Introduction, Design Features
The name “Predator” might sound ominous, but we’ve actually found Acer’s gaming brand to produce some of the most likable have-fun machines around.
Indeed, this isn’t our first time reviewing one of these beasts. The Predator 17 that’s the subject of this article is the bigger sibling to the Predator 15, a 2016 model we reviewed a few months back with high marks. It’s also the second generation of the Predator laptop line that we’ve gotten our hands on; the first was based on Nvidia’s “Maxwell” line of graphics chips.
The Predator 17 models aren’t custom-orderable, but they are available in several pre-configured models. The G9-793-78CM model in our hands for review has a 17.3-inch full-HD (FHD) display, an Intel Core i7-6700HQ quad-core processor, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 graphics, 16GB of RAM, and an SSD/hard drive combo (a 256GB solid-state drive and 1TB hard drive). It retails for $1,999, but a quick search online found it going for about $100 less from some resellers. Note that Acer has since updated the Predator 17 line with the newer Core i7-7700HQ “Kaby Lake” processor chip, though the performance of the newer chip is incrementally better, at best. Both “Skylake” 6th Generation and Kaby Lake models remain on the market. Acer also offers a handful of other configurations of the 17-inch Predator that, at this writing, ranged from $1,299 to $2,299.
Acer seems to have priced the Predator 17 in line with the competition, if a little on the high side. The MSI GT72VR Dominator Pro is $1,899 with nearly the same specs as our review unit, though it has just a 128GB SSD at that price. The Gigabyte P57X v7 seems to go for around the same price as the MSI. Last, we configured a close-match Alienware 17 for $2,049, though it had a couple of accessories bundled into its price.
Based on our virtual window-shopping spree, it’s safe to say that the Predator 17 probably won’t win you over based on price alone, as it doesn’t hold any real advantage in that regard, spec-for-spec, over the competition. That, moreover, means the chance of us overlooking any lack of features or performance based on its price is next to nil. It’s undoubtedly a tough market. But just like in video games, someone has to win, and the Predator 17 proved itself a dominant player among a host of very strong entries.
You’d have a hard time convincing someone that the Predator 17 was destined for use in a suit-and-tie corporate office. Sure, its black chassis with red accents means business, but not the kind conducted in a conference room. The straight edges and hard angles give it an almost menacing look.
Soft-touch silicone surfaces cover most visible parts of the Predator 17. This lends it a premium look and feel, and it’s a step up from plain plastic. The chassis is all but inflexible. At 9.3 pounds, you aren’t likely to find many notebooks that weigh more. And unless you step up to something unusual, like the monstrous, 18.4-inch-screened MSI GT83VR Titan SLI, the list of notebooks physically larger than this one is rather short.
The 16.7-inch width of the Predator 17’s body is normal for a notebook with a 17.3-inch screen, but its 12.7-inch depth is almost two inches deeper than most of its class. The 1.6-inch-thick chassis is also formidable. It’s obvious Acer wasn’t trying to keep the weight or the size of this notebook down. It’s simply a big gaming notebook, and that’s that.
Acer’s Predator logo is prominently centered on the back of the lid, and the Predator text logo is adorned beneath the display. [We still insist that at a distance, it’s possible to misread it as “Fredator.” —Ed.] The logo on the back of the lid is backlit, as are the two red stripes running vertically down either side of it. The lighting can be easily switched off by using a keyboard shortcut (Fn+F9). Overall, though, the branding might be a bit overdone. Let’s just say you have to like it.
The full-size Chiclet keyboard on the Predator 17 continues to be the gold standard among gaming notebooks. To give you an idea of how little we have to complain about, our biggest nitpick is that the keyboard deck has no Caps Lock or Num Lock LED indicators. When you press either of those keys, however, an onscreen icon pops up to indicate the status.
Acer hit the nail on the head with everything else about this keyboard. Its wonderfully tactile feedback and near-perfect key layout make for a great typing experience. The arrow keys are pushed out into their own grouping, as they would be on a desktop keyboard. (Every gaming laptop ought to do this.) The number-pad keys are full-size, including the often-truncated “0” key. The rest of the keys are where they’re supposed to be. The only item we could possibly pick a bone with related to keyboard usage is the rather abrupt edge on the front of the chassis. We found it dug into our left wrist a little bit while gaming. A sloped edge would have worked better.
The keyboard’s backlighting is split into four vertical zones, each occupying about one quarter of the keyboard. The zones can be set to any color in the RGB spectrum. Using a pre-installed PredatorSense utility, shown below, you can change the colors by selecting from a palette, or by typing in your favorite RGB values. The zones can be individually turned off, as well. During the daytime, we found the keyboard backlighting to be on the dim side; it was hard to tell the backlighting was on unless we peered under the edges of the keys.
Five dedicated macro keys are stacked to the left of the main keyboard area. A “P” button above them switches among three available profiles, with the button changing color through red, green, and turquoise to indicate the current profile. You can create an unlimited number of profiles in the PredatorSense utility, and assign them as you wish to the various profiles. The macro editor in the software is minimally featured, but usable. We liked the fact that only the macro keys with actively assigned functions are backlit; the rest stay dark. There’s also an onscreen display, replicated below, that comes up when you activate a given profile, telling you what is assigned to each key. That’s well done.
The touch pad is slightly recessed into the palm rest, giving your fingers a tactile hint as to where its boundaries lie. The pad’s surface has a smooth anti-glare finish for easy finger tracking. The dedicated left- and right-clicking buttons are quiet to press, and have plenty of feedback. The touch pad can be turned off by pressing the button to its right, which also disables the Windows key. When turned off, the red backlit perimeter around the touch pad goes off, as well.
A 1080p display is standard on the Predator 17. A 4K display is optional, but we’d take the full-HD (FHD) display for gaming usage, as 4K is a little too demanding for the GeForce GTX 1070 GPU to drive without lowering the settings.
The 1080p display isn’t your average 17.3-inch panel, and that’s not only because of its in-plane switching (IPS) technology that gives it wide viewing angles and bright, beautiful image quality. This display has a 75Hz refresh rate, where we’re used to seeing 60Hz, meaning it can display up to 75 frames per second (fps) in games without image tearing.
It, moreover, has Nvidia G-Sync support, which synchronizes the fps output from the GPU with the refresh rate of the panel in real-time. This smooths out the picture if your frame rate dips under the monitor’s refresh rate. We found the GeForce GTX 1070 GPU in our review unit was more than capable of averaging over 75fps in our tested titles, so G-Sync probably won’t see all that much usage with this 1080p panel, at least until games get more demanding. However, if you opt for the Predator 17 with the less-powerful GeForce GTX 1060 GPU, G-Sync will be more of an asset.
We’re by no means disappointed by the Predator 17’s 1080p display. We would, however, like to see a 1440p (2,540×1,440-pixel) display option available at some point, as the GeForce GTX 1070 is more than capable of driving that resolution. A 1080p display with an even higher 120Hz refresh rate would be nice, too. The MSI GT73VR Titan Pro we reviewed had a 1080p 120Hz display, but it was a TN panel, and the image quality wasn’t as high as that of the Predator 17’s 1080p display.
Connectivity is an area where the Predator 17 does very well. Not only does it have a wide variety of connectors, but it also puts them in a logical place. The ports on either side of the notebook are situated toward the rear of the chassis, where plugged-in devices are least likely to intrude on your external mousing space. There are also no cooling exhausts on the sides of the notebook, having been placed aiming out the notebook’s backside.
The left edge of the Predator 17 has the AC power jack, a pair of USB Type-A 3.0 ports, separate microphone and headphone jacks, the SD card reader, and the swappable drive bay. The latter can be populated with a tray-load optical drive, which was a DVD burner in our review unit, or the Predator FrostCore, a fan module designed to provide additional airflow for cooling. (More on that in the Thermals section, coming up.)
The right edge of the notebook has a USB Type-C port with Thunderbolt 3 support, another pair of USB Type-A 3.0 ports, an HDMI video-out, a DisplayPort connector, a Killer E2500 Gigabit Ethernet jack, and a Kensington-style cable-lock notch. Internally, the Predator 17 has a Killer 1535 wireless card with Bluetooth support.
The rear of the chassis holds no connectivity, just the vents for the cooling system. On the front edge, you’ll find two speaker grilles. There are four total speakers in this notebook, two behind each grille. There are also two subwoofers on the underside. We actually enjoyed gaming with just the notebook’s built-in speakers. The sound is full-range and has ample bass. There’s sufficient volume to fill a room. If you forget your headphones with this notebook, it’s no big deal. Just make sure everyone around you likes your taste in music. (Imagine our surprise when we found out some people didn’t like Britney Spears.)
The Webcam centered atop the display has only a 720p resolution, and records at 30fps. The image quality was reasonable in good lighting, indicating to us that it had enough bitrate, but that didn’t prevent it from looking a bit fuzzy because of the low resolution. A 1080p resolution would have made for a sharper picture.
Acer Predator 17 X. Lower-priced Predator 17 models are available with the GTX 1060 6GB, a card still plenty capable of running a 1080p resolution in today’s games. As things stand, though, the GTX 1070 is as good as it gets for south of two grand. We think it’s slightly overkill for a 1080p display resolution, though its extra performance should come in handy a year or two down the line when games inevitably get more demanding on resources. Even with the GTX 1060, however, the Predator 17 is VR-ready.
The Predator 17 has built-in GPU overclocking via the pre-installed Acer PredatorSense software. With its Turbo feature enabled, we observed the core clock of the GeForce GTX 1070 increase from 1,443MHz to 1,583MHz; the boost clock go from 1,645MHz to 1,783MHz; and the memory clock jump from 2,002MHz to 2,052MHz. Those are not small differences for an automatic overclocking feature. Using 3DMark Fire Strike Extreme, we measured a baseline overall score of 7,269, which increased to 7,666 when overclocked. That’s a respectable performance increase of just over 5 percent, all from a couple of mouse clicks.
The Predator 17 supports a maximum of 64GB of system memory via four 16GB DIMMs. Our review unit had 16GB total in a two-8GB DIMM configuration. It ran in dual-channel mode at DDR4-2400 speeds. That’s an ideal setup for a gaming notebook.
We found the 256GB solid-state-drive (SSD) in our Predator 17 review unit was actually a pair of 128GB drives running in RAID 0, allowing them to appear as a single volume in Windows. The drives were M.2 Type-2280 (80mm) format, though they only used the SATA bus, not the newer PCI Express-bus that we prefer to see. We harbor no complaints about our Predator 17’s performance, however; it seemed plenty quick to us. The SSD storage was joined by a 1TB 2.5-inch hard drive for traditional storage. Windows 10 was cleanly installed on our review unit’s SSD array.
Upgrading the Predator 17 is a matter of undoing the two Philips-head screws on the bottom cover…
Behind this dedicated access panel are both M.2 Type-2280 slots, the 2.5-inch drive bay, and two of the DIMM slots for memory. The other two DIMM slots are presumably on the other side of the motherboard, which doesn’t look like a simple operation to access. Fortunately, the two DIMM slots accessible through the underside of our Predator 17 review unit were the ones that were empty, making most memory upgrades simple. We’re glad to see the dedicated access panel, anyway.
The cooling solution for the Predator 17 consists of two fans, positioned on either side of the notebook. They send air out vents on the rear of the chassis. Acer almost amusingly marked the exhaust vents with danger symbols, as they would be on an aircraft.
The fans seemed to be always running in our review unit. They operated at a low speed most of the time, though their whirr was discernible if you listened for it in a quiet room. While gaming, the noise levels increased, and the fans developed a slight whine. We thought the noise level still stayed within reason. The sound level simply doesn’t reach a point where it would be intrusive in most environments. That said, the fan profile does seem to be a bit over-reactive, in the sense that even in events where the processor is stressed briefly, the fans follow suit and increase their RPM to match. It’s noticeable if you listen for it.
Relative to competing notebooks, we felt the HP Omen 17 and the MSI GT73VR Titan Pro were similar in terms of noise, with the MSI being on the quieter side.
One interesting feature of the Predator 17’s cooling system is Acer’s DustDefender. Every three hours, it reverses the direction of the fans in the notebook to prevent dust buildup. We didn’t test it in the long term, and therefore can’t say if it actually works, but it’s a proactive step in the right direction.
To test the notebook’s thermal performance over time, we played Rise of the Tomb Raider for 30 minutes. That’s a sufficient amount of time to get the internal components up to their maximum temperature. Using HWMonitor, we recorded a peak temperature of just 65 degrees C on the GeForce GTX 1070 GPU, which is excellent for a GPU of this caliber.
We weren’t too pleased with the 98 degrees C we recorded on the Core i7-6700HQ CPU, however. The rear exhaust vents appeared to push out plenty of warm air, but apparently not enough. We’d prefer to see the CPU run at least 15 degrees C cooler. We noted no noticeable performance problems while gaming. This makes sense, as even at the temperature we recorded, the CPU is technically still a few degrees below its maximum operating temperature.
The outside of the notebook fared well. No part of the keyboard or palm rest area exceeded 86 degrees F, and the highest temperature we recorded on the underside was just 78 degrees F. That wasn’t far above room temperature.
Acer includes what it calls the FrostCore with the Predator 17. You can eject the notebook’s optical drive by sliding a switch on the underside of the chassis, and then pop in this accessory fan module. Designed by Cooler Master, it’s supposed to add additional airflow to the system. We found it had no measurable effect on the Predator 17’s cooling performance. After going through another 30-minute gaming session, we recorded temperatures within a degree or two, both outside and inside the notebook. At least it didn’t hurt the thermal performance.