Introduction and design
Of all the big, red monsters that are the Acer Predator series of gaming laptops, this might be the biggest and reddest yet. The Predator 17 is a gargantuan top-of-the-line machine that, while sharing a broad design with the Predator 15, makes it look like a whelp.
That said, it also shares the Predator 15’s cleverest feature: its expandable, reversible cooling system. This, on top of a speedy sixth-generation Intel Skylake processor, heaps of RAM and a star-bright display, makes the Predator 17 a worthy device – even if it sometimes feels too hefty to handle.
Then again, such an imposing stature is part of the Predator 17’s audacious charm. See also the enormous exhaust vents along the back, the frequent flashes of red highlighting, and the multicoloured backlit keyboard complete with a number pad and five customisable macro keys.
Even with its mostly-plastic construction, the Predator 17 feels much more durable and tightly-built than the majority of Acer’s mainstream laptops; the screen hardly bends at all, and there are no big gaps around the keyboard base.
Throw in a solid build and pleasant soft-touch finish, and this definitely feels as expensive as the asking price of £1,490 ($2,099 in the US and AU$3,599 in Australia, though both have larger 256GB SSDs).
The cooling system is also excellent: those massive exhausts pump out heat with ease, the Blu-Ray drive can be swapped out for an auxiliary FrostCore cooler, and airflow can be temporarily reversed to flush out dust.
The downside to this otherwise admirable system is excess noise. As with the Predator 15, the Predator 17’s cacophonous whirring can get pretty distracting, with the fans near-constantly kicking into full speed even outside of games.
Another alternative to the Acer Predator 17, aside from its 15-inch Predator cousin, is the Gigabyte P35X. It measures 17.3 inches, packs a GTX 980M inside and goes for £1,650 ($2,499, AU$3,440) for the top-spec version, which houses the same processor alongside a meatier GTX 980M packing 8GB of GDDR5 RAM.
With double the video memory of the Predator 17, the P35X is more suitable for demanding games with high-resolution textures (such as Fallout 4 and The Witcher 3); on the other hand, it isn’t as stylish and costs £160 ($223, or AUS$312) more.
If you’re on the hunt for something with a snappier design, the Alienware 17 exudes gamer chic but costs a little more and is yet to be upgraded to Intel’s Skylake processors. At present, it’s offered with Intel’s older fourth-generation Haswell chips.
Specifications and performance
The Predator 17 can hardly be considered portable. At 8.71lbs (2.17kg), it’s shoulder-strainingly heavy, and while it doesn’t initially feel too weighty sat on a lap, extended use can make for uncomfortable legs. You can sling it into a big bag and transport it around, but that doesn’t mean you would want to.
Its bulk is partly due to its enormous, 17.3-inch screen. There’s some backlight bleeding around the lower right corner, but high brightness and vibrant colors ensure this is a pleasure to play with.
The subwoofer-equipped audio setup doesn’t disappoint either, producing astonishingly loud output that largely avoids the tinniness of most laptop speakers.
Here is the configuration of the Acer Predator 17 provided to techradar for review:
CPU: 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ (quad-core, 6MB cache, up to 3.5GHz with Turbo Boost)Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M (4GB GDDR5 RAM), Intel HD Graphics 530RAM: 16GB DDR4 (2,133 MHz, expandable to 64GB)Screen: 17.3-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 IPS LCDStorage: 128GB PCIe NVME SSD, 1TB HDD (7,400 RPM)Ports: 4x USB 3.0, 1x USB 3.1/Thunderbolt 3, HDMI, DisplayPort, Ethernet, SD reader, headphone jack, microphone jackConnectivity: Killer Wireless-AC 1535 , Gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth 4.2, Blu-Ray driveCamera: Front-facing 1,280 x 720 webcamWeight: 8.71 pounds (3.95 kg)Size: 16.65 x 12.6 x 1.56 inches, 42.3 x 31.5 x 3.95 centimeters (W x D x H)
This was slightly lower-spec than the Predator 15 we reviewed, housing half of the amount of RAM and a lower capacity 128GB SSD (versus 512GB). If you’re thinking of installing more than three or four games on the SSD to take advantage of faster loading times, it’s worth picking a model that comes with a larger 256GB or 512GB drive. Like our review sample, both pair the SSD with a slower but more capacious 1TB HDD.
Acer is also offering a version of the Predator 17 with a 4K display packing a pixel-resolution of 3,840 x 2,60. Bear in mind that, while a 4K display would make everything on the desktop super-sharp, games will run at much lower frame rates than if they were played at 1080p (or Full HD).
Acer has gone for sensible port placement, positioning them around the sides rather than around the back – though that’s pretty much a necessity, considering how the rear of the Predator 17 is taken up by exhaust ports.
It will come as no surprise to learn that gaming is where the Predator 17 really shines. The GTX 980M is no longer the top dog in Nvidia’s mobile GPU line-up following the launch of 980-equipped laptops like the PC Specialist Octane II – but it still has plenty of bite.
Paired with Intel’s Core i7-6700HQ, a mid-range offering in Intel’s mobile processor line-up, and 16GB of RAM, there’s easily enough power to play the latest titles in Full HD.
Here’s how the Acer Predator 17 performed in our suite of benchmark tests:
3DMark: Cloud Gate: 22,816; Sky Diver: 21,823; Fire Strike: 8,320Cinebench R15 CPU: Graphics: 91.07 fps, CPU: 661 pointsGeekBench: 3,684 (single-core); 13,071 (multi-core)PCMark 8 (Home Test): 3,340 pointsPCMark 8 Battery Life: 4 hours and 3 minutesMiddle Earth: Shadow of Mordor: (1080p, Ultra): 72 fps; (1080p, Low): 156 fpsGrand Theft Auto V (1080p, Ultra): (1080p, Ultra) 29 fps; (1080p, Low): 135 fps
The Predator 17’s gaming performance is neck-and-neck with the Predator 15, which is unsurprising considering that storage size and RAM are the only areas where the two machines differ.
It matched the Gigabyte P37X’s performance in our GTA V benchmark, despite having 4GB of virtual memory compared to the P35X’s 8GB, scoring 29fps compared to the 30fps achieved by Gigabyte’s machine.
Day-to-day use also feels extremely slick under Windows 10, which feels swift to navigate. Filling the screen with browser tabs – including anything from YouTube videos to social media websites and video livestreams – doesn’t slow down the system a jot.
Its keyboard’s keys are generously-sized and have a decent amount of travel for a laptop. However, while they’re easy to game with, their wide spacing means it takes a little longer to get used to typing on such a sprawling layout.
Besides its fine PC Mark8 battery score, the Predator 17 managed an outstanding 5 hours and 37 minutes of looped movie playback, once again besting the Predator 15 – along with most other laptops in its class.
Compared to the Predator 15, the Predator 17 lasted an additional 46 minutes in PC Mark 8’s battery life test. Such premier performance certainly makes its higher price tag easier to swallow. It also ran for 30 minutes longer than both the Gigabyte P35X v5 and Alienware 17.
Don’t expect hours upon hours of gaming, though; on a mixture of Grand Theft Auto V, Dota 2 and some browsing, the Predator 17 died after 1 hour and 42 minutes, an altogether more average lifespan.
Thankfully, Acer has kept bloatware to a minimum, largely sticking to software additions that provide genuine gaming utility. These include:
Acer DustDefender – Activate reversed airflow to prevent dust building up in the fans.Killer Network Manager – Monitor the Predator 17’s network usage, and control how much bandwidth applications use.PredatorSense – Edit macro key profiles, toggle keyboard backlighting and check CPU temperature.XSplit Gamecaster – Livestream gameplay footage, or record it for later.Verdict
It’s not subtle, but the Predator 17’s slick performance, gorgeous screen and top-notch cooling has won us over. Its lengthy battery life (for a gaming laptop) very nearly tips it into excellence, with only the lack of portability, and its small SSD, likely to be long-term niggles.
The Predator 17 is fully capable of running the latest games at their best, evidently to an even greater extent than the Predator 15. Not that this is some plucky underdog; its hardware, including an up-to-date Intel Skylake CPU, is on par with a respectable desktop.
Even so, it manages to keep cool thanks to a powerful fan system, and there’s enough battery for multiple movies or a decent session of solid gaming.
Unfortunately, a laptop does still need to be mobile, and the Predator 17 is so thick and dense that lugging it around becomes a dreadful notion. By contrast, the 128GB SSD is miniscule, unable to cope with more than two or three big games. The cooling system, as effective as it is, also makes a frankly terrible racket.
If it was quieter and shed a few pounds, the Predator 17 would be a close-to-perfect gaming machine. As it stands, it will have to settle for merely being a great one, combining solid performance with (mostly) wise design and a dependable battery. Just don’t take it backpacking.