The Acer Predator 21X laptop – and you would need a heck of a big lap to perch this thing on your knees – is an example of a company saying “look what we can do” to all and sundry. With a price point north of £9000, it serves as a demonstration of what Acer’s engineers can do if given a money-no-object brief to build the ultimate portable computer.
“You’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat”
Let’s deal with the elephant in the room (or rather, on the desktop). Weighing in at 8.5kg, this is a big machine, and one that realistically would be aimed at the type of audience who is tired of lugging a desktop rig to gaming sessions but does not want to compromise on performance. The size of the chassis means Acer have been able to include a 21 inch curved display (running at what feels like a low resolution of 2580 x 1080 – a little disappointing considering the components and cost) and a full sized mechanical keyboard, which is a pleasure to use in the current era of chiclet keys and short key travel. A large trackpad can be found to the right of the keyboard, which can be flipped to reveal a full-sized keypad. As a left-hander, I found the trackpad fairly useless and the audience for this device at likely to have a gaming mouse to plug in anyway. The rest of the space on the chassis is occupied by some artwork and a window into the inner workings of the machine, illuminated by LEDs.
As well as being a delight to use, each key on the keyboard can be illuminated from a full RGB range of 16.5m colours (or these can be turned off to avoid distractions while playing). Different profiles of keyboard illumination can be configured to allow for different games or applications, although it isn’t possible to link these profiles to switch automatically when a game is loaded. The keyboard also features a set of shortcut keys that can also be tied to actions and again governed by a saved profile.
Acer claim that this is the first laptop to feature a curved screen, and I have no reason to doubt them. Indeed, such a screen needs a monster chassis. And what a screen this is – resolution aside – this is a simply gorgeous display. The curved viewing area makes a surprising amount of difference and with a 120Hz refresh rate, the 21 inch screen is easy on the eye and friendly to the gamer. Dual GTX 1080 graphics cards running in SLI mode ensure that superb screen is never short of visuals to do it justice.
Keeping It Cool
5 fans keep the Kaby Lake Core i7-7820HK (overclockable) processor, as well as the other components, cool and do so with an impressive lack of noise. The 3 CPU/GPU specific fans are also reversible to blow out dust, which is a neat feature and should increase the longevity of the system. And with 64GB of DDR4-2400 memory, and two 512GB PCIe SSD drives (which can be configured as RAID 0), those components are as future proofed as one could hope. I was slightly amazed to find that Acer claim 3.5 hours battery life for this behemoth, but was unable to verify this. However, you will need 2 power outlets when you want to plug it in.
Tobii Or Not Tobii
While the Predator was as impressive at playing games as one would expect (and I have no doubt would also make an awesome workstation) one feature stood out during my hands-on time: the Tobii eye tracking. In games that support this, the Windows Hello-compatible camera will track where the user is looking on the screen. From a gaming perspective, this made aiming at a target (as an example) far more natural and when coupled with the wide, curved screen, made for a deeply immersive experience. However, the robustness of this technology also lends itself well to accessibility for disabled users and I look forward to seeing it seep down into more entry-level laptops.
Acer thoughtfully provide a carry case for the Predator, which highlights the ludicrousness of this machine. If a particularly intense gaming session proves too much for your heart, you could probably be buried in it…
My suspicion is that Acer don’t expect to sell many of these machines, and with the price coming in higher than a new VW, that expectation is likely to be met. However, as a showcase of what Acer can do, this insane piece of hardware represents mission accomplished and gamers with deep enough pockets to afford the premium will not go away disappointed.