VR isn't just for desktops anymore, and Acer's Predator 17 X proves that true by sporting a full-fat Nvidia 980 desktop graphics card and a built-in overclocking tool for your gaming needs. Then, you toss in a row of customizable macro keys, fantastic heat management and a $2,800 price tag that's hundreds less than many competing systems, and you get one of the most powerful laptops we've tested yet, and a pretty good value to boot. While this laptop isn't exactly a treat to tote around and you'll get barely more than 3 hours of juice when it's unplugged, the Predator 17 X is definitely a force to be reckoned with.
Design - Like a Stealthy Decepticon
Some fellow Laptop Mag staffers have called the Predator 17 X downright ugly. I won't go quite that far. But the 17 X, featuring plastic panels on every side and a somewhat played-out, red-and-black color scheme, doesn't look as nice as more expensive gaming laptops such as MSI's GT72 Dragon Edition.
The 17 X's most redeeming characteristic is the glowing Predator logo on its lid, which reminds me of the Decepticon insignia from Transformers and serves as a reminder of the potent gaming weaponry waiting inside. I also like that the 17 X is swathed in a soft touch coating from head to toe, which helps reduce any fingerprints or smudges that might normally appear.
The most curious aspect of the 17 X's design is that one of the flashiest parts of the laptop comes in the shiny red flaps covering the system's bottom-mounted subwoofer. Had Acer brought more of this design to the rest of the laptop, the 17 X would be a much more attractive system.
Measuring 16.65 x 12.66 x 1.77 inches and weighing 10.03 pounds, Acer's Predator 17 X isn't something you're going to want to carry very often. Among competing systems, the 17 X is about the same size and weight as the Origin Eon17 SLX (16.8 x 12 x 1.8 inches and 10.5 pounds) and nearly 2 pounds heavier than the MSI GT72 Dragon Edition (16.9 x 11.6 x 1.9 inches and 8.4 pounds) and the Alienware 17 (16.93 x 11.49 x 1.35 inches and 8.3 pounds).
Keyboard and Touchpad
Like almost all top-end gaming laptops, the 17 X's keyboard comes with adjustable, colored backlighting, which when combined with 2.23mm of key travel results in a pretty comfortable and eye-catching typing experience. And while its actuation weight felt a little light, at just 49 grams (55 is closer to normal), I never experienced spongy or mushy keystrokes.
In addition to the full numpad on the right, there's also a row of programmable macro keys on the left, with a switch that turns five keys into what is effectively 20. There's even a dedicated button for disabling the touchpad for when you plug in a mouse, which is what any self-respecting PC gamer is going to do anyway.
When you do need to use the touchpad, the 4 x 2.4-inch area leaves plenty of room to mouse around. The pad never had issues tracking my fingers or recognizing multitouch gestures like two-finger scrolling or pinch-to-zoom. I also appreciate the separate buttons for left and right mouse clicks, which felt fast and snappy.
While we can't speak to the quality of the Predator 17 X's optional 4K display, the 17.3-inch full-HD panel on our review unit is pretty solid. It's bright and relatively colorful, and because it features an anti-glare matte coating, you won't have to worry about unwanted reflections distracting you while you're gaming.
When I watched a trailer for The Great Wall on the 17 X's panel, I could make out every single brick on the serpentine structure. And when I booted up a quick game of Lucioball in Overwatch, the 17 X's screen delighted with lush, green grass and sparkling highlights trailing from the ball as it bounced around.
The display also features Nvidia's G-Sync technology, which adjusts the refresh rate to match the frame rate in your game, so you can pump up the settings and avoid screen artifacts. So instead of turning on V-Sync at 30 fps to prevent screen tearing, if 48 fps is as high as the system can go, just let G-sync do its thing and push whatever the system can manage straight to the display.
The Predator 17 X registered 288 nits of brightness and 112 percent of the sRGB spectrum, which is about the same as what we saw on Origin's Eon 17 SLX and MSI's GT72 Dragon Edition. The Alienware 17's display was even brighter, at 318 nits, and more colorful too, as it covered a range of 173.5 percent of the sRGB spectrum.
The Predator 17 X's Delta-E color-accuracy rating of 1.13 is quite good (0 is perfect), but the MSI, Origin and Alienware all scored under 1.
Gaming: A new highpoint for gaming notebooks
Featuring a full-blown desktop Nvidia 980 GPU with 8GB of GDDR5 video RAM, the Predator 17 X beats more expensive boutique machines at their own game, and boasts some of the highest frame rates we've seen on a gaming laptop yet.
When we played Rainbow Six Siege at 1920 x 1080 and high settings, the 17 X hit an average of 129 frames per second. That's higher than the Origin Eon 17 SLX (115 fps), MSI GT72 Dragon Edition (105 fps) and way better than the Alienware 17 (37.17 fps).
On an even more demanding game such as Metro: Last Light, the Predator 17 X was also impressive, pushing out 63.3 fps at 1920 x 1080 and very high settings. That's even higher than the Eon 17 SLX's 57 fps, the GT72 Dragon's 49 fps and almost twice as much as the Alienware 17's 37 fps.
On 3DMark's Fire Strike graphics test, the 17 X scored 10,870, which is even higher than the 7,667 mark we got from the MSI GT72 Dragon Edition. However, the 17 X still couldn't keep up with the Eon 17 SLX, which scored 12,011. With its less potent Nvidia 980m GPU, the Alienware 17's score (8,190) was 20 percent lower than the Acer's.
General Performance: No task is too challenging
Featuring a 2.7-GHz Intel Core i7-6820HK CPU, a whopping 32GB of RAM and a combination of two 256GB SSDs in Raid 0 and a 1TB 7,200 HDD for storage, the Predator 17 X makes mincemeat out any task you throw at it. And because the 17 X is made to be overclocked by using the supersimple Predator Sense app, you can push performance even higher if you want to.
On Geekbench 3, which measures overall system performance, the 17 X turned in a superb score of 13,763. That puts it on the same level as such gaming laptops as the MSI GT72 Dominator Pro (13,896) and the Alienware 17 (13,906), which also feature i7 6820HK CPUs. However, the Core i7 6700K-equipped Origin Eon 17 SLX pushed out an even higher 18,779.
The Predator's dual Raid 0 SSDs were also blisteringly fast, notching a transfer speed of 727 megabytes per second. However, the Eon 17 SLX and the GT72 were actually a hair faster, as their SSDs reached speeds of 848 MBps. The Alienware 17 came in a distant fourth, with a transfer rate of 508 MBps.
Just in case you want to do some work between games, the 17 X can crunch serious numbers. The Predator 17 X took a mere 3 minutes and 35 seconds to match 20,000 names and addresses. That beats the Alienware 17 (3:53) and is about the same as the MSI GT72's time of 3:31. However, the Origin was once again fastest, at 2:46.
Audio: SoundPound sounds silly, but totally isn't
Armed with four speakers (two on the front and two on the bottom) and a booming subwoofer, the 17 X's SoundPound audio system packs quite a punch. The output has a slightly airy quality, which lends itself well to playing games that take place in outdoor environments or listening to recordings of live music.
However, at max volume, I noticed a hint of distortion in the mids and highs. When I played Brock Berrigan's "Cruise Control," I really liked the big rich bass, although the blaring horns sometimes caused the 17 X's speakers to crackle.
For gamers who prefer headphones, the 17 X also includes a built-in digital AMP, so you'll never have to worry about low volume or too much distortion even when wearing a pair of premium high-impedance cans.
Webcam and connectivity
The Predator 17 X's 1280 x 720 webcam is a bit grainy for a system this expensive, but it'll suffice in a pinch if you're not too picky.
As for connectivity, the 17 X features 5 USB ports including one of the Type-C variety, along with HDMI, DisplayPort, Ethernet, separate headphone and mic jacks and an SD card reader. For those with a VR headset, the 17 X's right side makes it supereasy to plug in an Vive, because you get multiple USB ports and HDMI all in one convenient location.
The 17 X also features the Killer DoubleShot Pro networking, which will automatically optimize your traffic for lag-free performance, and can even combine wired and wireless connection to give as much bandwidth as possible.
Battery Life: Expectedly Short
When it comes to gaming laptops as powerful as the 17 X, one of the trade-offs you have to deal with is reduced battery life. However, with a time of 3:13 on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi), the Predator fares slightly better than other systems that have desktop-level graphics, such as MSI's GT72 (2:54) and Origin's Eon 17 SLX (2:58).
The Alienware 17, which can't do VR because of its less-powerful Nvidia 980m GPU, endured for 6:07, nearly double the Predator 17 X's mark.
Heat: Hot, but controlled
Despite a surplus of power, the Predator 17 X does a praiseworthy job of keeping its thermals under control. On our standard heat test (15 minutes of streaming HD video), the hottest spot on the 17 X was its rear vent, at just 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The machine's keyboard and underside were even cooler, at 84.5 and 87 degrees, respectively.
Then, when we tried to push the 17 X even further while gaming, the only change was that temps around the rear vent rose to 110 degrees. Both its keyboard and bottom stayed almost exactly the same, and because almost all of the heat gets ejected out the back, the 17 X is one of the few gaming laptops that I would actually consider using on my lap.
The Predator 17 X comes with a pretty clean install of Windows 10 Home. Acer then adds help utilities such as the Care Center app and Dolby Audio for choosing from among various equalizers, but there's nothing I would really consider to be bloatware. You also get the essential Predator Sense app, which lets you overclock with one click by selecting Normal, Faster or Turbo. Predator Sense is also used to configure the lights on the keyboard and the function of the macro keys on the left.
For gamers looking to get into streaming, Acer also includes a free six-month trial for XSplit, which adds up to about a $30 value.
Configurations: The choice is between a full-HD or 4K display
The Predator 17 X comes in two main configurations. The $2,800 model we've reviewed here features a 17-inch, full-HD display with G-Sync, Intel Core i7-6820HK CPU, 32GB of RAM, two 256GB SSDs in RAID 0, 1TB 7200 RPM HDD and desktop Nvidia 980 graphics. The$3,200 version bumps the display resolution up to 4K (3840 x 2160) and swaps out the dual 256GB SSDS for a single 512GB SSD.
While I would have liked to see Acer do a little more with the Predator 17 X's styling, it's pretty hard to argue with this laptop's combo of price and performance. Yes, $2,800 is a lot in a vacuum, but an Alienware 17 with mobile graphics costs $2,750 and isn't even fast enough to use with an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. In real-world gaming benchmarks, the Predator beat both Origin Eon17 SLX and MSI's GT72 Dragon Edition while costing $300 to $500 less than those rigs. Add in some potent speakers, comfortable thermals and enough oomph to easily power a VR headset, and the Predator 17 X becomes one of the best gaming laptop values for power users.