Our friends at Acer recently sent a new Predator our way. No, we’re not talking about a drone. But their new monster gaming laptop could easily be as lethal as one. Our black sheathed beauty radiated with the red glow of it’s illuminated keyboard. Although, that could have been the Intel i7-6700HQ CPU or the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M glowing red hot as we ran it through it’s paces.
Unboxing the Acer Predator 15
First, here’s a look at the unboxing experience. Acer did a quality job with packaging on a very expensive computer. Which is important because lets face it, when you’re dishing out this kind of cash you don’t want to start off by feeling like the manufacturer was cutting corners anywhere.
Acer Predator GAMING Laptop Target Market
Before we even get started with this review, lets get some things out of the way. You are NOT going to buy one of these for your mom. Or your boss. Or a child. Scratch that last one. Your child may be a dragon slaying, space alien banishing prodigy. I don’t know. But you’re not going to waste this hardware on someone who’s daily ritual consists of checking Gmail and seeing what the latest trends are on Pinterest.
The Predator systems, which are available in 15″ and 17″ variants, start around $1,500. Though it’s easy to option them up to say $2,000+. On top of that, all of this hardware takes a heavy toll on your back. And I do mean heavy.
The Predators weigh in around 9-10 pounds each once you bring along the charger. The last time you picked up a laptop this heavy was probably 1988. Oh, and battery life? Well, at one point when I was just surfing the web with a full battery the system remarkably estimated about 8 hours of use remaining!
But lets face it, once you crank up GTA V or Star Wars The Old Republic, you’re probably gonna end up with about an hour of battery. So let’s hope you’re at a LAN party where you can find an outlet for the GINORMOUS power brick that comes with this beast.
It outputs 19.5 volts at 9.23 amps. Compare that to say a MacBook Pro’s 16.5 volt, 3.65 amp draw and the Predator makes the Mac look like a toy.
Predator Ports and Peripherals
Typically, our reviews make mention of the standard array of ports on a laptop, but have no reason to dwell on the subject. However, this isn’t an ordinary laptop, so we’ll have to devote some time to this subject.
The left side of the Predator includes the power port, two USB 3.0 ports, headphone and microphone jacks, an SD card slot, and a drive slot that accommodates either the Blu-ray player or a CoolerMaster fan. In fact, Acer’s short video commercial does a good job of demonstrating how these parts swap out.
A locking mechanism on the bottom of the unit allows the fan and Blu-ray player to be quickly interchanged.
The right side includes two additional USB 3.0 ports, a USB C port, one HDMI (capable of driving a 4k monitor), a full sized DisplayPort, gigabit Ethernet, and caps things off with a standard lock slot so you can chain this expensive piece of equipment to a table or something suitably safe.
Since we’re taking a tour around the laptop, check out the cooling ports on the back. They are without a doubt the biggest I’ve seen on a laptop, and are capable of pushing out enough air to be absolutely annoying if you can do anything to tax the system hard enough to cause them to run at full tilt.
Predator 15 Keyboard and Trackpad
My biggest surprise came from the Predator’s keyboard. I’m sure everyone has had experiences with wretched keyboards… you know, the kind with huge fat buttons that are hard to push down, and slow to pop up. Well, I hate those. But otherwise I’m pretty easy going and comfortable with a wide range of input devices. Or at least I thought I was.
When I hopped on the Predator and started doing actual work, all of a sudden I realized I was typing really fast! The keyboard has a pleasant feel with keys that don’t require much travel, use just the right amount of pressure, and spring back to life quickly. The feel of the keyboard is fantastic, and I can only compare it to the experience of typing on a Mac. I would consider it the equal to a MacBook Pro, but with the added benefit of a full 10 key number pad and several customizable buttons.
It never really occurred to me before, but if you think about it, a machine designed to make you a better Gamer is only as strong as its weakest link, so the keyboard performance is as critical as any other component – and Acer didn’t disappoint.
The one area that I was actually disappointed, was the trackpad. And not so much the actual trackpad as the placement.
On the 15″ Predator, the trackpad is located directly centered under the keyboard. But the keyboard is not centered on the device because the 10 key pad is to the right of it. This means that the right edge of the trackpad only lines up with the center of the laptop. And for those of us who are right handed, repeated use of the trackpad is physically stressful on the wrist.
Problem is, if the trackpad were moved to be centered, the right hand would routinely rest on it while typing, and if it were moved to the far right of the wrist rest area it would be impossible for lefties.
Ergonomically, it’s a mess.
I haven’t tried the 17″ version, but as I understand it the programmable keys are on the far left, which may push the keyboard and trackpad more to the center, improving the ergonomics. But that’s just a theory.
Predator Test System Configuration
The most impressive thing about our test system is not what was actually installed. The big i7 processor and GTX980M video card are awesome. So is 32GB of RAM combined with a big M.2 SSD AND a secondary drive for storage!
But even with all of that, the system is nowhere near capacity.
RAM is upgradable to 64GB of the fastest DDR4 memory out there, and even though the system has the fastest SSD available – there is a SECOND SLOT that would allow you to add another! Which also means a dual drive M.2 array is possible to double the throughput to an almost unimaginable 4GB/s. In short, you can search for the bottlenecks all you want – but you ain’t gonna find any.
Lets not forget, it would also be quite easy to yank that secondary 1TB drive and replace it with a 2TB drive for about $100 on Amazon.
Test System Specifications
System Model Predator G9-591
Processor Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-6700HQ CPU @ 2.60GHz, 2601 Mhz, 4 Core(s), 8 Logical Processor(s)
Installed Physical Memory (RAM) 32.0 GB
Name Intel(R) HD Graphics 530
Adapter RAM 1.00 GB (1,073,741,824 bytes)
Name NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M
Adapter RAM (1,048,576) bytes
Size 476.34 GB (511,462,862,848 bytes)
Size 931.51 GB (1,000,202,039,296 bytes)
Predator 15 Disk Performance
Our unit came configured with a 512 GB NVMe SAMSUNG MZVPV512. This SSD drive comes in the M.2 form factor and is capable of Sequential Read Up to 2150 MB/s and Sequential Write Up to 1550 MB/s with Random Read Up to 300K IOPS and Random Write Up to 100K IOPS. And in our testing, it absolutely performs as advertised.
If that seems like gibberish to you, let me put it another way. It’s fast as hell! Just a few years ago in order to achieve that kind of speed you would need to use RAID to combine about 5 or more drives. And even then you probably couldn’t do it because of limitations in the bus speeds on the motherboard.
Why do you care about the disk performance? Well, everything from system boot up times, to program launch times, to file read and write times are affected. And traditionally, storage has been the weakest link in a PC because moving disks are 100,000 times slower than just about everything else.
Predator 3DMark Performance
I used the standard 3DMark to benchmark the video performance, and the results below pretty much speak for themselves. The Predator essentially meets the requirements for a desktop Oculus Rift 3D gaming machine!
Watching the 3DMark application run through tests in an attempt to bring the laptop to its knees was mesmerizing. As the Predator automatically cranked up the cooling fans the on screen display kept watch while frame rates ranged from 25 – 200 fps. At no time however did the machine seem to be stressing.
More important than any test however, is real world performance. I found the 3D rendering to be as smooth as anything I’ve seen on expensive desktop machines. The system never gets bogged down, even with intense scenes and fast action.
Predator 15 Multimedia Performance
The problem with testing and describing audio and visual performance of any system, be it a TV, speakers, or even a laptop is that everything becomes subjective. There is no way to quantify it, because even if we were to measure things like frequency response, it would never give the full picture.
So let me just put it this way. When it comes to audio, this is the best sounding laptop I’ve ever heard. A pair of Dolby rated speakers point forward from the front edge of the laptop while a subwoofer, hidden somewhere inside, vents through a port on the bottom. But that description doesn’t really do it justice. The sound is much bigger and richer than the size of the speakers.
Now it isn’t going to compare to a larger dedicated audio system, but its loud, clear, and rich enough to surprise the hell out of anyone hearing it for the first time. And it’s a laptop.
Here you go, I know this isn’t really gonna work, but here’s a short video of some action on the Predator.
When the audio is combined with the bright, sharp screen and astonishing refresh rates the video card is capable of it makes for an outstanding multimedia experience. Games are immersive, and even music or movies can really draw you in. Playing games like StarCraft, Diablo and World of Warcraft actually make you want to watch the animation sequences instead of skipping right through to the action, and many people will really “experience” the story for the first time on a Predator.
Predator Applications Performance
The real trick is to own a well rounded machine that excels in more than one area. While the Predator was purpose built to amaze in the Gaming arena, it also plays quite nicely when used as a day to day machine.
Every application benefits from the sum of the parts in the Predator, where virtually everything happens instantly. Initial startup is nearly as quick as an iPad, Photoshop CC 2015 launches in 5 seconds, unzipping multi-file downloads happens so fast it appears the system is simply creating a folder.
Multi tab web browsing has no effect on the system, even if you open a completely unmanageable number of tabs! And applications like Excel tear through massive spreadsheet calculations that would bring even desktop systems to their knees. It’s easy to explain why – copious amounts of RAM, combined with SSD storage that is 20 times faster than an average hard drive.
3D and design applications like AutoCAD and Maya absolutely love the massive video performance, Photo apps like Lightroom churn through edits and exports, and perhaps the most grueling task any machine can be asked to perform, Video Editing, works extremely well even when scrubbing through 4k footage with the Predator driving two external 4k monitors plus the built in display!
Pricing and Availability
The new Predator 15 and 17 units are just beginning to make their way to market. At the time of this review, base 15″ models begin at $1,499 with a 128GB SSD and GTX970M video, or $1,999 with a 256GB SSD and GTX980M video.
Bumping up to the 17″ screen only adds $100 to the price, so really this is just a question of how big a machine you want. If you’re primarily going to use it in one location you might as well opt up to the larger screen!
If you want a unit that has really been maxed out on RAM or drive space you can always head over to Acer’s site and configure the machine any way you want, but one of the beautiful things about the Predator is how easy it is to service yourself. So you could always pick up one of the stock units and then look for deals on additional RAM and storage and upgrade as you see fit. This clear upgrade path should allow almost anyone to get several years of use out of a Predator without feeling like they are compromising and missing out as compared to buying a new system.
Editor’s Choice Award Winner
- It’s BIG! (TWSS.)
- It’s expensive!
- Impressive video performance.
- High end desktop utility.
- Amazing multimedia quality.
- Bad ass looks.
- Massive upgradeability.
We’re handing the Predator our Editor’s Choice award before it decides to just TAKE it from us. Because we definitely want to make sure the most powerful laptop we’ve ever tested is on our side in the war for battlefront supremacy.
I’ll admit that when I first pulled this thing out of the box my first thought was – who the hell would use this giant machine? After spending a couple of weeks using it exclusively I can now answer that question authoritatively. ME! Let the Games begin.