Introduction & Product Tour
Lately, the laptops we've been testing have been incredibly powerful and incredibly expensive. For instance, the MSI GT73VR Titan SLI 4K demonstrated laptop gaming prowess we haven't seen before, thanks to its dual Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 configuration. It will set you back $3600 last we checked. Soon after we wrapped up that review, another behemoth arrived, and it dwarfed every laptop we've seen in size, specs, and price.
This is the Acer Predator 21 X, and it can be yours for a mere $9,000. Let's see what that small fortune gets you.
First, we have to put in a huge word for Acer’s packaging. And by huge, we mean MASSIVE. The Acer Predator 21 X arrived in a box that was 3' tall, 2.25' wide, and 1.5' thick. Three of the laptops we were working on when the Predator arrived could have fit inside this box, including the packaging those laptops came in. Acer also sent us a comprehensive guide on how to unpack the Predator 21 X. There are four white plastic clips keeping the top cover secured to the rest of the box. The bottom of the box and the top cover have several inches of closed cell foam to keep the goods secured.
Inside, you’ll find a protective case, courtesy of Pelican. The case is branded “PREDATOR 21 X” across the front and has the Predator logo near the bottom. It features a robust luggage handle on the back and four wheels on the bottom for easy transport, because why would you ever carry this by hand? But if you need to carry it, there are three handles: one on the top, one on the side, and one on the bottom. The rear end of the case has ten plastic feet should you need to prop the case on its back. The lid of the case is secured via seven clips; you can add security by looping two padlocks through the case’s padlock holes.
The Predator 21 X is located dead center upon opening the case, and it’s surrounded by a wealth of padding for additional protection (in case the protective shell wasn’t enough.) Beneath the Predator is a small compartment for the Setup Guide, a Custom Panel Code, a Warranty Card, a Welcome message, and a Notice of Suffocation Risk, all of which are handsomely packaged inside a stylized envelope.
Remove the foam panel that the laptop and envelope were sitting on to reveal all of the included accessories. At the top, you’ll find a long hand rest to place at the front of the laptop. Beneath it is a complimentary lanyard. It is not diamond encrusted.
On each side is a 330W power adapter, and their associated AC cords are placed in compartments on the lower right. Speaking of which, there’s a rubber, X-shaped dock which you can store the power adapters in, which will alleviate the cable clutter a bit.
Opposite that, you’ll find a small box with a glossy Predator logo and a strap to easily open the box. Inside is a hex-head screwdriver, a keycap remover, and additional spacebar and WASD keycaps.
Finally, there’s a small compartment for the combination touch pad and number pad, which Acer calls the "Slide Module." We’ll discuss this in detail in a moment.
Overall, unboxing the Acer Predator 21 X feels more like an experience than a chore. Everything from the exterior box, the Pelican case, and the presentation of the accessories is top notch, and you can expect the Predator to arrive well protected and presented.
The top cover of the Predator 21 X features a luxurious, matte metal finish in black, with two shallow chamfered edges wrapping around the sides and a more aggressively chamfered edge on the bottom. The middle of the cover is adorned by the Predator logo. The logo has a smooth silver finish with reflective edges, whereas the “PREDATOR” letters feature a rough texture with a holographic finish. The logo, along with two light strips on the ends of the cover, illuminate when the system is powered. On the bottom, you’ll find the Acer logo painted in white.
When you open up the lid, you’re treated to an impressive light show. At the very top is a stylized surface with a tinted triangular window. Behind this window, you can see the top of one of the exhaust fans, which is illuminated when the Predator is awake. Right beneath the fan window is the power button, and its shape plays nicely off the triangular aesthetic.
Next to the window is a maintenance panel used to access some of the interior components; we’ll address this in depth later on this page. The panel features a painted graphic depicting what appears to be a dragon or some sort of mythological predator. “CONQUER NEW WORLDS” is printed in white. The first 300 models have limited edition series numbers printed on the bottom right. The panel can be customized using the Custom Panel Code (opens in new tab). That is, you can customize the panel with Acer-approved designs, or add a country flag, or have your name laser-engraved on it.
On the far edges to the left of the window and right of the maintenance panel, you’ll find stylized grooves with alternating metal accents, which give the already extravagant Predator 21 X additional gamer flare. For more practical aesthetics, you can find three lights to the far right indicating Power, Storage, and Charging status.
The bezel is constructed out of matte black plastic. The top edge measures 0.75" at the sides, 1.125" at the top, and a lengthy 2" at the bottom. Chamfered edges wrap around the sides and bottom of the bezel to create an elegant silhouette. There are only two rubber feet on the top half of the side bezel, which separate the lid from the body. With the curved 21" display, additional feet on the bottom or top bezel are unnecessary. The top of the bezel contains the HD webcam. Finally, “PREDATOR” is engraved on the bottom bezel in silver lettering.
The edges adopt a design philosophy similar to the top cover and the area around the input devices, but they do so a bit more aggressively. The side edges are two tiered, with the top half containing the tweeters and exhaust ports, while the bottom half contains the I/O ports, larger exhaust vents, and is an extension of the bottom panel. The front edge also has two layers, with the mid-range speakers sitting at the side. You can connect the hand-rest here via magnets hidden inside both the rest and the front lip. The massive rear lip houses the rear exhaust vents, which feature criss-crossed grilles and stylized warning signs for the heat. In the middle is a valley holding additional I/O ports. A silver border wraps around the exhaust vents and rear I/O.
Audio is handled by two upward-facing tweeters, two front-facing mid-range speakers, and two subwoofers on the bottom. The tweeters have elongated metal speaker grilles with the Dolby Audio logo engraved on them. The surface has a matte, sandblasted texture and gunmetal coloration, but the edges have a reflective, chrome-like quality. Alternatively, the mid-range speaker grilles have a pentagonal shape with slightly more luster. Finally, the two subwoofers are on the bottom near the edges, although only one of the woofers has a metal plate on top of it. This too has a gunmetal finish.
We've typically found that speakers mounted on the lip in a front-facing position produce less than optimal results. We’re pleased to find that this isn’t the case with the Predator 21 X, and we suspect that it’s because the laptop is just so big that your arms will never obstruct the speakers. This applies as well to the upward-facing tweeters; you’ll virtually never place your hands here during normal use. Additionally, we’ve only ever seen one subwoofer on a laptop at max, so having two gives the Predator 21 X much more impressive bass than the competition. If you want to crank up the volume, by all means. This baby can cry.
The hinge assembly is constructed out of a hard plastic and is painted in gunmetal, giving the Predator 21 X a bit of sheen. It consists of two hinges that are sturdy—perhaps to the point of being stiff—and offers about 135° of extension. Just below the hinge, you'll find a Tobii eye tracker. Why not.
The bottom panel is constructed out of a combination of plastics and metals, giving the laptop a multi-tiered appearance. There are two rows of fan grilles: a long one near the rear exhaust, and another near the front lip. The front lip grilles serve as intake for the two system fans, whereas the back row provides intake for the single CPU and two GPU fans. There are four large rubber feet to keep the Predator steady, although it's weight alone should prevent it from budging.
The left side I/O has two USB 3.0 ports, a headphone jack, a microphone jack, and a card reader. The right side features two additional USB 3.0 ports and a Kensington lock. Finally, the rear I/O includes an HDMI port, two DisplayPorts, a Thunderbolt 3 over Type-C port, and an Ethernet port.
One of the Acer Predator 21 X's defining features is the display. It's a 21" curved Wide FHD (2160x1080) matte IPS display with G-Sync technology running at a 120Hz refresh rate. Wow. This is the first of its kind to land on our test bench. Usually, one GeForce GTX 1080 is more than enough to drive a 1080p display, but two is most definitely overkill, although we are talking a few extra pixels with the wide format. You can connect additional displays via the HDMI 2.0 port, two DisplayPort 1.3, and Thunderbolt 3 over Type-C port.
The point of a curved screen is to reduce the distance from your eyes to the edges of the screen, which theoretically offers better immersion. The Acer's 1800R curvature does just that, but we'd argue that 21" isn't wide enough for the curvature to impact your viewing experience significantly, especially if you're already used to a wider, 24" monitor; you'll benefit more from curved display technology in a wider, 34" display (we're not suggesting this for a laptop, obviously). Also the curvature imposes additional breadth to the Acer's already thick body.
A laptop that's more than 22" long and 3" thick has more than enough space for a tenkeyless mechanical keyboard . . . and probably a fully-stocked bar. The Predator 21X features Cherry MX Brown switches that are a pleasure to type with. You'll find metallic blue keycaps installed on the WASD keys and space bar by default, but you can easily switch these out for the included black keys if you prefer. Additionally, because the keyboard uses Cherry stems, you can customize the keyboard with any compatible keycap set you prefer.
Half of the function row is occupied with predetermined functions: F3 toggles Airplane Mode on and off, F4 puts the Predator to sleep, F5 opens up the display menu, F6 turns the display off, F7 mutes the volume, and F8 turns off keyboard backlighting. The arrow keys have predetermined functions as well. The up and down arrows adjust the volume, while the left and right arrows adjust the display brightness.
The touchpad is more than just a touchpad. It's also a number pad! Acer achieves this with the Slide Module, which features a number pad on one side and a touchpad on another. The number pad uses scissor switches rather than mechanical switches, and while they aren't as pleasing to type with as the keyboard, they still features an acceptable springiness, similar to that of your typical laptop keyboard. The other side is the touchpad, which offers responsive tracking and separate left and right click buttons with satisfying bumpy feedback. The Slide Module fits into the empty, velvet-lined compartment to the right of the keyboard and snaps in magnetically. For extra measure, it is diamond encrusted. (Editor: No, it's not.)
When the system is powered, the Slide Module is detected almost immediately, which is convenient when you need to whip out your mouse and use the number pad. RGB lighting can be adjusted for either side of the Slide Module, with either the number pad keys or the light strip surrounding the touchpad being illuminated. Our biggest gripe is that the placement feels a bit unnatural considering most touchpads are located beneath the keyboard. The number pad feels right at home, but tracking will take some getting used to; in all likelihood, you're going to be using a mouse when gaming anyway.
Before we take a peek into the Predator 21 X's underside, we'll revisit the stylized panel right above the mechanical keyboard. On the bottom right hand corner, you'll find a hex-head screw. Undo this with the included hex-head screwdriver, and the panel will pop right off. Beneath it are easily accessible slots for the laptop's DDR4 memory and the 2.5" SATA drive. The Predator 21 X came outfitted with 64GB of RAM and a 1TB 7200RPM HDD.
Now we can continue underneath. The underside has another easy access panel secured by three regular screws. Once removed, you can see four M.2 SSD slots, two on each side. The Predator 21 X is pre-configured with two 512GB SSDs. Below, you'll see two small system fans. The larger CPU and GPU fans are tucked away deeper in the chassis.
The Acer Predator 21 X uses a custom version of PredatorSense. PredatorSense has six tabs: Home, Lighting, Overclocking, Hotkey, Fan Control, and Monitoring. The Home tab acts as PredatorSense's central hub, and gives you a quick overview of the CPU and GPU clock rates, temperatures, and fan speeds. Also, the Home tab provides quick shortcuts to switch hotkey, lighting, and overclocking profiles.
The Lighting tab grants you comprehensive RGB LED controls for the lighting accents and the mechanical keyboard. The keyboard has plenty of lighting effects. The Breathing effect slowly pulses the lights on and off. The Afterglow effect illuminates keys when you press them. The Neon effect keeps the brightness static while cycling through the RGB spectrum. The Snake effect creates a LED snake which trails its way through the keyboard. The Hedge effect bounces two walls of light back and forth from either end of the keyboard.
If you hit the $ key while it's illuminated, gold coins flow out like a slot machine.
Anyway, you get the point. There are many more. The speed and direction of several effects can be adjusted as well. There are four lighting zones outside of the keyboard: the logo, the light bars, the power button, and the Slide Module. You can also adjust these to whatever color in the RGB spectrum you desire, although they don't have fancy effects like the keyboard does.
The Overclocking tab offers three presets for the CPU and GPU SLI configuration. The Normal preset keeps the CPUs and GPUs at their base clock rates. The Faster preset gives them a modest overclock, and the Turbo preset overclocks them aggressively.
The Hotkey tab comes with two sub-tabs for hotkey profiles and macros. You can assign functions to the five hotkeys to the left of the keyboard, and there are three profiles to cycle between. The macro sub-tab will allow you to record your own macro functions.
In the Fan Control tab, you can set fan speeds to Auto or Max, or you can create your own custom fan profiles for the CPU, GPUs, and system.
Finally, the Monitoring tab gives you an overview of the system's utilization and temperatures.
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