Acer's new Concept D line for professional creatives makes sense for Acer
Turning gaming gear into creative gold. And white.
Lori GruninSenior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
ExpertisePhotography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
Sitting in the audience watching Acer proudly announce its new Concept D line of "premium high-end desktops, notebook PCs and monitors designed for professional and amateur creators," my heart beat a little faster. Xeons and Quadros and ECC memory, oh my!
Acer talked about needing "to reach out to emotions" with the hardware design. Quiet operation of less than 40 decibels. Two desktops, three laptops, a couple of monitors and a headset signified a commitment to a market where other
companies have only dipped their toes in the water -- really dipped: for instance, MSI dipped a slim laptop in white paint, because white seems to be the color du jour for appealing to creators.
Watch this: Acer Concept D line for creatives turns up the power
Then I went to look at all the new shiny toys and my heartbeat returned to normal.
Acer clearly put in a lot of thought for the new hardware in its attempt to convert the market of people doing 3D design, video editing, photo retouching and more who are buying gaming systems for their power -- Predator gaming is a huge, successful part of Acer's business -- despite all the accompanying baggage that comes with gaming gear, like flashy lighting schemes and overwhelming command centers.
The desktops truly do seem original. They bear no similarity to the company's other gaming desktops, which is a really good thing as there's probably no way to make those subtle.
The Concept D 900 still made my heart flutter a little. It's a full-on workstation, though calling it that seems to be the kiss of death these days. It has an industrial-looking black case, dual 20-core
Xeon Gold 6148 processors,
Quadro RTX 6000 graphics, support for up to 192GB of ECC memory and tons of room for expansion. Get ready to fork over at least 20 grand for it, though that's in the right ballpark given what few components we know are in it.
But it doesn't look like it got the quietness treatment. Since it's already humongous -- it's only 18 inches high, which gives it the illusion of smallness, but it's 25 inches deep (even
monster Z8 is only 21.5 inches) -- it seems like Acer could have found room for more passive and quiet cooling. Nor did Acer address hardware security, though it's quite possible this wasn't really the audience for it.
The Concept D 500, also (lowers voice) a workstation, goes more organic for its design, though I think with its faux wood top and white rounded front looks a bit like this cat litter box. But that top has a serviceable set of ports: three USB-A and one USB-C, plus headphone and mic jacks, an SD cards slot and a Qi wireless charger on top. This one's a bit downscale from the 900, with up to an i9-9900K and Quadro RTX 4000. It starts at $1,699, but who knows what configuration that's for. My guess is the top model will run about $3,300.
It does have the quieter cooling system, like the laptops. But too many gaming laptops using Nvidia's Max-Q architecture -- which makes a similar less-than-40dB promise -- have taught me that it's usually only attainable when the system's throttled back a lot. So you can usually have quiet or fast, but not both. We'll see if Acer has overcome that tradeoff.
On one hand, I think this is a promising adaptation. The articulating display works much better in a notebook for art and design than it would for gaming. Especially since Acer kitted it out with a 4K, Adobe RGB color-accurate, 17-inch touchscreen display that also incorporates Wacom's EMR technology (that's the one for pros) and a bundled, magnetically dockable stylus.
The result is kind of a portable
Microsoft Surface Studio
experience, albeit, ironically, with far better components like an unnamed ninth-gen Core i9 processor (possibly the rumored i9-9980HK) and Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 graphics. Because you can flip the screen 180 degrees, you can use it for client meetings. It weighs a hefty 9 pounds (4 kg), though, as you'd expect.
But the execution is a bit of a letdown, partly because of its gaming-laptop roots. (Also evident in the use of Killer Ethernet E3000. The E3000 supports 2.5Gbps Ethernet, but the system specs say it's gigabit Ethernet. Let's hope that's an oversight.)
The models I saw were engineering samples, so hopefully -- please, please -- there'll be some changes before launch. But the keyboard? Ugh. The mushiest keys I've ever felt. The right side touchpad? One of those awful touchpads that plague gaming laptops, and situated on the right side rather than below the keyboard. Those are things that don't matter much to a lot of gamers, but matter to the rest of us. It almost seemed as if corporate told the development team, "You can pick one thing to change from the Triton and that's it."
Recycle and reuse
Then we come the lower-end Concept D 7 and 5. Both have 15.6-inch 4K color-accurate displays with 100% Adobe RGB coverage.
The 7? Oh, look. It's the Triton 500 dipped in white, incorporating the mystery ninth-generation Core i7 (the rumored i7-9850H, perhaps?), and up to a GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q. It does have a different grille and lacks the Turbo button, which probably indicates you can't overclock the GPU like you can with the Triton, and of course doesn't have the special highlighted gaming keys.
Now, it makes a lot of sense for companies to use existing designs across the product lines; HP and
, which have big workstation lines, will laptop-deja-vu you to death. But their mobile workstations -- excuse me, laptops for creatives -- are based off their sleek mainstream models, not their
or Alienware notebooks. Gaming laptops tend to appeal only to people who like the gaming aesthetic.
Yes, it's got a better display than the Triton. But once again, it's as if the team could pick only one thing to change.
Given the 500's miserable battery life -- in our testing battery life was less than two-and-a-half hours using the discrete graphics -- and its tendency to run hot and loud (see Max-Q teachings above), putting a more power-sucking display on it doesn't bode well, either. Battery life doesn't matter so much when you're gaming, because you're usually connected to power. But everyone else needs longer life.
The Concept D 5? The Aspire 7 "casual gaming" laptop (the new, sleeker one) dipped in white, with a better screen. It uses the Intel i7-8705G or i5-8305G processors, which have AMD Radeon RX Vega M GL graphics. Aspire is Acer's premium laptop line. Those processors also leave your fans huffing and puffing, get hot and consume battery quickly, so I'm dubious about the 40dB noise claim here, as well.
And one of the kickers about that white: While the build is durable according to the executives I spoke to, the treatment to color it white actually makes it feel plasticky. It's also a flat, chalk white, lacking any warmth. All whites are not created equal. I'm really hoping that was a fluke of the engineering samples.
Finally, on to the monitors. The CM7321K is a 32-inch, 4K DisplayHDR 1000 display using mini-LED technology to provide over 1,100 local-dimming zones, covering 90% of Rec 2020 (but notably, with no claims about accuracy). I didn't get to see this one -- it's a new panel -- but it sounds good. And it better be for its $2,999 price tag.
The second monitor, the CP7271K, is 27-inch 4K with a 144Hz refresh rate and G-sync Ultimate -- what used to be called G-Sync HDR -- with that standard's fast refresh rates and 1,000-nit peak brightness. This one does claim color accuracy and 100% Adobe RGB coverage.
And I can probably vouch for that, because it seems to be identical to the
I've tested. Not even dipped in white. Just a more sedate stand -- matching faux wood! -- and without the lighting. No support for storing custom color profiles in hardware, which I think is even more important for HDR displays than SDR. And I'm really hoping Acer fine-tunes the built-in color profiles and on-screen menus, because they are not accuracy or normal-human friendly.
When can you get your hands on these in the US?
Concept D 900: May, starting at $19,999
Concept D 500: June, starting at $1,699
Concept D 9 : June, starting at $4,999
Concept D 7: April, starting at $2,299
Concept D 5: April, starting at $1,699
Concept D CM7321K: September, starting at $2,999
Concept D CP7271K: July, starting at $1,999
UK and Australian pricing and availability are yet to be announced.