These days, there is no shortage of thin and light gaming laptops, and just as many behemoths with screaming-fast graphics cards. But only a handful of systems can claim both. One member of this rarified group is the Acer Predator Triton 700 (starts at $1,999.99; $2,999.99 as tested), which has an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 graphics card capable of desktop-class graphics performance in a 15-inch chassis that weighs just 5.4 pounds and is less than an inch thick. It accomplishes this feat thanks to Nvidia’s Max-Q protocol, which throttles the GPU so that it doesn’t produce too much heat for such a small package. As impressive as that is, the Triton 700 is both bulkier and more expensive than the Editors’ Choice Asus ROG Zephyrus, which is also a Max-Q laptop with a GTX 1080.
Form Over Function?
The Predator Triton 700 is the third laptop we’ve tested with graphics that are powered by the new Max-Q techonology, a name that Nvidia borrowed from the aerospace industry term for the maximum amount of aerodynamic stress an aircraft can sustain. The technology comprises hardware and software modifications to the company’s higher-end graphics cards, which include a number of trade-offs. Most importantly, Max-Q caps the cards’ performance, limiting the power ceiling and output potential. The benefit is reduced cooling requirements, allowing them to fit into smaller laptops while maintaining as much of their native power as possible. In the case of the Predator Triton 700 and the ROG Zephyrus, the card is a GTX 1080, but that’s not the only GPU compatible with Max-Q; the MSI GS63VR 7RG Stealth Pro, for instance, has a less-powerful GTX 1070.
While Max-Q reduces the GPU’s cooling requirements, these laptops still have to manage a lot of heat, and it’s up to the laptop manufacturer to design a chassis that can provide adequate ventilation. MSI decided not to significantly change its previous designs, so the Stealth Pro shares a body with past GSVR laptops, except for the addition of a layer of felt on the bottom to shield your lap from the very hot metal. For the ROG Zephyrus, Asus came up with a unique bottom panel that lifts away from the frame about a quarter of an inch as you open the laptop’s lid. Air is sucked in through this bottom gap and perforations above the keyboard, cooling the components before being pushed out through the side vents.
The Predator Triton 700, meanwhile, has none of these unique design tweaks, but it does have two fans, five heat pipes, and a ton of vents to keep the CPU and GPU comfortable. In fact, there are four vents solely dedicated to pulling air into the laptop, including a very large one just above the keyboard. The exhaust air then leaves the Predator through four additional vents that run along the back and sides of the notebook.
Unfortunately, as with the MSI machine, this isn’t enough to keep the laptop cool. The underside of the Predator became extremely hot while gaming and running benchmark tests during our testing, even with the fans running at their maximum speed, leaving us longing for the felt protection of the Stealth Pro. This will make it impossible to play games with the PC on your lap, an admittedly unlikely scenario. You can program a custom speed for both the GPU and CPU fans, but you’ll need to set them to Max or Auto to get the most power from the GPU. In theory, Max-Q cards are also meant to have fans tweaked to the sweet spot of effectiveness and noise, but the Triton’s are quite loud at maximum.
All of this is taking place in a sleek, but a rather conventional-looking case that measures 0.74 by 15.47 by 10.47 inches (HWD). That’s a bit larger than both the ROG Zephyrus (0.66 by 14.9 by 10.3) and the Stealth Pro (0.69 by 14.9 by 9.8 inches), but certainly much more manageable than non-Max-Q GTX 1080 laptops like the Alienware 17 R4 (2017), a 17-inch behemoth that measures 1.18 by 16.7 by 13.1 and weighs 9.77 pounds, so Acer succeeded in terms of slimness.
The 15.6-inch display is full HD (1,920 by 1,080), and it comes with a matte finish, rather than a glossy one, which makes for less vivid colors but also less distracting glare from bright lights. The display uses in-plane switching for wider viewing angles, and it also supports Nvidia’s G-sync, which means that although its refresh rate can range as high as 120Hz, it’s synchronized to the GPU’s render rate to help reduce lag and tearing during gameplay. A 4K display would be a nice option to take advantage of the GTX 1080’s impressive graphics horsepower, but it’s understandable that Acer doesn’t offer one since it could push the Max-Q cooling system beyond acceptable limits. The ROG Zephyrus is also full HD-only, while MSI offers a 4K version of its Stealth Pro.
Where’s the Touchpad?
In addition to the oodles of vents, the Predator’s other defining external design feature is the odd placement of its keyboard and touchpad. The keyboard, with its accompanying number pad, is positioned at the very front of the laptop, which makes it easier to reach. That’s unconventional but by no means unprecedented, since the ROG Zephyrus features a similar design. The Predator’s board is mechanical and features pleasing tactile feedback and customizable per-key LED backlighting, but offers very short key travel that makes it uncomfortable for typing.
Unlike the Zephyrus, there’s no touchpad located to the right of the keyboard; in fact, the first time you open the Predator, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Acer simply skipped the touchpad entirely. They didn’t, of course: The narrow Gorilla Glass window at the top of the laptop, near the large vent, lets you see into the case to admire the fans and doubles as a touchpad. You can’t click it (taps only, please), and it attracts fingerprints like crazy, but you’ll probably be using an external mouse for gaming anyway, so it will likely see little use. You can also feel the high heat levels through the glass and some parts of the keyboard, but it’s just below feeling too uncomfortable.
Speakers vs. Fans
Next to the keyboard are two upward-facing speakers that deliver crisp, rich audio even though they aren’t loud enough to fill a room. You’ll want to connect a headset for serious gaming, though, since the fans running at maximum speed are loud enough to overpower the speakers.
The Predator’s connectivity options are adequate, if relatively sparse for a 15-inch gaming laptop, likely limited by the numerous air intakes and outlets. Along the right edge is a USB 3.0 port, a USB-C jack that supports Thunderbolt 3, and an Ethernet connector. You attach the gigantic power brick to a port on the back of the laptop, next to the DisplayPort and HDMI connectors. Finally, the left edge offers separate audio input and output jacks, two more USB 3.0 ports, and a nifty recessed USB 2.0 port that’s designed to conceal the receiver for a wireless keyboard and mouse. While you’ll likely want to connect via Ethernet for demanding gaming needs like streaming to Twitch or downloading new titles from Steam, the laptop also features 802.11ac Wi-Fi with 2×2 MU-MIMO support and Bluetooth 4.1.
Our review unit comes with a respectable 32GB of memory (the system’s maximum), but a slightly disappointing 512GB of storage spread across two 256GB SSDs. You’ll want more storage if you have a large library of games that you play frequently. Fortunately, both the memory and hard drives are user-accessible, although you’ll have to remove 13 screws on the back panel to replace them. Acer offers a two-year warranty for the Predator Triton 700.
Solid Speed, Short Battery Life
For all of the promise that the Max-Q design offers, the Predator Triton is not the fastest GTX 1080-powered laptop we’ve tested recently, at least when it comes to gaming performance. That honor belongs to the Alienware 17 R4, which achieved a score of 9,328 on the Fire Strike Extreme test, a benchmark that truly taxes the graphics subsystem. The Predator Triton 700 scored 7,581 on that test, which is respectable, but about in the middle of the pack of comparable systems. Still, all of these scores are high enough that you’ll experience flawlessly smooth gameplay. On the Heaven and Valley gaming benchmarks, the Predator displayed an average of more than 100 frames per second (fps), even with the quality settings maxed out. The only comparable system to dip below an average of 100fps was the Stealth Pro, which hovered around 90fps on these Ultra-quality Heaven and Valley tests.
We perform these tests at full HD, which is the maximum resolution that the Predator’s screen supports. It’s worth noting that if you connect it to an external monitor with a higher resolution, such as 4K, you’ll likely experience a lower frame rate. You can mitigate this somewhat by activating the Predator’s unique and easy-to-use GPU overclocking feature, a novelty on a Max-Q laptop. To do so, you open the Predator software utility and switch the GPU overclocking mode to Turbo, which increases the clock speed to 1.44GHz. Your two other choices are Normal (1.29GHz) and Faster (1.37GHz). We re-ran the tests in Turbo mode, which resulted in nominally faster frame rates on the Ultra quality Heaven (114fps) and Valley (107fps) tests. You won’t be able to tell the difference on the Predator’s screen, but you might on a 4K external monitor.
If you’re spending $3,000 on a laptop, you should expect it to perform well on everyday tasks like web browsing and video streaming in addition to gaming. The Predator does not disappoint, thanks to its Intel Core i7-7700HQ processor running at 2.8GHz. It posted a class-leading score of 3,608 on the PCMark 8 benchmark, which measures such everyday tasks. It performed slightly worse on our specialized multimedia editing tests than other comparable gaming laptops, especially the Alienware 17 R4 and the New Razer Blade Pro. The Predator took a relatively pokey 3 minutes and 26 seconds to complete our array of image-editing tasks in Photoshop, coming in dead last, but its time to encode a video in Handbrake (1:01) is within a few seconds of all of its competitors.
At 2 hours and 34 minutes, battery life is woefully short, even by gaming laptop standards. The Stealth Pro, for instance, lasted almost twice as long (4 hours and 29 minutes).
Cool, but Not the Coolest Max-Q Laptop
As a thin and light gaming laptop, the Acer Predator Triton 700 is exceptional because of its GTX 1080 GPU, a graphics card that can fit inside only because of the Max-Q design and associated cooling hardware. But it’s not the least expensive Max-Q GTX 1080 laptop, nor is it the most powerful GTX 1080 laptop you can buy. As a result, it’s hard to work out exactly who will want to buy this laptop. For the legions of gamers who believe that 1080p is the sweet spot for PC gaming and aren’t interested in 4K, nearly any GTX 1080 laptop will produce more than enough graphics horsepower, so the determining factor is likely to be price, which isn’t the Predator’s strong suit. Meanwhile, if you care about achieving maximum performance regardless of price and heft, you’ll want to steer clear of the Max-Q thermal limits and buy a larger laptop like Alienware 17 R4.