Most gaming laptops these days are sleek, futuristic machines that signal their gaming prowess through flashy LEDs. The Acer Predator 15 is something of a throwback then, with an inch-thick body that’s filled to the brim with gaming features. There are definitely advantages to living it large — let’s take a look.
|Pros ||Cons |
Summary and score
|CPU||Skylake Core i7 6700HQ (2.6~3.5GHz)|
|GPU||Nvidia GTX 970M 3GB|
|RAM||8GB Samsung DDR4 2133MHz|
|Display||15.6-inch 1920 x 1080p IPS|
|Storage||120GB Lite-on SSD |
1TB Hitachi 7200RPM HDD
|Ports||HDMI 2.0, DisplayPort, Ethernet |
4x USB 3.0, USB-C, 2x 3.5mm, SD card
|Network||Killer gigabit ethernet, Killer Wi-Fi ac, BT 4.1|
|OS||Windows 10 Home|
|Size||391 x 300 x 38.5mm|
Our specific model is the Predator 15 G9-951, part number NX.Q07EK.007.
If modern laptops are sleek sportscars, the Predator 15 is a tank — albeit one heavily modified by an LED-loving teenager. The thick frame is bristling with lights and doodads, from the complex keyboard arrangement to the serious-looking cooling vents on the back, bottom and sides. There’s little subtle about this laptop, and that’s perfectly okay.
Even with the lid closed, it’s clear that this laptop is not your average business machine. There’s a glowing Predator logo in the centre, flanked by a pair of LED strips, all glowing in bright red. One neat feature is that you can see a trio of status LEDs — hard drive activity, battery activity and screen — whether the lid is open or closed, thanks to the hinge design.
Opening the laptop, we see a similar design pattern inside. The 15.6-inch IPS screen has fairly significant bezels on each side, with the Predator wordmark at the bottom centre (and a silly Full HD < 1080 > sticker in the lower left). Below the screen we have the status LEDs mentioned earlier and a red backlit triangular power button.
Killer keyboard & tip-top trackpad
The keyboard is a pleasure to use; after a few minutes I felt right at home. The keys have a good amount of travel and provide nice tactile feedback, they’re backlit and the layout is altogether sensible. That includes full-size arrow keys, a full number pad, and a row of skinny function keys at the top. There’s also a row of six keys above this, which allow you to change between different hardware profiles set up beforehand — so you can maximise battery life, turn the fans on full or improve in-game performance at a touch. This is one of the best laptop keyboards I’ve used in some time, apart from the mechanical keyboards that are somehow included in laptops like the MSI GT80 and Acer’s recently-announced Predator 21X.
Below the keyboard we have a wide and tall trackpad, with two discrete buttons. This proved very precise to use, almost as good as the glass touchpads we loved on Aorus’ laptops. Disabling the trackpad is also easy, thanks to a nearby button that turns it on and off, and even has an LED backlight to let you know that it’s disabled. It’s a challenge to find this functionality on most laptops, so it’s great to see such a comprehensive solution on the Predator 15.
A mysterious bottom
Even the bottom of the laptop is interesting. Apart from the usual array of air vents, you’ll see a shiny red metal guard that purports to be a subwoofer, and a mysterious sliding button. This button ejects the contents of the optical drive bay, which can include either an optical drive (duh) or an additional Cooler Master cooling unit (cool).
To close out the Design section, it’s over to our lovely assistant Ross for the Port Report. Ross?
The Ross Port Report™
Yes, Ross here. For the Predator 15, we have ports on the left and right sides; there are none on the front, back or bottom to allow the laptop’s many grilles to dump all the heat out of your way. On the left, we’ve got a pair of super-speed USB 3.0 ports, the two 3.5mm headset ports and an SD card reader.
On the right, we’ve got two more USB 3.0 ports, a USB-C / Thunderbolt 3 port, gigabit ethernet, HDMI 2.0 and DisplayPort. Overall, a strong selection, including some old favourites and promising newcomers. A+, would report again.
Thanks Ross. Now, onto the rest of our regularly scheduled review.
First up are the synthetic benchmarks, which give us a good measuring stick against other gaming PCs and laptops we’ve reviewed recently — and your own PC, if you’re thinking about upgrading!
Here are the machines that we’ll be looking at most closely in terms of comparisons, as they are the closest to the Predator 15 in price and specs.
- Gigabyte P34G v5 (£900): a portable laptop w/ GTX 960M and i7-6700HQ
- Gigabyte P55W v5 (£1100): a thickish laptop w/ GTX 970M and i7-6700HQ
- Acer Predator 15 (£1200): thick laptop w/ GTX 970M and i7-6700HQ
- Gigabyte P35X v5 (£1800): thin laptop w/ GTX 980M and i7-6700HQ
Our first test is 3DMark, a fairly effective analogue of a gaming workload. There are two tests we’re interested in here, the high-end Fire Strike and its 4K upgrade, Fire Strike Ultra.
The Predator 15 gets a disappointing start in the benchmarks with the second-to-last score of all the laptops and desktops we’ve tested this year. The most important comparison is with the Gigabyte P55W v5, which packs the same loadout as the Predator 15: a Core i7-6700HQ processor and GTX 970M graphics card. We see almost identical results in the Fire Strike test, and exactly equal results in the Fire Strike Ultra. If 3DMark is a good predictor of in-game performance, we should see minimal performance deltas elsewhere too.
Cinebench examines OpenGL (GPU) and CPU performance in two separate tests. Both tests show the Predator 15 a fair way down in the rankings, including behind the equally-equipped (and smaller) P55W v5.
GeekBench is up next, which is largely a test of processor and memory performance. The Predator 15 has the same i7-6700HQ processor as most others on this list, and indeed we see a fairly similar score. If you play a lot of CPU-intensive games, it might be a good idea to look for a laptop with a higher tier processor, like the 6820HK as we saw in the Aorus X7 v5 — although you’ll certainly pay extra for it.
CrystalDiskMark tests disk speed performance. The Predator 15 has a single SATA-connected SSD, so we expect speeds to top out around 500 MB/s… and that’s exactly what we see. The Predator 15 is the best of the bunch, at 512 MB/s read speed, but falls down a little bit in write speeds, which are only 185 MB/s in the sequential test.
Next up are true in-game performance benchmarks, offering a look at how this system handles a selection of recent titles including shooters, MMOs and strategy titles.
Our first game test is Tom Clancy’s The Division, a cover shooter MMO set in the frozen wastes of post-viral-outbreak NYC. The game unfortunately doesn’t handle SLI particularly well, and we get results of just 36 fps in the in-game benchmark; similar to other 2016 gaming laptops from Gigabyte and Aorus. That’s on Ultra settings however, so you can definitely drop the game down to High or Medium to reap a fairly consistent 60fps. It’s an encouraging result.
Bioshock Infinite represents the easiest workload for our test machines, but it’s still important given just how many games of its era use the same Unreal Engine. The Predator 15 doesn’t shine as brightly here, turning in a disappointing result of only 107 frames per second. This is still highly playable of course, but it’s 10% slower than the equally equipped P55W.
Metro: Last Light
Things are a bit more equal in Metro LL, a much more demanding benchmark. The Predator 15 sustains an average of 53 frames per second at 1080p and High settings, with niceties like SSAA, DX11 tessellation and advanced PhysX turned off.
That’s as near as equal to the P55W, and better than the considerably more expensive Aorus X5 camo. You can see the 970M machine gets about 15% higher FPS than the 960M-equipped P34G, but is only 60% the speed of the 980M-equipped P35X — you can see how GPU-limited this test is.
Company of Heroes 2
Company of Heroes 2 has one of the most difficult benchmarks we use, offering a kind of ‘worst case scenario’ rather than something more typical of either the singleplayer campaign or multiplayer.
The Predator 15 again turns in a playable result, but one that lags behind the P55W and as well as all 980M-equipped laptops by a fair margin.
Total War: Rome 2
We conclude with a look at performance in a large-scale RTS, Total War: Rome 2. The Predator 15 again comes at the tail end of the pack, only ahead of the cheaper P34G. Still, a result of over 60 fps at Ultra settings is still highly playable, but you’re not getting as much for your money here.
With our benchmarks concluded, our attention turns to performance in other games, and a look at the other qualities that can make a gaming laptop good or bad.
The bad stuff: noise & battery life
The most obvious flaw of the Predator’s design is its noisiness. The fans on this laptop are loud, and you’ll hear them almost constantly whether you are playing games or just working on a report in Microsoft Word. They do seem to work pretty well, keeping CPU and GPU throttling to a minimum, but you’ll still notice the Predator becoming toasty after long gaming sessions.
Battery life is also something of a concern on the Predator 15. Even when writing articles and using Chrome, I was only able to eke out between three and four hours of use before the battery died. I was caught out by this a few times, once with the laptop dying in the middle of a meeting. I had hoped that Acer would use the increased bulk of the Predator to stick in a big battery, but the focus here was much more on increased cooling and therefore improved use while plugged in. That’s fair enough for a gaming laptop, but worth keeping in mind.
The good stuff: display, keyboard, trackpad, ports
Now that we’ve covered the bad stuff, let’s move onto the good stuff. The display is an obvious place to start — it’s a IPS panel, with good viewing angles and reasonable colour reproduction, and decent response times (although a bit slower than you’d want from a gaming monitor). The 1080p resolution is ideal in terms of performance, and makes an achievable target for the GTX 970M processor.
The input options available also impress. The keyboard is lush, with sufficient travel and well-spaced and well-ordered keys. The font used is highly readable, and the red or blue backlighting is bright. The trackpad is also great to use, with two discrete buttons and small button nearby that disables the trackpad — great for removing the possibility for accidental inputs when you’re using a mouse.
The ports are another highlight; you can connect four USB peripherals, two monitors via HDMI or DisplayPort, as well as ethernet and a headset. That allows you to turn the Predator 15 into a full desktop gaming rig if you prefer, giving you the option of connecting a faster-refreshing monitor, keyboard and mouse.
The matters of taste: looks
I reckon that the Acer Predator 15 looks awesome — it’s full on gaming, with nice red highlights and a cool, slightly aggressive shape courtesy of its many cooling fans. YMMV.
Now let’s look at in-game performance. From the benchmarks, we can see that the Predator 15 is in line (or a little behind) with other GTX 970M gaming laptops, but how does it actually feel in-game? We’ve gone hands on with a number of recent favourites to give you a better idea.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt: 50~60 fps at Medium graphics and Postprocessing settings at 1080p. High is 40 fps (still playable), Ultra is 30 fps (feels laggy).
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive: The Predator 15 is a pretty good machine for playing Counter-Strike, capable of hitting 150 fps on most maps with the default (high) settings; this could easily be improved by tweaking a few key settings. CS is quite CPU-intensive, but the i7-6700HQ is more than up to the task — just make sure you have a good mouse!
Sid Meier’s Civilization V: Civ V isn’t the latest game, but until Civ VI arrives later this year it’s one of the best games to play on the go — turn-based, good-looking and utterly engrossing. The Predator is able to comfortably support the game at 1080p and its highest settings without dipping below 60fps.
The Predator 15 is almost one year old now, so if you like the looks of it, it may be worth waiting a bit longer for an upgraded version. I expect Acer to come out with a GTX 1070 version later this year or early next, which should have a substantial (~25%) boost in performance. However, if you need a laptop now and you prefer performance and features to portability, the Acer Predator 15 is a strong choice.