Acer’s new Predator 15 is a midrange gaming laptop, packing some of the latest and fastest silicon available. Thankfully the all-important graphics and central processors are supported by a decent IPS display and a good balance of supporting components.
Like several other brands building gaming laptops, Acer has followed the design template of aggressive masculine styling and product naming, here using the name Predator – almost evoking a parody of the Alien vs Predator film and game franchise. And putting the familiar Dell Alienware brand in the opposite ring corner.
The model tested, designated G9-591-70FT and with product code NX.Q07EK.007, takes an Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M graphics processor, fitted with 3 GB of fast GDDR5 video memory. The GPU is the cornerstone for any gaming laptop when coupled with a reasonable quick main processor; in this case an Intel Core i7-6700HQ quad-core running at 2.6 GHz.
There are four memory slots available, with two already occupied here, each with 4 GB of 2133 MHz DDR4 SDRAM. It would be overkill for most users but it is possible to fit up to 64 GB of memory here.
There are variants available using the fastest M.2 PCIe solid-state drives, benefitting from the latest NVMe bus protocol too, but this model had a budget 128 GB SSD using the older SATA Revision 3.0 connection (Lite-On CV1-8B128), along with a 1 TB hard disk to store plenty of games.
Crucially the display is of high quality, a 15.6-inch IPS panel with excellent colour and contrast, finished with a matt anti-glare coating. Made by LG Philips, this LP156WF6-SPP1 panel provided 92 % coverage of the sRGB gamut, and 71 % Adobe RGB. These days it’s now easier to find displays with full 100 % sRGB, but the Predator’s screen will still impress when set aside any budget laptop, helped by a contrast ratio of up to 660:1 which results in clear, well-defined images.
Some modern gaming laptops try to be slim and light. The Acer Predator 15 is no such machine, instead banking on its bulk and weight to make a substantial statement on a desk or lap. It weighs over 3.5 kg and measures more than 38 mm thick. Air is drawn in and pumped out through large vents across the back below the hinge, with a nifty feature that alternately reverses direction of airflow to reduce the build-up of dust and debris.
With the rear edge dominated by cooling vents, ports range across the side edges: two USB 3.0 on each side, plus full-size DisplayPort, HDMI, and the latest USB Type C port that does double-duty for Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.1.
As I found when reviewing the Dell Precision recently, the latter Thunderbolt 3 port is still somewhat redundant at the moment, until Thunderbolt 3 devices (or at least adaptors to allow Thunderbolt 1/2 devices) become available. According to Amazon US in early May 2016, one such adaptor will be available by June 2016.
For network connectivity, the Predator includes Qualcomm Atheros Killer adaptors – gigabit ethernet, and a new two-stream MU-MIMO Wi-Fi card.
The keyboard is a delight to use, with consistent precise action across the deck, and no flex around the deck. The WASD keys features extra key trim, while the entire keyboard can be backlit in various colours – by default red below QWERTY and blue beneath numberpad, and the colour scheme can be customised.
The trackpad is a traditional type with two separate deep-travel buttons for left and right click. These are slightly tricky to operate by thumb edge alone as they require pressing into a recess, so a less comfortable hand or finger position is required when getting around by trackpad alone.
The sound through the built-in speakers has potential. Dolby Audio software does its job trying to make a silk purse out of the sow’s ear of laptop sound; and the result using the default ‘Dynamic’ setting is a phasey, tinny mess. The least-worst version of sound playback can be found under the ‘Personalise’ tab, and switching off all the meddlesome enhancements.
Set up thus, there’s a better-than-average sound compared to a typical Windows laptop, helped by an additional bass speaker which adds some body to the squeaky HF tweeters mounted in the front corners.
As with most high-performance laptops that cram powerful processors into the restricted chassis of a laptop, cooling fans work hard to keep internal temperatures in check. The default setting has fans running at high speed, resulting in a constant noisy drone. Acer’s control panel lets you keep the fans at a less annoying speed of around 2000 rpm. There’s also an optional cooling fan included in the box which slots into the optical drive bay.
Thanks to the capable graphics processor, the Acer Predator 15 can handle modern games at high detail, playing through the well-suited full-HD 1920 x 1080-pixel display.
In the Batman: Arkham City benchmark, it played at native screen resolution and Very High detail with an average framerate of 77 fps. Increased to the maximum Extreme detail, the result was still an impressive 73 fps framerate.
Using the Tomb Raider (2015) test at the same resolution, High detail averaged 121 fps; Ultra detail 91 fps; and even set to all-out Ultimate detail, the machine could still play at average framerate of 60 fps.
For the Metro: Last Light game I have two preset tests. In the first test (full-HD, High detail, no effects) it played at an impressive 89 fps. And even in the torture test with Very High detail and additional effects engaged, it still averaged 29 fps. Most gaming laptops I’ve tested struggle to get above 20 fps here, excepting the more expensive Asus G751JT and XMG U506, which could reach up to 28 fps with their Nvidia 970M graphics processors.
Tested as a performance workstation, the Predator 15 proved amply quick, scoring 3388 points in Geekbench 3, rising to 12,436 points using eight processor threads.
PCMark 8 scored the Acer with 3159 points in the conventional Home unit, swelling to 3615 points using GPU assistance. In the Work unit, it scored 3331 and a devastating 4817 points respectively.
Perhaps the biggest surprise beyond the great balance of components, build quality and gaming capability was the unusually long battery life. Many gaming laptops are designed with no attempt to provide decent mains-free running time, yet here the healthy 89 Wh lithium battery enabled the Predator to play the standard looped wireless video test for 5 hour 45 minutes.
The 100 words or less
The styling may be a little clichéd, but the macho image is typical for gaming machines. This is old-school thick and heavy gaming machinery that nevertheless returns formidable gaming performance, adding a useful amount of ports and I/O, all coupled with a high-quality full-HD IPS display. At around £1200 it’s not the cheapest but overall represents a great value gaming laptop.
Specifications as tested:
15.6-inch (1920 x 1080) matt anti-glare display (LG Philips LP156WF6-SPP1); 2.6 GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ, 3.5 GHz Turbo (4C/8T); Windows 10 Home; Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M with 3 GB GDDR5 + Intel HD Graphics 530; 8 GB (1x 8 GB) 2133 MHz DDR4 (NB, two slots spare); 128 GB M.2 2280 SATA SSD (LiteOn CV1-8B128) + 1 TB 2.5in SATA HDD (HGST HTS721010A9E630); gigabit ethernet (Atheros Killer e2400 PCI-E Gigabit Ethernet Controller); 802.11ac MU-MIMO 2×2 (Killer Wireless-n/a/ac 1535); Bluetooth 4.1; DVD±RW removable optical drive (Slimtype DVD A DA8A6SH); optional fan module; 4x USB 3.0; HDMI, DisplayPort; Thunderbolt 3 (USB Type C); SDXC card slot; stereo speakers with bass woofer; webcam; mic; 3.5 mm headset jack; UK tiled keyboard with coloured backlight; 105 x 65 mm two-button trackpad; 89 Wh lithium-ion battery, non-removable; 180 W mains charger with IEC C5 inlet; 390 x 300 x 38.4 mm; 3583 g