The latest gaming laptop to thud onto my desk isn’t from one of the big names in this market – instead, it’s from Acer. The Predator 17 marks a renewed attempt by this famous firm to crack the growing gaming notebook sector.
Acer is clearly serious. It’s thrown everything it’s got at this system, from aesthetics to buzzwords, and the Predator 17 is cheaper than its rivals.
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The most extravagant gaming laptops always seem based on something outlandish – in the past I’ve seen machines take inspiration from stealth fighters and Mayan temples. The Acer Predator is the first to go interstellar: Acer says it’s “inspired by intergalactic battlecruisers”.
I’m not sure exactly what that means, but there’s no denying that the Predator looks a little ostentatious. The lid has a dramatic logo and two lines lit in red, and that colour continues to the keyboard backlighting and five macro buttons. The power button is triangular, dramatic and similarly illuminated. The numberpad glows blue, and the WASD and cursor clusters are solid, with red sides.
The front edge is augmented with red speaker grilles, and the back is lined with red fan vents. That’s not the only bit of red-tinged cooling either – the Blu-ray drive can be replaced by an extra fan. It’s provided by Cooler Master, and is called the FrostCore.
That’s not the only feature with an eye-catching name. The Predator boasts SoundPound, FrostCore, Killer DoubleShot, ProZone, Dust Defender and PredatorSense. In every area, this laptop makes its presence felt
The Predator is just 50g short of 4kg and 40mm thick, which makes it one of the chunkiest gaming portables anywhere. Those figures match the XMG U706, which is a key rivals, but it’s more than a kilo heavier and almost twice as thick as the Gigabyte P37X – a far svelter 17.3-inch system.
I expect heavy machines like the Acer to have flawless build quality, and the Predator almost gets it right. There’s a tiny bit of give in the wrist-wrest, and similar flex in the base. The screen flexes a little, but doesn’t disturb the desktop. The Acer is sturdier than the Gigabyte, but a little weaker than the rock-solid XMG.
A panel on the base lifts away for access to storage and memory. There are two memory sockets free and the hard disk sits inside a rubber caddy for simpler removal. The M.2 SSD is accessible, and above the drive is another M.2 connector. That’s a boon, but it uses the 110mm form factor – one that isn’t often used.
The outer borders are just as versatile. There are four USB 3 ports, a USB 3.1 Type-C connector, HDMI and DisplayPort outputs and a card reader.
The Predator has the name and design to stand out, but its internals aren’t as striking. They’re high-end, but little here pushes the envelope.
The GTX 980M is Nvidia’s most powerful mobile chipset, with 1,536 stream processors and a 1,038MHz core clock. Here, though, Acer has opted for the 4GB version – the XMG and Gigabyte machines both use the 8GB model.
The Core i7-6700HQ is the best high-end laptop chip: it’s got four Hyper-Threaded cores and a 2.6GHz clock. That’s the same chip as the revised Gigabyte, but this is another area where Acer hasn’t innovated. The XMG includes a desktop CPU – and the Intel Core i7-6700K has more cache and a 4GHz stock speed.
Acer has paired the processor with 16GB of DDR4 memory. That’s the same as rivals, but it’s another the Predator still manages to fall behind – it’s clocked here to 2,133MHz, but the XMG’s memory ran at 2,400MHz. The 128GB Lite-On SSD is an M.2 drive that still relies on a slower SATA connection. Both rivals also have M.2 SSDs – but both use PCI-E hardware, and will be faster.
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I’m not blown away by the Predator’s initial specification, and Acer has only brought one of three alternative models to the UK. The NX.Q03EK.001 drops to a GTX 970M and upgrades to a 256GB SSD, but costs £1,600. Acer manufacturers two 4K versions of the Predator 17, but they’re not sold here.
Still, that’s more versatility than the Gigabyte, which only sells one specification of the P37X. Pleasingly, that machine now costs £1,648 rather than £1,999, and it’s got an i7-6700HQ CPU.
XMG’s machine remains the most versatile 17.3-inch gaming laptop. The sample I reviewed cost £2,219, but it’s easy to bring that down: I kept its i7-6700K and GTX 980M but mimicked the Acer’s memory and storage, and it dropped to £1,975. Switch to a Core i5-6600 and it’ll cost £1,853.
Little surprises about the Acer’s software. The PredatorSense tool allows macro changes, lighting alteration and screen modes switching. Killer’s Network Manager provides internet optimisation, and the Dolby Audio tool serves up profile switching and customisation. And then the Dust Defender – simply a spinning graphic that illustrates how Acer’s cooling works.