Product Review: Acer Nitro 5

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Acer Nitro 5

The budget gaming laptop space has always been about compromise. Until very recently, buying a gaming laptop meant paying a crazy premium for mobility but that premium is shrinking and shrinking fast now. The scene is changing with new laptops from Acer, Dell, and Asus packing some serious punch in a very mobile package. The laptop in question today is the Nitro 5, this is the new version of Acer’s budget gaming laptop from last year.

WHAT HAS CHANGED

Some could call last year’s Nitro 5, a “hot mess”. Due to its unconventional thermal design and a poor thermal paste application from the factory — the laptop would see severe CPU throttling after short gaming sessions. Though, the fan design remains the same, the thermals seem to have improved a bit.

The new laptop also sports the new 8th gen Intel i5–8300H, this same chip which can be found in many similarly priced laptops. The CPU is about 5 percent faster than last year’s i7–7300H and runs cooler too.

The video card, memory, and storage configurations are more or less the same as last year. You can get the Nitro 5 with a GTX 1050 or a GTX 1050 Ti, 8GBs of RAM and a 128GB SSD paired with a 1TB mechanical drive. There’s also an AMD version with a Ryzen 5 2600U and a Ryzen 560X that’s supposed to slot in between the GTX 1050 Ti and non-Ti version.

DESIGN AND BUILD QUALITY

Despite its price tag, the Nitro 5 has a decent build quality. Though it’s a fingerprint magnet (not the top panel), the chassis feels solid and I wouldn’t be afraid to throw it in a backpack and take it out. But it’s not light — coming in at about 2.8kgs with the adapter. The red backlit keyboard feels tactile too. Thankfully, the design doesn’t scream ‘GAMER’. Though, the sharp bezels and red accents do hint as to what this machine’s main purpose is. If you’re looking for an even more understated look, check out the (more expensive) Dell G3.

In the world of shrinking bezels, the Nitro 5 has to make do with some real thick bezels around its 15 inch 1080p 60hz IPS panel. It’s a good panel, but that’s about it — just good enough. Bright enough for everyday normal usage and casual content creation.

There’s a bit of flex but you can open the display with one finger so that’s a win (granted you do so on a flat surface).

CONNECTIVITY

In terms of connectivity, you get an ethernet, HMDI, USB 3.0 and a single USB-C port on one side and 2 USB 2.0 ports on another. The single USB-C port was a pleasant surprise on a budget device. It also boasts a much better WiFi modem than the competition.

GAMING PERFORMANCE

You get what you pay for. The GTX 1050 Ti paired with the i5–8300H and 8 gigabytes of RAM is the ideal entry-level gaming setup and it works. There’s nothing special about this combination but there doesn’t have to be. It can the latest AAA titles at 1080p medium settings all day long… or until it throttles (actually it’s not that bad, more on that later). During my time with the machine, I was able to test a couple of games. Forza Horizon 3 ran on an (almost) constant 60fps on Medium settings and about 45fps on High. Titanfall 2 got about 80–90fps on the High preset. Far Cry 5 managed an average of 45fps on 1080p High.

The keyboard got a little too hot near the WASD keys but I was too immersed in the game to notice. However, the fan CAN get pretty loud, especially with Acer’s Coolboost feature turned on, though it shouldn’t be a problem if you’re playing with headphones on.

UNDERVOLTING AND OVERCLOCKING

The temps were bad. I mean, really bad. I had no option but to undervolt the CPU otherwise it would see some serious throttling. It wouldn’t even maintain its boost clock for 10 minutes. But with a -150mv undervolt applied, I was able to drop the temps by a full 10 Celsius. Following the undervolt, I was able to game for hours with no throttling in sight. I also managed to get a stable overclock on the GPU of 120Mhz on the Core and 300Mhz on the Memory. While gaming, CPU stayed around 80 Celsius and the GPU at around 70 Celsius.

I think at Idle the laptop does a great job of “keeping its cool.” Temps at Idle were pretty great considering I was blocking the airflow by keeping it on my lap. Most of the times the fan would turn themselves off which I really appreciate.

BATTERY LIFE

You don’t get to hear budget gaming laptop and good battery life in the same sentence too often. Unfortunately, the theme continues here. Battery life was, well it wasn’t anything to write home about. Realistically, you’ll get one, maybe two hours of game time on battery and around 4hours of everyday tasks.

WHAT ELSE?

Well, in terms of upgradability, you get a free memory slot. You can upgrade your storage drives too but that’s about it. The GTX 1050 Ti is a powerful card and should hold up well enough for 1080p gaming for another 1–2 years. And the chassis is pretty solid too so it shouldn’t mind handling a bit of abuse.

DOES IT MAKE SENSE?

Acer Nitro 5 is a great device. Apart from a few thermal issues, it’s a good option for anyone who wants decent performance but cannot give up mobility. The Nitro 5 beats out its competitors from a value standpoint if not from a design or build quality. Corners have clearly been cut but that’s fine with me. Because Acer did a great job of choosing which corners to cut. Tinny speakers, non-glass touchpad, and mediocre battery are all things that I would happily accept if that means I’ll get 10 more frames during gameplay. And that’s exactly the kind of people this machine was made for — people who want raw performance over anything else.

If you can manage to snatch one during a sale for around 60k, I think it’s a no-brainer. But only if you require mobility, of course.

WHAT ALTERNATIVES?

Get the Dell G3 if you don’t fancy the Nitro 5. The premium price you pay gets you better looks (in my opinion), better thermals, better build quality and arguably better after sales service. There’s also the Acer Predator Helios 300 that has a GTX 1060, twice the RAM, and an i7 for not a lot of money.