Back in April Acer unveiled their plan to venture into the competitive segment of gaming machines, with a Predator line that would include laptops, desktops, monitors and even a tablet.
Several months later the Predator notebooks are only weeks away from hitting the stores, and in this post we’re going to talk about the larger of the two, the 17-inch Acer Predator G9-791. Acer sent in a review model and after spending multiple hours with it in the last week, I can say this is one of the best devices in its class right now, up there next to the Asus ROG G752, the Dell Alienware AW17 and the MSI Dominator Pro GT72 series.
In other words, Acer’s first attempt at building a gaming laptop in recent years is actually a hit.
That’s the short story. The long one is in the video and the many paragraphs below.
The video review
The specs sheet
|Acer Predator 17 G9-791
|Screen||17.3 inch, 3840 x 2160 px resolution, matte, IPS, non-touch|
|Processor||Intel Skylake Core i7-6700HQ CPU, quad-core 2.6 GHz (3.5 Ghz TBoost)|
|Video||Integrated Intel HD 530 + Nvidia GTX 980M 4GB|
|Memory||64 GB DDR4 2133Mhz (4xDIMMs)|
|Storage||512 GB NVMe SSD + 2 TB 2.5″ HDD|
|Connectivity||Wireless AC Qualcomm Atheros , Gigabit LAN, Intel Bluetooth 4.0|
|Ports||4x USB 3.0, 1x USB 3.1, HDMI, DisplayPort, mic, earphone, SD card reader, LAN|
|Operating system||Windows 10|
|Size||423 mm or 16.65” (w) x 321 mm or 12.66” (d) x 41.6 mm or 1.64” (h)|
|Weight||4.12 kg or 9.08 lb|
|Extras||two-tone backlit keyboard with macro keys, 4.2 sound system, webcam, optical drive and replacement cooling unit included|
Design and exterior
Before we get to talk about this machine’s mad performance, we’ll first take a quick glance at the aesthetics.
On the outside, this Predator looks a lot like some of the older Asus gaming models (the ROG G750 comes to mind), with a black case covered in a soft-rubberized plastic, an aggressive design with straight edges and a few red accents here and there, like the two speaker grills on the front edge or the frame around the exhaust, on the back.
Gamers are supposed to love bright LEDs, or at least that’s what Acer seems to consider judging by the Predator’s hood, where they added two red glowing light-bars and a large metallic logo, also backlit. A logo that looks more like a crown than a predator imo, but hey, whatever floats their boats.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of such intrusive design elements, as I prefer simpler and cleaner looks, but I guess some of you will appreciate them. More importantly though, I fear these glowing parts might kill the Predator for some professional users, as business environments tend to have strict rules when it comes to flashiness.
Moving past the aesthetics, this Predator is a massive and heavy laptop. You can still carry it around when needed, but I doubt you’ll be too happy about that, especially in this day and age when there are many compact gaming machines out there.
On the other hand it is sturdily built. There’s some flex in the hood, so you might want to be careful not to place heavy objects on top of it or anything that might press onto the lid and damage the display while transporting the device, but otherwise the chassis, interior and keyboard area feel solid. The hinges seem strong as well, although I can’t exactly comment on their reliability and inner design, since I haven’t completely pried open this Predator.
All these aspects are highly important, as gaming laptops aren’t usually pampered by their owners and have to take a lot of hassle.
The IO is one final aspect I wanted to cover as we’re still analyzing the exterior. All the ports are lined on the laterals, and you’ll find two USB slots and the optical-drive on the left, plus two more USB slots, an USB Type-C connector, a LAN port and full-size HDMI and DisplayPort video outputs on the right. This layout will lead to a rather cluttered right side, but at least most of the ports are placed towards the back.
And as a side note, I’m not very happy with the audio jacks being positioned so far towards the back on the left side, as they will cause the headphones’ cable to get in the way. Having them placed on the left towards the front would have been smarter. Also, you probably noticed there’s no S/PDIF output, something most other gaming notebooks offer.
Anyway, let’s lift up the screen and have a look at the interior. I have no problem doing it with a single hand, while the notebook’s body remains still on the desk, which is another minor aspect I look for in modern computers. The interior is spacious, with a roomy palm-rest and a full-size keyboard and trackpad in the middle. It’s coated with the same rubbery plastic as the outer case, which feels nice and reliable, but will show smudges and prints easily, so you’ll need to wipe it clean often.
I do have two particular aspects to add here. First, the laptop’s rubber feet on the belly are made of a hard plastic (or a really stiff rubber, as it seems identical to the material used for the actual case) and provide very little grip on the desk, which means the device will slide off easily. And second, I found the laptop’s design uncomfortable while having the left hand placed around the WASD keys, as the front lip is sharp and tall, and puts an unwanted pressure on my wrist and veins, causing numbness in the hand after playing for a few hours.
This could be addressed with some sort of arm pillow, but the issue could have been entirely avoided from the start with a smarter design and proper testing. The front-facing speaker grills are appreciated, but not at the cost of having my hand numb on the keys.
To wrap up this section, the Acer Predator 17 is well built and looks fairly cool. Acer went with a soft black finishing, which is rather unique right now, when both MSI and Asus went for different approaches on their units. The logo and light bars on the hood are rather obtrusive though, and the tall front-lip is especially annoying, but otherwise there’s not much to complain about here.
Keyboard and trackpad
Let’s turn our attention on the keyboard and trackpad. The keyboard offers a full-size layout with a NumPad, a set of programmable macro keys on the left and separated Arrow keys. The keys are backlit. Red LEDs are used for the main-part of the keyboard and blue ones for the NumPad, and unfortunately there’s no way to change that in any way, at least not on this test unit. The illumination can be switched ON and OFF, but there’s no multi-level backlighting to choose from.
However, the macro keys, the key on the trackpad’s right side and the power button remain backlit even when the others are switched off, and that’s really annoying when trying to watch a movie in a dark room. Hopefully Acer will allow users to change that in the retail versions through some sort of software app, as our test unit did not run all the programs that will be available on the final models.
I should also add a few things about the keyboard’s visibility. Despite going with black keys on a black background, the white writing make them visible in most conditions. The WASD and the directional keys with their red framing are even easier to distinguish.
But how does the keyboard actually type? Well, to put it in a single word, excellently. The keys feel sturdy, offer good resistance and have a deep stroke, and all these lead to an excellent typing experience. They are also fairly quiet, but the high drop does cause some amount of noise, enough to bother those around you if you plan to type in a quiet place, like a library. That aside, I have to admit it took me a few minutes to get used to such tall keys on a laptop, but after several minutes I was able to type fast and accurately, so my hat’s off for this keyboard.
The touchpad is splendid as well, although that might not matter much on a gaming laptop, as most users will probably use it with a mouse. Still, the surface is responsive, handles taps and gestures well, and the click buttons work perfectly. BTW, I don’t think this is a glass surface, as it’s not very smooth, but that hardly bothered me in any way.
You probably noticed the trackpad can be deactivated by pressing the dedicated button in its top-right corner. That’s an unnecessary gimmick for something that can be easily achieved by pressing FN + a different key, especially when this key is always backlit (in red with then the touchpad is active, in green when it is not – another anomaly). And since we’re nitpicking, I have to add that the trackpad is lowered into the frame by around 2 mms, which allows your fingers to easily notice when they’ve reached the margins, but also means dirt can easily gather around the edges, in time.
OK, let’s move onto the screen now. Acer will sell the Predator 17 with a few different display options and our test unit gets a 17.3-inch UHD wide-gamut panel.
It’s a matte screen without touch, but it’s a screen pretty much everyone will love to look at, from gamers to professionals who require color accuracy. You’ll find more about the brightness, contrast, colors and all these other technical details in the list below. I’m using a Spyder4 sensor and the Spyder4Elite software suite for my measurements.
- Panel HardwareID: AU Optronics AUO109B (B173ZAN01.0);
- Coverage: 100% sRGB, 96% NTSC, 100% AdobeRGB;
- Measured gamma: 2.2;
- Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 338 cd/m2 on power;
- Contrast at max brightness: 640:1;
- White point: 7300 K;
- Black on max brightness: 0.53 cd/m2;
- Average DeltaE: 2.14 uncalibrated, 0.86 calibrated .
The brightness and contrast are about average for a good screen, and will allow you to use this display even in brighter environments. However, what sets this panel apart from most others is the 100% sRGB and 100% Adobe RGB color coverage and the nearly perfect gamma. The colors are fairly well calibrated out of the box, but a calibration will improve accuracy and fix the slight blueish tint.
However, it’s worth noting that this panel only has a 60 Hz refresh rate and does not support GSync, unlike the Asus G752 for instance, and that could be a concern for gamers. GSync is not going to be an option on the FHD panels either from what I know right now, but I will update this section once I have more details on this topic.
Hardware and performance
At the end of the day, people buy laptops like this one for the performance and its gaming abilities.
Once again, the Predator 17 will be available in several different configurations and our test unit is the top model, with a Core i7-6700HQ processor, 64 GB of DDR4 memory, hybrid storage with a 3rd generation PCIe NVMe SSD and a massive HDD, and last but not least, an Nvidia GTX 980M graphics chip with 8 GB of video memory.
The RAM and the storage drives are upgradeable, and easily accessible through the service bay on the laptop’s underbelly, so if you’re on a tight budget you could buy a lower end model and add extra RAM or an SSD later on. Our test units comes with a Samsung SM951 MVMe SSD, which is a 3rd generation PCIe SSD with insane performance, as you can see from the benchmarks above. It costs an arm and a leg though.
That aside, you should know that there are 4 memory DIMMs on this laptop and only two of them are easily accessible, the others are hidden behind the motherboard and would require to completely disassemble the internals to get to them. On top of that, you should know this computer can actually take three storage drives, an 80 mm PCIe stick, a 100 mm PCIe stick on top of it and the 2.5″ bay, occupied in our case with a HDD. Notice that rubber frame around the HDD, meant to reduce vibrations and noise. That’s a neat trick.
When it comes to performance, it’s of course no surprise this thing flies in everyday use and handles complex programs like Eclipse, Photoshop, 3DSMAX or Premiere smoothly, which are the only ones that could benefit from the insane amount of RAM. In fact, the screen make it a good match for graphic artists and videographers. It also makes it a splendid multimedia device, especially when paired with the capable audio system that consists of four speakers and two subwoofers.
I’ve ran synthetic benchmarks and stress tests on our review model, and we’ll talk about them below.
- 3Dmark 11: P11278;
- 3Dmark 13: Ice Storm – 53987, Cloud Gate – 28567, Sky Diver – 20217, Fire Strike –8304;
- PCMark 08: Home Conventional – 3515;
- CineBench 11.5: OpenGL 51.88 fps, CPU 7.42 pts, CPU Single Core 1.63 pts;
- CineBench R15: OpenGL 65.21 fps, CPU 676 pts, CPU Single Core 140 pts.
- x264 Benchmark 4.0 32-bit: Pass 1 – 156.4 fps, Pass 2 – 42.22 fps;
- x264 Benchmark 5.0.1 64-bit: Pass 1 – 70.16 fps, Pass 2 – 15.05 fps.
Keep in mind that we tested a pre-production sample several weeks before its official launch, thus with immature drivers. So take these results with a grain of salt, the retail versions will probably perform better in most cases.
The pictures below show the inner temperatures and CPU/GPU frequencies with various use scenarios.
And then we have the stress tests. The first two pictures show what happens when running Prime 95, with the extra cooler that goes inside the optical-drive bay and without: the CPU’s frequency quickly drops to 3.1 GHz and remains stable for about 3-4 minutes. Immediately after that, you can notice a slight drop in frequency, which varies between 2800 and 3100 MHz, corroborated with a slight temperature increase. That means the CPU isn’t throttling, but is not longer running at the maximum TurboBoost frequency.
Then we run both Prime 95 and Furmark, pushing both the CPU and the GPU at the same time. For the first few tens of seconds, both he CPU and the GPU run at their maximum speeds, but after that the CPU’s frequency occasionally drops to 800 MHz, while the GPU Clock ranges between 950 and 1050 MHz.
On the other hand, in daily use, nor the CPU or the GPU throttle in any way, and temperatures remain at far lower levels than those reached in stress tests.
I’ve ran a few modern games on the Predator 17, at FHD-1080p resolution with High and Ultra details, or at the native UHD-2160p resolution with High details. Here’s what I got.
|FHD High||FHD Ultra||UHD High
|Shadow of Mordor||65 fps||55 fps||29 fps|
|FarCry 4||70 fps||54 fps||26 fps|
|Grid Autosport||72 fps||71 fps||71 fps|
|Tomb Raider||58 fps||56 fps||39 fps|
|Bioshock Infinite||90 fps||66 fps||–|
|Total War: Rome 2||116 fps||48 fps||71 fps|
|Total War: Attila||43 fps||25 fps||26 fps|
The GTX 980M chip is not powerful enough to play the latest games at 4K resolution and maximum details. It will handle many titles at 4K resolution and Medium to High details, but if you want Very High and Ultra levels of details, you’ll have to lower the resolution.
Also, you absolutely MUST keep in mind that we’ve tested a pre-production version of the Predator 17 here, with immature drivers, so the final retail units will for sure perform better in games.
However, even at 1080p, which is a 4:1 scaling of the native resolution, the fine details get a bit blurry in these recent and extremely detailed titles. You’ll stop noticing the slight fuzziness after a short while, but what I’m trying to say here is that if I were to get this Predator primarily for gaming, I’d rather go with a 1080p screen that would allow me to run all the recent titles at the native resolution, without having to deal with scaling or oversampling issues.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, Speakers and others
Performance goes hand in hand with a few other crucial aspects, like temperatures and noise.
The Predator 17 runs quiet and cool in everyday use. In fact, the fans switch off quite often in this case. Once you put it to serious load, the fans will spin fast and get pretty loud at max speeds (around 50 dB at ear level), so loud that you’ll either have to pump-up the speakers’ volume, or better yet, use a pair of headphones. But at least they keep the temperatures low and prevent any sort of throttling or performance losses.
Acer uses a solution with dual-fans and independent heat-pipes for this laptop, one for the CPU and the other for the GPU. I haven’t pried that laptop apart, but it looks like the heatpipes are made from aluminum, not copper, but even so their performance under serious load does not suffer.
The intake grills are placed on the underbelly, with the hot air being blown through the exhaust on the back. To help with the cooling, Acer provides an extra fan that can replace the optical drive, which sounds like a cool trick, but it does very little in practice. I’m only seeing minor differences for the CPU and GPU temperatures (1-2 degrees Celsius) in stress and gaming tests, with and without the extra fan, which means the standard cooling solution can handle loads by its own just fine.
When it comes to connectivity, Acer put a Killer DoubleShot Pro solution on this device, which means the wired and the wireless connections can be used simultaneously, so you won’t have to face signal drops or delays. There’s even a preinstalled app that lets you configure how and when each program is allowed to access the Internet.
However, I’ve used the test unit mostly on Wireless, only turning to the wired connection in order to install some games faster. Acer went for a Qualcomm Atheros QCA6174 module with a maximum throughput of 144 Mbps , so not the fastest out there. It was still capable of reaching speeds of around 90-100 Mbps in daily use, right next to my router. However, these speeds dropped drastically at 30 feet with two walls in between and the signal is completely lost at 45 feet with 4 walls, which means the wireless range is rather limited and performance will suffer if you’re not in the close proximity of your source.
I mentioned the speakers earlier, but they deserve a section of their own. Acer went with a 4.2 audio system here with a total power of 12W, and although the two subwoofers (placed on the belly, behind that red metallic shield) don’t really push a lot of bass, the overall sound coming out of the Predator is significantly nicer than most other laptops can provide. The other four speakers are grouped in two pairs, pushing sound through the red grills on the front-edge, but also down, towards the table.
Last but not least there’s the Webcam, which shoots crisp and natural looking images in a proper lit room, good enough for streams or video calls. The dual-array microphones flanking the webcam record voices well and might be used for streaming as well, although you would definitely get superior results with a dedicated external microphone.
Acer put a 90 Wh battery inside this machine, encased within the body. That’s going to be enough for 2-5 hours of everyday use on a charge, which might not sound much considering the battery size, but is definitely not bad for such a powerful machine.
- 15 W (~5 h 15 min of use) – idle, Power Saving Mode, screen at 0%, Wi-Fi OFF;
- 21 W (~4 h 15 min of use) – very light browsing and text editing in Edge, Balanced Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 20 W (~4 h 20 min of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Internet Explorer, Balanced Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 19 W (~4 h 30 min of use) – 1080p fullscreen .mkv video in VLC Player, Balanced Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 29 W (~3 h of use) – heavy browsing in Edge, Balanced Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON;
The screen alone requires 5-6 W at 30% brightness (roughly 120 nits) and I can’t tell for sure whether the dedicated Nvidia chip is ever completely deactivated on this computer or not. Both the Intel and the Nvidia chips are available in Device Manager, which suggests a dual-graphics implementation with Optimus.
The Nvidia panel also shows when certain programs put the 980M chip to work and it looks like the dedicated module is not active when the computer lies idle. Still, it’s hard to explain the 15W per hour energy drain in this situation, especially since other computers built on the Core i7-6700HQ processor and lower-end graphics require significantly less energy when idle.
Acer bundles the Predator 17 with a 180W power brick and a full charge takes between 3 to 4 hours, based on what you’re doing on the computer during this time.
Price and availability
The Predator 17 is available in a bunch of different configurations around the world, with various amounts of memory, various storage options, FHD or UHD displays and either Nvidia 970M or 980M graphics.
The base versions starts at around $1599, while the top-tier configuration tested here will sell for around $3000. A configuration with 16 GB of RAM, a 256 GB SSD, the Nvidia GTX 980M 4GB chip and a FHD screen has a list price of around $2000.
Personally, I’d aim for a configuration with 16 GB of RAM and the 980M graphics, and add the SSD myself or even upgrade the RAM if needed, although 16 GB of RAM are actually enough for gaming these days. I’m still undecided on the screen option, as on one side the UHD wide-gamut panel tested on this model is splendid, while on the other I’d rather get a 1080p panel for games. I’ll decide once I know more about the FHD options Acer plans to offer for the Predator and how much extra does the UHD option cost.
The Asus ROG G752 is the Predator’s main rival. We already reviewed the G752VT model here on the site and we’ll have the two units side by side in a different article soon enough, as I’ve had them side by side in the office.
In few words though, the G752 employs a different design, with metal, plexiglas and orange plastic elements used for the outercase. It’s also slightly longer and taller, but slimmer and a bit lighter. I feel the Predator offers the superior keyboard and trackpad of the two, but the Asus isn’t shabby either, inheriting the input mechanisms from the previous G751 series. On top of these, the G752 gets either FHD or UHD displays, some of them with GSync support.
Hardware wise the two offer similar specs, with Skylake Core i7 processors, up to 64 GB of RAM, two PCIe 3rd gen storage slots and one 2.5″ bay, however the Asus gets a smaller 67 Wh battery and the top configurations is bundled with an Nvidia 980M chip with 8 GB of video memory, while the Acer settles for the 4GB version.
The MSI Dominator Pro GT72S is the other rival to consider, another thick, heavy and expensive 17-incher. It’s built on the slightly faster and onverclockable Intel Core i7-6820HK processor and gets the Nvidia GTX 980M chip with 8 GB of DDR4. It also gets a very nice Steelseries keyboard with multicolor LED backligning and a FHD display with GSync support, but there’s no option for a UHD panel for the time being.
I have to admit, I did not expect this laptop to be as good as it is, given how it is Acer’s first try at a proper gaming machine, but the engineers behind it got all the important aspects right, from the build quality to the screen, from the typing experience to performance, thermals and acoustics.
Some of you might complain about the lack of GSync support on some models, the tall and sharp front edge that make it a bit uncomfortable to use, the multitude of annoying LED lights that can’t be switched off or the poor Wi-Fi signal once you get a bit further away from a router. Some might not even like the design or the logo on the hood. But I feel these are minor details and they won’t stop me from giving the Predator 17 my recommendation.
If you can’t live with them, then the Asus ROG G752, the Dell Alienware AW17R3 and the MSI GT72 Dominator Pro are just some of the alternatives to consider. Just make sure you check out the prices and read reviews, so you’ll find out which of them is the best pick for what you need and overall the best buy for your money, at the time you’re reading this article.
With that in mind, it’s time to wrap this up. Thanks for sticking by and let me know if you have any questions about this Acer Predator 17 G9-791 in the comments section below, I’m around and will help out if I can.