Acer Predator Helios 700 review: You can't call it a gimmick if it works

Acer's sliding keyboard gaming laptop is large and in charge.

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At a Glance

Acer’s burly Predator Helios 700 doesn’t care what you think it looks like. There’s no attempt to hide girth with sculpted cuts or optical illusions—the  laptop equivalent of sucking in your gut for a picture. Nope, the Predator Helios 700 makes no apologies for styling seemingly profiled on either either a Mack truck or a cinderblock.

What it does is deliver exactly what you’d expect of Intel’s newest 9th gen 8-core, Core i9-9980HK CPU and a full-tilt Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080. And it has a special feature you might call a gimmick, except it actually works.

Predator Helios 700 specs and features

The Predator Helios 700 is a no-holds-barred gaming laptop, as you can see from this substantial list of specs:  

CPU: Intel 9th gen 8-core Core i9-9980HK

RAM: 32GB DDR4

GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080

Storage: 1TB PCIe NVMe SSD

Display: 17.3-inch IPS 144Hz

Networking: Killer E3000 2.5GbE, Killer Wi-Fi 6 AX 1650

Battery: 70 Watt-hour

Ports: HDMI, DisplayPort, three USB 3.1 Gen 2 USB-A, two USB 3.1 Gen 2 USB-C (Thunderbolt 3), analog 3.5mm mic-in, 3.5mm analog headset out, Kensington lock

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Besides generous ports on both sides, we like that you plug your power and external monitors into the back of the Predator Helios 700.

Upgrade options

Laptop upgrade options on the Predator Helios 700 are quite good. Remove the consumer-friendly Phillips-head screws on the bottom of the Predator Helios 700 and slide the door off, and you can access two open SO-DIMM slots, as well as the two M.2 slots, which are covered with a beefy copper heat sink.

If you’re wondering why the RAM slots are empty, it’s because there’s a total of four slots on the machine. We assume the other two are out of reach on the other side of the motherboard. That’s not a bad thing.  If you really did need more RAM (we assume Acer does the same for its 16GB configurations), you could increase it without having to throw out two modules, as you’d need to on a laptop with only two slots.

Although we didn’t strip out the battery in the picture below, there is actually a 2.5-inch drive bay shoehorned underneath it. Acer also thoughtfully includes the cable, screws, and frame to install a drive.

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The Predator Helios 70 is fairly upgrade-friendly with two open memory slots, two M.2 slots, and a 2.5-inch drive bay hidden under the battery.

Unfortunately, despite its 1950s comic-book-detective chin and its top-shelf parts, the only thing you’ll probably focus on is “the gimmick” of its sliding HyperDrift keyboard.

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The Predator Helios 700 looks like any other standard issue 10.5-pound gaming laptop styled on a block of wood when the keyboard is closed.

Yes, the HyperDrift keyboard slides forward, turning the keyboard deck into a fairly comfortable palm rest. If you’re a real hater of gimmicks, brace yourself: The sliding action is accompanied by sound effects seemingly lifted from the Transformers, and a message that tells you auto-overclocking has been engaged.

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If you want a little more comfort and a little more horsepower, you can slide the entire keyboard forward. Yes, it Transforms for you.

The thing is: It works. Yes, cynical hater of overwrought gaming laptop features with names pulled from rejected Netflix sci-fi movies, it actually works. We’ll get into just how much more of a performance boost you get later on, but it does indeed enhance performance most of the time.

Acer also claims moving the keyboard allows it to vent the hot components more directly. In fact, overclocking performance—which goes from normal when the keyboard is closed to “Boost” when open, has yet one more setting that is available only when the keyboard is slid open: “Extreme.”  So yes, you’ll be tempted to dismiss this as a gimmick, but if it works, you really can’t call it that, can you?

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Sliding out the keyboard triggers an auto-overclock, and a sound effect likely borrowed from Transformers. All of the LED effects are, of course, RGB too.

That’s not all. Besides the slide-out HyperDrift keyboard feature, the Predator Helios 700 lets you swap out the WASD keys for linear switches so you can tune the actuation point and pressure curves. The MagForce linear switches let you pick between linear, racing, or fps settings, and have up to 256 levels of pressure.

Linear switches aren’t new on the PC, but this is certainly the first we’ve seen them on a gaming laptop. In theory it should allow for the ability to feather a key in a game when flying or driving, instead of the typical binary on or off movement. In practice, we did feel slightly more control, but we think it’ll take more fiddling with them to yield better results. For what it’s worth: Not all of the games we tried recognized them as linear switches.

Acer includes a small hardcase to store the MagForce keys and a tool to swap them. The swap takes just a minute, and you can switch back if you choose.

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The included tool allows you to swap out the WASD keys on the Predator Helios 700.

One note of caution: If you switch the keys without using the Predator application to tell the laptop you’ve switched keys, they won’t work until you do. We should also mention that the keys, which sit on small springs, actually jut above the other keys by about 1mm. This does let you easily home on the WASD keys since they’re protruding a bit, but if you need the feeling of flush keys, this is going to bug you.

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The Predator Helios 700 includes four linear key switches that allow you to tune actuation and the curve. The blue key is the standard key, and the white key above is the linear key.

If you install the linear keys, you’ll have to fire up the pre-installed Predator app to let the computer know you have the linear switches installed. If you don’t, they won’t register, and you’ll think you broke them by accident.

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If you switch keys, you’ll need to tell the laptop which ones you have in place.

General performance

There has to be a payoff for all the Predator Helios 700 brings to the table. To find out, we first ran Maxon’s Cinebench R15 on the Predator Helios 700. Intel has railed against use of Cinebench on, say, a 13-inch, 2.5-pound laptop, because few would ever do 3D modelling on a small laptop. It is, however, something very likely to occur on a big laptop like this one.

The results from Cinebench R15 using all available cores and threads are certainly impressive. For context, the only laptop we’ve seen that’s faster is Alienware’s Area 51m R1, which features a desktop Core i9-9900K. The Predator Helios 700 easily outperforms all laptops using 8-core mobile chips as well as the sole AMD entrant, the Acer Predator Helios 500.

We also tested the Predator Helios 700 with the keyboard closed and open, which induces a pre-set overclock. The results don’t change much in this CPU-driven test.

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The Acer Predator Helios 700’s 8-core mobile Core i9 is beaten only by Alienware’s mighty Area 51m R1 with its 8-core desktop Core i9 CPU.

While we all love benchmarks that flex multi-core muscle, the truth is the vast majority of software is still single-threaded including most commonly used tasks in Office, Adobe Photoshop, and some browsing.

To gauge just how well the Acer Predator Helios 700 performs under a lighter load, we run Cinebench R15 set to use a single thread. While 3D modelling isn’t exactly a common use, it does tell us how the laptop will perform under a lighter load. It’s all good news here, as the Predator Helios 700 is basically a hair faster than the Alienware Area 51m R1.

If you look at the chart below, you also see the one feature of Core i9 CPUs that puts them ahead of the more pedestrian Core i7 chips: uniformly better single-threaded performance. The margin is slender. Still, a win is a win, and a “win” over a desktop Core i9-9900K is a big deal.

What’s really odd is the score the Acer hit with the keyboard closed and open. Yes, we actually saw slightly better performance with the keyboard closed than open.

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Single-threaded performance is a win for the Acer Predator Helios 700, but we will admit, it’s not like there’s a big difference here.

One issue with short-run benchmarks such as Cinebench R15 is they can be completed in less than a minute on a fast laptop. Now that modern laptops are so dependent on sprint-like boost performance, you may not get an idea of how it actually performs on long-running tasks. To gauge that, we use the free encoder HandBrake to convert a 30GB, 1080p file using the Android Tablet preset. It’s a hairy task and can take 45 minutes to encode on a quad-core laptop. On most 6-core laptops, you’re into the 30 minutes. On the Predator Helios 700, you can shave another 8 minutes off and finish the job in about 22 minutes.

The only laptop faster is again that Alienware Area 51m R1 with its desktop Core i9-9900K chip, down at 18 minutes and some change. Although it doesn’t take the category, the performance of the Predator Helios 700 is again impressive, and it appears capable of taming the Core i9-9980HK chip.

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The HandBrake performance of the Predator Helios 700 is impressive, and it appears capable of taming the Core i9-9980HK chip in the Alienware Area 51m R1.

Gaming Performance

Enough with the boring CPU talk. This is a gaming laptop, so gaming performance is Job 1. Our first test is the synthetic UL 3DMark Fire Strike test. It’s a DirectX 11 test and somewhat older, but still quite popular. As we want to reduce the impact of the CPU on the laptop’s graphics performance, we look only at the graphics subscore.

The results probably look familiar, with Alienware’s Area 51m R1 and its GeForce RTX 2080 on top. However, right on its heels is the Predator Helios 700. We finally see the impact of the slide-out keyboard, where performance increases by almost 6 percent.

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GeForce RTX 2080 laptops lead the way.

Fire Strike is fairly old at this point and doesn’t exactly stress the hardware, so we also ran 3DMark’s Time Spy, a DirectX12 test that also increases the graphics workload. For example, Fire Strike’s Graphics test 1 might use 1.5 million shaders, while Time Spy test 1 uses 29 million. It’s basically a far more punishing graphics test.

On its stock setting with the keyboard closed, the Predator Helios 700 still trails the Area 51m R1. But with the keyboard open and the auto overclock enabled, the Predator Helios 700 slightly edges the Alienware. Overall, with the keyboard open and in overclock mode, the GPU is running about 9 percent faster.

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3DMark Time Spy uses a magnitude more graphics than 3DMark Fire Strike.

Our last test uses 3DMark’s Port Royal to gauge each laptop’s ray tracing performance. Once again, the Predator Helios 700 comes out on top with its keyboard open and auto overclock engaged. Performance over its keyboard-closed position is about 7 percent.

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The keyboard-open position yields about a 7 percent higher score in 3DMark Port Royal on the big Acer.

As dependable as 3DMark has been over the years, we can’t run only synthetic tests, so we jog through a couple of other games, too.

The first is Rise of the Tomb Raider set to 1080p and Very High. Gaming typically mixes the CPU into the equation more, which we suspect is the reason why the Alienware Area 51m R1 runs away from the Acer.

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Despite similar graphics performance, the Alienware Area 51m R1 beats out the Predator Helios 700 in Rise of the Tomb Raider by a hefty margin. That makes us think the CPU is responsible.

Not all games agree, though. In Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, which we run at 1080p on Ultra, the Predator Helios 700 brackets the Area 51m R1: slower with the keyboard closed, but faster with the keyboard open. The upshot is you won’t feel deprived of gaming performance with either the Predator Helios 700 or the Area 51m R1.

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Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor sees the Acer bracket the Alienware’s performance.

Battery life

The last test we run is battery life. To be frank, while we think battery life is super-important on a 1.5-pound tablet or a 2.5-pound laptop, the heavier the laptop gets, the less we care. Why? All mobile devices hit a ceiling, because laptop batteries cannot exceed 99 watt-hours without requiring special permission to be brought on a plane. That basically means any gaming laptop is going to suffer the second you hammer the CPU and the GPU. We’re talking an hour or two of life, at the most.

Our video rundown test is probably as light a load as you’ll get these days.  Still, we saw just over two hours of run time from the Predator Helios 700. We suspect that if you fired up the GPU and pushed it hard, you’d be lucky to get an hour.

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A standard 330-watt power brick powers the Predator Helios 700.

Why? The first reason is likely the use of Nvidia G-Sync technology. While laptops without G-Sync can switch off the GPU when not being used, G-Sync requires continuous operation.

The other big reason is the 70Whr battery capacity, a bit small for this gas hog. By comparison, the Alienware Area 51m R1 has a roughly 90-watt-hour brick and actually gives up about another 40 minutes of video playback time. Yes, a laptop with a desktop CPU actually runs longer than a laptop with a mobile CPU, when both have G-Sync.

At a Glance
  • Pros

    • No apologies in your grille styling
    • First laptop we've seen to unleash the full power of the Core i9-9980HK
    • Sliding keyboard actually boosts performance

    Cons

    • No apology for being in your grill styling
    • Fan noise gets a a little silly sometimes
    • Linear keys sit slightly above other keys
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