How this Acer Predator gaming desktop (and Forza Horizon 3) brought me back into the fold

I'm convinced 4K gaming on a PC is the way to go for high-octane thrills. Thank you, Acer.

Forza Horizon 3

Glitches, hiccups, drivers, software incompatibilities -- these are not the things you want to deal with when you fire up a gaming desktop.

Your goal is to jump into the seat of a BMW 5 series or a Nissan GT-R and blast off over the sand dunes in the game Forza Horizon 3. You don’t want to deal with technical problems. Fortunately, in a test of several new Windows 10 games on an Acer Predator G1, none of the usual snafus happened, unless you count my ability to drive a GT-R on tight corners.

The smaller form factor of the G1 -- which included a wheeled carrying case and Tom Clancy’s The Division on disc when it first came out this summer-- makes it easy to lug around. It’s about the size of an Xbox One. I only had to update the NVIDIA GTZ 1080 graphics card to the latest driver before testing out several new games. I used a Viewsonic 4K display, the included Acer mechanical keyboard and laser mouse, and my own set of Phiaton BT 220 NC wireless earbuds for pristine audio.

The last time I tested 4K gaming, I had mixed results. Everything worked for the most part, but there was still the occasional stuttering problem, especially in Just Cause 3, and a slim selection of 4K games. That was back in May, and even this summer when the Predator G1 launched, there weren’t that many 4K options compared to the typical console games in HD. This month, I had my pick. I tried both Gears of War 4 and Forza Horizon 3 as my go-to games to test system performance.

Smooth as butter. That was my main finding using the G1. In Horizon 3, the 4K resolution means you can see the thin lines of the rear window defogger on a Nissan GT-R and spot rain droplets on the windshield. On an Xbox One at 1080p, you can’t see the details as distinctly. I also noticed the shine from the car looked more pronounced in a way that convinces you that you’re really behind the wheel.

In Gears of War 4, my first realization was that, even at 4K, the game was smoother than expected, especially in terms of the load times -- it was almost instant. Having all of this power -- an Intel Core i7-6700 processor, 32GB DDR4 of memory, plus a 512GB SSD and a 2TB 7200 RPM disk drive -- really helped. After a few levels, the blood-soaked behemoths never seemed to lag even when there was a massive cinematic death animation in full 4K glory. It's worth the investment in PC power.

Next, I tested a few new games using the HTC Vive. Even the new Everest VR climbing game, which stresses the performance of many Windows desktops (even the higher-end models) never had any slowdowns, likely due to the GTX 1080 graphics card and the fast Intel processor. It looked and ran more convincingly.

It's important to note here that, when I last tested 4K games and VR, there were slowdowns. Star Wars Battlefront in particular lagged a bit, like a super high-res photo on an iPad at times -- brilliant in color and clarity, not so much in speed. On the G1, a driving game like Forza in 4K is something to behold, a return to form for PC gaming.

What’s really happening here? Obviously, the fast Intel CPU and the 32GB of RAM helps. The 1080 card from NVIDIA using the new Pascal architecture are dramatic improvements, up to 2x the performance from previous generation cards. More memory, more cores -- the 1080 card is the one you want for 4K gaming and virtual reality games. The Predator also offers some extra perks like Killer DoubleShot Pro, which dedicates the Ethernet port to gaming and allocates the Wi-Fi signal to other activities like web browsing or watching Twitch feeds. Really, it's the whole package working together to remove any performance glitches.

I also liked having four USB ports on the back and one USB port on the front, which made it easier to connect an Xbox One controller. There’s also an SD Card reader for your camera files and an optical disc -- it’s for standard-def DVDs and games, not for Blu-Ray or 4K movies, which is a minor ding. I still tested a few YouTube streams in 4K and they looked smooth on my 200 Mbps connection.

The G1 costs $2,300 which is a hair more than an Xbox One or a PlayStation 4 (ahem) but this is the top of the line in gaming. It’s a major plus that Microsoft now lets you play many newer Xbox games on Windows 10 for free (due to Xbox Play Anywhere) -- and it’s a simple download. The system worked perfectly for the HTC Vive as well, something you won’t be using on a lower-end laptop anytime soon. I’m impressed with the speed, the small size, and the design. It’s a Forza and GOW4 monster.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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