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

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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.

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8.1 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 9
  • Battery 8

"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.

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.

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.

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.

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