It seems every single PC manufacturer is looking at gaming as its big growth area, as there isn't much else that can really push today's hardware to its limits and convince people to upgrade. Major platform refreshes from Intel and Nvidia are still some time away, so there's also a lot of emphasis on design and lifestyle rather than just the hardware itself. Acer has been pushing its Predator line as a standalone brand for some time now, and we've spent time with quite a few of its laptops so far. Now, we're going to check out the outrageously extravagant Predator Orion 9000 gaming desktop, which claims to make no compromises at all when it comes to power.
Acer is hoping to target gamers who need more than what a laptop can deliver, and who don't want to go through the process of building a desktop PC for themselves. This ready-made solution is meant to make a statement with its looks and its power. We're going to see how well the company understands gamers and gaming, and whether the Predator Orion 9000 has what it takes to be the ultimate no-expense-spared machine.
Not all gamers want to be garish and show off, but Acer has clearly targeted those who do. The Predator Orion 9000 is absurdly oversized. It dwarfs any normal desktop PC, standing 64.3cm tall, 29.9cm wide and 70cm deep. This tower does look commanding, and it will grab a lot of attention. However if you prefer a minimalist look, you'll grimace at the laundry list of gamer-industrial clichés that have been incorporated - sharp angles, RGB accent lights, huge visible fans, carbon fibre, and oversized vents. One thing that you might notice is that the Acer name is nowhere to be found - there are only Predator logos.
The body bulges towards the bottom, and a lot of the bulk comes from the moulding on the front, back, top and bottom, which is mainly there for aesthetic reasons. You can see through the front mesh, and there's nothing but empty space between the chassis and the plastic exterior moulding. The inner frame and the two side panels are made of metal, and the left one has a huge window to show off the interior.
You might get some use out of the retractable headset hook on the front panel. There's also a luggage-style wheel at the back, and you can use the two handles on the top to tip the case and roll it around. This is a thoughtful touch because the Predator Orion 9000 is extremely heavy. Since this unit will most likely be placed on the floor, the USB and audio ports are on the top - but that also means that they're fully exposed to dust. There's a pop-out flap covering the DVD-RW drive, but rather than leave it hidden, Acer decided that a prominent arrow sticker was needed right in the centre of the front panel to show people where to push down.
You can control the RGB LEDs on the front panel, the upper lip of the left side panel, and the motherboard - but not the white LED fans or blue Predator logo on the front. Acer's software is nowhere near as versatile as the tools shipped by Asus, Gigabyte, MSI, Corsair, and others - for example, you can choose your colours and one of only three patterns, but you can't control brightness. The fan LEDs cannot be turned off at all.
As for the inside of the Predator Orion 9000's chassis, it's pretty cavernous. Everything is user-accessible, but you'll need to undo a few screws and lift the side panels off. While most high-end cases have black interiors, this one is bare metal. You can immediately see that the motherboard is larger than the standard ATX size. There's a shroud for the power supply, and all cables have been routed and tied down very neatly. Acer has used a modular power supply and the unused cables were thankfully included with our review unit, which means that upgrade potential is not restricted.
The 240mm radiator for the all-in-one liquid CPU cooler is screwed in to the top, so hot air is pushed out upwards. The 3.5-inch hard drive is mounted on the back of the motherboard tray, and there's space here for one more, plus four tool-free clamps for 2.5-inch drives. Wi-Fi antennas have been designed into the upper moulding.
In total, there are five 120mm fans - two intakes on the front, one exhaust at the rear, and the two radiator fans on the top that will suck out hot air. Acer has gone with a blower-style graphics card which expels hot air out the back of the case. All of this should make for a pretty well-cooled PC. However, keep in mind that there are no dust filters.
Acer has made a lot of design choices that will appeal to the commercial idea of a gamer, but at least function hasn't been compromised for form. If you need an unobtrusive PC or are short of space, this is not the one for you.
Acer is offering a wide range of configuration options in India, including custom orders. According to the company, you can get up to an Intel Core i9 CPU, four graphics cards in SLI, 128GB of RAM, a 12TB hard drive, 1TB SSD, and/ or 32GB of Intel Optane Memory. Maxing all those options out would most likely blow anyone's budget and wouldn't necessarily make a lot of sense. Nvidia has dropped three- and four-way SLI support for games, and even dual-GPU configurations aren't being encouraged. Intel's current Core i9 processors use the older Skylake-X architecture and are outpaced by 8th Gen 'Coffee Lake' Core CPUs for the majority of gamers who don't also encode and livestream video simultaneously.
Our review unit had a relatively indulgent 10-core Core i9-7900X CPU, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti graphics card, 16GB of RAM, a 2TB hard drive, and a 32GB Intel Optane Memory module. The choice of Optane Memory rather than a large SSD is a bit unfortunate. Also, we have to note that one of the key advantages of high-end Core i9 CPUs is quad-channel RAM support, but Acer has populated only one of eight slots with a single 16GB module. This configuration is priced at Rs. 3,19,999, and when asked, the company did not tell us how high that figure can rise.
The power supply is a 1000W unit made by FSP, which is a respected OEM, and both the motherboard and graphics card are Acer's own. The all-in-one liquid cooler and all the case fans are made by Cooler Master. The top panel has three USB 3.1 Type-A ports and one Type-C port which is unfortunately also USB 3.1 Gen 1, not the faster Gen 2. At the rear, there are two USB 2.0 ports, five more USB 3.1 Type-A ports and one more Type-C port plus Gigabit Ethernet, analogue and S/PDIF audio connectors, and a PS/2 port. The graphics card has three DisplayPorts and one HDMI output.
There's also Wi-Fi 802.11ac in the form of a removable mini PCIe card, one free M.2 slot with a heatsink, a DVD-RW drive, and integrated Creative SoundBlaster X720 sound. You get Windows 10 Home and a bunch of preloaded software including Intel's Optane and Turbo Boost Max utilities; Cyberlink PowerDVD, PowerDirector and PhotoDirector; Acer Care Center; Sound Blaster Connect 2; and the Predator Mechanical Keyboard utility.
You have to buy your own monitor to use with the Predator Orion 9000, but it comes with a "gaming" keyboard and mouse, which means that they have LEDs and slightly aggressive styling. Unfortunately, they don't match with each other or with the Predator Orion 9000 PC itself.
The keyboard has its own software utility which looks like it was designed in the early 1990s and did not scale well on our 4K monitor. The layout and button descriptions are hard to understand and the process of defining profiles and choosing colour schemes is unnecessarily convoluted. Each key's RGB LED is individually addressable but the options aren't the same as for the PC's front panel or the mouse, and you can't unify colour schemes. On the plus side, you can program macros for any key and back up your profiles. It isn't clear why PC Mode is separate from the five Gaming profiles except that the Windows and Backspace keys are disabled in any of the latter.
Usage and comfort are subjective, but we think that Acer has done a decent job overall. This keyboard uses an unspecified variety of Kailh mechanical switches that are extremely noisy but don't require a lot of pressure to actuate. We were able to type fairly quickly but found the clicking noise much too distracting after a short while. It's the kind of thing that will drive anyone around you mad.
There's no wrist rest and the keybed is perfectly flat, which makes it very easy to clean between the keys. The layout is standard except for a missing Windows key on the right, and you have a few Fn-key shortcuts for media playback and volume control. We also appreciate the removable braided cable.
On the other hand, there was no preinstalled utility for the mouse, and it wasn't even detected by Acer's QuarterMaster tool for its Predator Mouse series, which we installed manually. We were unable to do anything with the middle or side buttons or control the aqua-blue LEDs - if these are RGB LEDs, we didn't have any way to change them or even turn them off. Tracking was smooth and pain-free, but this mouse is designed for a two-finger grip - if you're used to a palm grip with your middle finger on the wheel, it will keep slipping into the gap between the two main buttons.
It amused us that Acer includes a handkerchief-sized mousepad that's barely suitable for gaming. We think that Acer could have done a much better job unifying the software and hardware for the Predator Orion 9000 and its accessories, the way that pretty much every PC component and accessory maker already has done.
With such an imposing presence, we were hoping for extraordinary performance from the Predator Orion 9000. We used it with our trusty Asus PB287Q 4K monitor and didn't need any other hardware to get going. After running through the Windows 10 setup process and letting it download the most recent updates, we were good to go.
The first thing that struck us was how noisy this PC is. Even with nothing happening, there's never less than a dull thrum. We would have liked some physical or software fan controls, but there aren't any. When gaming and running some of our tests, the Predator Orion 9000 sounded like a jet engine and we could hear it from all the way across a fairly large room.
The Core i9-7900X runs at 3.3GHz by default and can turbo up to 4.5GHz on one core or 4GHz on all cores for brief periods. The PredatorSense software has a simple one-click overclocking control, which is linked to the Turbo botton on the top panel of the case. This takes speed up by a modest margin to 4.1GHz on all cores, and all our testing was performed with it disabled, unless noted otherwise.
Beginning with general performance tests, we saw scores of 4,894 and 6,791 in PCMark 10 Standard and Extended respectively. Cinebench gave us a single-core CPU score of 176 and a multi-core score of 2,121 which shows just how much you can scale with 20 threads. That score rose to 2,203 using Acer's Turbo button. POVRay took 56 seconds to run its built-in benchmark. These scores are slightly lower than what we got when testing the Core i9-7900X when it first released, and one possible reason for that is the use of a single RAM channel. Unsurprisingly, SiSoft SANDRA's memory bandwidth test gave us 16GBps as opposed to 54.35GBps with a quad-channel RAM kit in our Core i9-7900X review.
Moving on to synthetic graphics benchmarks, we have Unigine Valley, which gave us an average of 92.2fps running at its Ultra quality preset and its maximum resolution of 2560x1440 with 8xAA. 3DMark's Time Spy DX12 test gave us 9,185 points and Fire Strike Ultra gave us 6,832 points.
All gaming tests were run at 4K. We ran Metro: Last Light Redux's built-in benchmark using the Very High preset and 4xAF, and got an average of 66.23fps. Rise of the Tomb Raider turned out an average of 64.03fps using its Very High preset. GTA V allowed us to turn all options on and push all sliders to the maximum, and the built-in benchmark delivered 96.25fps on average.
Playing through Doom at its Ultra preset with 8x TSSAA, we consistently achieved 90-100fps even through some massive battle scenes. Finally, we spent some time with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt which is somewhat dated but still extremely demanding. With post-processing set to Very High and graphics set to Ultra, this game gave us an average of 49fps.
Moving on to a few real-world workloads, we ran the complex BMW 3D render benchmark using Blender, and noted a time of 3 minutes, 37 seconds using the CPU, and 2 minutes, 20 seconds using the GPU with Nvidia's CUDA acceleration enabled. This really shows off the power of a 10-core CPU, as most mainstream PCs would take upwards of 10 minutes to finish this task. Similarly, video encoding and file compression tests also ran extremely quickly.
We were interested in checking out the performance of the storage subsystem, which uses an Intel Optane Memory module rather than an SSD. We saw sequential and random read speeds of up to 1.31GBps, but sequential and random writes came in at 283.56MBps and 273MBps respectively. In real-world file copy operations though, we saw speeds of around 450MBps initially, but the Optane buffer would fill up after copying a few gigabytes' worth of data, after which speed dropped to around 150MBps. While Optane might help with boot times and make this PC feel very responsive when handling smaller everyday tasks, we'd still choose a high-capacity SSD for a gaming machine.
Acer has put together an incredibly powerful desktop PC, and has obviously designed it to stand out. It looks imposing and checks a lot of the boxes on gamers' shopping lists. However, we don't agree with all of Acer's decisions, particularly when it comes to the choices of hardware and the lack of cohesion between components. You could easily put together a PC that's a lot better suited for gaming for much, much less than Rs. 3,19,000. You also have to factor in the cost of a good 4K monitor, as anything less would be a waste of potential.
This is still a decent buy if you don't want to worry about choosing components and putting them all together, and also if you really just want to show off. If you're interested, we would strongly encourage you to explore Acer's configuration options and optimise the components to suit your kind of usage.
Price (as reviewed): Rs. 3,19,999
Ratings (out of 5)