Acer Predator 21X review

You might know Acer for cheap Windows laptops and Android tablets but the firm has gone and made arguably the most insane and powerful gaming laptops ever. Here's our full review of the Acer Predator 21X.

Acer Predator 21X: Price

It took a while to arrive after being announced back in January at CES 2017, but the Acer 21X is now available.

The big question is whether you can afford it because it's the most expensive laptop, or PC, we've ever had in for review - and by some margin.

In the UK this beast of a gaming laptop costs a jaw dropping £8,999 and no, we didn't put the decimal in the wrong place. If you're in the US, the Acer 21X price is $8,999 which seems like a bit of a harsh price for those in Blighty.

It clear just from the price that Acer is not aiming the 21X at the masses but the point is made further by the fact that only 300 units have been made. This feels like a device beyond what we would categorise as a luxury purchase.

If you are looking for a large desktop replacement gaming laptop but the Acer 21X is out of your budget, check out the Alienware 17 R4 which starts at just over £1,500 - comparatively cheap - and our best gaming laptops chart.

Acer 21X suitcase

Acer Predator 21X: Design and build

Of course, the first thing you'll notice about the Acer Predator 21X is the size. Pictures hardly do it justice and to say this laptop is huge feels like an understatement.

It's so big - 83mm thick at the back - that it comes with its own Pelican suitcase on wheels to help you transport it, not that you're likely to be taking it with you on holiday or anything. 

At a bonkers 8.5kg in weight, the 21X is heaver than many desktop PC rigs out there. You can put it on your lap but you won't want it there for long, like when a child has become a little too heavy to be picked up.

Acer 21X design

The term laptop hardly seems appropriate for the 21X. Let's face it, this is a desktop replacement and an awesome one at that. It truly is a sight to behold once you've got it setup on a desk - get it just right, then call all your mates telling them you've got something amazing they need to see.

Open it up and you'll be presented with a huge 21in curved screen which almost feels intimidating at first. You won't be able to complain about a lack of real estate here.

As with other Predator products, the 21X has quite an angular and somewhat angry design, in a good way that is. Nothing is straight and clean, rather everything is angled such as the gigantic air vents, like someone from the Lamborghini design team got involved.

The laptop is made from plastic so doesn't particularly feel like it costs nearly £10k, but that said it is well-made. We'd just perhaps to expect some more exotic materials at this price such as carbon fibre and some metal.

Acer 21X window and panel

The highlight of the design is the triangular window, through which you can see a glowing red fan cooling the two GTX 1080 graphics cards. Next to this is a huge panel with a dragon on it and the number out of 300 for the unit - this can be replaced easily by removing one screw if you want a different graphic.

Acer Predator 21X review: Keyboard and trackpad

This large section near the hinge means the keyboard is right next to the front edge of the laptop. As with some other laptops like this (the Asus ROG Zephyrus to name one), it's not particularly comfortable but in the box is a wrist support with a suede finish that snaps into place with magnets.

Acer 21X keyboard

Acer has opted for a mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX Brown switches and includes a blue set of keys you can swap over if you like (W, A, S, D and space). We found the keyboard took some time to get used to and while it's not the best keyboard we've seen, it's decent and includes five macro buttons to the side.

We found the keyboard better for gaming than we did typing, which in the case, is the better way round.

As you'd expect the keyboard is backlit and there's plenty of other lighting, too, which you can customise. It's all pretty standard for a lairy gaming laptop but the lights behind the keys aren't the best.

The trackpad sits to the right of the keyboard and has two physical buttons. It works perfectly well but is nothing special as trackpads go. It does have neat trick up its sleeve though, as it flips over to turn into a numpad whenever you like.

Thanks to metal contacts and magnets is super quick and easy to change. Most users will end up using it with the numpad side and plugging in a dedicated mouse, we expect.

Acer 21X trackpad trick

Acer Predator 21X: Specs and Performance

While the design is a sight to behold, it's really the specs and high-end performance that you're probably going to splash out on the 21X for primarily. There's a lot going on here so lets dive in.

Screen

As mentioned already, the Acer 21X unsurprisingly has a 21in screen. That's rediculously big for a laptop with larger models typically maxxing out at 17in. It's also curved and while we're not a big fan of this type of display tech on TVs, it's quite nice in this form.

As you can see it's extremely wide and uses an aspect ratio of 21:9. That's great for doing things like watching films or spreadsheets but you'll actually want to play a lot of games in 16:9 which will mean you're using a 17in display.

For example, games like Overwatch can be set to use the entire screen in the settings but look horribly stretched out. At full size the resolution is 2560x1080 or WFHD.

Acer 21X screen

The IPS screen has a nice matt finish and includes features like a 120Hz refresh rate and Nvidia G-Sync for tear-free gaming.

We found it achieves 100 percent of sRGB and 97 percent Adobe RBG which is impressive. We measured contrast at a decent 930:1 but an average Delta E of 0.83 isn't anything to get excited about.

Probably the biggest disappointed regarding the display is the brightness which at full blast measures 350cd/m. That's not bad for a lot of indoor use cases but in a brightly lit room doesn't look so great.

Underneath the screen you may have noticed the black bar. This is an eye-tracker from Tobii Technology. If you haven't used anything like this before, it will be fun.

You can do some useful things like make the screen automatically dim when you look away or even move where you're looking in some games instead of using the mouse. Other games will simply provide feedback on where you're looking to help you improve - for example, you might not be glancing at the map enough.

This is cool but by no means a key selling point for us. It's a little bit on the gimmicky side of things and despite the tech being around for a few years, there are still only a handful of titles that support it.

Acer 21X Tobii eye tracker

Processor, memory, storage

Most laptops come in different models so you get a choice of the core specs, to some extent anyway. The Acer 21X, however, comes in just one form so it's take it or leave it - hardly surprising given there are only 300.

The 21X spec sheet is a little bit mind-blowing and so it should be for £9k, starting off with an Intel Core-i7. It's a 7th-generation Kaby Lake processor and the quad-core i7-7820HK has a clock speed of 2.9GHz which goes up to 3.9GHz in turbo mode.

That's a full-blown desktop processor and is backed up by a whopping 64GB of DDR4 SDRAM and there are two 1TB hard drive, one being traditional and the other an SSD.

We tested the system for raw speed and it, shock horror, provided us with some amazing benchmark results. In Geekbench 4, the Acer 21X scored 15,184 and in PCMark 8 Home accelerated managed 4,510.

For comparison the Alienware 17 R4 with the same processor scored 13,148 and 3,812 respectively.

Graphics cards and benchmarks

You're probably already impressed by the specs on offer here but the 21X has not one, but two Nvidia GTX 1080 graphics cards. Those are full-on desktop GPUs and you would normally only get one in a decent PC rig.

With the two 1080s hooked up together with SLI (Nvidia's tech for linking multiple cards), you've got a whopping 16GB of graphics memory at your disposal here. Acer says "Each GPU is overclocked and eager for a challenge."

Acer 21X vents

Anything in the world of gaming right now should be possible, from Ultra settings to VR headsets like the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.

We'll get to the benchmark results shortly but you might be wondering how all of the above is going to stay cool. Well the large, sorry huge, chassis means there's space for three of Acer's AeroBlade fans.

There are multiple vents on the back and sides that are hard to miss. While it does stay relatively quiet during intense gaming, the 21X does kick out some serious heat. If you have it in a small room in the winter, you can turn the radiator off for sure.

To test the Acer 21X's capabilities we first ran the benchmark built into Grand Theft Auto 5.

It runs at an average of 157fps at 1080p with the ‘high’ graphics preset and post-processing. It actually ran even better at full resolution with ultra post-processing effects and ‘very high’ graphics preset with a result of 161fps.

Acer 21X graphics benchmarks

Moving onto Ghost Recon: Wildlands the 21X yielded 96fps on 'high' settings and 1080p, only dropping to 75fps when we switched to full resolution and 'very high' graphics settings.

The only way we could get the machine to drop below the 60fps mark was setting the game to 'ultra' settings where it got 49fps.

See also: GTX 1080 vs GTX 1070 comparison.

Acer 21X ports and speakers

Acer Predator 21X: Connectivity and Audio

There's no shortage of connectivity when it comes to the 21X. Although it doesn't have an optical drive despite the size of the thing - it's simply not a feature you'll find on many laptops nowadays but a shame if you're wanting to watch DVDs or Blu-Rays.

What you do get is an almost endless amount of ports consisting of: HDMI, DisplayPort, four USB 3.0 ports, a USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 port, Ethernet, headphone jack, microphone jack and an SD card reader.

On the wireless front you get Bluetooth and Killer Wireless-AC 1535 which includes 11ac.

The last thing to mention about the 21X before we get to battery life it audio. The large chassis means Acer has been able to install four speakers and two subwoofers. 

We mentioned the screen meant the 21X was good for watching films but this is enhanced by the awesome Dolby Audio system which is better than any laptop we've tested. It provides an expansive, rich and loud experience.

Acer 21X power supplies

Acer Predator 21X: Battery life

You might think the 21X is so big and heavy because it's got a huge battery but that's not the case. In fact, you'll need to power this behemoth with two power supplies.

One of the reasons this device shouldn't really be called a laptop is that you can't really use it without a mains power source. Unplug those power supplies and you're immediately on a pretty short count to the 21X conking out.

In our usual battery test where we loop a video at a screen brightness of 120cd/m, the Acer 21X lasted an abysmal one hour a 55 minutes - not even enough to play our film though once.

This would normally be a huge problem but it's clear that the 21X isn't design to be used on-the-go. 

Acer Predator 21X: Specs

  • 2x Nvidia GTX 1080 graphics cards with SLI
  • 7th-gen Intel Core-i7-7820HK processor
  • 21in curved display (2560x1080)
  • 64GB RAM
  • 1TB hard drive
  • 1TB SSD
  • Mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX switches and 5 macro keys
  • Tobii eye-tracking technology
  • 4x USB 3.0
  • 1x USB-C/Thunderbolt 3
  • HDMI
  • DisplayPort
  • SD card reader
  • headphone jack
  • Microphone jack
  • 8.5kg
  • Suitcase included
  • 2x Nvidia GTX 1080 graphics cards with SLI
  • 7th-gen Intel Core-i7-7820HK processor
  • 21in curved display (2560x1080)
  • 64GB RAM
  • 1TB hard drive
  • 1TB SSD
  • Mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX switches and 5 macro keys
  • Tobii eye-tracking technology
  • 4x USB 3.0
  • 1x USB-C/Thunderbolt 3
  • HDMI
  • DisplayPort
  • SD card reader
  • headphone jack
  • Microphone jack
  • 8.5kg
  • Suitcase included

OUR VERDICT

We'd normally write a verdict explaining whether you should buy the product we've reviewed but that hardly seems appropriate here. The 21X is clearly not a product for the masses and is essentially a concept you can buy.

The value of this laptop is very low but that's probably not an issue if you've got the money to afford one. Acer has successfully made the most insane gaming device we've ever seen that, despite some flaws, we'd love to own. It's a great way of showing off what it can do and to point the majority of gamers to its more accessible Predator devices.