In the world of the gamer, it's frag or be fragged. One thing's for sure, the Acer Predator 15 ($1,699) is ready to do its fair share of fragging. Equipped with a powerful, quad-core Intel Core i7 processor and a VR-ready Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU, this 15-inch laptop can play nice with your Oculus Rift or HTC Vive and deliver solid frame rates for traditional gaming. It offers all of this performance while keeping crazy cool, thanks to its near-silent fans. However, at 8.2 pounds, you're giving up a lot of portability.
One day, black and red won't be the default color scheme for gaming laptops. Alas, that day seems far off on the horizon, as the Predator has this same tried-and-true aesthetic. However, it serves up plenty of soft-touch finish, starting with the lid. The ebony lid is a smorgasbord of the stuff, and I took a few minutes to run my hands all over the sumptuous surface. When I had gotten my fill, I admired the Predator emblem, which reminds me of Sauron's helmet from "The Lord of the Rings." There's a pair of backlit LEDs flanking the fallen Maiar.
Like most gaming laptops, the rear of the laptop has a series of car-like vents. However, instead of being painted plain black, the Predator's vents are lined in an attractive red.
The Predator's interior has more of that lovely black soft touch, which makes for a supercomfy palm rest. But the palm rest is also pretty spacious, housing a rather large touchpad and its accompanying enable/disable button. The keyboard resides in a slight recess, accentuated by rather severe angles. Five macro keys and a profile and power button sit above the keyboard.
The Predator is definitely a heavyweight at 8.2 pounds, 15.4 x 11.8 x 1.5 inches, especially when compared to the 5.4-pound, 14.9 x 10.6 x 1.1~1.3-inch Gigabyte P55W v6-PC3D. The Asus ROG Strix (5.8 pounds, 15.4 x 10.5 x 0.9 inches) and the MSI GT63VR Dominator Pro (6.8 pounds, 15.4 x 10.5 x 1.6 inches) fall somewhere in the middle.
This laptop comes sporting plenty of ports. There are two USB 3.0 ports on the right with a Thunderbolt port, HDMI, a DisplayPort, Gigabit Ethernet and a Kensington secure lock. On the left side is a tray-loading DVD drive -- which is quickly becoming a rarity -- and another pair of USB 3.0 ports, an SD card reader and jacks for headphones, microphone and the DC adapter.
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Fun fact about the DVD drive: It can be swapped out for the included Predator FrostCore. The component consists of a Cooler Master fan module, so you can keep your system nice and cool through those rigorous gaming sessions.
Let the Predator 15's matte display be a lesson to you. Matte doesn't mean dull. On the contrary, the 15.6-inch, 1920 x 1080 panel delivered loads of bold hues. Watching the "Moonlight" trailer, I could see the mildew in the grout of the white and yellow bathroom tiles. But it was the chocolate-hued boy in the glistening white bathtub who caught and held my attention. I was mesmerized when I saw his young body bent over in shame while he wore a crown of soap bubbles.
Riding through the night in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was lovely. Geralt's bone-white mane flowed over his shoulders as I steered him through a wooded area. His horse's jet-black tail shone when the moon finally peeked through the clouds. The grass at the beast's feet took on a dark green hue, thanks to the pitch-black night.
When measured for its color reproduction capabilities, the Predator 15 hit 110 percent of the sRGB color gamut, matching the P55W and surpassing the 91 mainstream average. The Strix and the GT63VR notched 115 percent and 111 percent, respectively.
I wish the screen were a little more accurate though, as it scored 1.4 on the Delta-E test (0 is ideal), which is better than the 2.3 average and the Stealth Pro's 2. The Strix delivered a score of 1.2, while the P55W got even closer to the mark at 1.04.
The Predator 15 averaged 268 nits on our brightness test, just missing the 269 category average. That's still better than the Stealth Pro's 242 nits, but nowhere near the Strix or P55W, which produced 300 nits and 321 nits, respectively.
Acer has loaded up the Predator 15 with a pair of speakers that are mounted on the front lip and a bottom-firing subwoofer. On the software side, you get Dolby Audio, which features six audio presets (Dynamic, Movie, Music, Game, Voice and Personalize). Ordinarily, this should be the recipe for a kick-ass party.
However, no matter what I listened to -- Santana's "Europa (Earth's Cry Heaven's Smile)" and Common's "Testify") -- and what preset I used, the audio sounded harsh on the high end. Even worse, it sounded like I was listening to the audio in a box, packed away in another package.
Gaming fared no better, transforming the usually loud clang of metal hitting metal in Witcher 3 to a hollow imitation. The energetic violins and yelps were grating at maximum volume.
Keyboard and Touchpad
These are some bouncy keys. The island-style keyboard has an impressive key travel of 2.6 millimeters (1.5 to 2 mm is ideal) that takes 60 grams of force to depress. I enjoyed the clicking of the keys as I hit my 65 word-per-minute average on the 10FastFingers Typing test. It created the illusion that I was typing on a mechanical keyboard.
Like other gaming laptops of its ilk, the Predator 15 has customizable backlighting by way of Acer's PredatorSense software. The keyboard is broken out into four distinct zones, allowing creative gamers to build their own custom light show with a few of the 16 million colors available. Unfortunately, the software lacks the cool effects that Alienware's AlienFX or Razer's Synapse software offer.
The 4 x 2.5-inch touchpad is absolutely massive and delivers some seriously quick response when users perform such gestures as two-finger scroll, three-finger swipe and four-finger press. The discrete mouse buttons are a bit mushy for my taste, but they are passible.
Graphics, Gaming and VR
Not only can the Predator 15 deliver solid frame rates with its Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU with 6GB of VRAM, but it can also support VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
I happened across a crew of bandits while playing through Witcher 3. I leapt into action and immediately lopped off one of my attacker's arms. The bloodied appendage flew through the air at 43 frames per second on Ultra at 1080p before it landed on the ground with a thud.
The laptop turned in a score of 6 on the SteamVR Performance Test, which is below the category average of 8. Equipped with their own GTX 1060 GPUs, the $1,279 P55W and $1,499 Stealth Pro notched 6.6 and 7.4, while the $1,649 Strix and its more powerful Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 GPU delivered an impressive 10.6. Despite the middling result, the laptop still delivered a smooth VR experience, allowing me to run frantically from Cthulhu's minions in Edge of Nowhere.
The Predator 15 also held its own on traditional games like Hitman, where the system achieved 57 fps, when we ran it on high at 1080p to match the P55W. Still, it's below the 65-fps average as well as the Stealth Pro and Strix, which obtained 58 fps and 69 fps, respectively.
During the Grand Theft Auto V benchmark (which I ran on High at 1080p), the Predator 15 scored 47 fps, falling short of the 56-fps category average. It was enough to top the P55W's 33 fps, but not the Stealth Pro or Strix, which notched 48 fps and 61 fps, respectively.
When we ran the Rise of the Tomb Raider test, the Predator delivered 40 fps, which is slightly below the 46-fps average, but it still beat the Stealth Pro (34 fps). The P55W and Strix produced 50 fps and 77 fps each.
Equipped with a 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor with 16GB of RAM, the Predator 15 is on par with its peers. It handily streamed an episode of "Black Mirror" while running a full system scan with 15 open tabs in Google Chrome. I only started to see stutter once I opened Witcher 3 in window format.
When we ran our overall performance test, Geekbench 3 yielded 13,216, which easily topped the mainstream average of 8,488. However, the Stealth Pro, P55W and Strix -- outfitted with their own Core i7-6700HQ CPUs -- notched 13,454, 13,530 and 12,371 each.
During our File Transfer test, the Predator 15's 256GB SSD duplicated 4.97GB of mixed-media files in 35 seconds, for a transfer rate of 145.4 megabytes per second. That's short of the 165-MBps average, but still enough to trounce the P55W (128GB M.2 SSD), which produced 124.1 MBps. The Strix's 256GB NVMe PCIe SSD achieved an impressive 424.1 MBps, but the Stealth Pro's 256GB M.2 SSD was the clear winner with 565.5 MBps.
On the OpenOffice test, the Predator 15 matched 20,000 names and addresses in 3 minutes and 44 seconds, beating the 4:27 category average as well as the Strix's 3:56. The Stealth Pro and the P55W were slightly faster at 3:38 and 3:37, respectively.
This Predator has a bit of staying power. The system lasted 4 hours on our battery test, which consists of continuous streaming over Wi-Fi. It's short of the 6:40 mainstream average, but longer than the Stealth Pro's 2:54 and the Strix's 2:39.
This Predator is one cool customer. I played Witcher 3 for 15 minutes and when I was done, I measured the temperature on strategic portions of the laptop. The touchpad registered 82 degrees, while the center of the keyboard hit 89 degrees. The system's undercarriage rose to 96 degrees, which is slightly above our 95-degree comfort threshold.
In addition to the low temps, the fans were whisper-quiet. I actually had to strain to hear them with the game muted.
Despite fuzzy detail throughout my test shots, the Predator 15's integrated 720p webcam produced pretty accurate color, as evidenced by my dark-blue, pink and white plaid shirt. However, the grainy details made the otherwise crisp lines in my shirt look like blobs.
Software and Warranty
Acer was kind enough to stick to gamer-centric software for the Predator 15. In addition to controlling your backlighting, PredatorSense also allows gamers to set macros, check on system temperatures and control fan speed. As the name suggests, Quick Access lets you quickly access apps like the temperature-focused CoolBoost, Bluelight Shield and DustDefender, which prevents dust buildup by reversing airflow. Lastly, there's Care Center, which helps you run system tuneups to keep the laptop in tiptop shape.
Nvidia's GeForce Experience app suite is also preinstalled with a host of game-optimization software. Killer Networking lets you manage your networking bandwidth so you can maintain a steady frame rate while using the included Xsplit Gamecaster to stream your gaming exploits.
Additional third-party apps include Twitter, Netflix, Pandora, Candy Crush Soda Saga, Farmville 2: Country Escape, Drawboard PDF and World of Warships.
The Acer Predator 15 ($1,699) is a midrange rig that serves up solid graphics and overall performance with a pretty display and a crazy-comfortable keyboard. My favorite thing about the VR-ready system is how cool it runs no matter the task. And if you want to ensure against possible overheating, you can get the swappable FrostCore module. I'm also impressed by the 4 hours of battery life -- a rarity with gaming laptops as of late.
However, I can't ignore the bulky elephant in the room. At 8.2 pounds, this 15-inch mainstream laptop is on par with larger desktop replacements. Also, the audio technicians could stand to tool around with the speakers for the next go-round.
If portability is a must for your gaming laptop, I recommend checking out the $1,499 MSI GS63VR 6RF Stealth Pro, which weighs a svelte 4.2 pounds, has great performance, smoking-fast transfer speeds and a gorgeous display. But if you're looking for a VR-ready gaming laptop with good battery life, the Predator 15 is a very good choice.