The inarguable highlight of Acer’s new Predator Triton 900 gaming laptop is its gorgeous 17.3-inch 4K IPS LCD display that floats above the chassis. Okay, it’s not exactly floating. The sturdy arms attached to the screen’s sides play a central role in the effect, giving it a huge range of movement, more so than almost any other laptop made for gaming or not. It’s like if the articulating screen from the Microsoft Surface Studio all-in-one desktop came to a laptop, along with a similarly high price.
The entry-level configuration that I’m reviewing costs $3,799, and despite the similarities it has with Microsoft’s artist-friendly desktop, Acer’s screen doesn’t support active styluses, like Surface products or many other laptops do. I don’t think that most gamers will care about this omission, but it’s nonsense that a laptop this expensive with a design that mirrors a drawing surface doesn’t actually work as one.
As for what the screen can do, you can move back and forth without altering the viewing angle. And if you need to rotate it, the hinge allows for a 180-degree flip. Is this mostly a gimmick? Yes. How essential is a moveable screen during gaming? Not very, at least for me, though it comes in handy if you’re dealing with errant glare. (It’s going to happen with a display this glossy.) The main reason that I don’t find myself adjusting the screen during gameplay is that it’s so darn sharp that even the smallest details pop no matter how far away I have it situated.
A lot of my enjoyment of the moveable display came when I wasn’t gaming. Its 17.3-inch screen is a huge canvas where having a multiwindow arrangement running all day long feels pretty comfortable. I find that a clear picture angled parallel to my eyes helps me concentrate better, and the Triton 900 is always at the ready to accommodate in that regard, whether I’m sitting or standing up at work. That’s not something that a standard clamshell laptop can provide, at least without frequently adjusting my chair, desk, or physically moving myself around.
Surprisingly, the premium on its moveable screen isn’t egregious. It’ll cost you roughly the same (plus or minus a few hundred dollars, depending on the brand) as any other gaming laptop with a six-core 9th Gen Intel Core i7 processor, Nvidia RTX 2080 graphics card, 32GB of DDR4 RAM, and a 4K IPS LCD display. If you were already planning on spending the big bucks on a hulking gaming laptop that’s not very portable (instead of saving thousands on a DIY desktop build with similar specs), this currently seems to be one of the more interesting choices.
The Triton 900 physically dominates my shared desk at home. It’s almost 17-inches wide, plus an extra half an inch on each side for the screen’s hinges. It weighs nine pounds, which makes carrying it around a literal pain. It’s tough to find a bag that can accommodate a 17-inch laptop these days. Even if you do find one, it doesn’t change that this laptop just isn’t any fun to haul around, especially since it can’t last for long without its 330W power adapter, piling on another two pounds.
The bottom chassis that the screen is tethered to is much like what you’d find on other gaming laptops. Its machined aluminum is angularly styled at nearly every corner, which will certainly elicit some sort of reaction out of bystanders. It’s wide enough to fit two top-firing speakers, an 82-key (80 percent) backlit low-profile mechanical keyboard, and a trackpad side to side, though not without a few compromises.
Its speakers are powerful enough to make my glass table vibrate, but they don’t sound great. They’re fine in a pinch, like for video conference call, but they lack the punch that would make me want to use them instead of a set of headphones. The mechanical keys have a satisfying click to them, and they’re more enjoyable to use than ones found on a MacBook, though the key travel distance is still shallow. The trackpad is located to the right of the keyboard (to the benefit of right-handed people only), and using it is actually a good experience, thanks to its Windows Precision trackpad drivers.
I have a few quibbles, however. The keyboard is near the front of the chassis, leaving nowhere to rest your palms and wrists while you type. This is more of a constraint than a misguided design decision since Acer had to make room for powerful hardware and enough fans to keep it all cool. If you don’t use a wrist rest already, you’ll probably need to buy one. But if you plan to game on your lap, the keyboard will be even more uncomfortable to use.
The question mark key and right Shift key on the right side are squished together in such a way that errors are almost guaranteed while typing quickly. The trackpad is responsive to touch and multifinger gestures, though its tall orientation feels cramped. It’s definitely not suited for fast-paced games. If you decide not to use the trackpad, it can be turned into a number pad by tapping its corner twice. These virtual numkeys aren’t tactile and sometimes don’t respond to quick taps, so it won’t be a good replacement for an external number pad, though it can work in a pinch.
The keyboard also includes macro keys, user-programmable shortcuts, above the function keys. A key labeled “P” (for Predator, presumably) switches between up to three macro groups, giving you nine configurable keys that you can assign a function to. You can assign a button to do things like launch an installed app, increase the fan speed, disable the Windows key, and more. All of this is really useful if you find yourself wanting to tweak lots of settings on the fly, something that gamers usually do.
This is all configurable in Acer’s PredatorSense suite, a utility where you can also do things like tweak the backlight pattern of the keyboard and the light that shines on the glass-covered fan near it, overclock the machine’s graphics card, and monitor its running temperature.
There are vents all around the Triton 900, a few for taking in air and some for blowing it out. A system this powerful gets hot, up to 70 degrees Celsius (158 degrees Fahrenheit) while running Battlefield V at 4K resolution with ray tracing and Nvidia’s DLSS (deep learning supersampling) feature switched on. With the fans roaring loudly, I was a little frightened to put it on my lap, but it was surprisingly tolerable (though much too warm for the summer months). The laptop blows a majority of the hot air out of the back, a place with which my fingers and legs don’t really come into contact. There’s an air intake on the top of the chassis next to the Gorilla Glass-covered heatsink and fan that takes up the rear half of the computer. Acer’s decision to push the keyboard so close to the front ensures that the CPU and GPU can stay cool, and it works at the expense of an ergonomic keyboard and mouse setup.
You can usually count on a healthy amount of ports on a gaming laptop, and the Triton 900 isn’t a letdown. There are two USB 3.1 (Type-A) ports, headphone and microphone jacks, a Thunderbolt 3 port, and, somewhat bafflingly, a fold-out USB 2.0 port to the left of the keyboard. Acer calls it an “Xbox controller port,” so the idea is that you’ll plug in an Xbox wireless adapter, fold it shut, then forget about it. Though, I found that the port had enough clearance once folded in to fit a small flash drive or a USB receiver for my Logitech mouse. The last few remaining ports include Ethernet, HDMI, and DisplayPort.
This laptop is no slouch when it comes to performance. Outside of gaming, it showed no signs of slowing down under what I’d consider to be a moderate load: 20 Google Chrome tabs open, along with Affinity Photo for editing photos, and a few other apps. You’d hope for as much from a $3,799 laptop, right?
Battery life is another story, though. This is a big weak point for gaming laptops, in general, but this one’s lifespan under that same load came in at about an hour, which is disturbingly short. It has a 72Wh battery inside, which is less than smaller, thinner devices, like the 15-inch MacBook Pro. Turning on Apex Legends shortened the runtime to around 45 minutes. This computer burns through its battery quickly.
Another common issue for high-end gaming laptops built with 1440p or 4K displays is that they usually can’t run every game smoothly at native resolution. For example, the Triton 900 runs Battlefield V and Apex Legends at sub-30 frames per second when set to 4K resolution, with all of the graphical settings switched to maximum. Overclocking (easily switched on via Acer’s preinstalled software suite) improve things quite a bit, though I still wasn’t getting a super smooth 60 frames per second in either game.
There were plenty of games that I tested, like Astroneer and Forza Horizon 4, that run beautifully at native 4K resolution. However, Cyberpunk 2077, and other graphically intensive games will arrive as we near the verge of a new console generation. This machine will be ready for them, but you can expect some of the latest games to be too punishing for its overclocking ability to keep up.
The fact that the 4K screen supports G-Sync might be a selling point for some. For background, G-Sync is Nvidia’s technology that precisely syncs up a screen’s variable refresh rate to what the graphics card is outputting. G-Sync, compared to V-Sync used in a traditional display, minimizes screen tearing and other graphical hitches without increasing input lag. So, ideally, you get better performance out of your hardware without costing you precious milliseconds, which is the kind of precision that competitive gamers want. Unfortunately, this screen is limited to a 60Hz refresh rate, so the fastest frame rates you’ll see are capped at 60 frames per second. It looks great, though you can better see this tech in action on high refresh rate monitors that allow 144 frames per second (or more) to be displayed.
Talking about a device’s limitations is important, especially when it costs nearly $4,000. Gaming laptops strive to pack in the most performance hardware, so you’ve got to hand it to manufacturers when they figure it out, especially when they also implement a fun, moveable screen. But the compromises here, which are mostly inherent in all gaming laptops, lay on thick.
Acer’s Predator Triton 900 is powerful enough for a gamer to enjoy, but its 60Hz refresh rate display is a disappointment. This amount of money should get you a screen with a faster refresh rate, and as a gamer, I’d look elsewhere if that’s important to you. And if you’re an artist who’s intrigued by the Surface Studio-inspired display, its lack of active stylus support is a huge oversight on Acer’s part.
What good is a laptop that’s so big that you can’t reasonably tote it around without some serious effort? What good is a 4K display if the machine can’t run many popular games at that resolution? It’s not great.
I applaud Acer for attempting to broaden the appeal of its gaming laptop by appealing to artists or really anyone who has loads of cash and wants a laptop with an interesting design. But, in doing so, the Predator Triton 900 is left halfway between meeting what die-hard gamers and artists want in a machine. It’s capable of a lot, but the caveats, small as they seem, are deal-breakers.
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