Acer's Aspire V15 Nitro Black Edition (starting at $799, reviewed at $999) could easily pass as a business laptop, thanks to its elegant chassis. Don't let the stately presentation fool you, though, because the V15 Nitro is definitely a gaming notebook, thanks to its Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M GPU. And when you're not saving the world or rebuilding it, the system's Intel Core i7 processor will take care of the heavy lifting on the multitasking front. It's a solid midtier system, but less than 4 hours of battery life and a sluggish hard drive prevent the V15 Nitro from being great.
Design: I Can't Believe It's a Gaming Laptop
The V15 Nitro is the understated counterpoint to the aggressive Acer Predator 17. Instead of brash red stripes and a Decepticon-esque logo, the V15 Nitro utilizes a black plastic, ribbed surface for the lid, with a modest plastic metallic logo. The back of the notebook features sexy metallic hinges engraved with the Aspire V Nitro logo. I couldn't resist running my fingers across the pleasantly textured lid, because it gave me a cathartic feeling akin to squeezing a stress ball.
Same thing goes for the soft-touch finish. The keyboard deck and undercarriage are awash in a soft, velvety-black material. The red backlit keyboard, which would look imposing on another laptop, looks warm and inviting here, especially with the sliver of red light sitting below the silver hinges.
I also like the imprinted Dolby Audio logo in the top-left corner of the deck above the keyboard and the simulated handwriting on the touchpad. Acer cleverly placed the power button in the function key row, above the num pad, to avoid marring the seamless design.
At 5.1 pounds, the 15.4 x 10.3 x 0.9-inch V15 Nitro weighs the same as the HP Pavilion 15 Gaming Laptop (5.1 pounds, 15.1 x 10.4 x 1.1 inches) but is slightly thinner. The Lenovo Y700 (15.2 x 10.9 x 1 inches) and the Dell Alienware 15 (15.2 x 10.6 x 1.34 inches) tip the scales at 5.9 and 6.6 pounds, respectively.
The V15 Nitro has a healthy helping of ports, including two USB 3.0 ports, a USB Type-C port, HDMI, Gigabit Ethernet and the power jack on the right side. You'll find a USB 2.0,SD card reader,a headset jack and a Kensington secure lock slot along the left side.
Display: A Feast for the Eyes
The V15 Nitro's 15.6-inch LCD panel is a beauty. The matte 1080p display is an explosion of vivid hues, accentuated by an overall bright screen. Jordan Peele's spearmint-colored hoodie helped to play up his caramel complexion in the Keanu trailer. Contrast and detail were sharp enough to show off the individual divots cut into the barrel without distracting from the large red, black and gold shells mounted on the side.
The landscape of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was resplendent with color. Walking through a sun-dappled forest, I took some time to admire the bone-white birch trees full of dark-green leaves. The winding path led me to an open meadow as the sun dipped below the horizon, painting the sky blood red and orange before transitioning to a moonlit sky.
The screen produced a strong 115 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which is well above the mainstream average. The Dell Inspiron 15 7000 was the closest competitor at 93 percent, while the Pavilion 15 and Y700 delivered poor scores of 62 and 61 percent, respectively.
The V15 Nitro's color accuracy score of 0.97 on the Delta-E test (0 is ideal) was also quite good. The Pavilion 15 and the Y700 were even better at 0.71 and 0.7, respectively.
One thing's for sure, the V15 Nitro's bottom-mounted speakers are loud. Assisted by Dolby Audio software, the laptop had no problem filling my bedroom with powerful, but sometimes muddy, audio. Due to the speakers' location, the sound only got worse when I used the system in my lap. Still, chanteuse Jazmine Sullivan's strong alto washed my room in tales of regret and longing. As much as I love Sullivan's voice, it wasn't enough to distract me from the submerged bass guitar or the scratchy acoustic guitar.
The melancholy strings that comprise the bulk of The Witcher 3's soundtrack were crystal-clear, gracefully swelling as I made my way to the next objective. Landing a hearty blow on a charging wolf produced a wet, meaty thud followed by a high-pitched yelp.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Typing on the V15 Nitro is a meh experience, beset by squishy keys with moderate feedback. That's most likely due to the 1.2 millimeters of key travel (1.5 to 2 mm is ideal). The chiclet-size keyboard has normal-size keys, with the exception of the Tab and Caps Lock, which is weird, because the Right Shift key is so big. I hit 55 words per minute on the 10FastFingers Typing test, which is short of my usual 60 wpm.
The 4.1 x 3-inch touchpad is quick on the draw, performing gestures like pinch-zoom, two-finger scroll and three-finger flick almost as fast as I could input the gesture. Feedback from the bottom corners was nice and firm, accompanied by a loud click.
Graphics and Gaming: Good Pop for the Price
The V15 Nitro's midlevel Nvidia GeForce 960M GPU with 4GB can serve up some respectable frame rates. Some games can push a lower-tier GPU to its limit. As I explored the world of Witcher 3 on medium at 1080p, the laptop averaged 30 fps, matching our playability threshold. On high, I could see the intricate stitching on the hero's dual scabbards as well as the bloody, rotting maws of some passing ghouls, but at 21 fps, the slightest button press elicited jerky motions, transforming a typically smooth swing of a sword into a stuttering mess. When I switched to ultra settings, the frame rate dropped to an unplayable 16 fps, which caused extreme blurring when rotating the camera 360 degrees, despite having V-Sync enabled.
The laptop started out strong on the Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Siege test, scoring a whopping 82 fps on low at 1080p. That was enough to best the Y700's (Nvidia 960M) 40 fps and shatter the 68-fps mainstream average. The Pavilion 15's Nvidia 950M GPU landed in the middle, with 55 fps. When we ran the test on high, the frame rate dropped to a still-playable 45 fps, beating the 41-fps average as well as the Pavilion 15's 31 fps. It wasn't enough, however, to top the Y700's 77 fps.
During the GPU-taxing Metro: Last Light benchmark, the V15 Nitro just missed the 68-fps average, with a 67-fps result, but still defeated the Pavilion 15 (45 fps). The Y700 achieved an impressive 76 fps. Metro made short work of all the laptops on high, with none of them achieving 30 fps.
When you aren't fragging friends or devising some wicked,complicated move in a real-time strategy game,the integrated Intel HD 530 Graphics GPU takes over for less-taxing tasks.
Performance: Solid Multitasking
Life isn't all fun and games, so when it's time to do work, the V15 Nitro's 2.6-GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor with 8GB of RAM has you covered. The notebook performed an antivirus scan with eight open tabs in Google Chrome, one of which was streaming a lag-free episode of House of Cards.
The laptop delivered strong results on our synthetic tests as well, scoring 12,577 on Geekbench 3, handily beating the 8,712 average.
Not to be outdone, the 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ-specced Pavilion 15 and Y700 scored 12,242 and 13,067, respectively. The Inspiron 15's 2.4-GHz, dual-core Intel Core i7-5500U CPU posted 6,380, proving that four cores are better than two.
When we tested the V15 Nitro's 1TB, 5,400-rpm hard-drive transfer speed, we saw a rate of 33.9 MBps, topping the Pavilion 15's (1TB, 5,400-rpm hard drive) 33.5MBps. The Y700's 128GB SSD and the Inspiron 15's 256GB SSD achieved 108.3 MBps and 195.7 MBps, respectively. That's the trade-off between storage capacity and solid-state speed.
After fighting off Noonwraiths in Witcher 3 for 15 minutes, the touchpad measured a warm 93 degrees Fahrenheit. The space between the G and H keys hit 106 degrees, which is above our 95-degree comfort threshold, while the bottom registered 113 degrees. Thanks to the plastic finish, the elevated temperatures didn't feel uncomfortable in my lap. The fans were fairly quiet as I worked to send the undead fiends back to the great beyond, allowing me to be fully immersed in the game.
The integrated HD webcam did an adequate job of taking stills and video in 720p. The color of my warm, brown complexion was spot on, as was the hue of my aqua-blue shirt. There was a lot of visual noise in the shot -- so much so that it almost looked like I enabled a pixelation camera effect.
Battery Life: Below Average
If I could change one thing about the V15, it would be the short battery life. After we uninstalled the power manager -- which apparently was interfering with Windows 10's power profile -- the notebook lasted 4 hours and 15 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi).The Lenovo Y700 posted a similar 4:16 but the Pavilion 15 and Inspiron 15 posted better times of 5:06 and 5:45, respectively.
Software and Warranty
For all its lofty gaming ambitions, the V15 Nitro is weighed down by bloatware and too many utilities. First-party apps such as the cloud-based abDocs, abFiles, abMedia and abPhoto are definitely useful on a mainstream or productivity notebook, but I wouldn't want them preloaded onto a gaming rig.
Third-party apps include Flipboard, Amazon, Music Maker Jam, Foxit Phantom PDF, Kindle and Netflix as well as the Nvidia GeForce Experience, which offers a suite of game-enhancing apps.
The Acer Aspire V15 Nitro Black Edition comes with a one-year limited warranty.
Our $999 configuration of the V15 Nitro includes a 2.6-GHz, quad-core Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor with 8GB of RAM, a 1TB, 5,400-rpm hard drive and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M GPU with 4GB of VRAM.