With graphics performance hitting a plateau, some gaming laptop designers are getting more radical. We just reviewed the bold Asus ROG Mothership, and now Acer has served up its unique Predator Triton 900 ($3,799.99). This high-end rig features a 17.3-inch touch screen mounted on two hinged arms, allowing the 4K (3,840-by-2,160-pixel) display to be moved forward, laid flat, or flipped backward. Sure, this is legitimately useful in only a handful of scenarios, but it’s executed with flair and undeniably cool. The notebook itself is slim, attractive, and not burdened by a second power brick as many top-of-the-line gaming laptops are. But it’s ultimately let down by the screen’s quality and tepid 60Hz refresh rate, as well as the price and battery life. The Triton works if you have the cash and love the concept, but our top picks among jumbo gaming laptops remain Alienware’s Area-51m and Acer’s Predator Helios 700.
A Gaming Acrobat
The Triton 900 is obviously not your average laptop, so there’s a lot to say about its design. Visually, it’s a wide but not overly thick black slab of metal that, when closed, doesn’t look too different from its peers.
A smallish Predator logo adorns the lid, trimmed in light blue that lights up when the system is on. The convertible pivot points on each side are the biggest giveaway that something is up, but we’ll get to those in a moment.
Lift the lid, and you’ll notice the keyboard is shifted to the front edge. This is for aesthetic and cooling, as well as functional, purposes. The space forward of the keyboard is occupied by cooling vents, as well as a tinted window through which you can see a system fan and the heat pipes. It’s a swank-looking accent that makes the Predator feel a bit more premium; the relocation of the keyboard takes a little getting used to, but you’ll adapt after a short time.
On the whole, I like the look of the Triton 900—it’s restrained but spiffy enough to show it’s an expensive machine. What Acer calls an Ezel Aero Hinge lets you free the screen from its frame for a pretty wide range of motion. You can pull the screen toward you and let it stand at an angle for viewing media; recline it to nearly flat; or flip it completely around to stand straight or lay flat. The up-front keyboard means that even if you pull the screen closer to you, about halfway up the chassis, the keys and touchpad are not blocked by the panel. The screen can go past that point, covering the keyboard, to the edge of the chassis if you want to lay it flat to watch a video.
Unlike the purpose of the Asus Mothership’s design, which remains unclear to me, I immediately understood the advantages of the Acer convertible. I don’t think it’s exactly necessary for most users, but the point of the idea is much easier to grasp. The Mothership’s keyboard can detach and its arrangement supposedly enhances cooling, but its overall size, dual power bricks, and finicky design make the concept fall apart.
The Triton keeps everything together, slimmer, and more versatile. For gaming, I’d probably keep the display upright, as you’d be hard-pressed to play seriously with it in any other orientation. But for uses outside of gaming, the Acer should be more appealing to professionals and creative types than the Mothership, thanks to its ability to adjust to various viewing angles, rotate backward for demonstrations, and lie flat in tablet mode. Since it’s obviously larger than most tablets, you should probably think of it more as a professional drawing tablet than as a rival to Microsoft’s Surface Pro line. The other angles are good for viewing videos, or showing someone else your screen without turning the whole laptop.
As mentioned, it also requires only one power brick, making it more travel-friendly than others at this horsepower, size, and price level. In fact, the Acer is pretty trim at 0.93 by 16.9 by 11.9 inches, if hardly light at 9.1 pounds (12.4 pounds with power brick). For comparison, the massive Mothership is 1.17 by 16.1 by 12.6 inches and weighs 14.5 pounds with both of its bricks. The Area-51m is 1.2 inches thick, and the Helios 700, while less powerful, is a portly 1.6 by 16.9 by 11.8 inches and 10.8 pounds thanks to its special keyboard.
The implementation of the convertible design is smart, which helps immensely. It’s easy to flip the screen, and equally simple to push it forward or backward. It seems that magnets at the bottom of the hinges hold the display in place, so that’s where you should apply pressure to swing it free. In fact, a removable sticker on the right of the display warns you to push the panel from behind its lower portion to pop it from the frame, and not pull or push from the top (where you might damage the screen by pushing hard enough to overcome the magnets mounted below).
This brings me to the screen itself, which unfortunately isn’t as impressive as its hinges. The 17.3-inch panel boasts two deluxe features in 4K resolution and Nvidia G-Sync, but the first—while great for media consumption and creation—is less of a good fit for gaming with this system’s graphics hardware. Playing at 1080p or 1440p will give you much better frame rates. As for G-Sync, it’s nice but more useful on high-refresh-rate displays; the Triton 900’s panel peaks at only 60Hz instead of 144Hz or 240Hz. (More on this in the testing section later.)
Most crucially, however, the picture quality simply isn’t very good. Despite its resolution, the screen doesn’t come off as especially sharp. Colors are over-saturated, yet the image as a whole is dull. I’ve reviewed many notebooks this year, and the best way I can describe it is that I feel like I’m looking at a laptop screen from several years ago. The bezels are also quite thick all around, which may be necessitated by the design but defies current fashion.
Extras, Ports, and Configurations
As for the rest of the build, the mechanical keyboard may be unusually far forward, but it feels good to type on. Despite a relatively thin frame and shallow key appearance, typing feel is satisfying; the physical feedback and audible click make you want to use the keys more, while customizable per-key backlighting adds pizzazz. The two-button touchpad, off to the right, is narrower than average but scrolls smoothly. A dedicated button in the top right corner turns the touchpad into an LED numeric keypad.
As for the ports, there are plenty on this big chassis, so I’ll start with the left flank. You’ll only find a few there, including a USB 3.1 Type-A port, audio jacks, and a USB 2.0 port hidden away on a swinging arm. Most of the connections are on the laptop’s right side, including a Thunderbolt 3 port, a USB 3.1 Type-C port, another USB 3.1 Type-A port, and an Ethernet jack. Video outputs—one HDMI and one DisplayPort—are around the back.
Before I get into the test results, a quick word on our configuration. There are only a few available on Acer’s website, and they’re pretty similar. Our test unit (model PT917-71-71C5) featured a six-core, 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-9750H processor, 32GB of RAM, an 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 GPU, and two 512GB solid-state drives for $3,799.99 (though when I checked some other sellers including Amazon and Newegg, they had it for $500 more). Another model at the Acer store offered 2TB of storage for $3,999.99, while a $4,799.99 config had a blistering eight-core Core i9-9980HK CPU.
Performance Testing: Plenty of Power
For benchmark comparisons, I gathered the most competitive gaming rigs I could find. At this power and price tier, that’s a fairly small group, but we at PCMag review enough niche machines that it was possible to put together the following pretty representative roster…
What you see is what you get—all big, powerful machines with high-end parts. There are no Max-Q GPUs in the field here, such is the size of these laptops, but there is a nice mix of processors. After the Triton 900’s and the Asus Mothership’s flexibility, the Predator Helios 700’s sliding keyboard is the next most interesting design feature. The Alienware Area-51m and MSI GT76 Titan DT, meanwhile, are traditional laptops that boast full-on desktop CPUs.
Productivity, Storage, and Media Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet jockeying, web browsing, and videoconferencing. The test generates a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better. PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the boot drive(s). This also yields a proprietary numeric score; again, higher numbers are better.
All these cutting-edge laptops are more than capable of handling everyday office tasks. The Triton’s score may not be the highest (the Alienware’s desktop chip takes that honor), but it assures you that opening scads of applications, documents, and browser tabs will be no trouble. The storage results are even more closely clustered, as all of these SSDs ensure speedy boot and load times.
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads while stressing the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video editing trial, another tough, threaded workout that’s highly CPU-dependent and scales well with cores and threads. In it, we put a stopwatch on test systems as they transcode a standard 12-minute clip of 4K video (the open source Blender demo movie Tears of Steel) to a 1080p MP4 file. It’s a timed test, and lower results are better.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time. As with Handbrake, lower times are better here.
While the Triton is undeniably very quick, it didn’t dominate our media tests. The desktop-class processors, of course, have an advantage. You shouldn’t find the Acer convertible exactly sluggish in creative apps, but it’s not intended to be a 4K video-editing or 3D-rendering workstation.
3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to midrange PCs while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario for a second opinion on each laptop’s graphical prowess.
The Triton’s GeForce RTX 2080 GPU is up to the task in these gaming simulations, posting strong numbers across the board. It’s outrun by contenders that cost more, but not by a big margin.
Real-World Gaming Tests
The synthetic tests above are helpful for measuring general 3D aptitude, but it’s hard to beat full retail video games for judging gaming performance. Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider are both modern, high-fidelity titles with built-in benchmarks that illustrate how a system handles real-world gameplay at various settings. We run them at 1080p resolution at the games’ medium and best image quality settings (Normal and Ultra for Far Cry 5 using DirectX 11, Medium and Very High for Rise of the Tomb Raider using DirectX 12).
The Triton 900 performed the best where it counts here. Its frame rates on both games are right up there with the other systems and easily surpass the 60fps mark. That said, this is where the lack of a high-refresh display is a major con for me. The Triton is pulling well over 100fps on these titles at 1080p, but its display imposes a 60Hz ceiling.
And what about higher resolutions? Switching to 1440p, a middle ground between full HD and 4K, garnered 99fps in Far Cry 5 and 106fps in Rise of the Tomb Raider. At 4K resolution, the Triton 900 averaged 52fps and 56fps in the two games, respectively, at top quality settings, and nobody wants to play at under 60fps or turn down the eye candy with a very expensive laptop like this one. That’s why you paid the big bucks.
Less-demanding games, to be sure, will exceed 60fps at 4K. Take Rainbow Six: Siege, which ran at 105fps (and a whopping 254fps at 1080p resolution). But those extra frames still won’t get you any competitive advantage, as the Triton’s 60Hz screen refresh is immutable. In short, Triton owners may wish to use 4K resolution for media consumption, while switching between 4K and 1440p for games depending on the title. It’s nice to have the option, but I still wish the actual display quality was better.
Battery Rundown Test
After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) where available and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop in airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the same Tears of Steel short we use in our Handbrake test—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system conks out.
It’s clear that battery life isn’t the Triton 900’s strong suit, which isn’t too surprising: Combine a lot of computing power, a relatively slim chassis, and a battery-hungry 4K display, and you end up at the bottom of the pack. This Acer isn’t the most portable system, so I’d hardly expect it to spend a lot of time in coffee shops or—heaven forbid!—on public transportation, but you shouldn’t expect to stray far from a wall outlet, even at home.
A Semi-Successful Experiment
The Predator Triton 900 largely fulfills its mission: It’s a big-screen gaming convertible with top-notch performance and a design that sets it apart. The flexible display may not be truly useful to many gamers, but it’s an intriguing option for other apps. The build quality and understated look are also pluses, with some premium touches like the nifty-looking cooling window and the comfortable mechanical keyboard.
A few shortcomings keep this from being a truly excellent PC, however. The screen quality is disappointing, even setting aside its unattractive thick bezels. The RTX 2080 GPU and G-Sync don’t quite go to waste, but you can’t capitalize on them without a higher refresh rate, and AAA titles at 4K resolution are still a stretch. Also, the battery life is flat-out poor, though that’s not unusual among behemoth gaming laptops like this one.
On the whole, I wouldn’t recommend the Triton to most shoppers, and certainly not over its Predator Helios 700 stablemate or the Alienware Area-51m. But curiosity seekers and a few creative professionals might find it an appealing choice.