The Acer Nitro 5 (2018) is a sub-$1,000 gaming laptop with a solid midtier graphics card, speedy overall performance and a bevy of ports. Despite one major shortcoming -- a disappointing display -- the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti-equipped machine is a solid value for casual gamers.
The Acer Nitro 5 is far from the flashiest gaming laptop that's come through our office, sporting the same conservative red-and-black color scheme as its predecessor.
The first thing I noticed when I opened the Nitro 5's lid are the red keyboard text and red trim around its touchpad. Those design details are nicely tied together by a red hinge connecting the body to the display. The splashes of color pop atop a black chassis. If you carry a Chrome bag or listen to Beats headphones, this laptop will fit right in with your other gear. For whatever reason, the Acer logo on the lid is hidden in shiny black instead of red.
The only other characteristic that sets the Nitro 5's design apart is some interesting geometry. Slight angles at the top of the display form an oddly shaped hexagon, not unlike what you find on Alienware machines. It doesn't serve any purpose, but it looks pretty cool.
The Acer Nitro 5 is made of plastic but its build quality seems solid. The display hinge feels sturdy, and I didn't notice any keyboard flex.
MORE: The Best Gaming Laptops
The 15.4 x 10.5 x 1.1-inch Nitro 5 is no featherweight but won't be a burden during your on-the-go gaming sessions. At 5.14 pounds, it has the same heft as the Asus TUF Gaming FX504 (5.14 pounds) and is lighter than both the Dell G3 15 (5.18 pounds) and the MSI GL62M 7REX (5.3 pounds).
For a budget machine, the Nitro 5 has a wealth of ports. On the right side you'll find a 3.5mm headphone/mic combo jack, two USB 2.0 ports and a power port.
There are also two blue LED indicators for charging and power status. The left side of the laptop has even more ports.
There, you'll find an SD card reader, a USB 3.0, an HDMI, a USB 3.1 (yes, that's four total USBs), a Gigabit Ethernet and a Kensington lock.
Unfortunately, the Acer Nitro 5's 15.6-inch matte IPS display is a major letdown. Colors looked dull and lifeless when I watched a trailer for the upcoming sci-fi action film Kin, and the lab results weren't much better.
Web pages like Amazon and The New York Times appeared far too warm on this panel. Fortunately, white balance improved immensely after I dialed down the red and green tones using the Windows 10 color calibration software.
On a positive note, images appeared sharp on the 1920 x 1080 resolution panel. I could see the different textures in Ryan Gosling's spacesuit in the trailer for the upcoming biographical film First Man. I also had no problems reading small text on some of my favorite news sites. That was even the case under bright lighting, as the matte panel on the Nitro 5 did an excellent job muting reflections.
Based on our testing, the Nitro 5's display can reproduce only 69 percent of the sRGB color spectrum. That poor result is significantly lower than the entry-level gaming average (92 percent) and not even half of what the MSI GL62M 7REX (153 percent) was able to achieve.
The Nitro 5's display gets reasonably bright, reaching 257 nits. That's two points above the budget-gaming category average and much brighter than the MSI GL62M 7REX, which reached a brightness level of only 198 nits.
Although the Acer Nitro 5's speakers are powerful enough to fill a small-to-medium-size room, you won't want to set them above 80 percent. Instruments clashed together to form a distressing cacophony as I listened to Frightened Rabbit's "Woodpile" at maximum volume. At least I didn't hear any distortion no matter how high I cranked things up.
At lower volumes, the Nitro 5's audio is serviceable but nothing to write home about. The soundstage is relatively well-balanced, with highs, mids and lows each playing their part. I even heard the slightest drum of a bass when listening to Bassnectar's "The Matrix." Unfortunately, the listening experience is let down by hollow vocals that lack clarity and refinement.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The red backlit keyboard with a number pad on the Nitro 5 has decent key travel at 1.6mm, just in the range we consider ideal (1.5mm to 2mm). But that didn't make up for its soft, spongy feel, which, ultimately, hurt the overall typing experience. And while the keyboard is pleasantly quiet, it lacks the clicky, tactile feedback we like when gaming.
While it doesn't fit my personal preferences, the keyboard on the Nitro 5 didn't slow me down. I scored 109 words per minute on the 10fastfingers.com typing test with an accuracy of 95.3 percent. That's slightly faster than my average speed and about even for accuracy.
Offset to the left, the 4.1 x 3 inch touchpad on the Nitro 5 performed every Windows 10 gesture I threw at it, even the ones most people don't know about. A four-finger tap opened the action center, a three-finger tap launched Cortana and a three-finger swipe to the left or right let me switch between open windows.
Gaming, Graphics and VR
Like its predecessor, the 2018 version of the Acer Nitro 5 packs an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti GPU with 4GB of VRAM. It's a very good performer for the price and can even play more graphics-intensive games if you keep them at lower settings.
The Nitro 5 averaged 51 frames per second (fps) when we ran Rise of the Tomb Raider on low settings at 1080p resolution -- our benchmark for budget machines. That gives it some reassuring padding above our 30 fps threshold for playability. The 1050 Ti also had no problem playing the less power-hungry racing game DiRT 3. It reached 90 fps, which is enough to enjoy some stutter-free drifting.
But the Nitro 5's midrange graphics card doesn't hold up when playing demanding titles at high resolutions. Frame rates dropped to an unplayable 21.33 fps when we kicked on Metro: Last Light in 1080p resolution. At the same level of detail, Hitman played at 42 fps, below the budget-gaming category average of 55 fps but still playable. The Dell G3 15 and MSI G62M 7REX both outperformed the Acer, reaching 45 and 46 fps, respectively.
Acer brought back VR support for the Nitro 5. When we ran the SteamVR test, it scored a 3.4, which is nearly equal to both the Dell G3 15 (3.5) and the MSI G62M 7REX (3.4) but far below the category average (5.7).
Overall, the Nitro 5's gaming performance was a mixed bag. You won't find much better at this price, however.
The Acer Nitro 5 did an excellent job of keeping up with my rigorous browsing habits. I was able to load a dozen Google Chrome tabs and a Microsoft Word document without seeing slowdowns. Of those web pages, one was playing a 1080p YouTube video while the other ran a Battlefield V (Alpha) Twitch stream at the same resolution.
It's not surprising that the Nitro 5 achieved a solid score of 14,219 in the Geekbench 4.1 test, which measures overall performance. That's practically the same score we clocked on the Dell G3 15 (14,976) and more than 100 points higher than what the Asus TUF Gaming FX504 (12,716) registered. It's also slightly higher than the entry-level gaming laptop average (14,291).
Even more impressive is the Nitro 5's outstanding speed during our Laptop File Transfer Test, which involves copying 4.97GB of mixed-media files from a folder on the computer's hard drive to another. It completed the task in just 16 seconds, less than half the time of the entry-level gaming laptop average (41 seconds). That equates to a file-transfer rate of 318 MBps. For comparison, the Nitro 5 is three times faster than the Asus TUF Gaming FX504 (94.5 MBps).
The Nitro couldn't keep pace in the Excel Macro or Handbrake Video Editing test. It completed the Excel test in 1 minute and 20 seconds. That's slower than the budget-gaming laptop average (1:09) and the Dell G3 15 (0:54). It fared worse in our Handbrake 4K video transcoding test, completing it in 17 minutes and 22 seconds; that's much slower than the 14:37 category average.
The Acer Nitro 5's battery life is middle-of-the-road for budget gaming machines. It died 4 hours and 44 minutes into our Laptop Battery Test 2.0, which involves continuous web surfing at 150 nits of brightness. That's an hour less than the advertised 5 hours and 30 minutes, and 8 minutes short of the budget-gaming-category average (4:52). Category leaders like the Dell G3 15 (6:37) lasted significantly longer than the Nitro 5. Others were the opposite, like the short-lived Asus TUF Gaming FX504 (3:57) and the MSI GL62M 7REX (3:33).
While we're still hoping for further improvements to battery life, Acer should be rewarded for adding almost 1.5 hours of juice to the Nitro 5's predecessor (3:18).
Heat management is a bigger concern for gamers than ordinary users because of the power needed to run modern titles. In this area, the Nitro 5 does a solid job. However, the bottom of the laptop reached a warm 95 degrees Fahrenheit after playing a YouTube video in 1080p for 15 minutes. The spot between the G and H keys hit 94.5 degrees. That's pretty toasty, but still below our 95-degree comfort threshold. At 83 degrees, you won't have any issues using the touchpad, even if it's a tad hotter than the 82-degree average.
There is no way to put this lightly: The 1280 x 720 resolution webcam with HDR support on the Acer Nitro 5 is dreadful. The images it captures appear out-of-focus and grainy, and there's an unacceptable amount of noise, even under good lighting conditions.
Anyone using this budget gaming laptop to spark a streaming career on Twitch will want to buy an external webcam.
Software and Warranty
The Nitro 5 has the standard suite of proprietary Acer software. That includes abFiles and abPhotos, multimedia apps that let you send content wirelessly across devices. You also get Acer Recovery Manager and Acer Care Center, services designed to keep your laptop in tip-top shape.
Adding to the heap of preinstalled software is a light amount of bloatware. Among the less offensive apps are Netflix, Mozilla Firefox and PowerDirector, Acer's photo-and-video-editing software. Feel free to delete unwelcome Windows 10 bloat, like Bubble Witch 3 Saga, Candy Crush Soda Saga and Disney Magic Kingdoms.
Acer Nitro 5 Cost and Configurations
The Nitro 5 I reviewed included a 2.3-GHz Intel Core i5-8300H processor, 8GB of DDR4 RAM and a 256GB SSD. For gaming, the Nitro 5 sports an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti GPU with 4GB of dedicated GDDR5 VRAM.
Acer offers only one other Nitro 5 model with current-generation specs at the time of writing. The $749.99 base model has a slightly less powerful NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 GPU and you'll sacrifice an SSD for a 1TB 7,200 RPM hard drive.
The Acer Nitro 5 is a competitively priced budget gaming laptop for casual gamers looking to play the latest titles without spending exorbitant amounts of money. It offers a generous range of ports, a good mid-tier graphics card in the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti, and the $850 SSD-equipped version has very good overall performance.
Unfortunately, the Nitro 5 is let down by a disappointing display with lackluster color. The keyboard also lacks the clicky feedback gamers yearn for, and the webcam is poor. For these reasons, the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 remains our top gaming laptop under $1,000. Although it has some similar issues, its 1060 GPU can accommodate more demanding gamers.
If you've settled on Acer, consider saving up for the Nitro 5's flexible cousin, the Nitro 5 Spin ($999), which has a much better display and longer-lasting battery but slightly worse Nvidia 1050 graphics. But if you want more gaming horsepower, the Nitro 5 is worth a look.
Credit: Laptop Mag