Acer Predator 21 X review: You can't afford this gaming laptop, but you'll wish you could

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MSRP: $8,999.00

The Good The 21-inch curved display feels very immersive in games. There are a ton of fun features and extras, including a reversible touch/number pad, eye tracking cameras and swappable WASD keys. The mechanical keyboard is excellent for gaming.

The Bad Even these high-end components don't fully justify the price. The display has a lower resolution than we'd like, battery life is poor and moving the touchpad away from its traditional spot is never a good idea.

The Bottom Line The limited edition Acer Predator 21 X is equal parts Insanely powerful and crazy cool -- you just need a lottery win or random inheritance to afford it.

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If you hate the idea of this massive 21-inch curved screen gaming laptop, you're not going to buy it.

If you love the idea of this massive 21-inch curved screen gaming laptop, you're still not going to buy it -- because it costs as much as a used car.

But just in case you are one of the very, very small handful of people committed to laying down some major cash for the limited edition Acer Predator 21 X, then nothing I say in this review is going to change your mind one way or the other.


If you are willing to spend a lot of money for a gaming laptop (and we mean A LOT), then get this.

Sarah Tew/CNET

And when I say "major cash," I don't mean the $2,000 or $3,000 you might be expecting for a high-end gaming laptop. The single configuration offered by Acer is a heart-attack-inducing $8,999 in the US (although Acer's website lists it as "coming soon"). Acer is offering the 21 X in Europe as well for even more: €9,999, which translates to £8,372, or about $10,700. It's not listed on Acer's Australian website, but the price translates to about AU$14,220.

So, yeah, this is probably out of your price range unless you think it's worth a kidney on the black market. Still, you're probably intensely curious, as I was, about just how Acer managed to pack so much high-end hardware into a single laptop, and how even dual video cards and a unique 21-inch curved display could justify the headline-grabbing price. It's a bit like getting a detailed walkthrough of a concept car you'll never own -- it's cool to see it put through its paces, and some of the ideas inside may eventually trickle down to more realistically priced products.

Acer Predator 21 X

Price as reviewed $8,999
Display size/resolution 21-inch, 2,560x1,080 display
PC CPU 2.9GHz Intel Core i7-7820HK (OC)
PC Memory 64GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz
Graphics (2) 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 (OC)
Storage (2) 512GB SSD RAID 0 + 1TB HDD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.1
Operating system Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit)

Throwing the laptop world a curve ball

The curved screen is the single-biggest talking point about the 21 X, as this is the first laptop to offer one. It's even a deeper curve than on big-screen curved TVs. The curve is measured in "R," which reflects the radius if it were to be extended into a full circle. The lower the R, the deeper the curve. TVs have a 4,000R or so curve, while the 21 X is 2,000R -- which means it's curvier.

But considering the small size of the screen, even when compared to curved big-screen TVs the effect is modest. I can see making the case for improved immersion, but it's neither a deal-maker or a deal-killer. There's a small amount of wraparound effect, especially in games as well as when you're sitting close to the screen, but while surfing the web or viewing video, I didn't find the curve distracting.


The curved screen is a big focus of the laptop.

Sarah Tew/CNET

While the diagonal measurement pegs this as a 21-inch display, that's because it's extra wide. The screen is as tall as the display on a standard 17-inch gaming laptop, just extended out to the sides. For a different take on a similar concept, check out the three-screen gaming laptop prototype from Razer, called Project Valerie. There, it's a single 17-inch display that adds two additional pull-out displays for a wider view.

However, the screen itself is a bit of a letdown in some ways. On the plus side, it's very matte, with basically zero screen glare (the curve helps with that), but it's also smaller than you might expect given the dimensions, and has just a modest 1,080 pixels of vertical resolution. It's also dimmer than I'd like, with less of the colorful pop seen in the best gaming laptop displays.

That bigly bod

What's a laptop with a 21-inch display and dual graphics cards like? It's huge, as one might expect. But also not as overpowering as you might fear. It's more like having a squat all-in-one gaming desktop, and only slightly more mobile. It's 18.5 pounds (or 26 pounds if you include the two big power bricks) and your purchase price includes a huge rolling suitcase, complete with foam cutouts for the system and its accessories.


This expensive machine at least comes with an impressive case.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Interestingly, this isn't the first super-massive gaming laptop we've seen, not even recently. There's a real similarity to the MSI GT83VR, which we referred to as a "suitcase nuke" of a laptop, thanks to its retro-looking raised keyboard and imposing clamshell shape. Like the MSI, the Acer 21 X has plenty of room for ports, including four USB 3.0 ports, one USB-C, two DisplayPort outputs and one HDMI output.

The 21 X is not only wide, it's tall -- the mechanical keyboard rises up more than two inches from the desk (and with the lid closed, the entire system is about four inches thick in the back). That's why I love the add-on wrist support. It's a slightly padded plastic form that snaps right onto the front lip of the laptop via built-in magnets. Because the keyboard and keyboard tray are so high up off the desk, the wrist support makes for more comfortable typing, at least for me. If the angle you're working or playing at doesn't require extra support, just pop it off and set it aside.


The wrist support makes for a more comfortable typing experience.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Now, let's talk about that touchpad. Why do gaming laptops with ambitious, high-end designs feel the need to re-orient the familiar touchpad? We've seen it on the MSI GT83VR, we've seen it on the Razer Blade Pro and now we're seeing it on the Acer Predator 21 X. In all three cases, the touchpad moves from its familiar under-the-keyboard location to a spot on the right side of the chassis.

By doing this, you're messing with decades of muscle memory, and it makes using the pad much less intuitive than it should be. That said, two things keep this from being a bigger issue. The touchpad itself was surprisingly responsive, which is not always a given in a big gaming laptop. Even two-finger scrolling felt very accurate and natural. Also, for games you'll be using either an external mouse or a gamepad almost exclusively, so this may not be the most heavily used touchpad in laptop history.


In a break from tradition, the touchpad is placed to the right of the keyboard and flips over to reveal a number pad.

Sarah Tew/CNET

There's also an interesting hidden feature on the touchpad. It detaches, pulling up and out from its spot on the keyboard tray, and flips over to reveal a 10-key number pad. You can even hot-swap between sides while the system is running.

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