If there’s one company that I can single out for reinventing their brand image successfully, it would have to be Acer. Not only has the company returned to doing what it’s really good at (affordable computing), they’re also making some serious inroads to the gaming market, pushing forward their Predator brand again alongside the Nitro laptop series. Its taken them less than two years to turn things around so drastically, and there doesn’t seem to be any slowing down this train. Acer appeared at IFA 2015 in Berlin this year to talk up their new additions to the Predator family, as well as the rest of their lineup. Hit the jump for the product highlights that caught my eye.
Updates to the Nitro family
Addressing the audience with a very friendly, and slightly awkward approach, was Acer’s CEO Jason Chen. I joined in to the live stream a bit late, but was in time to see some of the more interesting updates that gamers might take interest in. Chen wasted no time in talking about Acer’s answer to notebooks from other vendors like MSI’s GE60 or the ASUS FX550. The Aspire V Nitro series is in the same sort of price range and it gets a lot of cosmetic and hardware upgrades thanks to Intel’s Skylake mobile family. The new V Nitro series will ship with Skylake processors and DDR4-SODIMM memory, along with graphics courtesy of NVIDIA’s Geforce GTX 960M with 4GB of GDDR5 memory. I’m still not sure if Intel or NVIDIA have managed to update the Optimus switching technology to support Skylake (they never did it for Broadwell), so it will be interesting to see what happens here.
Connectivity-wise, there’ll be at least one USB 3.1 Type C connector on-board wlong with 802.11ac Wi-Fi support with multi-user multi-in-multi-out (MU-MIMO) support to improve throughput. The V 17 Nitro Black Edition variant will additionally boast a Thunderbolt 3 connector, which might be a benefit to content creators. Storage gets a big boost through the inclusion of M.2 NVME drive support, which is way faster and a lot less latency-bound compared to SATA 3 hardware.
If you’re keen on emptying your wallet even more, the Black Edition V 17 Nitro also can be fitted with an optional 4K IPS display that offers 100% of Adobe RGB coverage. The Black Edition ships with a red LED-backlit keyboard and some neat LED highlights above the keys that will probably do something cool, but Chen didn’t talk about that at all. Perhaps the man is a tad excitable in front of an audience.
The Aspire V 17 Nitro hits the distribution channels beginning this September and will eventually retail with a suggested price of $1099 (approx. R14,700 today) as a starting point. The cheaper V15 Nitro will launch at the same time starting at $999 (approx. R13,400 today).
The world’s most innovative fan, possibly?
The most technically interesting thing during the show was the AeroBlade cooler, Acer’s answer to improving the ability of laptops to keep hardware cool under normal operating conditions. Their patent design is for a new fan that is made entirely of metal, with fifty blades that measure just 0.1mm thick (protip: don’t bend these!). Some of the close-up pics of the fan also seem to show that the fan’s center is also metal. With claimed improvements to airflow and thermal performance, how is Acer actually getting this thing to turn? I think we’ll discover later that it might be a variation on the kinetic cooler design by companies like Sandia.
Acer also talked about their anti-dust feature that appeared in the first-generation Aspire V Nitro family, which is really just allowing the fans to spin in the opposite direction to push out any dust inside the chassis, which will begin featuring on almost all of their designs that will use the AeroBlade. This trick is joined by something called CoolBoost, which is a configurable software-driven fan profile that you can activate for specific applications to keep fan speeds at a constant level that you can set when you’re about to do something really strenuous. Acer claims another 9% increase in thermal performance from this feature, but it’s probably going to require trading in low noise levels for better cooling.
Continuing on with the talk about temperatures, Chen also announced FrostCore, which is an optional add-on for Predator owners, but one that doesn’t work with their older Predator notebook designs. It is a replacement for your DVD drive and places a third AeroBlade fan in the system to draw out trapped heat that can’t escape through any of the other vents. The add-on will ship in the box with the new Predator 15 or 17, which is quite neat.
What does it all add up to? Somewhere on the order of a 15º Celsius drop in operating temperatures over the industry average, according to Acer’s statistics here. That’s definitely not a small claim, and one that Acer will have to stand up to intense scrutiny for. The solution to making notebooks cooler has always been to use more or faster fans. If Acer’s approach with the AeroBlade mixed in works, then they’ve got some serious advantages over the competition.
Updates and newcomers to the Predator family
Chen ran through a raft of updates to the Acer Predator family, which expands this year to include one new gaming monitor, updated Predator 15 and 17 gaming notebooks, a phone and tablet, another gaming desktop, and a freaking projector. The desktops are the G6 and the G3, the former which is already on sale in the US, Canada, the UK and Europe. The G3 is a very slightly smaller chassis, but is more standardised for upgrades to be done down the line. Acer has no plans to sell the G3 chassis on its own, but given the enthusiast-friendly appeal the desktop range has now, perhaps that’s not a bad idea. Both machines are powered by Intel Skylake processors with DDR4 memory and NVIDIA GPUs.
If you’re up for a laugh, the G6 has a turbo button on the front of the case, but the difference here is that it actually does something useful. With a button press, the system is overclocked to pre-set values plugged in by Acer’s hardware testing team.
The Predator 8 gaming tablet, announced several months ago, is finally nearing launch and will begin shipping in the UK and Europe towards the end of September. Its a very unique design, featuring haptic feedback motors and four front-firing speakers for better audio when you’re not gaming with headphones plugged in. The Predator 8 features a 8-inch 1920 x 1200 IPS display, the Intel Atom X7-8700 chipset and graphics, Android 5.1 Lollipop with a future upgrade to 6.0 Marshmallow, 2GB of DDR3-L system memory, 32 or 64GB of eMMC storage and 802.11n MIMO connectivity. Acer will sell several peripherals on launch for the Predator 8 including covers, a stylus, and a gaming headset. It will retail in the US for $299 (approx. R4000 today).
Acer’s updates to the predator line are also quite interesting. Both the Predator 15 and 17 get access to USB 3.0 Type C connectors and Thunderbolt 3, while the Predator 15 also gets a 4K IPS display as an option. Neither of the notebooks ship with G-Sync compatible displays, but I’m betting that by the time they’re ready for launch they’ll have this feature added anyway. An unannounced Geforce graphics card will be added into the mix as well, which Acer will reveal at a later date. The Predator 15 and 17 will feature all of Acer’s new air cooling technologies.
Not one for resting on their laurels after revealing the holy grail of gaming monitors with the Acer XB270H/U (27-inch, IPS, 144hz, G-Sync), Acer also announced the Predator X35. This is a 21:9 aspect ratio monitor, so it is ultra-wide. The resolution doesn’t pair so well to the display’s size, however. At 35-inches, pixels will be noticeable on the curved 2560 x 1080 IPS display. Acer announced that while the Z35 normally runs at 144Hz refresh rates with a 1ms response time, there is the option of overclocking the display to 200Hz. I don’t think that’s going to be a good trade off for most people though. Overclocking a panel to those speeds usually means that there’s some colour accuracy that’s lost in the process, and the lower resolution won’t help the display compensate for that at all with a higher pixel density.
Also on board is HDMI 2.0 and Displayport 1.2 ports, two 9W speakers, and a USB 3.0 hub with four ports available. The Z35’s stand allows for height and tilt adjustment, but not into portrait mode – you’ll need a VESA-compliant 100×100 monitor mount with rotate adjustment to do that. Available starting December 2015 in Europe and the US, the Z35 will retail for an eye-watering $1120 (approx. R15,000).
Acer also announced the Predator Projector. Now, this is a really mind-boggling idea – this is a laser projector. With just 50cm of space between it and a blank wall, Acer claims you can perfectly project, in an upwards direction, a 120-inch picture that is clearer and more visible than any modern projector available on the market today. Chen wouldn’t talk about the price of what seems to be a unicorn disguised as a projector, so its safe to day this will be extremely unaffordable. There will be “more gaming features” announced for the Predator Projector, which tell me that there might be some interesting VRR technology coming in here.
Finally, Acer announced a rather interesting mobile handset, the Predator 6. It boasts most of the same features as the Predator 8, but it has quite a lot of differences. The display is a 6-inch 1920 x 1200 IPS unit and the phone is powered by the Mediatek Helio X20 chipset, which is a ten-core processor with Adreno graphics. Yes, ten cores. There’s also 4GB of DDR3-L memory on board, an unspecified amount of storage space, a 21MP rear-facing camera, and haptic feedback with four front-firing speakers. There’s literally no other phone on the market like this, and Acer wants to bring it out this year. Pricing is unknown, but it will probably fall somewhere in the $299 to $349 price range.