Acer Predator 21X: The Gizmodo Review

Acer Predator 21X: The Gizmodo Review

All photos: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo

There may exist inside of you a desire that burns white hot for the Acer Predator 21 X, but you will never buy this laptop. It is not for you, because if you want this laptop, you probably can’t afford it, and if you can afford it, you are probably old enough to not want to spend $US9,000 on a laptop that weighs as much as a small child, and can’t even pick up after itself.

But if you’re reading Gizmodo you’re still enough of a gadget fan to want to at least understand the $US9,000 laptop. To that end, I spent nine days working almost exclusively with Acer’s ode to excess.

Here is its story.

Day 1: The arrival

This is one of 300. “Why is there a dragon on it,” someone asks. “Why shouldn’t there be a dragon?”

Our office manager looked suspiciously from me to the box, which is the size of three ten-year-olds squeezed together.

“It’s a laptop,” I explained.

While the office manager was incredulous, others were delighted. “I want to sit in the box,” a colleague shouted while snapping photos.

Following the included instructions, I managed to open the gigantic cardboard box — as well as the nearly indestructible Pelican case contained within. Desiring nothing more than to game, I plopped the Predator 21 X on my knees as I would a MacBook. Fortunately, I used to bicycle a lot, so I’ve got strong thighs that don’t weep under the weight of 9kg of computer — easily four times the average weight of a laptop.

When I told inquisitive on-lookers the price, they looked at me aghast. Why does a $US9,000 machine exist? I didn’t have a good answer.

So I pulled the trackpad out of its slot and showed people that it can be flipped over and used as a number pad. Everyone agreed that was very neat.

The trick earned the computer its first “wow” unrelated to size or price.

After an hour and ten minutes of use, the computer died. It was after 5pm, and I did not want to find outlets for the computer’s two (two!) necessary power supplies, so I left it on a coworker’s desk and went home.

Day 2: Set up

Tobii eye trackers are always chunky, but on a computer this big it disappears into the hinge.

Tobii eye trackers are always chunky, but on a computer this big it disappears into the hinge.

When I got to the office, I finally found outlets for the the 21 X’s two 330 watt power supplies and began to use the laptop in earnest. It comes with Tobii Eyetracking, but it didn’t appear to be working. The Nvidia graphics drivers were out of date too.

Nvidia GeForce unhelpfully uninstalled its drivers, and the computer broke for twenty minutes. I uninstalled everything with the Nvidia name. Reinstalled. Inexplicably, the eye tracking started working on the third restart.

After three hours of futzing with drivers and settings, I got Rise of the Tomb Raider running. My coworkers crowded around the computer shouting their advice on how to walk in a straight line. Take a moment, remember when there was only one controller for the SNES at a slumber party. This moment was like that, but burlier.

Yet there was exactly one coworker who did not care. She was the one who told me to mute the computer earlier when she’d had enough of Windows notifications exploding from the computer’s four speakers and two subwoofers.

In case you didn’t think there was a subwoofer or two.

In case you didn’t think there was a subwoofer or two.

Now she was irritated because the work day was over and people were peering at a laptop. “Let’s go get beer” she bellowed.

The horde agreed. I saved my game and closed the laptop. The battery was still not fully charged.

Day 3: Making my way downtown, part 1

The carrying case.

The carrying case.

“You are taking this on the train.” It was not a suggestion. My boss and I agreed that you couldn’t review a laptop without testing its mobility — how easy it was to pack up and move around.

In the case of the Acer 21 X, it is a chore. Thanks to the gentle curve of the display, the lid does not sit flush, so the 9kg laptop cannot simply be shoved in a bag. The 53cm display might crack. So I packed it back up into the Pelican case and headed home an hour and a half early.

No one questioned this.

A woman offered to help me carry it down the second flight of stairs to the train, but I declined. “I need to do this for myself,” I said.

With a MacBook Air, for comparison.

With a MacBook Air, for comparison.

On the train, everyone eyed me like you always eye the arsehole with huge luggage on a rush hour train. It was only 4:45pm on a Thursday, but the train filled up the closer to Brooklyn we got. When I arrived at my stop, I had to muscle my way to the door and pray the wheels on the case didn’t roll over a foot. I am too delicate to be shouted at by cranky commuters.

Off the train, I made it up one flight of stairs, a line of annoyed passengers forming behind me. A man wordlessly held out a hand and helped me up the second flight of stairs.

New York is nicer than you’d expect it to be.

The MacBook Air looks like a toy perched on top of the 21 X.

The MacBook Air looks like a toy perched on top of the 21 X.

It is 0.4 miles from the train station to my home. The footpaths aren’t the smooth and clean ones of the Flatiron District. They’re broken with concrete jutting up out of the ground. On the day I brought the Predator home, it had just rained, and while the streets were dry, puddles of brown, stagnant awful lay in a pedestrian’s path at every intersection. I lifted and dodged and hurried home. The shipping weight of the box is 32kg, and between the Pelican case, power supplies, and 9kg laptop I was sure I was dragging all 32kg behind me.

The dog and cat were both alarmed by the monstrosity that took up residence in our living room. That night my roommate arrived home. She saw the computer on my lap and could not take her eyes off of it. “Is it like…for army?” she asked. Her voice was a whisper, barely heard over the hum of the machine.

No. It was not for army.

Day 4: I cannot feel my toes

Powering on.

Powering on.

The journey home had clearly affected me. Like the best friend in an 19th century novel, I was plagued by a cough and a sniffle and a weakness of indeterminate origin.

My only salve was the laptop. I found a place for its two plugs, settled it on my lap, and downloaded Mass Effect: Andromeda. The machine did not like the internet in my home and it took an hour, three attempts to fix the internet, and one restart to download the game. $US9,000 buys a lot of laptop, but it could not solve fundamental issues of laptops plagued by weird internet and outdated drivers.

The laptop rested on my thighs and destroyed all sensation below my knees.

“I cannot feel my toes,” I texted a friend at 3:30pm.

Playing the game on the 21 X’s keyboard and using its trackpad was a study in painful frustration. I couldn’t get comfortable. The Cherry Brown mechanical key switches were nice, and the trackpad gave me zero issues, but the spacing between the keyboard and trackpad felt all wrong, especially when the computer was sitting in my lap.

I finally gave up and found my Xbox One controller.

Gaming was instantly more pleasant.

Day 5: Never mind, everything hurts

I played Mass Effect for longer than I should admit in polite company, and at the very least the gaming performance is incredible. The dual Nvidia GTX 1080 video cards and the dual 512GB SSDs in a speedy RAID 0 configuration, plus the 64GB of RAM and the Kaby Lake i7 processor means this is handily the fastest laptop on the planet — by specs alone. It had zero issues giving me 120 frames per second on the 2560 x 1080 53cm display. And with two Nvidia GTX 1080 cards it would be virtually impossible for game play to lag

As long as the laptop was plugged in. After a very rare bathroom break I sat back down, balanced the computer across my lap and was startled to see the game had slowed to a crawl. I quit. Restarted. Played again. It was still slow. Then I realised the plugs had disconnected, and I was running on battery power. I plugged back in and balance was restored 

The power supplies. You could swing them over head by their cords and probably kill a person.

The power supplies. You could swing them over head by their cords and probably kill a person.

Until my controller started to randomly disconnect every few minutes. As if the computer knew I’d been playing Mass Effect for 12 hours and needed a break. I got annoyed and powered off for the night.

Day 6: It’s hot in here

The logo lights up when the computer is on. Neat.

The logo lights up when the computer is on. Neat.

It was over 80 degrees outside. The heat didn’t bother me, until I balanced the computer on my knee. Then I was reminded of summers in Texas, my god daughter sitting in my lap, all sharp bones and sweat and a furnace that would rival whatever burns in your basement.

The laptop is like a toddler I can put in a box at the end of the day.

The discomfort grew too bothersome for me to ignore. I tried placing it on my secretary desk, but it was too big — too heavy — to be supported.

That gap.

That gap.

I eventually gave up and went and played Mass Effect on my regular PC. I immediately missed the expanded field of vision the 21 X afforded me. The 21:9 ratio is truly exceptional for gameplay — even on a smaller 21:9 display like that of the 21 X. Moving to my 127cm 4K TV should have meant everything would feel bigger, but while the assets rendered by the game were larger, the 16:9 ratio felt positively claustrophobic.

Yet I continued to play, because I did not miss the heat, or the disconnects, or the crushing weight of capitalism on my thighs.

Day 7: A day of rest

I sat on the couch, and worked hard at my job, and I used the 21 X as a stand to hold my phone.

It was better this way.

Day 8: Making my way downtown, part 2

My dog has a fear of packed bags. I am always mindful of it, distracting him with treats whenever I have to pack a bag for a trip. As I dismantled the X-21’s power supply and carefully packed it back into the case, I looked up.

The dog thought I was going for good.

But I was not. Instead, I took a Lyft to the office and an elevator up the stairs. “Is that a laptop?” a co-worker laughed.

“Yes,” I said.

Day 9: Goodbye old friend

I shot photos in the afternoon. The laptop felt heavier than usual, its fans and cute little beeps were a cacophony overwhelming the quiet hum of the newsroom.

The 21 X is not a machine meant for silence. It is not a machine meant to be ignored. It catches eyes, and earns comments, and strains my arms when I need to move it.

When I left that night, abandoning it, I felt no regret. It had reaped the reward it was built to earn. I had written about this $US9,000 laptop, experienced it, so you — and your credit card — do not have to.

Even now, long after it has been put away, I still struggle to understand who it is for. It could be for people who spend $US100,000 on a car or a $US5,000 on a phone. Yet, this is luxury finished in the plastic of peons. It’s a bizarre creature that cannot aesthetically appeal to the one-per cent, even if they are the only ones who could afford it.

So perhaps it is for the gamers. The obsessive members of the PC gaming community who worry over benchmarks and specs like most of us worry over pricetags. Its sheer power and the glowing lights would be appealing to a gamer. But it cannot be upgraded. In four years, it will, no doubt, be obsolete, its power a rival only to smartphones or future all-in-one VR headsets. And thus, this would be a bad buy for a gamer.

I think it is only for you. The person who read this review and is still reaching for their wallet, eager to have a $US9,000 conversation piece taking up all the space on their desk. God damn is it something to talk about.