom panels, though the back and hinges have a plastic exterior.MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU?

All corners and edges were smooth, and the build quality felt fair.

MSI list the weight at 1.9kg, however mine was around 100g above this. The power brick MSI sent to me was only 90 watts, so this weight measurement isn’t accurate, it’s meant to have a 230 watt power brick when you buy it. I had another 230w brick from the Aero 17, so did all testing with that to avoid performance loss, but you could definitely get a smaller charger like this for travel if you don’t need max performance.MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU?

The P65 is on the thinner side when you consider the 8 core i9 processor inside with decent GPU. The smaller footprint gives us just 8mm thin screen bezels on the sides. The 15.6” 4K 60Hz IPS-level screen has a matte finish, good viewing angles, and tilts all the way back should you need that. MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU?MSI note the 4K panel has 100% of AdobeRGB coverage on their website, however when I tested with the Spyder 5 it reported 91% for that, 96% for sRGB, 87% of NTSC, and 81% of DCI-P3 coverage, I’d expect lower with the 1080p option.MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU?At 100% brightness I measured almost 350 nits with an 880:1 contrast ratio, so alright results.MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU? The colours did seem noticeably better when compared to most 1080p laptops I’ve tested, they may have similar sRGB results, but the AdobeRGB range is definitely much higher here. When I reviewed the 8th gen version of the P65 last year they didn’t have a 4K screen option, so at least they give you the choice here.

That said, it would be nice to see MSI move to offering OLED options like the Gigabyte Aero 15 or Dell XPS 15. MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU?Backlight bleed wasn’t great in my unit, I could occasionally notice it when viewing darker content, but this will vary between laptops and panels.

Screen flex wasn’t too bad when intentionally trying to flex it due to the metal lid, however it highlighted a different issue, the rubber feet underneath didn’t seem to do a great job at reducing movement.

Opening with one finger was easy, it was a little back heavy but felt stable on my lap. The 720p camera is up the top in the center despite the bezels being on the thinner side. 

The keyboard has no numpad and white backlighting which lights up all keys and even secondary key functions. The white lighting can be adjusted between three levels or turned off using the function and page up or down keys.MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU?

The lighting looked much better compared to the white keys of the 8th gen model I previously tested as the keys are black here.

The key presses were a little shallow feeling but had a sort of click to them. There was minor keyboard flex when intentionally pushing down hard, no issues at all using it normally though.MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU?

It seemed sturdy due to the feet on the bottom which help offer additional support.

There are air intake vents above the keyboard to aid with cooling, and the power button is right up the back in the middle.MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU? The precision touchpad was smooth to the touch and worked quite well. Despite being on the larger side, my palms never touched it while typing, but even when intentionally doing this the palm rejection was good. It clicks down almost anywhere, just not the top left corner which is unusable as a touchpad due to the fingerprint scanner. I found the fingerprint scanner to work fast though.

Due to the silver finish fingerprints and dirt weren’t too viewable, though it has a smooth finish and should be easy to clean with a microfiber cloth.MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU?

On the left from the back there’s a kensington lock, air exhaust vent, gigabit ethernet port, and I prefer it being this way so you can unplug without lifting the machine, two USB 3.2 Gen1 Type-A ports, and 3.5mm headphone and mic jacks. MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU?On the right from the front there’s a USB 3.2 Gen2 Type-A port, USB 3.2 Gen2 Type-C port with both DisplayPort and Thunderbolt 3 support, mini DisplayPort and HDMI 2.0 output, power input and another air exhaust vent.

The mini DisplayPort and HDMI ports were wired directly to the Nvidia GPU, however the Type-C port went via the Intel iGPU first. MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU?The back just has some air exhaust vents, while the front has a battery status LED towards the right.

Underneath has the air intake vents towards the back. The bottom panel was easy to remove once you take out the 15 Phillips head screws. MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU?Like many other MSI laptops, the motherboard is upside down. All we get access to here is the WiFi card and battery. Access to the two memory slots and two M.2 storage slots requires removal of the motherboard, which is an annoying process if needed.

The two speakers are found towards the front left and right corners, they sound alright, a little above average for a laptop though minimal bass and the palm rest did vibrate a little. They get loud enough at maximum volume, and the Latencymon results weren’t ideal.

The P65 is powered by a 4 cell 82 watt hour battery. I’ve tested it with the screen brightness at 50%, background apps disabled, and keyboard lighting off.MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU? While just watching YouTube videos it lasted for 5 hours and 27 minutes, a mid range result for this test, and it was using the Intel integrated graphics due to Nvidia Optimus.

When playing the Witcher 3 with medium settings and Nvidia’s battery boost set to 30 FPS the battery lasted for an hour and 6 minutes before the frame rate dipped to 12 FPS and was no longer usable, however including this state it lasted for an hour and 37 minutes total.

Given the P65 is targeted towards creators I’ve also tested Adobe Premiere video exporting. MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU?This is the first time I’ve ever tested a 9880H laptop, and the results stacked up quite well compared to most others, interestingly it was just slightly ahead of the newer 10th gen 8 core and Super GPU in the Aero 17 just above it, which costs more money as well.

Let’s move onto the thermal testing. It’s worth noting that we’ve got two extra heatpipes in this 9th gen model compared to the older 8th gen, so that should help with thermals.

The MSI Creator Center software lets you manage the system. We can swap between eco, comfort, and sport modes which control performance, change the fan speed, or enable coolerboost mode which maxes it out. MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU?Thermal testing was completed in an ambient room temperature of 21 degrees Celsius, so expect different results in different environments.MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU? It was actually quite cool at idle given the specs. Worst case stress tests were done with the Aida64 CPU stress test with CPU only checked and the Heaven benchmark at max settings at the same time, and gaming was tested with Watch Dogs 2 as I find it to use a good combination of processor and graphics. Straight away, I want to note that any time the CPU, shown by the blue bar, is at 95 degrees Celsius, it’s thermal throttling, and we can see this was happening in a lot of the tests.

The GPU was also throttling at 87 degrees, however that was only happening with the stress tests in ECO mode, as that runs the fans quieter, as you’ll hear soon. As we run with higher performance modes, max out the fans, undervolt and add a cooling pad, thermals improve with the GPU, however we only see the CPU thermal throttle barely remove with the cooling pad or undervolt. It’s worth remembering we do have an 8 core i9 processor in a machine that’s under 1.8cm thick, so this is kind of expected.

MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU? These are the average clock speeds for the same tests just shown. The performance in Eco mode is low due to harsh power limit caps, otherwise the GPU improves slightly as cooling gets better. The CPU speeds see a larger improvement as cooling improves, as thermal throttling is the primary limitation until we add in the cooling pad, or for the game, just the undervolt was enough, however we’re still a little under the full 4.1GHz all core turbo boost speed of the 9880H as power limit throttling is our next enemy. MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU?These are the average TDP values reported by hardware info during these same tests. Despite PL1 being set to 55 watts by default in software, while under combined CPU and GPU workloads like these, the CPU doesn’t actually pass 45 watts. This seems like a reasonable choice given how we were thermal throttling prior to undervolting and using a cooling pad anyway, but it does mean I wasn’t able to change this to boost performance further once we remove thermal throttling. As for CPU only performance, here’s what we’re seeing with Cinebench. MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU?By applying the same undervolt as before it was possible to achieve an 11% higher multicore score in this test, as this helped reduce the thermal throttling that was still taking place during the PL2 boost period. Once PL2 ends though, thermal throttling goes away and we’re instead hitting the 55 watt PL1 limit, so the undervolting helps there too. Here’s how the Cinebench scores stack up against other 8 core laptops that I’ve tested in the past, this is my first time with the 9880H, so not sure what’s best case for it without thermal or power limits.MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU? As for the external temperatures where you’ll actually be putting your hands, at idle it was barely getting to 30 degrees, which is pretty standard with most laptops. MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU?With the stress tests going in eco mode it does get quite warm in the center, the fans are quieter in this mode and it’s thermal throttling.MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU? Things cool down just slightly in sport and turbo mode, however as we saw performance is much better now. Finally with the fans maxed out it’s now a few degrees cooler, but at the expense of higher fan noise. MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU?The fan was just audible at idle with the lowest eco profile enabled. With the stress tests going in the same eco mode it doesn’t get much louder. Comfort and sport modes are about the same for fan noise, and at this point it’s a little quieter when compared to most other laptops I’ve tested, however once we max it out it does get quite loud. Personally I see this as an advantage, as the user has control of the fan speed I think it’s better to at least have the choice to run louder and cooler if you want.

Next let’s take a look at some gaming benchmarks. While not explicitly advertised as a gaming laptop, given it’s got an i9 processor and RTX 2070 Max-Q graphics it’s definitely going to be capable of playing modern games if you want to, so let’s give it a go.MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU? In Battlefield 5 I’ve got the P65 highlighted in red near similarly specced machines. The average FPS is quite similar to other 2070 Max-Q laptops, however despite the i9-9880H processor the 1% low results were lower than the others, perhaps the lower 80 watt GPU power limit is the limitation there.

Here are the results from Far Cry 5 with ultra settings in the built in benchmark.MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU? Again the average FPS is similar to the two machines below it with more powerful 90 watt 2070 Max-Q graphics, but the 1% low is better this time, likely as this test tends to favour CPU power. The 100 watt blade pro 17 just above it is a fair bit higher though, however that is also undervolted and overclocked by default.

MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU?Shadow of the Tomb Raider was also tested with the games benchmark, and this time the P65 was a little ahead of the two 90 watt machines underneath it, but again it can’t keep up with the more powerful but also larger blade pro 17 with same GPU. Realistically though we’re just a few FPS behind some of the 115 watt 2070 machines, so we’re able to get some nice gaming performance from the P65.

I’ve also tested this game with the different performance modes just to show you what to expect.MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU? ECO mode wasn’t really offering a playable experience, so I wouldn’t expect to be able to play much while running quieter and we could boost average FPS by around 7% with the CPU undervolt and GPU overclocks.

For the benchmarking tools, I’ve tested Heaven, Valley, and Superposition from UnigineMSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU? as well as Firestrike, Timespy and Port Royal from 3DMark.

I’ve used Crystal Disk Mark to test the 1TB NVMe M.2 SSD, and the speeds were quite nice, but expect different results with different storage options. MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU?

The configuration of the P65 Creator I’ve covered here goes for $2700 USD, however there are much cheaper options if you don’t require the 8 core i9 or a powerful GPU. Here in Australia it looks like this configuration goes for $5200 AUD, however you can get the i7 model with 2060 which will still be quite a powerful combination for half this amount. Bit strange that a creator laptop has a 240Hz screen, but here we are.

With all of that in mind let’s conclude by looking at the good and bad aspects of the 9th gen P65 laptop. Overall it’s a decent laptop, but I’ve just got to say up front that a laptop for content creators without any sort of SD card slot seems like a bit of an oversight in my opinion. You could of course use a USB dongle, but I’d prefer just having it built in like others do.

That aside, the build quality was fair, though not as good as others like say the slightly higher priced Aero 17. The 4K screen does look nice, the colours just appear to pop instantly due to the higher colour gamuts when compared to the 1080p gaming laptops I usually test, so it’s good that this is an option with the 9th gen P65 for creators that want it, as it wasn’t available last gen.

The performance under worst case stress tests was decent once you boost the fan speed, though it was a fair bit louder in that state, and undervolting and using a cooling pad was able to help out significantly as thermal throttling was the key limitation under worst case workloads. This is expected in my opinion given this configuration has the 8 core i9 in a machine less than 1.8cm thin, I’d expect cooler with the i7 or lower GPU.

That said, even without the cooling pad or undervolting, the Adobe Premiere result was one of the best out of all laptops I’ve ever tested, so for the task it’s actually designed for, content creation, it is performing nicely. MSI P65 Creator 9SF Review - Thin + 8 Core CPU?The 9880H gets beaten by the new Ryzen 9 4900HS in the smaller ASUS G14, but at the moment there aren’t any higher end laptops for content creation with Ryzen processors, so we’re stuck with Intel options for now. It’s also worth noting MSI will have the new 10th gen creator 15 and 17 laptops coming out soon.

Let me know what you thought about MSI’s P65 Creator laptop down in the comments, if you create content is this a machine you’d be interested in? Why or why not?

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