The Acer ConceptD 7 Donkey is the dream computer that I will never own

0

The Acer ConceptD 7 Donkey is a computer that I will never own. But I really wish I could.

Artists, makers and engineers looking for a powerful high-end convertible have all kinds of options on the market today. But only Acer’s ConceptD line can be folded in six different ways. Not one, but two hinges are attached to the screen: a traditional clamshell hinge and another in the center of the lid that allows the screen to pivot outward. By using the two hinges one after the other, you can place the screen in almost any position you want. This unique form factor makes the ConceptD 7 Ezel different from any other laptop on the market.

There are, of course, other things that separate the Donkey from something like a MacBook. It also has a sleek look with an attractive finish, a gorgeous 15.6-inch 4K UHD touchscreen, a built-in Wacom EMR pen, and all the ports you need. The chips on the inside are quite powerful. But you can find similar benefits in many convertibles that are half the price. The people who would have to pay thousands of dollars for this device are the ones who need the combination of the unique form factor and the big screen – and the rest of us can envy them from afar.

Before you gush too much about this form factor, you might want to know how much it costs. The $ 2,499 base model comes with an Intel Core i7-10750H, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060, 16 GB RAM and a 1 TB SSD. For $ 2,999.99 you can rocket the graphics card to a GeForce RTX 2070 and 2 TB of storage. I got the top model, which has a Core i7-10875H, 32 GB RAM and a GeForce RTX 2080 Super Max-Q for a whopping $ 3,999.99. These components are both a generation old – Acer hasn’t updated the ConceptD with the latest chips yet – but they still deliver solid performance, as you’ll see later.

These prices make the ConceptD 7 Ezel an unrealistic buy for most people, but there’s a 14-inch ConceptD that’s cheaper if you’re interested in this form factor. For those whose work involves professional design and video editing, CGI, machine learning, and the like, Acer also sells a ConceptD 7 Ezel Pro with an Nvidia Quadro GPU. They are expensive, and people whose job requires a Quadro probably know who they are.

The Acer ConceptD 7 Easel open, seen from above, on a patterned carpet.  The screen shows a few colored brushstrokes on a black background.

A normal looking laptop, until you start bending the screen.

There are all kinds of ways you could theoretically rank the ConceptD, but Acer has defined six of them. There is Laptop (self-explanatory), Pad (tablet mode), Float (screen facing forward, hanging above the keyboard deck), Standard (screen facing forward, forming a tent shape over the keyboard deck), Share (screen facing up, parallel towards the keyboard deck) and Display (clamshell shape, but with the screen facing away from the keyboard).

I mostly started using the Donkey in the Laptop, but Float quickly grew on me. It brought the screen a lot closer to me – it’s quite a long way off in laptop mode, given the size of the keyboard. I also see the use cases for the other modes: I would like to use Stand to take notes during a lecture, for example, and Share could be useful for drawing while standing at a desk. The only form I can’t really see myself using is Pad, because at 5.6 pounds, the Donkey is too heavy to hold practical as a tablet unless you’re bloated.

The only problem I ran into is that the screen is very top heavy. A few times when I picked up the device the screen started to fall forward and I had to catch it to keep the lid open. My preferences for Windows Tablet mode versus Windows Desktop mode didn’t quite match the device’s either. For example, it stayed in Stand mode in desktop mode, but I would rather it switched to tablet mode in that form as the keyboard is not accessible.

The Acer ConceptD 7 Ezel in Float, seen from above and to the left.  The screen shows different brush strokes on a black background.

Acer calls this the “Donkey Hinge Design”.

Of course, just because these form factors are useful doesn’t mean that most people need them them. Convertibles like the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 can also emulate most of these positions (Float and Stand are the really unique ones). De Ezel is really meant for people who are going to use the non-traditional forms a a lot of. For those people, it has two main advantages: moving the screen is quite smooth and seamless (you don’t have to use two hands to turn the whole machine over, as you would with a 2-in-1 workstation), and the hinge is also sturdy enough that you can draw in Float and Share without wobbling. This sturdiness comes with a big weight penalty, of course, in addition to the price premium – the Donkey is much heavier than most convertible machines.

That extra weight is for good reason – there are some serious fans in this device. Specifically, there are two “4th Generation AeroBlade 3D” fans in addition to three heat pipes, and there are vents all over, including the sides of the case and above the keyboard. The system (which Acer calls the “Vortex Flow” design) has kept the chassis nice and cool during my day-to-day work – the bottom got warm at times but never uncomfortably hot, and I never felt much heat on the keyboard or palm rests.

Benchmarks of Acer ConceptD 7 Ezel

Benchmark Score
Benchmark Score
Cinebench R23 Multi 8610
Cinebench R23 Single 1249
Cinebench R23 Multi looped for 30 minutes 8413
Geekbench 5.3 CPU Multi 7879
Geekbench 5.3 CPU Single 1280
Geekbench 5.3 OpenCL / Compute 91801
PugetBench for Premiere Pro 604

However, the fans struggled to keep up with the CPU. Temperatures remained solid in the mid-70s to mid-80s (Celsius) during a 30-minute loop of Cinebench – but over several runs of a five-minute, 33-second 4K video export in Adobe Premiere Pro, I watched it jump up to the mid-90s, and even often into the high 90s. Cinebench scores declined over time and export times slowed down as well.

The ConceptD took two minutes and 55 seconds to complete the video export, which is one of the fastest times we’ve ever seen on a laptop. The Dell XPS 15 with the same processor and a GTX 1650 Ti lasted four minutes and 23 seconds (although different versions of Premiere Pro can affect export times, synthetic benchmarks like Cinebench are more accurate for direct comparison).

I also ran PugetBench for Premiere Pro, which measures a device’s performance for some real Premiere Pro tasks, and the ConceptD scored a 604, which is better than the XPS 15 also. The ConceptD also firmly beats the XPS On Geekbench 5 across the board. The XPS isn’t exactly on a level playing field here, as it has a weaker GPU – these results just illustrate the improved performance the ConceptD will give you for the extra money. Acer’s computer lost in both single-core tests of Apple’s M1 MacBook Pro, underscoring how powerful Apple’s processor is in single-core workloads.

The Ezel comes with some software features that are also tailored for creative work. Acer’s ConceptD Palette app lets you switch between Native and Adobe RGB color presets, as well as customizable profiles. You can also monitor CPU, GPU, and memory usage to see how much power your apps are using, and switch between different split-screen layouts when multitasking.

Acer says it has worked with developers to “optimize” the device for use with a variety of software, including Premiere Pro, After Effects, Maya, Revit and KeyShot. You could also run games on the ConceptD, but that wouldn’t be the best choice as the screen is only 60Hz and can’t display very high frame rates.

As is often the case with large workstations, the Donkey’s battery life isn’t great. I had an average of four hours and five minutes of continuous use with the screen around 200 nits of brightness. That’s not unexpected, given the high-resolution display and discrete GPU, but it’s worth noting that you’ll probably need to pack the hefty brick if you’re taking the Donkey on the road.

Elsewhere, the ConceptD 7 is a great laptop to use. The keyboard is a bit flatter than I want, but comfortable enough. The backlighting is a dark orange color (Acer calls it warm amber) that contrasts nicely with the white deck. The touchpad is a bit small for a laptop of this size and I sometimes bump into plastic while scrolling, but it’s pretty smooth. The chassis itself is a sturdy magnesium-aluminum alloy and covered in a beautiful white finish that Acer says is “highly resistant” to dirt and sun exposure. There is a fingerprint reader built into the power button on the left side of the chassis, which works fine.

I liked using the built-in stylus, although it’s a bit stiff to pull out of the garage and requires a hefty nail. The pen uses Wacom EMR technology, which means it never needs to be charged; it gets its power from the screen. I loved the limited drawing I could make on the smooth matte screen (I’m an amateur artist at best).

The Acer ConceptD 7 Ezel viewed from the front on a desk.  The home page of The Verge is displayed on the screen.

The pen lives on the right.

Acer says the ConceptD uses “enhanced psychoacoustics” to provide a better listening experience. You can switch between presets for music, speech, movies and different types of games in the DTS: X Ultra app which is pre-loaded if you have connected external speakers or headphones. If you’re only using the laptop, there are music, game, movies, and voice presets in ConceptD Palette. The dual front speakers themselves deliver not-great audio that is quite lacking in the bass department.

The Acer ConceptD 7 Easel with the screen floating back above the keyboard deck, seen from above.  The screen shows several multicolored brushstrokes on a black background.

Do you want to switch to tablet mode?

The ConceptD 7 Donkey is … well, in a word, it’s great. But I don’t have to tell you that you don’t have to spend $ 4,000 to get a great device. If you want a touchscreen convertible with stylus support and can live without so much computing power, devices like the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 and the HP Specter x360 15 are half the price of this unit, more portable, and have excellent screens too. The Specter’s screen doesn’t literally fold over the keyboard, but it works for many of the same usage scenarios. And even for folks who want this particular form factor, the smaller ConceptD 3 Donkey will be a more practical purchase. The ConceptD 7 Donkey is for those who need serious strength.

But man, the ConceptD 7 Donkey is a great device for content creators. As a professional reviewer, I’ve used more creator-focused laptops than most people on the planet – and I’ve never used anything like it. It’s a great idea, it’s powerful, it’s well-built, and it’s a lot of fun to use. I won’t recommend that you buy it, but if you do, know that I am very jealous of you.