"The Acer ConceptD 9 is fast and innovative with its easel hinge, but it can't compete with other portable workstations in terms of performance or mobility."
Beautiful 4K screen
Wacom pen support
Innovative design of the easel hinge
Solid, heavy chassis
Not as powerful as a real workstation
Cumbersome keyboard and touchpad
If someone appreciates slim, thin laptops, it's artists and designers. You know a slim product when you see one. The problem? These options often don't have the power that some creatives really need.
Enter the ConceptD 9, a beast of an Acer workstation. With its thick housing and the Core i9 processor with eight cores, it is not only powerful, but also has an innovative easel hinge that can be converted into a digital drawing table. It doesn't even pretend to be portable and weighs almost ten pounds. At $ 5,000, it doesn't pretend to be cheap either.
It's undoubtedly a niche product, but is the ConceptD 9 more than an interesting concept?
For artists by engineers
My first reaction when I packed the box in the FedEx store was: "Man, this thing is heavy!" I checked so many Ultrabooks that are available with less than three pounds and only a few 15-inch laptops weighing more than four pounds that the ConceptD 9 felt like a ton of stones. It just can't be a laptop, I thought.
But it was. I opened the packaging, unpacked the machine and yes: it was almost 10 pounds of metal, glass and plastic (exactly 9.48 pounds). Much of that weight comes from the 17.3-inch display (with solid bezels), and I'm sure a lot of it is also the hinge assembly that allows the screen to fold out into a very flexible easel mode that allows any angle from 90 degrees down to about 20 degrees – perfect for artists to draw.
You will not use this beast on your lap, nor will you put it in a backpack and take it to a cafe.
The ConceptD 9 is very similar to the Microsoft Surface Studio in this respect, only smaller. And it is probably a better machine because it is far more powerful than what Microsoft offers. In short, the ConceptD 9 doesn't pretend to be anything other than what it is. It is a portable creative workstation for people who edit high-resolution photos and videos, do 3D work in applications like AutoCAD and especially paint with the active Wacom pen on the screen.
The easel movement is certainly neat. It's not quite as intuitive as Surface Studio, but it is quite fluid. Simply fold up the bottom of the display and pull it to the desired angle. It can be pulled down almost flat (with just the right end angle for easy drawing). However, this applies to the keyboard and the touchpad.
Artists who want to draw directly on the canvas should love this. You will also love the included Wacom pen. It has 4,096 pressure sensitivity levels. As with the Surface Studio, the pen is magnetic and is attached to the display – in this case at the top. The display stays fixed at every angle you place it, so you can safely draw whether it is 90 degrees or fully extended.
Will artists prefer this to a PC and a Wacom tablet? Perhaps. As with Surface Studio, draw directly on the canvas. Having all of this in one place is also an attraction. However, the flexibility of a pure drawing area and a screen for toolbars and menus requires some adjustments.
Connectivity is a strength as Acer has the space available for a USB-C port with Thunderbolt 3, a USB-C 3.1 port, two USB-A 3.1 Gen 1 ports, a USB-A 2.0 port and an HDMI Connection uses 2.0 port that supports HDCP, a DisplayPort 1.4 and a Gigabit Ethernet port. A Killer 1650 802.11ax Wi-Fi radio offers Wi-Fi 6 support, and Bluetooth 5.0 is on board.
A powerhouse, but not a real workstation
The promise of the ConceptD 9 was of course never just an interesting form factor. It was also a raw performance. The ConceptD 9 delivers on that promise, including a Core i9-9880HK processor, up to 32 GB of RAM, and an RTX 2080 graphics card. That's an incredible amount of performance regardless of the size of the laptop.
That is, unless you compare it to an actual 17-inch workstation like the HP ZBook 17, the Dell Precision 7740 Mobile Workstation and the Lenovo ThinkPad P73 Mobile Workstation. These laptops do not have the unique easel design of the ConceptD 9, but optionally offer slightly more powerful Intel Xeon CPUs. Some of these workstations, like the ZBook, offer up to 128 GB of RAM. The ConceptD 9 has 32 GB, which is a significant disadvantage.
Not that the ConceptD 9 is definitely slow. Compared to fast 15-inch laptops like the Dell XPS 15 and the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 2, the ConceptD 9 is quite competitive.
It passed our handbrake test, which encodes a 420 megabyte video (MB) in just 1 minute and 52 seconds. The XPS 15 with the same CPU took 1 minute and 42 seconds, while the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 2 took 1 minute and 58 seconds. The Apple MacBook 16, also with the Core i9-9980HK, sits exactly in between.
Only the ZenBook Pro Duo was significantly faster with 1 minute and 19 seconds. Outside of the ZenBook, which was a remarkable 32% faster, there was only a 12% difference between the fastest laptop (the XPS 15) and the ConceptD 9. We haven't tested the most powerful laptops equipped with Xeon, but we expect them at least would be a little faster than everyone except the ZenBook.
It's fast, but you buy the ConceptD 9 because of its unusual design and not just because of its performance.
To measure actual performance, I also ran a video editing test with Adobe Premiere that rendered a two-minute 4K video for ProRes 422. The ConceptD 9 did it for a little over two and a half minutes compared to the almost five minutes the XPS 15 took.
The ZenBook Pro Duo was the previous king of speed with three minutes and four seconds, but most likely fell behind the Acer due to the slower RTX 2060 graphics cards. Unlike the handbrake test, there was a very significant difference between the ConceptD 9 (which was the fastest in this case) and the XPS 15 (the slowest): the ConceptD 9 was a full 47% faster.
Next is the GPU, and here my test device deviates from the typical workstation design. It uses an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Studio Edition with 8 GB of GDDR6 RAM, a high-speed GPU at the top of the typical laptop pile. The Studio Edition moniker refers to the ISV-certified drivers, which means that they are guaranteed to be stable with applications such as Adobe Suite, AutoCAD and other professional applications. You can upgrade to a ConceptD 9 with a Quadro RTX 5000 for $ 800 more to better adapt it to other workstations.
This is a good thing and like all drivers, they should be kept up to date. I got a nice speed bump when I updated the drivers on the ConceptD 9.
The RTX 2080 is not as fast in these applications as the high-end Nvidia Quadro GPU. This means that my ConceptD 9 test was fast and stable in its target applications, but not necessarily as fast as you would expect from a more traditional workstation option. In this case, you buy the ConceptD 9 because of its unusual design and not necessarily just because of its performance.
You should also not buy that the ConceptD 9 has a dedicated gaming laptop. However, if you look at the specifications, you may be tempted to do so. It has worked admirably in everything we've tested, from Fortnite to Assassins Creed: Odyssey. The problem is that the screen is locked at 60 Hz, which means that these high frame rates are of little use to you here. A few games on the side? Absolutely.
The display does justice to its accounting
The ConceptD 9 needs a fabulous display to be a good choice for its target market. It needs a wide range of colors and accurate colors to satisfy photo and video editors, and it should also have a high resolution. Fortunately, this is exactly the 4K IPS display (3,840 x 2,160) that Acer obtained and calibrated for the device.
According to my colorimeter, the display is quite bright with 353 nits and has an excellent contrast ratio with 1000: 1. This is behind the XPS 15 and MacBook Pro 16, and is likely to have problems competing with other portable workstations that can offer 400 nits or brightness and higher contrast. But there are still good results that give a pleasant screen for all-round use.
However, colors are more of a strength. Acer's IPS display meets 94% of AdobeRGB and 98% of sRGB. It also offers a fantastic color accuracy of 0.61. Anything less than 1.0 is considered excellent. This is one of the best results we have ever seen. The XPS 15 with its OLED display offers a slightly wider range of colors, but cannot keep up with the color accuracy of the Acer, while the MacBook Pro 16 only surpasses the ConceptD 9 by achieving 100 percent of the sRGB.
Acer chose a great display that met the needs of its creative target market. That is a real strength.
It's not much of a laptop
At the same time, the design is not very suitable for the typical laptop user. Take the keyboard, for example. It's an excellent mechanical keyboard that offers unusually fast keystrokes and provides some of the best feedback you'll find in a laptop.
But there is also no wrist rest because the thermal design of the system takes up so much space above the keyboard. Acer went out of its way to make this machine a quiet machine even under full load, and most of it succeeded. However, this means that there is no space for a palm rest – and that makes typing on the keyboard uncomfortable.
ConceptD 9 users are likely to use external keyboards and mice. It is really so uncomfortable.
The touchpad is also unusually to the right of the keyboard. There is no space underneath here either. The touchpad is also strangely shaped and oriented more vertically than horizontally. But it works well enough once you get used to it, and it offers a very Asus ZenBook-like LCD numeric keypad that you can access by tapping an icon on the top left of the touchpad. It's a design that will be acceptable in gaming laptops, but it's hardly ideal here.
ConceptD 9 users are likely to use external keyboards and mice. It's really so uncomfortable to tap on it. I would not find the experience satisfactory in the long run.
Whatever you do, you will not use this beast on your lap, nor will you put it in a backpack and take it to the local cafe. Anything beyond repositioning in another part of your home, or from office to office, is probably too much for this ten-pound chunker.
But you won't let it run away from a plug either. Acer equipped the ConceptD 9 with only 72 watt hours of battery capacity. For comparison: the HP ZBook 17 offers 95 watt hours. Given the massive 4K display and the powerful components, we didn't expect much from the battery life. And it's not surprising that we haven't seen it.
In our demanding Basemark test, which abused the CPU, we saw an hour and 48 minutes, which is actually competitive compared to other powerful laptops. However, the two hours and 43 minutes we saw in our web browser test and five hours in our video loop test are pretty weak. They're competitive when it comes to developing gaming laptops, and maybe that makes sense – like these machines, the ConceptD 9 just isn't meant to run on battery.
The ConceptD 9 is designed for a very specific person. Creative professionals who need a relatively powerful portable workstation and would benefit from a display that can switch to easel mode and use an excellent active Wacom pen.
In addition, this device is quite unusable as a laptop due to its size and design. It is a very small niche. And even if you are, most creatives will likely prefer the versatility of using a separate Wacom tablet in conjunction with a traditional workstation or high-end 15-inch laptop.
Are there any better alternatives?
There is really no other laptop or portable workstation like the ConceptD 9. As already mentioned, real workstations like the HP ZBook 17, Dell Precision 7740 and Lenovo ThinkPad P73 are the closest competitors. Each of them can be equipped with faster Xeon CPUs and four times as much RAM. They are also smaller and offer better battery life.
Configured similarly (but with Xeon and Quadro), they typically cost around $ 1,000 more than the ConceptD 9, but that's not a lot of money if you invest this type of cash.
At the same time, creatives with less demanding workflows can get along well with a Dell XPS 15, a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 2 or an Apple MacBook 16. You won't get the RTX 2080 or the Quadro RTX 5000 with any of them. But for all those with less demanding performance requirements, all three laptops offer more than enough power. And Dell and Lenovo will likely cost about half of your ConceptD 9 expenses.
How long it will take?
The ConceptD 9 is built like a tank and feels like it. Thanks to the most modern components, it lasts for years, even though the industry-standard one-year guarantee has expired long before.
Should you buy it
No. The unique combination of performance and drawing features is neat, but there are better solutions for creatives.