Not every PC should be treated the same, and Acer’s Predator 17 looks to prove it, skipping past the slim and minimalistic design most laptops features these days, opting for something meaty, angry, and looking to conquer your gaming needs. Does it succeed?
Features and performance
Gaming machines tend to be a different breed of computers, and if you’re a gamer or you’re buying for a gamer, this fact is one of the first things you find out, because the number one lesson is gaming computers look nothing like their regular or business-friendly counterparts.
Take Acer’s 17 inch Predator as an example: here is a machine decked in black rubber with a real angry look to it.
While most laptops tend to go for simple and elegant in their design, or often just the essence of minimalism, gaming machines like the Predator are totally different, featuring soft black rubber along the lid and inside, honeycomb texturing under the hinge, and a bunch of red lighting.
It’s also big and bulky, delivering a 17 inch display — something that has become less popular over the year — in a body that weighs almost four kilograms.
Yes, that’s a “4” next to the word “kilograms”. It’s not light at all.
There is a fair amount of componentry inside the Predator 17 to account for this weight, and a bunch of ports, too, enough so that if you had to be on the look out for a future-proof machine, Acer feels like it’s trying to offer that, delivering four USB 3.0 ports, a full-size DisplayPort, an HDMI port, Gigabit Ethernet, an SD card slot, a Blu-ray reader with DVD burning capabilities, and even one of those new fandangled Thunderbolt 3 ports, which also means you have a USB Type C port in a pinch.
That’s a fair amount of flexibility, but it does lend itself to making the Predator 17 one large machine, and it’s a large machine with a few bonus features which help it to stand out.
For the Predator 17, Acer has teamed up with case and cooling brand Coolermaster to build a removable fan. Yes, if this computer decides to get a little hot, or your online and gaming activities become a little too much for the system to bear, you can replace that optical drive with a drive-bay fan, bringing a little bit of that customisable desktop experience to a laptop.
It’s a great idea and very easy to replace, though our testing of the Predator 17 didn’t reveal that it was doing all that much.
Then again, if you decide to push the system harder than we did — because some people don’t play nicely and like to overlock — we’re sure you’ll be happy with the inclusion of the removable fan bay.
There’s also a little more for the cooling side of things, with air vents at the back complete with heat-sinks clearly visible behind the lined grills, because you can never have too much air leaving a grunty gaming box.
And these aren’t the only value-adds Acer throws in with the 17 inch Predator, as you’ll find five — count ’em — macro keys along the side of the full-size keyboard, with a program switching key to change what they do, too.
There’s a degree of lighting under the keys, too, providing colours of LED backlit keys, and while it’s not crazy in the sense that Alienware’s programmable lighting works, at least it doesn’t feel cheap, with switches for various sections of the keyboard offering up red and blue, though no advanced colour customisation.
You do however get an LED notification light section under the screen and acting as the hinge, with a long strip glass or plastic covering the notifications that almost makes the Predator 17 come across like it’s a Cylon from Battlestar Galactica.
The tiny slits of red lights feel a little like the computer is watching you, waiting for you to realise what it can do.
Get to typing on the keyboard and you’ll see it, with a solid full-size keyboard complete with numberpad waiting for you, and without doubt, this has to be one of the best Acer keyboards we’ve felt yet.
While every manufacturer is doing a lot better in keyboards lately, the Predator keyboard is a lovely step up for Acer, with a solid click provided for each key, a reasonable amount of travel, and a good clack sound with each stroke.
Your primary “WASD” keys are even segmented off in red — so you know where they are at all times, hyper important in first-person gaming — but even the regular typing works a treat, reminding us more of a solid gaming keyboard than that of a standard laptop keyboard.
We did find that you had to type pretty hard for this keyboard, likely due to how much travel there was, but this is a decent set of keys for Acer, and quite impressive.
Much more so, at least, than Acer’s trackpad, which offers up a rubber finish and a wide spacious area for your fingers and thumb to go browsing, but generally doesn’t offer the right sort of click for any gaming.
Granted, we suspect most gamers will get out a proper mouse and plug it in when push comes to tap, and then click, but you’ll find this trackpad is only useful for using the computer, not playing games.
At least Acer has nailed that, because the Predator 17 has performance where it counts.
On a technical level, the Predator 17 we reviewed had performance to spare, with Acer loading this thing with pretty much everything a modern gamer could want today.
Specifically, it arrived with an Intel Core i7 6700 processor clocked at 2.6GHz and working with four cores, making it one of those brand spankin’ new Skylake chips, and a good one at that.
Acer paired this with a solid 16GB RAM and two sets of storage, operating with a 256GB solid state drive for where you put most of your files — Windows 10 is installed to this one — and a 1TB drive for everything else.
Oh, and for your gaming pleasure, you’ll find a gruntilicious Nvidia GeForce GTX980M with 4GB memory. Seriously, that’s more gaming prowess than most desktops feature, which will surely please more than a few people out there.
In use, the machine appears to be pretty quick, which probably won’t come as a surprise, but is nice to see all the same.
There’s no touchscreen here, though with Windows 10, we’re not concerned by that, and we’re delighted by the use of a matte 17 inch display offering excellent viewing angles, something Acer isn’t normally known for.
One downside is that you’re only viewing in Full HD 1920×1080 on a 17.3 inch display, but depending on how much you want to spend, you can raise this up to 4K if need be.
We’d like to have seen 4K standard since Full HD on a 17 inch screen screams of old technology, but hey, at least we have excellent viewing angles, which we’ll take over a high resolution any day.
Back to Windows, though, and it handles its own, and there’s even a surprise: no bloatware.
That’s something we don’t see very often, and yet it’s here, or not, as the case is. Nothing is here, and that’s a good thing There’s nothing from Cyberlink, no security software, no random Gameloft advertisements, and nothing from Microsoft.
In fact, about the only bit of anything that might qualify as bloatware appears to be a nod to gamers, with the inclusion of Steam from the get go. Since most gamers will be installing that the moment they get it out of the box, it’s nice to see it on the Acer Predator 17 the moment you switch it on, though sadly there are no games included with your Steam install.
Oh well, one can only hope.
You’ll also find a few bits of software designed for the Predator, such as a Dolby Audio customisable equaliser, a “Dust Defender” setting that can switch on the fans and clean out any dust you might pick up when the fans decide to power on and keep your gaming laptop cool, and there’s even an app made for the Predator offering up CPU and temperature information, as well modifications for the customisable hotkeys on the side.
And there’s a network driver for the “Killer Network” technology, which itself extends to both the wired Gigabit Ethernet port on the left side and the 802.11ac WiFi network found on the machine.
This software lets you customise how you’re connecting — whether it’s using a setting ideal for regular activities or low-latency gaming — and then track performance and basically manage the networking’s quality of service on the computer itself, great for control freaks, of which we’re sure there are few of out there.
But the performance for the laptop is probably the most important part, and that’s an area where it feels like Acer has actually made good on its promise.
With Skylake inside and a fair amount of grunt, we found all three of our test games performed swimmingly, with “Bioshock Infinite”, “Portal 2”, and the remastered edition of “Homeworld” all look spectacular on the Full HD display of the Predator 17, with details turned up.
We’re not going to say this is a gaming computer that will last for years because the moment we do say that games will get more advanced and this computer (and the review) will go pear-shaped, but Acer’s Predator 17 certainly handles its own and has no problems doing so, even showing teeth when it gets down to it.
Battery life also isn’t bad, but it’s not amazing, something you can likely attribute to the high-end gear under the hood milking the battery for all its worth.
For instance, if you decide to use your computer like a computer for the whole web surfing, office work, and general use-case scenarios, you’ll find a semi-respectable battery life of between 5 and 6 hours.
The moment you start playing games, however, and the graphics card has to kick in, you can expect that runtime to drop to around closer to 2. In fact, it was two-and-a-bit for us, but it wasn’t a particularly large bit, so if you do happen to take the Predator 17 on the road, aside for needing a very large backpack and some decent muscles, you’ll also want to bring with that massive power block, too.
We did find some bugs, however, with one rearing its head frequently after sitting on standby for a while.
This is a first for us, and after reviewing (and using in our regular work and home life) quite a few Windows 10 machines, Acer’s Predator would frequently refuse to let us login, citing a bug of “something went wrong”, requesting a restart, and then refusing to do that, forcing us to hard restart the Predator 17 by holding down the power button for a few seconds.
Hopefully this is one of those things that Acer fixes promptly, because it’s a bizarre one, and something we’ve yet to see on another Windows 10 box.
Outside of this, however, the only major issues with the Predator 17 are sound and price.
Sound rears its head as an issue not because the hardware is disastrous, but because it feels like it’s the weakest part of the package.
We’d be remiss not to comment on the speakers at the front of the laptop design under the wrist rest, and these are accompanied by a small subwoofer system there, too, but audio from this speaker system tends to sound shallow and tinny, and not the sort of thing you’d expect out of a computer of this calibre.
Indeed, Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 — which is a totally different class of computer — sounded better than what Acer has delivered for sound technology in this computer.
The two machines couldn’t be more different, but with Dolby on-board in the Predator 17, you can’t help but shake the feeling that the audio should be clearer and more spatially aware, and yet it’s not.
Price is the other glaring factor because this thing is not cheap.
From what we can tell, it appears to be on par with what Alienware is offering in its offerings, but they’re not cheap either, and
$3300 is a lot to spend on a gaming computer.
If you don’t want to build a desktop and prefer the idea of being able to take your gaming station with you, it might be worth the cost. Otherwise, a gaming desktop could be a better option.
Big and bulky, Acer’s Predator may not offer the glitz and lights and total sense of customisation you get with some other gaming computer, but it still delivers quite a bit, and manages to even make itself stand out as one of Acer’s best computers in ages.
We’re still not sure if the price really works its way out, but in terms of performance in 2016, the 17 inch Acer Predator manages to pull its weight, handling its own with a decent keyboard and some neat performance features, too.
If you’re in the market for a gaming laptop that feels like it should be a desktop, Acer’s Predator 17 is worth checking out, and if the price ever drops, doubly so.