We first reviewed the Acer Predator Helios 700 gaming laptop at its debut in 2019, and this latest model (starts at $2,399.99; $3,499.99 as tested) brings new components to the 17.3-inch beast. The Helios 700’s calling card remains the sliding “HyperDrift” keyboard, which extends down off the laptop’s deck toward the user to create an angled typing surface. Doing so also opens up additional fans previously hidden beneath the keyboard, boosting performance by unlocking CPU and GPU overclock modes. Our pricey test unit flaunts an Intel Core i9 processor, 32GB of RAM, 2TB of storage, and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super GPU that, when pushed with overclocks, can even beat RTX 3080 competitors.
That said, even the overclocked performance gain isn’t enough to outweigh this Predator’s bulk—a massive footprint, 10-pound weight, and two beefy power bricks—and extra-loud fans at boost, nor counter our quibbles with the keyboard design. It’s hard to recommend this costly rig over high-end gaming laptops like the Alienware m15 R4 that deliver more bang for the buck, or better innovative designs like the Asus Zephyrus ROG Duo 15.
The Bigger They Are…
The Helios 700 is a gigantic laptop, with the sliding keyboard and added cooling as the obvious culprits. Even its packaging is immense. The chassis is thick and heavy, measuring 1.64 by 16.9 by 11.8 inches (HWD) and weighing a crushing 10.6 pounds. For comparison, the Alienware m17 R3, another high-end 17-inch gaming notebook, comes in at “just” 0.88 by 15.7 by 11.6 inches and 6.5 pounds.
And yes, you did read that correctly—the Helios 700 comes with two chunky power adapters (each about 7.8 inches long and slightly thicker than the laptop itself), which more or less eliminate the already limited portability of this behemoth.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen dual power bricks (some older 17-inch gamers with twin GPUs had them), but it’s definitely uncommon now. Today’s super-powered single GPUs have made Nvidia’s SLI and AMD’s CrossFire dual-card setups virtually extinct.
All of this is to say that the Acer’s performance and fancy keyboard have to clear a very high bar to justify its size and price. The spoiler alert is that I think all but a few customers will find this design cumbersome and impractical, but there’s a lot to discuss. We’ll get to our performance tests a bit later, but let’s take a closer look at the keyboard first.
Prepare for HyperDrift
As mentioned, the Helios 700’s HyperDrift keyboard hasn’t changed much since we reviewed the original in 2019, but it’s still a unique attraction. The keyboard slides forward and down from the keyboard deck with a gentle pull, revealing cooling fans (and a window into the interior) at the top and producing an angled wrist rest at the bottom.
The exposed top panel is cool to look at, and literally cool for the internals. A window in the middle, lit with hexagonal LEDs, lets you peek under the hood. Fans on either side of the window suck in air for improved cooling, and when the fans are exposed, the system is capable of running in overclock mode.
Using the provided Predator Sense software, you can bump the CPU and GPU from the default mode to fast, boosted, or extreme overclock. We’ll show exactly how much this improves performance in a minute, but that’s the main draw of the stupendous system on paper: The additional cooling lets high-end components run even faster to squeeze out higher frame rates. It’s important to note that the fans get louder through the boost levels and are very loud, distractingly so, at maximum overclock.
In Core i9-equipped models, the Helios 700 also features a “Power Gem” on the processor. Acer describes this as a thermal pad made of a special composite material that improves conductivity, but the bottom line is it should essentially act as a heatsink and increase the CPU performance ceiling. Unfortunately it’s nearly impossible to measure the effect the Power Gem has on its own, but we note its presence because it’s another contributor to our system’s cost.
As for the angled keyboard rest, it’s a bit hit and miss. It sounds good in concept, and when I first placed my arms on the rest it felt comfortable, but I soon realized the keys felt too far away. There’s a sensation of stretching to reach the top of the keyboard, which undermines the comfort. You get used to it to a degree, and the ramp is almost necessary given the laptop’s thickness, but it isn’t ideal. Even when the keyboard is closed, the keys feel a little far from the wrist rest and touchpad.
The keys themselves are comfortable and bouncy, at least, which makes for a good typing experience. There’s also a full numeric keypad, and the keys have individually customizable lighting. The touchpad is roomy and solid, with discrete left and right click buttons beneath the inlaid touch surface.
The extending keyboard also requires a sizable open area, as it takes up a lot of depth on the Z axis in particular. If you have a short or shallow desk, or anything behind the laptop, you won’t be able to slide the keyboard out without it extending off the edge of the table. Even just for testing, I had to clear a big space on my test bench next to and behind the laptop, scooting it all the way to the back of the table, just so the keyboard wouldn’t hang off the front edge. That left no room for the power bricks behind the laptop, so I had to awkwardly put them to the side, adding even more to the system’s footprint.
Whether or not the extra desk space (forget about putting this in your lap) and noise are worthwhile depends on the performance gains, but I still find the solution cumbersome. The unwieldy power bricks and massive footprint are in service of a keyboard solution that doesn’t quite work very naturally, though it’s easy to appreciate as an innovation.
A Fast Display…That Could Be Faster
Before we get to the performance, let’s check out the screen and ports. The roomy 17.3-inch display combines full HD (1080p) resolution with a 144Hz refresh rate and Nvidia G-Sync support. Normally I think a 144Hz panel is great for a gaming laptop, but it’s low given the Helios 700’s extreme performance; this machine could have made use of a 240Hz or 300Hz display in competitive multiplayer titles. As it stands, this is a fitting display for a midrange rather than top-end gaming laptop.
The massive chassis ensures plenty of ports, starting with the two USB 3.1 Type-A ports, Ethernet jack, and audio connections on the left flank.
The right side holds another USB-A 3.1 port, two Thunderbolt 3/USB-C connections, and an HDMI video output.
On the rear, next to the two power jacks, there’s a DisplayPort connection.
Testing the Helios 700: A Screaming(ly Loud) Good Time
Our $3,499.99 model is equipped with an eight-core, 2.4GHz (5.3GHz turbo) Core i9-10980HK processor, 32GB of memory, an Nvidia RTX 2080 Super GPU, a 1TB solid-state drive, a 1TB hard drive, and the 144Hz display. The $2,399.99 base unit carries a Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, an RTX 2070 Super, a 1TB SSD, and the same screen.
As you know, the RTX 20 Series is no longer Nvidia’s top of the line since RTX 30 Series “Ampere” GPUs reached laptops early this year. This system launched before those GPUs arrived (and we’re just getting a chance to review it), and the RTX 2080 Super remains its top-end GPU choice, so it’s hardly a fault. But it is important context; you’re getting a previous-gen GPU in a premium laptop. You can see the gaming laptops I chose to compare with the Helios 700 in the table below.
The Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 and the MSI GE76 Raider bring GeForce RTX 3080 performance in 15- and 17-inch chassis, respectively, letting us see whether the Predator’s boosted RTX 2080 Super can hang with its successor. The Alienware m15 R4 shows us what the RTX 3070 can do in comparison, while the m17 R3 offers an RTX 2080 Super that doesn’t get the benefit of extreme cooling or a thick chassis. There’s also a mix of Core i7, Core i9, and AMD Ryzen 9 processors.
Note that I ran our benchmarks in both normal and extreme boost modes, but the results in the charts reflect the former. I noticed very little improvement in the CPU tests in extreme overclock mode (certainly nothing worth the super-loud fan noise), but some 3D graphics tests did show noticeable improvement, so I’ll discuss them where relevant. (See more about how we test laptops.)
Productivity, Storage, and Media Tests
Normally we begin with PCMark 10, which simulates different real-world productivity and content creation workflows, but the Helios 700 repeatedly failed to run the test. This isn’t indicative of any real shortcoming, but some software conflict that we were unable to resolve. Rest assured, its Core i9 processor can handle everyday home and office tasks. (The same chip in the m17 R3 scored way above the threshold for excellent productivity.) The Acer did complete PCMark 8’s storage subtest, in which the SSD’s load times were just as quick as its rivals’.
On to Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses 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, timing each operation and adding up the total (lower times are better). This test stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips may see a boost.
The hulking Acer proved a touch faster than the other Intel-based laptops, including the m17 R3 with the same processor. It still lagged well behind the Ryzen 9-based Asus, which impressed us as most recent AMD laptops have. The Core i9 chip also excels at media editing, but this is hardly the most practical or creator-focused editing workstation. For the record, trying the extreme overclock setting cut 2 seconds from the Handbrake time and added 90 points to Cinebench.
Synthetic Graphics Tests
UL’s 3DMark suite measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 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 lets high-end PCs and gaming rigs 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 company’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario than 3DMark, for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess.
The standings vary between 3DMark and Superposition, with the Helios 700 claiming the silver medal in the former but merely middling in the latter. That’s the reality of running various applications and games—performance will change from one to the next.
You’d hope a beefy system like this would have the grunt to push through those differences, and that’s where overclock mode comes in. Annoying fans aside, the extreme mode pushed the Acer’s Fire Strike score to 24,005 and Superposition 1080p High to 118fps. It gained much less traction in Sky Diver and Superposition 720p Low, suggesting the boost is much more useful at the high end. Even then, the RTX 3080-equipped Raider outpaced the boosted Predator in Superposition and stayed close in Fire Strike, but let’s see how this head-to-head played out with real games before drawing any conclusions.
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 video games at various settings. We run them under DirectX 11 and 12 respectively at 1080p resolution at the games’ medium and highest quality presets.
Great news for the Helios 700 here: It didn’t even need the overclock mode to come out on top. The Alienware m17 R3 eked out a small victory in Far Cry 5, but on average, the Predator provided the highest frame rates, even beating the two RTX 3080 systems. You can enjoy these superior results even without the extra fan noise of overclocking.
On that note, though, the extreme overlock pushed the Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider frame rates to 126fps and 157fps, respectively, at the top settings. This isn’t as much of a jump as we saw with the synthetic tests, and arguably not worth the noise, but it does show the Helios as more than ready for demanding single-player titles.
Since the Helios 700 was capable of such high frame rates with tough AAA titles, you won’t be surprised to learn it blew past its 144Hz refresh rate with competitive multiplayer games. I tested Rainbow Six: Siege at both the low and ultra presets (set to 100 percent render scaling) and recorded average frame rates of 348fps and 283fps without the extreme overclock. With it, the Predator reached the absurd heights of 360fps and 298fps.
That’s way over the display’s 144Hz refresh rate, so there are a lot of wasted frames here. I mentioned earlier that I would expect a 240Hz or 300Hz display given the likely power of this laptop, and we see why with these results. These esports titles benefit from sky-high frame rates since they look smoother, and it gives you a competitive edge to see the action refresh more frequently.
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% and volume at 100% until the system quits.
The Acer’s battery life is very poor, as is the m17 R3’s. Big gaming laptops usually come up short, but the MSI GE76 Raider shows a more acceptable runtime is possible. With all of the high-power cooling and components present, it’s not surprising the Helios 700 didn’t last long. That said, it’s not portable or nimble enough to stray far from two wall outlets, anyway.
Powerful, But Not Too Practical
The Predator Helios 700 is a complicated machine with a virtually unmatched power ceiling among gaming laptops, but its compromises are ultimately not worth the upside for most users. Its massive size alone may be a nonstarter for your desk or play space, at least when you combine its ponderous weight with its two chunky power bricks.
The system does deliver great performance, but not a big enough advantage to justify its prohibitive size, high cost, and major fan noise in light of competitors with GeForce RTX 30 Series GPUs. The keyboard innovation that enables the boosted thermals is cool, but even that is not overly practical in its execution.
If you’re in love with the concept and have money to burn, you’ll get the promised performance, but there are much better design innovation and values out there. We think the Alienware m15 R4 offers the most performance per dollar, the Asus Zephyrus Duo 15 is a more appealing (while similarly speedy) experimental design, and the Alienware m17 R3 is a more practical RTX 20 Series solution.