Acer Predator 17 review
Processor: Quad-core 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ, RAM: 16GB DDR4, Dimensions: 423x322x40mm, Weight: 4kg, Screen size: 17.3in, Screen resolution: 1,920x1,080, Graphics adaptor: Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M, Total storage: 256GB M.2 SSD, 1TB hard disk
If you thought Alienware had the outlandish gaming laptop covered, think again. Along with the Asus RoG and HP Omen series, Acer has now joined the party with its outrageous Predator 17. Apparently inspired by 'intergalactic battlecruisers', Acer's gargantuan performance notebook matches the company's extreme desktop PCs and gaming monitors for styling.
The Predator 17 is a genuinely impressive-looking machine for those who like to show off. There's a pair of lit-up red tracers and a red-backlit Predator logo on the lid, with red highlights on the fake front-facing speaker grill, the W, A, S, D and arrow keys. The palm rest, meanwhile, is made from a quality-feeling matt black plastic. It's quite similar to the Asus RoG G571JT, which also makes heavy use of red highlights and bright LEDs.
The Predator 17 is huge in every respect. Its 17.3in screen leaves a huge amount of room for the keyboard, macro keys and touchpad, and Acer's thrown portability to the wind with the laptop weighing a little over 4kg. That said, you can easily use this laptop on your lap because, despite its high-specification innards, it remains cool even when under load.
Part of the reason for these cool temperatures are the extremely loud fans which extract air from the rear of the laptop. Even with the laptop idling and processor temperatures at an impressively cool 28 degrees celsius, the fans continued to make a fair amount of noise. It was only after digging into Acer's PredatorSense software that I found a setting which keeps the fans spinning at maximum speed no matter what. Disabling this brought the noise down to a whisper without upsetting performance when serious cooling was required.
The Predator 17 is so serious about cooling that you can switch out the Blu-Ray drive for a bundled Cooler Master-badged fan module called the Acer FrostCore. However, after long term testing, recording temperatures, and running our processor and gaming benchmarks multiple times, the tiny fan in this rather large module actually made very little difference. In fact, its only discernible effect was making the laptop a little louder and removing the obvious ability to play Blu-ray discs.
The really perplexing thing about the fan module is that it clearly cost a lot to develop and manufacture and to have such an expensive and showy component make no difference to performance whatsoever seems like a bit of a misjudgement. Then again, when the Predator 17 already costs £1,500, an extra dozen quid probably won't faze this machine's target buyer.
There's a generous selection of ports, too. Four USB3 connectors are present along with HDMI and DisplayPort outputs for an external display, an SD card reader and a Thunderbolt port for high-performance storage drives and other high-end peripherals. There's Gigabit Ethernet, too, along with 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, as well as two 3.5mm audio jacks for a microphone and headphone setup.
The Acer Predator 17's keyboard deserves special credit. It's by far the best laptop keyboard I've ever used, as its large, chunky keys have loads of travel and give excellent feedback. It's fully backlit, too, meaning the keys are both edge-lit and lit through the character symbols, so typing in the dark is easy.
The macro keys are in a slightly awkward place, sitting off to the side away from the conventional keys, and they're also much shallower than the standard letter keys. However, there are five macro groups, giving you a huge 25 customisable shortcuts in total. These can be set from within the PredatorSense software and can be used to change settings such as fan speed and discrete GPU usage, as well as more advanced user-defined macros.
The touchpad, while seldom-used when stationed at a desk, is also excellent. It's responsive and its physical buttons are very pleasing to the touch. There's even a dedicated button next to the touchpad that disables both it and the Windows key to avoid unnecessary interruptions while gaming.