Acer Predator 15 gaming notebook review — new kid on the block
+ Great packaging, looks premium while protecting all the contents
+ Aggressive design with massive vents
+ Nice soft-touch finish all over the notebook
+ Cool lighting accents on the lid
+ Very usable keyboard, accurate touchpad
+ Innovative hotkey implementation
+ Sufficient amount of connectivity options
+ WIde viewing angles and accurate colors with the IPS display
+ Excellent audio output
+ Reasonable pricing
- Weight and thickness on the upper end for 15-inchers
- Cooling system leaves more to be desired
- Poor keyboard lighting customization
- FrostCore could be improved on to actually make a difference
Acer is well known in the tech industry, with some budget smartphones and affordable notebooks. It’s presence in the gaming industry is all but non-existent. Acer did dip their toes in the water some time back with the Acer Aspire Predator desktop models which came in a bright orange paint job which you either found striking or just plain garish. Fast forward to more recent times, the Acer V Nitro was an interesting mid-range gaming notebook which caught the attention of many gamers who needed an affordable notebook with sufficient grunt for gaming. After officially launching the Acer Predator Gaming Series in Malaysia back in December, it looks like Acer is ready to face the veterans of the industry with their new line-up. We got the Predator 15 here with us, a powerful gaming notebook which sports great performance with the looks to boot. Let’s check it out.
I don’t usually write about the unboxing of laptops because most of the time I don’t see anything interesting to talk about regarding the packaging. However in the case of the Acer Predator 15, I was actually compelled to write a little about the great packaging it came in.
The outer packaging sports a fancy image of the notebook along with the red polygons that is the theme for the Predator series. Nothing really special here since notebooks boxes aren’t often on display at shops anyway.
Opening it up we see three smaller boxes, with the box labeled Predator 15 being protected by thick foam blocks. No prize for guessing what’s in it.
The three compartments hold the power supply, the Acer Predator 15 itself, documentation and the Predator FrostCore module. We will talk more about the FrostCore module in the Performance section.
The notebook is kept in this tough cardboard box, well protected from the harsh world outside. A thick plastic wrapper envelops the Acer Predator 15, while also offering a tab to remove the notebook easily from the tough cardboard cocoon. I have tried reinserting the notebook without the plastic wrapper into the box and it was impossible to remove it unless I flipped the box over and allowed gravity to assist my effort. I do wish for a reusable fabric sleeve instead of the plastic wrapper though.
Here’s everything in the package. My review sample didn’t come with any documentation but you should expect the usual set of user manuals and warranty cards with your purchase.
The Acer Predator 15 is the Taiwanese company’s first real gaming notebook but they aren’t shy to intimidate the competition with an aggressive outlook.
The lid is plastic with a soft-touch finishing. The emblems are made of metal with a mild brushed finishing, allowing it to reflect light in a special way that plastic will never be able to. Real classy. Two huge vents dominate the lower half of the Acer Predator 15, providing both form and function to a powerful gaming notebook like this. I really love big vents on gaming notebooks, and this being the biggest I have seen will definitely score it a few extra points.
Opening up, you will see the 15.6″ display. Acer apparently still finds a need to flaunt the fact that the Acer Predator 15 sports a Full HD 1080p display in 2015-16 with a sticker. The palm rest area also features the same soft-touch finishing the lid has, and surprisingly it is a lot more resistant to fingerprints and smudges than I expected.
The keyboard features the WASD cluster and arrow keys highlighted with red edging to enhance the gamer look. A row of hotkeys above the keyboard allows quick access to certain functions like boosting the fan speed and can also be programmed to run macros.
Taking a look at the underside of the Acer Predator 15, we see the intakes at the top. The finishing here is also the same soft-touch finishing. Kudos to Acer for being so consistent. The center portion is a service door which allows easier upgrading of the Acer Predator 15’s storage and RAM. The three little triangles warn you about a Heat Blast as there is where the exhaust vents are located. I do not see the point of putting the warning signs under the notebook where no one ever sees, but oh well at least it makes the bottom panel a little more interesting.
Turn it on and the Predator logo lights up. Light or dark, the Predator 15 will definitely make its presence known. Since it’s on, let’s play!
|CPU||Intel Core i7-6700HQ @ 2.6 GHz (up to 3.5 GHz)|
|RAM||16GB (2 x 8GB) 2133 MHz DDR4 (2 slots available)|
|GPU||NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M 3GB GDDR5|
|Storage||1 x 128GB TOSHIBA THNSNJ128G8NU M.2 SATA SSD
1 x 1TB HGST Travelstar 7K1000 HDD
|Software||Microsoft Windows 10 Home
364.51 WHQL NVIDIA Game Ready Driver
Killer Network Manager
Acer Care Center
|Connectivity||Killer™ Wireless-AC 1535 and Killer™ E2400 LAN (Killer DoubleShot Pro)
4 x USB 3.0
1 x USB 3.1 Type-C (doubles as Thunderbolt 3 port)
SD card reader
|Display||15.6″ FHD AH-IPS (1920 x 1080) LG Philips LP156WF6-SPP1 panel
1 x HDMI
|Audio||2.1 Predator SoundPound audio (Stereo speakers, 1 subwoofer)
1 x 3.5mm microphone input
1 x 3.5mm audio output (support for headphones with up to 600 Ω impedance)
|Power||180W AC adapter, 8 cell battery (non-removable)|
|Dimensions||38.1 x 29.9 x 3.85 cm|
The Acer Predator 15 was ready to go very quickly after pushing the power button, typical of a SSD-equipped system. However for a true measure of storage performance, we turn to our usual benchmark, CrystalDiskMark to throw us some figures.
The 128GB M.2 SATA SSD is a lot slower than the the NVMe M.2 PCIe SSD found in the MSI GT72s 6QE Dominator Pro G. It is still a lot faster than any HDD but are a far cry from the speeds that M.2 PCIe SSDs can offer. In any case, 128GB is just about enough for the OS and some huge software and not much else. If you need more space or speed, you can add another M.2 SSD as the Acer Predator 15 has two M.2 slots. You can also upgrade the Acer Predator 15 with a M.2 PCIe SSD like the Samsung 950 Pro if you want to, but be prepared to part with some serious cash.
The 1TB HDD is of the 7200 rpm variety, so it does go faster than the usual 5400 rpm 2.5″ drives. Conventional HDDs are still a very valid storage option in 2016 as it is still a bit too costly to get 1TB SSDs. You may want to make use of this storage to keep your less used software and media.
Ah the CPU. While the Skylake architecture is the way forward for Intel CPUs, the raw performance achieved in Cinebench seems to have taken a step back from Broadwell. That can be explained by the higher boost clocks especially when running on all four cores that the Broadwell i7 5700HQ has (3.5 GHz), which is more than 10% faster than the 3.1 GHz that the Skylake i7 6700HQ runs at with all four cores active. Clearly the IPC improvements that Skylake brought about isn’t enough to offset this difference in clock speeds, resulting in it scoring less than the older Broadwell model.
In our Unigine Heaven Benchmark, the GeForce GTX 970M 3GB GDDR5 returns scores that shows a big gap in performance between the Maxwell GM204 silicon and the first generation Maxwell GM107 GPUs that are marketed as the GTX 860M/960M. It is also quite a bit weaker than the GTX 980M but then notebooks with the GTX 980M often sport price tags much heftier than those with GTX 970Ms.
Let’s get on with the gaming benchmarks. Note that the temperatures obtained here may be higher than usual because of the seriously insane ambient temperatures in Malaysia of above 30 degrees Celcius now.
DotA 2 isn’t really a GPU-intensive game, and here we see the Acer Predator 15 push 124 frames per second, almost matching the performance of the GTX 980M found in the MSI GT72s Dominator Pro G. In my opinion, anything faster than the GTX 960M is overkill for DotA 2 anyway.
In Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, we can see the difference in performance between the 970M and 980M. The 970M is capable of around 30 fps less than the 980M in the GT72s. This isn’t really a big issue as anything above 60 fps is already very playable in my book. The 3GB VRAM may have been a bottleneck too as when I changed to the Ultra preset, the in-game VRAM meter already predicted that I will use more than the 3GB available. Ignoring it and just going ahead to run the benchmark yielded these figures. I also played a few very enjoyable multiplayer games, during which I encountered no stutter or lag.
The most intense game in my library, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt really taxes the hardware of Acer Predator 15. The CPU temperatures are really close to TJMax and in fact according to HWiNFO the CPU throttled down to only 2900 MHz. It is rather alarming to see this but I believe it will fare better if put into a cooler environment than my unair-conditioned living quarters.The frame rate is plenty playable as the Witcher 3’s story is enjoyable even at 30 fps.
Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain features some amazing graphics, although the expansive deserts the game is set in is lot less stressful to the hardware compared to The Witcher’s environments which are loaded with foliage, buildings and tonnes of NPCs. The smooth frame rate here is especially vital when trying to snipe moving fodder. The Acer Predator 15’s hardware pulled it off very well and the experience was great.
CS:GO is a popular competitive game but you won’t need the highest end hardware to play it. The Acer Predator 15 gets a respectable 140 fps in this game.
The Acer Predator 15’s cooling system uses two heatpipes which are connected to two large heatsinks on both ends. While its looks may draw attention, the Acer Predator 15 noise output is a lot more stealthy. The blower fans are also less noisy compared to some of the competition, especially when running at full tilt. A whooshing sound is you hear. If not set to run at maximum speed, the fans are almost inaudible when using the Acer Predator 15 for simple web browsing. Cooling performance wise, the Acer Predator 15 may benefit from dedicated heatpipes to draw heat away from the powerful hardware more effectively. The cooling system of the Acer Predator 15 comes with a unique feature, which is the Predator FrostCore module which was developed in partnership with Cooler Master.
It allows you to simply swap out the DVD drive reader for the Predator FrostCore if you need additional cooling performance. The FrostCore is also relatively silent and was largely masked by the noise of the bigger rear fans.
Now for the moment of truth, did the Predator FrostCore affect the temperatures? After running Furmark and Intel Burn Test multiple times to test it out, I am disappointed to report that it made no difference. I had suspected an extra fan on the front will not make much of a difference if any when all the other parts of the cooling system is all located on the rear end of the Acer Predator 15, and sadly I was not proven wrong.
For such a powerful notebook, the 2 hour 20 minutes time I got on the battery was surprising. I used the Acer Predator 15 for some light Photoshop and mainly surfing with Chrome with the brightness set to 50% and Balanced power profile active. At 20%, Windows claims that it is still good for another 29 minutes. I guess the efficiency improvements brought about with the Skylake architecture is no tall claim.
The Acer Predator 15 is nearly 4 cm thick and weighs 3.4 kg. This puts the Acer Predator 15 in quite a tight spot as 15-inchers are often chosen for their portability. If you aren’t going to use it while on the go often, it would be better to choose the bigger Predator 17 as the bigger model will prove more comfortable to use at a desk thanks to the extra viewing area it offers. In any case, the Acer Predator 15 is sturdy enough to be carried from one place to another in a decent laptop bag. Whether you find the weight and size feasible to carry around is another story altogether.
The Acer Predator 15 comes with a two-color backlit keyboard. The numpad area lights up in blue while the rest of the keyboard glows red. The red backlighting is on the weak side too with no option to adjust the brightness which means you won’t really be able to see it illuminated in well lit environments. I don’t need RGB backlighting on my laptop but I find the decision to throw in the blue backlighting for the numpad area weird. Why not just go with a uniform red backlighting for all the keys? Speaking of which, the little green light you see below the keyboard is the touchpad switch. When enabled it glows green, and if you disable the touchpad it will glow red. And oh it will also disable the Windows key at the same time. Acer’s decision to link both functions is beyond me. Lighting aside, the keyboard and touchpad are both excellent.
The keyboard has a nice amount of key travel and tactile feedback while making just enough noise for you to know you pressed a key, but silent enough to not be an annoyance. This is a keyboard I will not hesitate to use during gaming. However I would have preferred a larger Ctrl key for easier crouching in first-person shooters. Typing or gaming feels fine on it and coupled with the excellent cooling system of the Acer Predator 15, the keyboard and palm rest areas do not warm up uncomfortably even during long gaming sessions.
The touchpad is fairly accurate and sports a few common gestures like two finger scrolling and pinch zooming. The buttons are separate from the touch sensitive area and has a sufficient amount of key travel and is very silent unlike certain touchpad buttons I have found. Such a nice touchpad is quite a waste on a gaming notebook like the Acer Predator 15 since any gamer will definitely own a proper mouse.
The key labelled with the stylized P switches between the three hotkey profiles. The 5 hotkeys at the top can cycle through three profiles, each of which will have a different colored backlighting.
Above the keyboard there is a long strip of clear plastic. On the right there are three status LEDs which indicate drive activity, power supply state and power. I think that is a very nice place to put it as it is unobtrusive when you are doing other stuff yet easily visible when you want to see it, even when the Acer Predator 15 is closed.
On the right we have the single USB Type-C port which does double duty as a Thunderbolt 3 port, two USB 3.0 ports, a full-szed HDMI and DisplayPort to add more displays and also the Killer E2400 LAN jack. There is a lot of empty space left and I wish Acer had added more USB ports. Never are there too many USB ports.
On the left flank we have the power connector, 2 more USB 3.0 ports, the standard 3.5 mm audio jacks which are gold plated, SD card reader and the DVD Super Multi drive. The SD card reader is connected via a USB 3.0 interface so you should be able to take advantage of the faster cards’ transfer rates. My single complaint is that the USB ports are located a bit too far back and is too near the power connector.
Here we replaced the DVD drive with the Predator FrostCore instead. Note the Cooler Master emblem.
The Acer Predator 15 comes with an 15.6″ 1080p IPS display. It is bright enough to be visible most conditions except maybe under direct sunlight. In fact, I am most comfortable using it at only 50% brightness. The pedestrian refresh rate of only 60 Hz means no NVIDIA G Sync with the built-in display. You do have the option of connecting an external display with support for G Sync via the DisplayPort output. The display also seems to have reasonably accurate colors and as an IPS display, it definitely comes with wider viewing angles than any TN panel out there.
PredatorSense is Acer’s management software for the Acer Predator 15. We get the usual temperature, fan speed, CPU frequency readouts on the default page. Going deeper by clicking the gear icon at the top right corner brings up a Gaming Configuration page, which neatly provides an easy way to disable Sticky Keys. Two thumbs up for Acer!
The option to always use the discrete GPU is also quite unique. There are several “multimedia modes” which will adjust the display and audio settings to suit different scenarios hidden here too. Closing it and clicking the large Edit button brings up another array of options. Aside from the hotkey and macro manager, Acer hid the lighting configuration here too, but then it is quite meaningless as it only allows you to toggle the lighting in four zones.
Other software included in the Acer Predator 15 is the Acer DustDefender which make the fans run in reverse to prevent dust accumulation every 3 hours provided the notebook isn’t under heavy load or you can also manually force it to run. In charge of the soundDolby Audio which offers several presets as well as an equalizer for you to fine-tune the audio ouput to your liking.
The Predator SoundPound audio system in the Acer Predator 15 consists of one speaker per channel and a subwoofer. The stereo speakers are located on the front edge of the notebook, hidden behind a nice red honeycomb grille. The sound is crystal clear and REALLY loud too. Being no stranger to the multimedia laptop scene, Acer also threw in Dolby Audio enhancement software to boost the fidelity of the audio output.
The subwoofer is under this red chunk of metal which is engraved with the word. Would have preferred a less obvious engraving like “Predator SoundPound”. While small in size, it does endow the Acer Predator 15 with better bass quality than most notebooks. Watching movies or gaming on the Acer Predator 15, I didn’t feel a need to connect headphones for better enjoyment, unlike with some other gaming notebooks I have reviewed. With that said, connecting my cheap Edifier H840 headphones yielded excellent sound from the 3.5 mm output.
Acer didn’t sacrifice performance for a slimmer body, instead designing one of the thickest and heaviest 15.6″ notebooks I have ever seen. However that may also be its downfall as the thickness and weight seriously reduces its portability which I believe is an important factor when choosing a 15-incher. The implementation of the backlit keyboard seems like an afterthought with the weird color combination of red and blue. Performance wise, it is faultless.
The Predator FrostCore is gimmicky at best as I didn’t observe any improvements using it. In its credit, it does have a well-designed cooling system, with or without the FrostCore, keeping the keyboard and palm rest areas comfortable even under heavy loads. The high CPU temperatures are a little alarming but then the ambient temperatures here are also partly to blame. The audio system and display are also pretty good, allowing me to enjoy multimedia on it with zero complains. Overall, the Acer Predator 15 is a pretty decent gaming notebook packing some serious firepower into its chunky yet sexy body. I will award it the Silver Pokdeward. The Acer Predator 15 costs RM6999.