The 17-inch gaming notebook has long been a staple of the PC gaming market, but the VR-ready Acer Predator 17 X aims to push things to the next level. This hefty gaming notebook packs a desktop-class graphics card, an impressive 4K display, blazing fast quad-core processor and an even faster SSD … everything early adopters need to make a portable VR gaming rig. Is it worth the equally impressive asking price? Read this Acer Predator 17 X review to find out.
Acer Predator 17 X
Although the Acer Predator 17 X looks like an attractive 17-inch gaming powerhouse, the exterior doesn’t offer much in the way of innovative design. In truth, if you place black electrical tape over the logo the average PC gamer might not be able to identify the Predator 17 X next to its competitors from Alienware, Asus, MSI and Lenovo.
The back side of the screen lid showcases a silver Predator logo which lights up red when the notebook is powered on. The entire plastic chassis is covered in a rubberized soft touch paint similar to the Lenovo Thinkpad line of business notebooks or previous generations of the Asus ROG gaming notebooks. The screen hinge is firm enough to hold the heavy screen in position but loose enough that you can open the screen lid with one hand. The entire chassis feels solid with no obvious flex or plastic creaking under pressure.
The external dimensions of the Predator 17 X measure in at 16.65 x 12.66 x 1.77 inches and the notebook (minus the massive power adapter) weighs in at 10.03 pounds. That means this Acer gaming notebook weighs almost a full two pounds more than competitors like the Alienware 17 and the MSI GT72 Dragon. The access panel on the bottom side of the chassis allows you two swap out the system RAM, M.2 SATA SSDs and the 2.5-inch HDD.
Ports and Features
As with most 17-inch gaming rigs the Acer Predator 17 X delivers a wide array of ports and connectors. The left side of the chassis holds the AC power jack, two USB 3.0 ports, a dedicated microphone jack, a dedicated headphone jack and the SD card reader. The right side of the notebook features a single USB Type-C port, two more USB 3.0 ports, a full-size HDMI port, a full-size DisplayPort, Ethernet and a Kensington lock slot. Acer decided not to include an optical drive despite the fact that engineers probably could have made a DVD or Blu-Ray drive fit.
We don’t often call attention to the webcam inside a notebook because most modern 720p webcams deliver almost identical performance. That said, our editors found the 1280 x 720 webcam inside the Predator 17 X to be a notable disappointment. The video footage in normal (dim) indoor lighting is extremely grainy and looks more like the video quality from a first-generation 720p webcam from five (or more) years ago. The webcam footage looks better if you’re outdoors in bright light, but few people are going to haul a 17-inch gaming laptop outside for a video chat.
Screen and Speakers
The Acer Predator 17 X is available with two different 17.3-inch displays; a Full HD (1920 x 1080 resolution) screen and a 4K (3840 x 2160 resolution) IPS display. The 4K display in our review unit has a matte screen surface to prevent glare or reflections. Colors are extremely accurate and the viewing angles are nearly flawless. You won’t have to worry about color shifting if you aren’t looking at the screen from dead ahead with your eyes perfectly parallel to the screen surface.
The bottom line is that the 4K display looks absolutely amazing. Whether it’s worth the added cost compared to the 1080p version of this notebook is ultimately a choice you’ll have to make for yourself.
The speakers inside the Predator 17 X are good enough that most gamers won’t bother with external speakers and will only switch to headphones or a headset if they don’t want to annoy a roommate or family member. The main stereo speakers are located on the bottom front edge of the notebook and direct sound both down and toward the user.
The integrated subwoofer also adds a deeper sense of bass and really helps bring out details in the lows when listening to music or listening to sound effects in games. We noticed a very minor bit of distortion in the highs when we cranked up the volume close to maximum, but the speakers are quite good overall.
We didn’t notice any distortion or static when we used multiple headphones, earbuds and gaming headsets with our Acer Predator 17 X review unit, so the audio jacks provide clean output and input if you don’t want to rely on the built-in speakers.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Despite the fact that the Acer Predator 17 x features a Chiclet-style keyboard the keys feel so good that serious gamers might not even bother connecting an external gaming keyboard. The keys feature customizable LED backlighting and there is a dedicated numpad to the right of the main QWERTY keyboard.
As with most 17-inch gaming notebooks, you’ll find a row of programmable macro keys on the left side of the keyboard. Acer included an additional button above the five macro keys that lets you switch the entire row between four presets … allowing you to save a total of 20 macros.
The large touchpad surface measures 2.4 x 4 inches and does an excellent job tracking rapid movements and multitouch gestures. The touchpad includes both dedicated left and right mouse buttons as well as a dedicated button for disabling the touchpad if you’re using an external gaming mouse.
Our Acer Predator 17 X review unit was powered by a quad-core Intel Core i7-6820HK processor. This 6th generation Skylake CPU has a standard clock speed of 2.7 GHz and Turbo Boost up to 3.6 GHz. If that isn’t enough for you then you’ll probably be happy to hear the Predator 17 X comes with a “Turbo” preset profile that allows you to overclock the processor to aproximately 4.0 GHz.
The aforementioned Turbo profile also overclocks the included Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 to a full 135 MHz. This is the desktop-class GTX 980 GPU, which makes the Predator 17 X a “VR-ready” PC. You’ll still have to purchase an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive headset if you want to play those VR games, but it’s nice to know this notebook is powerful enough to handle it.
In terms of standard gaming at the default CPU and GPU clock speeds, the Predator 17 X managed an average frame rate between 70 FPS and 80 FPS during an extended test playing The Witcher III: Wild Hunt at 1080p resolution and medium settings. The frame rate only dropped to around 50 FPS when we cranked the detail up to high. Even using Witcher III‘s notoriously intense “Uber” detail setting the frame rate remained between 25 and 30 frames per second … still very playable. Again, you can squeeze out slightly better frame rates if you use the “Turbo” preset to overclock the CPU and GPU.
Our Acer Predator 17 X review unit comes with a single M.2 format 512GB SSD as the main boot drive and a 1TB 7200 RPM HDD for extra storage. This is one of the faster M.2 storage drives we’ve tested and helps to make this notebook feel exceptionally fast in day-to-day operation.
wPrime processor comparison results (listed in seconds – lower scores mean better performance):
PCMark8 Home (Accelerated) measures overall system performance for general activities from web browsing and video streaming to typing documents and playing games (higher scores mean better performance):
3DMark 11 measures the overall gaming performance of the GPU (higher scores mean better performance):
3DMark Fire Strike measures the overall gaming performance in DX11 games (higher scores mean better performance):
CrystalDiskMark storage drive performance test:
When it comes to battery life the Acer Predator 17 X is something of a mixed bag. At first glance the battery life from this Acer falls short of most modern gaming notebooks. However, this is due in no small part to the 4K display. All those extra pixels require power, which means the battery inside our Acer Predator 17 X review unit drains much faster than it would if the notebook used a FHD screen with just 1920 x 1080 pixels. The PowerMark benchmark below shows battery life after a non-stop loop of automated tasks designed to simulate web browsing, office productivity, video streaming and gaming. Users should be able to get even better battery life if they aren’t actively gaming or streaming video on battery power.
PowerMark “Balanced” battery life test results listed in minutes (higher scores mean better life):
Heat and Noise
Acer’s engineers did a solid job managing the heat output from the Predator 17 X. The inside the the chassis holds three separate cooling fans that move air over a series of copper heat pipes and the rest of the internal components. Four large rubber pads keep the bottom of the notebook elevated and provide space for air to flow under the notebook and into the air intake vents. We don’t recommend using this notebook on a soft surface like a bed or your lap because those vents need to stay unobstructed … particularly if you’re pushing the Nvidia GPU with VR gaming or if you’re overclocking the CPU to 4.0 GHz.
The designers at Acer were kind enough to put warning symbols similar to what you’ll find on jet engines next to the Predator 17 X’s heat vents. Sure, these might just be decorative touches but those vents push a lot of hot air out the rear of the notebook. The cooling fans are mostly quiet until you start playing games at high detail settings or use the “Turbo” preset to overclock the CPU and GPU.
Overall the Acer Predator 17 X is an impressive gaming rig that has plenty to offer people interested in VR games. Sure, this isn’t a budget gaming PC, but there are many notebooks in the same $2,500-$3,000 price range that can’t power the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift. If you’re serious about using a notebook with a VR headset then this is one of the most affordable VR-ready gaming notebooks you’ll find this holiday season.
At the time of this writing the Predator 17 X comes in two main configurations (with more configurations coming to stores by Christmas). Both of the current configurations come with the Intel Core i7-6820HK CPU, desktop Nvidia GTX 980 graphics, a 1TB 7200 RPM storage drive and 32GB of system RAM. The 4K system we reviewed here comes with a single 512GB SSD as the main boot drive and is priced at $3,200. The full-HD version of the Predator 17X comes with a 1080p display and two 256GB SSDs in RAID 0 as the boot drive for $2,800. All 17 X laptops come with a two-year warranty.
We love the 4K display in our Acer Predator 17 X review unit, but if you don’t care about Ultra-HD resolutions and just want a VR-ready notebook then the 1080p configuration will save you $400 and perform just as well. Either way, this is one of the best solutions for VR gamers in 2016.
- Extremely good performance
- 4K display and VR-ready
- Keyboard feels amazing
- Great speakers
- Excellent heat venting
- Dim keyboard backlight
- Low-quality webcam
- Thick and heavy for a single GTX 980