Acer adds swappable mechanical keys to its latest gaming laptops

Now that Intel’s 14th Gen processors are here, it’s not surprising to see Acer (and plenty of other laptop makers) refreshing its gaming lineup. At CES 2024, the company announced the Predator Helios 16 and 18, Predator Helios Neo 16 and 18, and Nitro 17 are all getting a spec bump. But since swapping one processor for another isn’t exactly riveting news, Acer is also adding swappable mechanical switches for the WASD keys on its flagship Predator Helios laptops.

Spec-wise, the new Predator Helios 16 and 18 can be configured with up to an Intel Core i9 14900HX processor, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4090 GPU, WQXGA or Mini LED displays with a 250Hz refresh rate, 1,000 nits of brightness, 32GB of RAM, 4TB of PCIe SSD storage, and all the RGB a gamer can handle in the laptop’s Predator logo, backside lighting bar, and per-key lighting for the keyboard. For ports, they’ll also have two USB Type-C Thunderbolt 4 ports, microSD, HDMI 2.1, Ethernet, three USB 3.2 Type-A ports, and a headphone jack.

The WASD keys will be more customizable on the Predator Helios 16 and 18.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

But the novel thing this time around is the Helios 16 and 18 come with Acer’s MagKey 3.0 installed in the WASD keys for greater customization. That will allow users to swap out the standard keys and switches. Acer itself offers two options: MagClick and MagSpeed. MagClick lets you swap in mechanical switches for a more tactile and clicky feel. The MagSpeed has a speedometer-inspired design and “vibrant” LED lighting beneath the keys. While I got to futz around with the Helios 18 in person before CES, I didn’t get to actually swap out the keys as it was a demo unit. Pricing-wise, the Helios 16 starts at $1,899.99 while the 18 starts at $1,999.99.

Acer’s also refreshing its Predator Helios Neo 16 and 18, which are aimed at more casual and entry-level gamers who prefer a more subtle laptop. Like previous Helios Neo laptops, they have a discreet, laser-etched “code” on the back containing a “hidden message” for “an exhilarating journey to the Predator Verse.” There’s also less RGB lighting customization. You get a four-zone keyboard, for example, instead of per-key lighting. The Neo also isn’t as powerful as the flagship Helios. It’s got up to Intel Core i9 14900HX, NVIDIA Ge Force RTX 4070, 32GB of RAM, and 2TB of storage. Port-wise, they’re the same. The tradeoff is it’s more affordable. The Helios Neo 16 will start at $1,499.99 while the 18 will start at $1,549.99.

The 18-inch Predator Helios arrives in March.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

There will also be a more budget version with the 17-inch Nitro. It starts at $1,249.99 and will come with a free month of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. It also opts for the less powerful i7 14700HX and NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4060. The QHD display has a refresh rate of 165Hz, 32GB of RAM, and 2TB of storage. Like the Neo, it also uses four-zone RGB keyboard lighting and shares the same ports as the Predator laptops.

The Helios 16 and Nitro 17 will be available this month. The Helios 18 and both Helios Neo models will be available from March.

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