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Acer Predator 15 review: A gaming laptop that keeps its cool

With the most powerful mobile graphics card in a smaller 15-inch body, this gaming system wisely adds extra fans.

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Dan Ackerman
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Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
4 min read

"Why do all these gaming laptops look like sneakers?" That was the question my wife -- herself no stranger to gaming -- asked when I lifted the lid on the latest version of Acer's 15-inch Predator laptop. It may seem like an odd question for ask about a computer, but I immediately understood the point. Where most mainstream laptops go for understated minimalism, and indeed try their best to fade into the background, gaming laptops (and desktops) are invariably covered with accented bling.

acer-predator-15-01.jpg
8.1

Acer Predator 15

The Good

A rare 15-inch gaming laptop with top-end Nvidia 980M graphics, and the extra cooling required to run high-end parts in a smaller body. Battery life is excellent for a gaming laptop.

The Bad

Despite a few nice design touches, this is still a gaudy-looking gaming laptop. All those fans can get loud when running at maximum speed.

The Bottom Line

The Acer Predator 15 one of the fastest gaming laptops we've tested, and wisely adds extra cooling to handle high-end parts in a smaller 15-inch body.

There can be menacing red lights, textured interior surfaces that look like the bed of a pickup truck, plastic vents with shark-like fins. It's all part of a visual language that attempts to communicate the power and capability of the interior components, which are invisible to the naked eye. Even the Razer Blade line of laptops, arguably the least gaudy of gaming systems, have that company's neon green logo of conjoined snakes on the back, and a pulsing multicolor lightshow under the keyboard.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Yes, the Acer Predator 15 follows many of those gaming laptop tropes, but I actually liked some parts of its design. At the very least, it's gaudy in its own way, and doesn't directly copy the look of other gaming laptops too closely. I especially liked red keyshafts on the arrow keys and WASD keys (especially important keys for PC gaming). There's also a pleasingly consistent design sense from the red speakers on the front edge through to the red border around the giant air vent in on the rear edge.

Dorm-friendly design aside, the most notable thing about the Predator 15 is that this is a rare opportunity to get a high-end Nvidia 980M gaming graphics card in a smaller 15-inch laptop. Typically, we see the 970M and 980M cards in larger 17-inch laptops, while smaller 15-inch gaming laptops usually get stuck with the mainstream-level Nvidia 960M graphics card, which is no slouch, but isn't what serious game-players are looking for.

However, keep in mind that this laptop is on the larger side of the 15-inch spectrum. You can place it next to a 17-inch gaming laptop and the size difference is not going to be as dramatic as, for example, a slim 15-inch HP Omen versus a typical 17-inch gaming laptop. That Omen was 4.7 pounds (2.13kg), versus 8.0 pounds (3.6kg) for the Predator.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

This configuration is the high-end of the 15-inch Predator line, with an Intel Core i7-6700HQ CPU, 32GB of RAM, a big 512GB SSD coupled with a 1TB HDD and the Nvidia 980M GPU, for a total of $2,499 in the US. Cutting the SSD to 256GB and the RAM to 16GB gets you down to a more reasonable $1,999, while keeping the high-end CPU/GPU combo. About the least you can spend on a mainstream gaming laptop with an Nvida 980M card today is about $1,700, which can snag a slightly older 17-inch Asus G751.

Different configurations are available in the UK and Australia, topping out in the UK at £1,499 for the same CPU/GPU combo, but with only 16GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, while configurations in Australia start at $AU2,999.

Acer Predator 15

Price as reviewed $2,499
Display size/resolution 15.6- inch, 1,920 x 1,080 screen
PC CPU 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ
PC memory 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz
Graphics 4GB Nvidia GTX 980M
Storage 512GB SSD + 1TB 7,200rpm HDD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit)


Packing an Nvidia 980M card into a smaller 15-inch body has the potential for causing heat issues, and Acer does a number of things to make sure the system can take full advantage of its components without overheating. First, the included optical drive can be swapped out for a fan module -- I ended up leaving the fan in, as I can't recall the last time I used a laptop optical drive. Acer also includes a feature it calls DustDefender, which alternates airflow direction on the internal fans to keep dust from building up. Some built-in Acer software can monitor CPU and system temperature, and also manually crank the fans up to maximum speed, which can get loud.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The Acer Predator was a strong performer in both our application performance tests and gaming tests, as expected from this powerful combination of components. Among recent gaming laptops, it did especially well in games and 3D tests, in some cases behind only the Origin PC Eon17-SLX, which is an odd outlier of a system with desktop-level components inside.

Frankly, any of the systems we've seen with the current-gen Nvidia 970M or 980M mobile GPUs are more than powerful enough for newer games, from Fallout 4 to The Division, and not just at 1,920x1,080 resolution, but even up to 4K. One thing none of these laptops -- except for that desktop-like Eon17-SLX -- will do is work with the upcoming Oculus Rift and HTC Vive VR headsets, because mobile GPUs are not supported.

Battery life for the Predator 15 was surprisingly good for a gaming laptop, although there's plenty of room for large battery in that bulky chassis. It ran for 5:50 on our streaming video test, which is more than double the battery life of most other serious gaming laptops.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Conclusion

As gaming laptops typically share the same components and offer similar performance, picking one largely depends on your preference for screen size, design, and extra features, such as an optical drive, overclocking software or a fancy light-up keyboard.

There are a couple of reasons why the excellent Acer Predator 15 stands out from the crowd. It has excellent battery life; plenty of cooling options; and a design that, while still aggressively dorky, packs our favorite mobile GPU into a slightly smaller, more portable body than usual.


Multimedia Multitasking test 3.0

Origin Eon17-SLX 151Asus G752VT 182MSI GS60 6QE 185Acer Predator 15 192Asus G751J (G-Sync) 202Dell Inspiron 15-7559 290
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)


Geekbench 3 (Multi-Core)

Origin Eon17-SLX 18083Asus G752VT 13468Acer Predator 15 12999MSI GS60 6QE 12754
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance



Streaming video playback battery drain test

Dell Inspiron 15-7559 373Acer Predator 15 350Asus G751J (G-Sync) 164MSI GS60 6QE 156Origin Eon17-SLX 149Asus G752VT 145
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)


3DMark Fire Strike Ultra

Origin Eon17-SLX 3374Acer Predator 15 2271Asus G752VT 1729MSI GS60 6QE 1138
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance


Metro: Last Light gaming test

Origin Eon17-SLX 67Acer Predator 15 46Asus G751J (G-Sync) 30Asus G752VT 29MSI GS60 6QE 26Dell Inspiron 15-7559 21
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance (FPS)

System Configurations

Acer Predator 15 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ; 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 2133MHz; 4GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 980M; 512GB SSD + 1TB 7200rpm HDD
Asus G752VT Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2133MHz; 3GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 970M; 128GB SSD + 1TB 7200rpm HDD
MSI GS60 6QE Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2133MHz; 3GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 970M; 128GB SSD + 1TB 7200rpm HDD
Dell Inspiron 15-7559 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-6300HQ; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 4GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 960M; 1TB 5400rpm HDD
Asus G751J (G-Sync) Micorosoft Windows 8.1 (64-bit); 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-4710HQ; 24GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 4GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 980M; 256GB SSD + 1TB 7200rpm HDD
 Asus Zen AiO Pro Z240IC Micorsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-6700T; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2133MHz; 2GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 960M; 512GB SSD + 1TB 5400rpm HDD
Origin Eon17-SLX Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 4.5GHz Intel Core i7-6700K; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2133MHz; 8GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 980; 256GB SSD + 1TB HDD
acer-predator-15-01.jpg
8.1

Acer Predator 15

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 9Battery 8
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