Just when I think I've seen everything gaming laptops have to offer, along comes something like the Acer Predator 21 X. Weighing a ridiculous 18.6 pounds, the Predator 21 X is an exercise in immodest overindulgence that I can get behind. Priced at $8,999, this is the first laptop to feature a curved display that when combined with Tobii's eye-tracking technology makes for a seriously immersive gaming experience. This machine is so premium that Acer is making only 300 of them.
But Acer didn't stop there. It outfitted the 21-inch laptop with an overclockable Intel Core i7 processor and two Nvidia GTX 1080 GPUs in an SLI configuration and a pair of 512GB NVMe PCIe SSDs in a RAID 0 configuration.The 21 X also features a customizable maintenance panel, an enhanced cooling system and one of the best mechanical keyboards I've typed on all year. But for all that money, I would have preferred a 4K display and more audio boom.
Design: Introducing the 8th Wonder of the World
One thing's for sure, you'll never be able to overlook the Predator 21 X. At 18.6 pounds, 22.4 x 12.4 x 3.3 inches, the system is pretty hard to ignore. It makes bonafide heavyweights like the Alienware 17 R4 (9.6 pounds), the MSI GT83VR Titan SLI (13.1 pounds) and the Origin PC Eon17 SLX 10 Series (12.8 pounds) look like regular notebooks (flashing lights and aggressive designs aside).
But before I got into the nitty-gritty of the review, I took some time to appreciate the beast positioned in front of me. The lid is made from gray magnesium alloy, which makes the pair of aqua-blue lights pop.
The Predator insignia holds court in the center of the lid looking every bit like the Decepticon logo. The display's curvature is so pronounced that you can see the metallic blue spacebar peeking out at you from the front.
When I finally got around to opening the lid, I was awestruck by the sheer opulence. The curved display seemed like it was reaching out to embrace me in a welcoming hug. The top of the keyboard deck is ruled by the maintenance panel with the wicked-looking dragon painted on the right and the triangular Gorilla Glass panel on the left. A closer look at the panel reveals a glowing blue light accentuating the fan. You have six macro buttons to the left of the massive keyboard and several status lights along the right.
If the Predator 21 X's curved display isn't enough for you, the laptop has plenty of ports to support a monitor or two -- and a mouse, an external hard drive or whatever you want to plug in. Along the Predator 21 X's right are a pair of USB 3.0 ports and a Kensington lock slot. On the left, you get two more USB 3.0 ports, an SD card reader and jacks for a headset and mic. At the system's rear, you'll find a USB Type-C port, a Thunderbolt 3 port, Gigabit Ethernet, two DisplayPorts, HDMI and a pair of DC jacks.
Similar to the Eon17 and Titan, the Predator 21 X is powered by two huge power bricks, each weighing 2.8 pounds. To save a little space, the Predator 21 X ships with an X-shaped rubber holder to house the mini-behemoths. The laptop also ships with a large palm rest to keep your wrists nice and comfy.
Since there aren't many backpacks that can fit the gigantic machine and all of its accoutrements, the Predator 21 X ships with its own gigantic carrying case. The hard-shell storage device is watertight and dustproof. And in case you end up in some unforeseen calamity, it's also crushproof. The case has an adjustable handle and four sturdy polyurethane wheels to help you get it from point A to point B.
Display: Curves in All the Right Places
I didn't know I needed or wanted a curved display on a laptop until I laid eyes on the Predator 21 X. The curvature of the 21-inch, 2560 x 1080 matte display is tantalizing.
Once I booted the laptop up, I felt like I was swaddled in vivid color. Watching Tears of Steel, I couldn't help but admire the dilapidated beauty of a war-battered building, including its dusty gold accents gleaming against powder-blue pillars. Details were clear enough that I could see just about every tightly coiled hair on the head of the sniper perched at his post.
The reason those colors are nearly bursting from the display is the panel's color reproduction, which we measured at 172 percent of the sRGB color gamut. That flat-out decimates the 121- percent average as well as the Titan (114 percent) and the Alienware 17 (113 percent). The Eon17 snatched the top spot with 177 percent.
The 21 X's screen registered a very accurate 0.24 on the Delta-E test (0 is optimal), beating the 1.4 desktop-replacement average. The Alienware 17 came the closest to matching the 21 X at 0.5, with the Eon17 and Titan hitting 1 and 2.
When we tested for brightness, the 21 X's display knocked it out the park, averaging 332 nits, besting the 291-nit average. The Titan was noticeably dimmer at 295, but the Eon17 and the Alienware 17 were just a bit brighter at 335 and 340 nits.
The Predator 21 X's screen also has Nvidia's G-Sync technology. In a nutshell, the technology puts the laptop's display rate in sync with the graphics card, essentially placing a frame cap that matches the panel limit (in this case, it's 120Hz). That makes for near-instant rendering in both full-screen and windowed modes, thus eliminating any tears, and leaving smooth images and happy gamers.
Gaming on a Curve
So what's it like gaming with a curved display? It's really immersive, as long as the game supports the 21 X's unique aspect ratio. For instance, when I was battling Kett in Mass Effect: Andromeda, the skirmishes filled the entire screen. It was thrilling running for cover in the heat of battle only to vault over and smash an enemy with my Krogan hammer.
However, I soon discovered that not everything scales to the Predator's 21:9 aspect ratio. Andromeda cutscenes scaled down to a normal 17-inch, 16:9 aspect ratio, which left thick black bars on both sides of the action. This also happened when I watched YouTube videos. Having such a jarring switch take place when I was gaming really took me out of the action. I tried adjusting the resolution settings, to no avail. This is a problem that could have easily been solved if the display was 4K. And for nearly $9,000, Acer really ought to give you a 4K panel.
Tobii Eye-Tracking: Keep Your Eyes on the Game
Acer went the extra mile and added Tobii's eye-tracking technology to the mix. As the name suggests, the integrated IR sensor tracks your eyes and lets you control several features in- and out-of-game. The technology currently works with 49 titles, including Rise of the Tomb Raider, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Wildlands, Nevermind and Dying Light.
Depending on the title, you can use the technology to let you auto-target enemies when you look at them, control the in-game camera, interact with objects, or summon the heads-up display, maps and health bar when you gaze into a corner. You can also use Tobii for non-gaming activities, such as unlocking the computer with Windows Hello, launching the Windows Start Menu with a glance, or scrolling in a specific window no matter where the mouse is located.
Audio: Where's the Bass?
The Predator 21 X has a new three-way audio system comprised of tweeters, midrange and subwoofers. This new system does deliver some serious detail, which allowed me to hear Ralph Tresvant take a big swig of water before the beat dropped on New Edition's "If It Isn't Love."
However, I found that with the top-mounted tweeters and front-mounted midrange, the audio was loud, but hollow. As the track began, the vocals sounded pushed back with no real separation from the rest of the track.. And even though I listened to several bass-heavy tracks (Kendrick Lamar's "DNA.," Missy Elliot's "I'm Better") the pair of subwoofer consistently failed to bring the boom.
The problem persisted when I played Andromeda. While the various laser blasts and explosions sounded weighty, the accompanying music sounded distant, as did the dialogue. I tried to adjust the problem with the Dolby Audio Premium software, but didn't get a better result.
Keyboard: Clicky Goodness
I love typing on the 21 X's mechanical keyboard almost as much as I like looking at it and hearing it. With the loud clacking from the keys and their Cherry MX Brown switches, I quickly fell into a rhythm and banged out 75 words per minute on the 10fastfingers typing test, greatly surpassing my typical 65-wpm rate. Measuring a crazy 4 millimeters of key travel (minimum 1.5-2mm) and 64 grams of actuation (minimum 60g), the keys really push back when you press them.
As with other premium gaming laptops, every single key on the Predator 21 X can be individually programmed to flash one of the 16.7 million colors available in the Acer Predator Sense software. You can add several lighting effects, including Breathing, Starburst, Afterglow, Neon and Ripple. Predator Sense can also be used to program hot keys, control fan speed and overclock the CPU and GPU.
My favorite part of the keyboard has to be the teal metallic space bar and W,A,S,D keys; they add a nice pop of color to the layout. But if blue's not your thing, you can swap the cerulean W,A,S,D keys for the black ones that are bundled with the 21 X.
Touchpad: Fun With Magnets
As massive as the 21 X's keyboard is, there's barely any room for the touchpad. Similar to the Titan, the Predator handles this by moving the touchpad over to the right. The 2.9 x 2.6-inch touchpad is a bit narrower than I'm used to, but performed multitouch gestures like pinch-zoom and three-finger tap quickly and and accurately.
But what's a gaming laptop without a number pad? To make sure gamers have the oh-so-important num pad, Acer created a reversible touchpad.
Because it's held in place via a powerful magnet, you simply lift the touchpad and flip it over to reveal the num pad. Put it back and place and you're ready to crunch numbers and crush baddies.
Gaming, Graphics and VR: Twice as Nice
When you're using a laptop this outlandish, there's no such thing as too much. That's why the Predator 21 X is outfitted with not one, but two Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 GPUs with 8GB of VRAM, each in a SLI configuration. That means this laptop is practically begging you to crank up the settings and the resolution.
Mass Effect: Andromeda looked stunning on the Predator 21 X. When I landed on Eos, the burnt sienna landscape seemed to go on forever under the clear blue sky. Instead of plant life, there were outcroppings of lithium dotted over the landscape that looked more like crystallized flowers. Details were sharp enough that I could see the treads of my vehicle dig into the dry terra firma.
The Predator 21 X started flexing its muscles on our gaming benchmarks, notching 106 frames per minute on the Rise of the Tomb Raider benchmark (Very High, 1920 x 1080), nearly doubling the 54 fps average. Laden with their own dual GTX 1080 GPUs, the Titan and the Eon17 scored 58 and 81 fps, respectively. The Alienware 17 with its single GTX 1080 GPU obtained 80 fps.
Switching over to Hitman, we saw the 21 X achieve 85 fps, narrowly beating the 81 fps desktop-replacement average. It wasn't enough however, to top the rest of the competition as the Alienware 17, the Eon17 and the Titan scored 101, 103 and 121 fps, respectively.
On the Grand Theft Auto V test, the Predator 21 X hit 80, topping the 71-fps average as well as the Alienware 17's 52 fps. But it wasn't enough to hold off the Eon17 or the Titan, which produced 121 and 139 fps, respectively.
Those pair of GTX 1080 GPUs also do a great job with virtual-reality games as I soon discovered during The Unspoken. I teleported from pillar to pillar, trying to avoid my opponent's rapid-fire volley of fireballs while attempting to mount an attack of my own with magical crows. Even when I managed to summon the stage golem, the Predator 21 X kept the image nice and smooth.
When we ran the SteamVR Performance test, the Predator 21 X maxed out the test at 11, matching the competing systems.
Overall Performance: Multitask to Your Heart's Content
Even the most over-the-top gaming laptop might have to do a bit of work now and then. When that time comes, the Predator 21 X can get the job(s) done, thanks to its overclockable 2.9-GHz Intel Core i7-7820HK processor with 64GB of RAM. I successfully launched 40 tabs of Google Chrome, some of which were running TweetDeck, streaming from Twitch and Dear White People on Netflix. I ran a full system scan using Windows to make things interesting, but never saw any signs of slowing down from the system.
The laptop also did well on synthetic tests like Geekbench 4, which measures overall performance. The Predator 21 X notched a solid 14,284, defeating the 13,322 desktop-replacement average and the Alienware 17 (14,154) which has its own Core i7-7820HK CPU. However, both notebooks couldn't keep up with the MSI Titan (3.9-GHz Intel Core i7-7920HQ CPU) or the Eon17 (overclocked 4.5-GHz Intel Core i7-6700K), which produced 15,660 and 17,994, respectively.
Boasting two 512GB NVMe PCIe SSDs in a RAID 0 configuration with a 1TB 7,200-rpm hard drive, the Predator 21 X has speed and storage to spare. But if that's not enough for you, the Predator has two empty bays just waiting for a couple of more SSDs or hard drives. On our File Transfer test, the notebook duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 6 seconds for a transfer rate of 848.2 megabytes per second. That's enough to beat the Eon17 (dual 256GB NVMe PCI-e M.2 SSDs) and Alienware 17 (512GB SSD), which scored 424.1MBps and 246.5MBps, respectively, at bay. But the Titan with its dual 512GB PCIe SSDs delivered a ridiculous 1,017 MBps.
When we ran the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro test, the Predator 21 X matched 20,000 names and addresses in 3 minutes and 35 seconds, missing the 3:25 average. The Eon17 and the Titan outpaced the Predator 21 X at 3:09, while the Alienware finished at a blistering 1:47.
Battery Life: Gone Too Soon
As extravagant as the Predator 21 X is, one place Acer couldn't splurge on is the battery life. The leviathan lasted only 2 hours and 4 minutes on our battery test, which consists of continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi. That's much shorter than the 4:24 desktop-replacement average, but enough to outpace the Eon17's 1:25. The Titan and Alienware only did marginally better at 2:18 and 2:46.
Heat: One Cool Customer
Despite the overclockable CPU and double GPUs, the Predator 21 X does a good job of staying fairly cool. In order to keep the temperature down, Acer outfitted the system with five system fans - three of which are the company's proprietary AeroBlade fans -- and nine heat pipes. According to Acer, the fans work in unison to keep the CPU and GPUs cool.
I spent 15 minutes galavanting around the galaxy in Andromeda and at the end of my journey, the touchpad measured 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The center of the laptop had a reading of 82 degrees while the undercarriage hit 102, which is above our 95-degree comfort threshold. But let's face it: No one's going to be holding this in their lap.
After it cooled down some, we streamed an HD Youtube video for 15 minutes. When the allotted time passed, we took another measurement. The touchpad, space between the G and H keys and bottom measured 83, 81 and 95 degrees, respectively.
Despite all that air being moved throughout the system, the Predator 21 X was pretty quiet. You could definitely hear it in a quiet room, but not so much that it was a distraction.
I was a bit shocked to learn that this almost $9,000-laptop only has a 1280 x 720 webcam. However, I can't argue with the results, since the camera delivered images that were color-accurate with passable detail. In a few test shots I took, the blue and pink in my shirt were spot-on as was the purple in my hair. Despite the overall graininess, I could make out a few flyaway hairs at the top of my head.
Software and Warranty
The Predator 21 X might be a font of excess on everything else, but I was glad to see Acer took a conservative approach on the bloatware. The company preinstalled helpful software like the Acer Care Center, which displays system diagnostics, and there's a helpful Recovery Management service. DustDefender briefly reverses system airflow every couple of hours to keep dust from building up. There's also Quick Access, which, you guessed it, lets you swiftly interact with several settings, including Bluelight Shield, CoolBoost and Power-off USB charging.
Third-party gaming utilities include Nvidia GeForce Experience, which offers a full suite of gamer-centric apps, such as Battery Boost and Game Optimization. You also get a free six-month trial of XSpilt Gamecaster, to get you started on your new live-streaming hobby.
That doesn't mean that the laptop is bloatware-free, as Microsoft managed to sneak in unnecessary apps like Sling, Facebook, Twitter, Candy Crush Soda Saga, Asphalt 8 and World of Warships.
Upgradability and Customization
Let's be clear, I am infatuated with the dragon painted on the maintenance panel. It looks like a cross between the Blue-Eyes White Dragon from Yu-Gi-Oh! and Bahamut Zero from Final Fantasy VII, and I'm here for it. I also love seeing 009 of 300 stamped on the panel, letting me know I'm part of an elite club. You, however, might want something a little less (or more) dramatic.
Acer offers 20 different patterns, including panels that look like computer schematics, otherworldly fantasy scenes and, of course, explosions. You can further customize the panel by sticking your country's flag in the bottom left corner and getting your name engraved. Unfortunately, Acer doesn't let you order additional panels, so choose wisely.
Once you're finished gussying up your system, the panel can be removed so you can access the RAM and the 2.5-inch hard drive if you want to swap out it out for a new one. The panel is pretty simple to remove -- just remove the screw in the lower-right corner and you're in.
I love it when laptop companies throw everything but the kitchen-sink into a gaming rig. True, many of us will never be able to afford luxury laptops that cost several thousand dollars, but the results are always amazing. With its incredible curved display and Tobii eye-tracking technology, the 21-inch Acer Predator 21 X truly sets itself apart from the competition. The company added some serious high-end features, including an overclockable Core i7 CPU and two Nvidia GTX 1080 GPU in SLI configuration. And the hits keep coming with a comfortable, customizable keyboard and a smidgen of upgradability for good measure.
However, for the Predator 21 X's exorbitant price, I expect to be playing on a 4K display instead of a 2560 x 1080 panel, and the audio should be nearly flawless. At $8,999, competitors like the $4,700 OriginPC Eon17-SLX 10 Series or the $4,999 MSI GT83VR Titan SLI seem cheap. And both laptops have comparable specs and performance, minus the extravagant curved display. But if money is no object, and you want a laptop that's backs up every single piece of its ostentatiousness with sheer, unadulterated power, the Acer Predator 21 X is the desktop replacement for you.
Credit: Jeremy Lips/Laptop Mag