You have to wonder what the thinking was behind the Acer Predator 21X, “The world’s first curved-screen laptop.” After all, with its obscene 21-inch 21:9 display, full-width mechanical keyboard, and dual Nvidia GTX 1080 graphics cards, the 21X isn’t so much a laptop as it is an 8-kilogram eulogy to frivolousness. Very few need this much graphical grunt in a desktop, let alone a laptop sporting a display with a paltry 2560×1080 pixel resolution—even then, with the 21X costing a whopping $9000 (probably £9000), a similarly specced desktop would be a lot cheaper.
And yet, seeing the 21X in the flesh, it’s hard not to marvel at the sheer ridiculousness of it all, or admire the bravado behind a laptop likely concocted after one too many beers during a Friday afternoon marketing meeting. Even the box it comes in isn’t your typical cardboard affair. Instead, there’s a ginormous flight case, complete with custom foam cutouts for the two 300W power supplies, wrist rest, and X-shaped power supply holder. Suffice it to say, the 21X is unlikely to fit in the boot of a car, let alone an aircraft’s overhead locker.
Free the 21X from its foamy confinement—something not recommended for those with back problems—and its mammoth scale becomes apparent. At roughly 7cm (2.75in) at its thickest point, and roughly 60cm wide, the 21X is very much a desktop replacement, rather than a luggable laptop. That said, there is a battery inside that Acer claims is good for around 2-3 hours of use, depending on how heavily you tax the graphics cards; in reality, I doubt you’d get much more than an hour of use in a modern 3D game.
Even then, bear in mind that on battery power the 21X will down-clock its GPUs in order to conserve power. For the full GTX 1080 SLI experience, you need a plug socket—or rather, you need two plug sockets. The 21X uses two external 300W power bricks, which are about as long as an original Xbox 360 power supply, but half as thick. This precludes you from whipping out the 21X on a train for a spot of “light” gaming, due to the paltry single socket provided on Britain’s ramshackle train services. [I think those sockets have amperage limits, too -Ed.] That said, taking up the entirety of a shared train table probably isn’t going to go down well with your fellow commuters.
Still, once plugged in, there’s no denying the 21X can offer a great gaming experience. The full-size mechanical keyboard with programmable macro keys uses Cherry Brown switches, which offer up a nice balance between tactile feedback and smooth action, and I especially like the (surprisingly good) touchpad that can be flipped over (!) and used as a number pad instead. The whole lot has programmable RBG lighting too, of course, because everything does these days, but it’s easily disabled or at least tuned to a more subdued colour.
Surrounding the keyboard are four speakers along with two subwoofers that certainly pack a wallop, if not a refined sound signature.
The main event, though, is the engulfing 21-inch 21:9 ultra-wide curved display. It sports an IPS panel, along with support for G-Sync up to 120Hz, and a built-in Tobii eye-tracker for supported games (46 at the time of publishing). Black levels are good and colours vibrant without being overbearing, and G-Sync ensures that even at low frame rates (which are admittedly unlikely given the two GTX 1080s) or very high frame rates, there isn’t any screen tearing or input lag.
What is disappointing, however, is the display’s lowly 2560×1080 resolution. At the price Acer is charging—literally the price of a small car—I’d expect nothing less than a 3440×1440 pixel panel, particularly as even a single GTX 1080 will happily drive over 100FPS at the panel’s native resolution. Once you’ve loaded up a game, the low resolution is less noticeable, but the lack of screen space for desktop work in Windows will prove annoying for power users (i.e. anyone with £9000 to spend on a laptop).
You can even upgrade (parts of it) like a desktop PC
Naturally, as with any gaming laptop, you make tradeoffs in upgradability compared to a desktop. A large panel above the keyboard gives you access to the storage bays (five 2.5-inch bays and two M.2 slots), as well as four desktop-sized (DIMM) DDR4 RAM slots. The laptop comes with 32GB of RAM plugged in, but you can upgrade to 64GB if you’re feeling particularly pinched for memory. While the 21X uses a full desktop Intel Kaby Lake Core i7-7700K, Acer says it’s not replaceable.
I suspect Acer means the CPU is not easily replaceable, since a desktop chip is likely to be socketed, not soldered, but actually getting access to it could prove tricky. There are six aluminium cooling fans underneath the 21X, which are part of a large heat pipe-based cooling system. This keeps the 21X quiet, even under a gaming load (I tested it by playing Project Cars), but I imagine it would take a lot of elbow grease to remove.
As for inputs and outputs, there’s one HDMI port, two DisplayPorts, Thunderbolt 3, gigabit Ethernet, two USB 3.1 ports, an SD card slot, and a headphone and microphone jack.
While I’m most certainly not the target market for the 21X (my loathing of the l33t gaming look and penchant for PC building is well known), I’m not entirely sure who is. The Acer Predator 21X is too impractical to be lugged around as an actual laptop, too expensive to compete with desktops (or even other laptops: MSI’s GTX 1080 SLI GT83 laptop costs under $5000/£5000), and too garish to live in the homes of the grown ups that can afford it.
Then again, maybe the 21X isn’t a laptop to be owned, but to be admired. Acer calls it “aspirational” and while that’s a shudder-inducing PR term if there ever was one, there’s no denying the impressive engineering that’s gone into making a laptop with this much processing power work as well as it does. Maybe Acer will only ever build and sell a handful of the things, but at least you know it can.
This post originated on Ars Technica UK