Here’s the thing about really expensive bits of tech. They are super-expensive (duh) but they're also super-exclusive too - unless you’re talking about hospital equipment.
There are a grand total of 300 Predator 21 X laptops in the entire world, and we've been playing with the 226th one. It's one of the most striking, unusual and imposing laptops we've ever clapped eyes on - but then it would need to be. It costs an astonishing $9000.
It might be a statement of exactly what Acer and its Predator high-end gaming wing is capable of - but can it possibly be worth that kind of cash?
Acer Predator 21 X design & Build
Anyone willing to spend as much on a gaming laptop as some people would spend on a car or mortgage deposit is going to be after something special. And that's exactly what the 21 X is.
Machined from metal in a mix of black, grey and blue hues, with silver metallic accents and intricate details, it wouldn't surprise us if Acer hired a team of neurosurgeons to create the laptop instead of its usual engineers. The four speaker grilles at either side give a break from the all-black design, with a Dolby Audio logo giving a hint that this means business.
No other laptop even comes close to looking as imposing and brilliant as this. And not just because it's bloomin' huge. Just about everything lights up, from the landing lights around the touchpad to the Predator logo on the curved screen's lid. There's even a translucent window about the keyboard showing the Predator's internals, showing off the fans keeping the beefy hardware cool.
The massive heat vents on the back aren't just necessary - they're menacing, with warning labels telling you to watch out for a 'Hot Surface. It all just adds to the “Crazy” factor that the Predator 21 X embodies oh-so-well.
Before you even lay eyes on the laptop, the Predator 21 X is already turning heads, thanks to the giant customised Pelican case it ships in. Seriously, it looks like something military personnel would use to transport a nuclear warhead.
Seven tough-as-nails clamps keep the thing watertight, crushproof and dustproof - trust me, I jumped on it (really hard). A Pelican Automatic Pressure Equalization Valve is even there to equalise air pressure inside the case at different altitudes.
It's also a wheely case, so you don't actually have to lug it around everywhere, and it has holes for padlocks in case you want some extra protection. Although any potential thieves would need to be pretty fit to run off with one of these.
Acer Predator 21 X Display & sound
Slapping a curved screen on a laptop was ambitious, but it helps the 21 X deliver a truly immersive gaming experience. Because the thing is so damn big, the display lines up perfectly with your eyes, drawing you into your games even more.
4K addicts might complain that the 2560x1080 screen resolution isn't high enough, but there are still plenty of pixels here to make your games look good. It's also a 120Hz panel with Nvidia G-Sync support to cut out screen tearing, so anything you play on it (but especially first person shooters) will be as smooth as a baby's bottom.
Everything looks well calibrated, with a neutral tone and natural colours, but you don't get much freedom to tinker around with different display modes. It's plenty bright enough, too, but it's not like you'll be using this outside in bright sunshine anyway.
The four Dolby-certified speakers are paired with two subwoofers that make quite the ruckus - albeit a good one. Explosions and gunshots are loud and have enough weight to make them believable, with stereo separation helping you figure out whether enemy footsteps are to the left or right.
The V12 engines of Project Cars were also delivered with enough grunt and detail, but it's clear these tweeters are tuned for gaming. Bass lacks subtle detail, and the different Dolby sound modes don't improve things much. If you want to listen to tunes, a pair of headphones are still the way to go.
Acer Predator 21 X Keyboard & touchpad
The 21 X is an absolute joy to type on, because it is one of very few laptops that come with an honest-to-goodness mechanical keyboard. Cherry MX Brown switches click and clack whenever you run your fingers over them in a way regular keyboards just can't hope to match.
Five hotkeys to the side of the keyboard can be assigned to just about whatever function you want, which can come in very handy for MMOs and MOBAs.
Highlighted WASD keycaps help you find your fingers when you're playing games, but there's also RGB backlighting for once the sun goes down. You can customise it through the Predator Sense software, and the effect is more on the subtle side than other gaming latops we've used.
The touchpad is a little on the small side, but it gets the job done. Most gamers will plug in a mouse straight away, anyway.
The whole keyboard sits mighty close to the front of the laptop, which doesn't leave much room for your wrists. Luckily Acer bundles a chunky wrist rest in the box, one with an alcantara surface that does a great job of supporting your mitts while you're typing.
Acer Predator 21 X Performance & battery life
The 21 X is powered by a big daddy Core i7-7820HK CPU and 64 gigs of RAM, which is probably enough power to run a space station. If that's not enough, Acer will even let you overclock it - although not by as much as the rival Asus GX800.
It makes a difference in benchmarks, but a negligible one. In the real world, it's still blazingly fast and shames just about any other laptop you could put next to it.
In games, the two Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080s and a display resolution that’s nowhere as demanding as 4K means you can play practically any game at its highest detail settings. Shadow of War, Project Cars, Wolfenstein, Arma 3 and a host of others we tested had frame rates north of 100fps, and that’s enough to plaster a permanent smile on your face.
With a total of five fans in the system, though, the Predator might as well serve as a hoverboard - it certainly sounds like one when everything spins up. But all that noise translates to a brilliantly cool system.
Temperatures never got to unmanageable levels, without relying on ludicrous water cooling like the Asus GX800. But hey, there’s no separate module you have to carry around.
There is a battery inside the 21 X, but seriously, don't try doing much with this machine away from the mains.
Tobii or not Tobii
One of the 21 X's more unique features is Tobii eye-tracking. The tech was first used to work out where clueless shoppers eyes were darting while they walked between supermarket shelves, but it has now trickled down to gaming. We're just not sold on it quite yet.
Only a few games actually support eye-based gestures the software, with Arma 3 letting us look around freely at our surroundings - but get into a fight and it becomes really tough to operate without looking down at your feet. Aiming becomes a bit of a nightmare.
It works much better as a learning tool for streamers and pro gamers, with Twitch integration letting viewers see exactly what the player is looking at in a given moment. If you're playing solo, though? It's maybe one to keep switched off.
Quirks aside, the 21 X has all the extras you'd expect from a top-end machine, including two Display Ports and an HDMI for hooking up to multiple displays. Audio in and out, a single USB-C and four USB3 ports complete the set.
Acer Predator 21 X Verdict
Are you the kind of person that could happily drop nine grand on a laptop? After all, a custom-built gaming PC would be cheaper, easier to upgrade, and potentially faster to boot.
But then that's not the point of the 21 X. Acer has thrown literally everything at this laptop, so while we wouldn't ever call it perfect, it's still guaranteed to turn heads. If you can actually bring yourself to drag it off your desk and out to a LAN party, anyway.
This isn't a machine anyone could walk into a branch of PC World and pick off a shelf - this is a unicorn, something special that few people will ever own. If you want something truly exclusive, this is the only laptop that fits the bill.