Review: Acer Predator 15

Introduction and design

Thinner and lighter than ever, modern gaming laptops borrow heavily from the styling cues of modern supercars and high-tech fighter jets. The Acer Predator 15, however, resembles something more akin to tank. Heavy and huge, it cuts an aggressive figure that symbolizes the real essence of the performance beast that lies within.

The Predator easily justifies its monstrous stature, being full of features that don’t immediately come to mind when thinking of a high-end gaming laptop. Yes, it has tons of hard drive space and RAM. Its Skylake-generation Intel processor is top of the line, and the Nvidia GPU performs wonderfully. But these are perfectly complimented by an impressive cooling system, fantastic speakers and a rugged build that feels like a piece of military equipment.

Acer Predator 15 review

Design

The Predator will not be winning any beauty contests. In fact, it almost looks like a throwback to an earlier time in laptop history. The screen bezel is thick the entire way around, with its thickest point at the bottom of the screen measuring 1.25-inches.

All that bulk is not without merit. This laptop is thick and heavy, yes, but it moves air like no one’s business. In fact, it even comes with a modular CoolerMaster FrostCore cooling unit that swaps out with the Blu-ray drive.

Acer Predator 15 review

Better yet, the sound system is phenomenal. The speakers, located on the front of the laptop, are helped along by a subwoofer on the bottom. Both the sound and cooling systems no doubt add to the overall thickness of the laptop, but they both work so well it wouldn’t be worth cutting them in exchange for reduction in size.

Another contributing factor to the Predator’s tank-like aesthetics is its eight-cell, lithium-ion 6,000 mAh battery. The huge-capacity battery is worth the weight, though, as it offers some of the longest battery life in a high-end gaming laptop.

Acer Predator 15 review

The notebook’s size means there’s also plenty of room for a full-sized keyboard and a large trackpad. The chiclet-style keyboard is one of the most comfortable I’ve used, with smooth-travelling, solid keys spaced perfectly apart. The right and left mouse buttons on the trackpad have the exact same travel and feel as the keys on the keyboard, a small detail that I didn’t realize I wanted until I experienced it first-hand.

On top of angles and accents that scream “I am a gamer, and this is my computer,” the Predator 15 includes light-up elements no decent gaming laptop would go without. This includes two narrow strips and a backlit logo on the lid, as well as a two-tone backlit keyboard. The arrow and WASD keys are colored red, making them easy to pick out from the rest of the black keyboard.

Acer Predator 15 review

The Predator lacks the colorful customization options seen on many other gaming rigs, which is a bit of a disappointment. The color customization goes as deep as turning off and on different lighting zones throughout the laptop. Personally, I like the ability to change colors on my keyboards, but the reality is I do it once and then forget about it, so it’s not a deal breaker.

A small, mirrored strip of plastic on the hinge houses the hard drive, battery, and power lights, and shows through even when the laptop is closed. It almost looks like the glowing bar on the front of Knight Rider’s KITT, or the row of lights below the viewscreen on the Enterprise. The LEDs aren’t animated or anything, but it’s a nice use of the space and adds to the futuristic war-machine aesthetic.

Acer Predator 15 review

A row of six macro buttons are located on the upper left side, directly above the function keys, and can be programmed using the Predator Sense software included with the laptop. Up to three sets of five macros can be assigned, and the first group are already assigned to handy functions, like turning off and on sticky keys and enabling or disabling the fans. Like everything else your fingers will come in contact with, the macro keys have a pleasing feel and a satisfying click.

In addition to the programmable macro keys, there’s also a dedicated button directly adjacent to the trackpad that disables it and the Windows key. It’s another one of those things I never knew I wanted before, but being able to play Call of Duty in its proper WASD configuration without constantly losing my place, thanks to accidental trackpad contact, is a welcome feature. Pressing it also brings up a quick icon on the screen to let you know it been activated, along with changing the LED on the button from green to red.

Acer Predator 15 review

Stain-resistant

Many modern, high-end laptops include a microfiber cloth to deal with the smudges and smears that come with ordinary handling. The matte-black body of the Acer Predator 15 has a finish that feels almost like hard rubber.

This soft-touch paint finish is usually a magnet for grease, but the Predator 15 is is extremely resistant to picking up fingerprints or stains. It’s actually difficult to leave noticeable fingerprints on any part of the Predator, including the keys and trackpad. Kudos to Acer for creating a gaming laptop that looks good and stays that way without much maintenance.

Specifications and value

The Acer Predator 15 weighs a whopping 7.5 pounds (3.4kg) and measures 1.5 inches (3.8cm) at its thickest point when closed. Compare that to the MSI GS60 Ghost Pro, which is a positively svelte 0.78 inches (1.9cm) and weighs just 4.2 pounds (1.9kg). It weighs as much as the Origin EON 15-X, but its overall dimensions are larger than the Predator 15. The real difference there is the Origin houses a full-fledged desktop CPU, whereas the Predator sports a completely mobile chipset.

The weight of the Predator it one of its biggest drawbacks. With so many computers racing to the bottom as far as mass is concerned, a 7.5-pound laptop almost seems unfashionable. Add in the little extra weight of the AC adapter and the FrostCore cooler, and the Predator makes its presence known to your back, if you’re carrying it in a laptop bag. Sitting it on your lap isn’t too terrible, but if you’re used to a lightweight notebook, it will surprise you when try to adjust it on your lap.

Acer Predator 15 review

Spec sheet

Here is the Acer Predator 15 configuration sent 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 530
  • RAM: 32GB DDR4 (2133 MHz, expandable to 64GB)
  • Screen: 15.6-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 Active Matrix TFT Color LCD
  • Storage: 512GB 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 jack
  • Connectivity: Killer Wireless-AC 1535 , Gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth 4.2
  • Camera: Front-facing 1,280 x 720 webcam
  • Weight: 7.5 pounds (3.4 kg)
  • Size: 15.4 x 11.8 x 1.5 inches, 39.1 x 30 x 3.8 centimeters (W x D x H)

Acer Predator 15 review

As big as the Acer Predator 15 is physically, its price is also quite heavy. At $2,499 (about £1,249, AU$2,999, though not as well equipped abroad) as configured, this is a serious machine. However, just as its size is justifiable for everything Acer managed to fit into it, the price is also a fair reflection of everything it includes.

The price tag seems exactly right for this machine. It’s a premium piece of hardware, but it doesn’t feel like a “luxury” item. Every part of it is designed to fit a gamer’s needs, and the price point reflects that.

The Predator 15 is neck and neck with the EON15-X as far as price, but the EON15-X beats the Predator in performance. This is no doubt due to its desktop processor and 8GB of GDDR5 RAM, compared to the 4GB GDDR5 in the Predator. While the EON15-X is able to best the Predator in every performance test, the Predator beats it in other categories that still make it a good value.

Acer Predator 15 review

It also comes with a larger 512GB solid-state drive (SSD) and a 1TB, 7,400 rpm hard drive, beating both the GS60 and the EON15-X. An SSD makes all the difference in games like Just Cause 3, which is notoriously heavy on load times when running off a traditional hard drive. Black Ops 3, Just Cause 3, and Grand Theft Auto 5 – which are all fairly recent, top-selling games – each take up 40GB of room, SSD space goes fast on other computers, but the Predator has room to spare.

Other, less expensive configurations of the Predator 15 exist, with the entry-level version dropping down to a 128GB SSD and a GeForce 970M with 3GB of GDDR5 RAM. That version costs $1,499 (£1,249,AU$2,999).

The cheaper version comes with only 16GB of RAM. I say “only”, because the configuration we tested includes 32GB. All models are upgradeable to 64GB, however, and all the machines in the Predator line-up have the same Skylake processor and 1TB hard-drive standard in the US.

Performance and features

With a whopping 32GB of RAM and programs loading from the SSD, along with its Core i7 CPU, I never encountered a situation through regular use where the Predator really struggled. In fact, it breezed along as if nothing was wrong. I tend to leave a dozen or more processor-heavy, Ajax-enabled sites like Gmail, Facebook, and Twitter open at any given time, and even with a few videos on pause, I was able to jump in and out of games without issue.

The SSD makes a big difference in games with lots of loading. I never experienced any of Just Cause 3’s dreaded, ultra-long loading time issues. The GeForce 980M had no problem running the game at decent settings, and I couldn’t help myself but to plug it into my television and play on the big screen for a while. Again, even in a two-screen configuration, I didn’t experience any problems with performance.

Acer Predator 15 review

Benchmarks

Here’s how the Acer Predator 15 performed in our suite of benchmark tests:

  • 3DMark: Cloud Gate: 22,590; Sky Diver: 21,829; Fire Strike: 8,277
  • Cinebench CPU: 673 points; Graphics: 66 fps,
  • GeekBench: 3,668 (single-core); 13,255 (multi-core)
  • PCMark 8 (Home Test): 3,378 points
  • PCMark 8 Battery Life: 3 hours and 17 minutes
  • Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (1080p, Ultra): 67 fps; (1080p, Low): 140 fps
  • Metro: Last Light (1080p, Ultra): 33 fps; (1080p, Low): 114 fps

The performance of the Predator falls short of the EON15-X, as Origin’s machine really thrives from having a desktop processor and having a GPU with double the RAM. The Cinebench score speaks to the superiority of the EON15-X, with that laptop scoring 874 points, compared to the Predator’s 671. In fact, performance-wise, the Predator is much closer to the GS60 Ghost Pro, narrowly beating it out in all but the PCMark 8 Home Test. Even then, it lost by a negligible 15 points.

Metro: Last Light and Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor were able to run at a competent frame rate, even on Ultra settings. Mordor on Ultra was able to average 67 fps, while Metro reached just half that number, at 33 fps. With games set to their optimal settings, either through the GeForce software or the games themselves, graphics and framerate will satisfy any gamer’s wants.

For modern games, the Predator does well. Just Cause 3, with its huge open world and physics-based, movie-realistic explosions, was a real treat. After reading about performance issues with the game, I was worried it would be a slog on a laptop rather than a dedicated desktop, but I’m happy to report the Predator handled it well. The only time I saw a real chug was when I was playing on battery power, but even that was brief and largely a result of so much happening on-screen.

Acer Predator 15 review

Display

The Predator has support for G-Sync monitors, but the display on the machine itself isn’t G-Sync enabled. While that would certainly add to the already steep price for the tricked-out Predator 15, it would be appreciated to at least have the option.

That’s especially since the display is such a pleasure to behold. I had to check several times during testing where the screen needed to be set to 50% brightness, because even at half its capacity, the screen shines brightly.

High-definition movies look fantastic, at a level of clarity that somehow seems to rise above its quoted 1,920 x 1,080 resolution. Games, too, look wonderful, with vibrant colors that look alive. Even games with relatively dull color palettes, like Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, have an an extra dimension of graphical fidelity, thanks to the bright, colorful screen.

As great as the screen looks, an UHD option would have been a nice addition, something to take an already great machine to the next level. However, pushing all those pixels while remaining competitive in performance is a task for any GPU, so it’s understandable why Acer chose to skip the option. Adding a second GPU could have been another possibility, but it too would have inflated the already high price and weight.

Acer Predator 15 review

Battery

Where the Predator shines compared to its competitors is in its battery life. A PCMark 8 Battery Life score of 3 hours and 17 minutes puts it an hour above both the EON15-X and the GS60.

Watching Guardians of the Galaxy on a loop at 50% screen brightness, listening through a pair of headphones, the GS60 made it to 2 hours 28 minutes, just barely enough to finish the movie. The Predator, on the other hand, running the same conditions, lasted an impressive 4 hours 22 minutes.

The EON15-X lasted just over 2 hours through practical use, while the Predator made it 3 hours and 5 minutes of me jumping back and forth between Just Cause 3, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 and regular internet surfing. I left all my tabs running while I gamed, and the screen was at 50% brightness, but I also left the fans running as they normally would.

All that battery life makes the Predator a stand-out among its peers. Merely watching movies on it, you could almost make it from one coast to the other on an airplane before it needed to be plugged in.

And that movie experience would be without a big trade-off. The screen at 50% is still a comfortable brightness, and I’d be willing to wager with some more tweaks, the battery life could be stretched even further.

Acer Predator 15 review

Cooler runnings

The cooling on the Predator is exceptional. Playing Just Cause 3 for extended sessions with the graphics optimized via GeForce Experience had the fans spinning constantly. The Predator is able to move so much air with the help of the FrostCore cooler that my legs were actually starting to feel cold from the breeze.

The vents on the bottom and back of the laptop are large and facilitate the air flow. Under normal use, simply browsing the internet, I was able to shut the fans down entirely, and never once did I find the laptop uncomfortably warm.

Another feature of the Predator’s cooling system – and it really cannot be overstated how well the cooling works – is the Acer Dust Defender feature. It can be manually activated, but under normal use, every three hours the Predator will spin its fans in reverse to help get rid of accumulated dust trapped inside.

Unfortunately, all that cooling comes at the expense of constant fan noise. When they’re spinning, they’re loud. It’s nice that the Predator has a built-in macro for turning the fans off, but who wants to shut off their fans while running a graphics-intensive game?

The fan noise is an extra bummer when juxtaposed against just how excellent the speakers sound. The two front facing speakers produce a rich, clear sound with no distortion. And the subwoofer on the bottom adds some boom to the bounce, making this the best-sounding laptop I’ve tested.

On top of sounding fantastic, this laptop also gets loud. At no point did I ever want to play a game at 100% volume. Seriously, it’s loud.

Verdict

The Predator 15 is a tank. It feels solid, it performs well and its battery life is superb for a gaming laptop. While this notebook doesn’t hit the graphical high notes of comparably priced competitors, it makes up for it in RAM, disk space and top-notch cooling.

We liked

All that space on the SSD means there’s plenty of room for today’s huge AAA games. Just Cause 3 has an install size of 42.5GB, and Black Ops 3 comes in at 45GB. It’s getting to the point where a large SSD will be a requirement, rather than a luxury, but the Predator’s 512GB SSD is way ahead of the curve.

The fact that the Predator can stay cool even when processing all the explosions and carnage of Just Cause 3 is impressive. Its auto-reversing fans ensure the laptop will remain at peak cooling capacity. Even during normal, non-gaming use with the fans off, this notebook remains comfortable enough to keep on your lap.

But it’s the notebook’s huge battery is what really sets the Predator above its peers, however. Almost 4.5 hours of battery life (while running Guardians of the Galaxy on loop) is practically unheard of with such a powerful laptop. Whereas most gaming laptops can’t go far from a wall outlet, the Predator is relentless.

We disliked

All the unique features, like the enormous battery and cooling, make the Predator 15 a heavy machine. It makes itself known from the minute you pick it up, and while its battery may make it ideal for taking along on short flights or train rides, you might not want to burden yourself with it.

The fan noise can’t be ignored. When the cooling system is working its hardest, the noise it produces is distracting, making it a double-edged sword.

Final verdict

The Predator 15 is a heavy hitter in the world of gaming laptops. Its performance and host of features make its otherwise steep price tag feel like an appropriate fit.

Among its peers, Acer’s latest isn’t the most powerful gaming laptop. But, the notebook makes up for that by remaining cool under pressure and sporting phenomenal battery life.

Programmable macros, a comfortable and punchy keyboard, one-button trackpad disabling and great speakers further add to the value of the Predator 15. This gaming laptop hits practically every note a gamer could desire.

 

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