Acer Predator Helios 500 Review

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Editors' rating:
The Pros

Beastly design; Comfortable keyboard and hotkeys; Awesome speakers; Solid graphics and performance; Remarkably cool while gaming

The Cons

Below-average battery life; Display not as colorful as competition

Verdict

The Predator Helios 500 truly embraces its name with powerful graphics and an intense processor, all running at chilling temps.

You better cover yourself with some mud, because this Predator is so mighty that it would make Arnold Schwarzenegger run the other way. For $2,499 (starting at $1,999), the Helios 500 packs a beastly 8th Gen Core i9 processor and GTX 1070 GPU for powerful gaming performance. And when you're letting the speakers rip while burning through games on those especially clicky keys, this machine will remain cold and calculated, just as the name suggests. Yeah, the display could be more colorful, but overall, the Helios 500 is a winner.

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Design

Vents, vents everywhere! The Helios 500 is like a monster trying to break out of its cage with its beastly little hellmouths all along the sides as well as the back, which sports edgy gray outlines and the most comforting warning label ever: "Hot surface - WARNING - Do not touch."


The lid is tamer, as the sides are elegantly carved out, while the intimidating, blue-and-steel plated Predator logo sits smack in the middle.


The interior captures the spirit of what I could only describe as an azure demon. Blue backlighting bursts through the veins of the island-style keyboard, the badass power button at the top and even the sleek touchpad.

The Helios 500 is like a monster trying to break out of its cage with its beastly little hellmouths all along the sides as well as the back.

The keyboard has fully customizable RGB backlighting, but since the rest of the laptop has blue accents, it just looks wrong with anything else. Speaking of wrong, these bezels are particularly chunky, which is disappointing because we've seen them slimmer on 17-inch Predators in the past.


At 8.3 pounds and 16.9 x 11.7 x 1.5 inches, the Helios 500 is the thickest among its titan competitors. The Alienware 17 R5 is the heavyweight champ, at 9.77 pounds and 1.2 inches, and the PowerSpec 1710 takes the featherweight crown, at 6.8 pounds and 1 inch thick. The Aorus X9 (2018) is the middleweight contender, at 8.1 pounds and 1.2 inches.

Ports

The Helios 500 is jam-packed with ports all around its chassis.

On the left, you'll find an RJ45 port, one USB 3.0 port with always-on charging and two Thunderbolt 3 ports.


In between the meaty vent grilles on the back reside the power jack, a Display Port and an HDMI 2.0 port with HDCP support.


Meanwhile, the right side features a Kensington lock slot, two USB 3.0 ports and two separate inputs for the headphone and microphone.

Display

Whether you're watching wizards lay down some magic or killing armored Nazis from a wheelchair, the Helios 500's 17.3-inch, 1080p, 144-Hz Nvidia G-Sync display delivers a great picture. However, its competitors' displays are even better.

When Billy Batson transformed for the first time in the Shazam SDCC trailer, his regal red-and- gold-trimmed suit was bright and bold, despite being in a wizard's dark man cave. And when Shazam tried to bring the smackdown on an edgy Mark Strong, the stitching in Shazam's suit and the etchings around his thunderbolt logo looked crisp and heroic.

During my time with Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, I was captivated by the flashy orange dust that the Nazis turned into when they were atomized by traps. And as I was rolling around in a wheelchair, in desperate need of a cheeseburger, I noticed my submachine gun was sharp and glossy. The atmosphere of the gritty, Nazi U-boat practically painted a scene from the Punisher as I spattered the blood of heavily armored baddies across the hull of the ship.

While I enjoyed the Helios 500's G-Sync display, it covered 108 percent on the sRGB color gamut, which falls below the rest of the competition, as well as the 131 percent premium-gaming-laptop average. The screens on the Alienware (110 percent), PowerSpec (119 percent) and Aorus (122 percent) are all more colorful than the Acer's.

MORE: Laptops with the Best Display Brightness

The Helios 500 did better regarding brightness, averaging 276 nits, which is just slightly below the 281-nit category average. The Alienware and PowerSpec were a lot brighter, at 352 and 372 nits, respectively. And the Aorus had the dimmest display, at 243 nits.

Keyboard and Touchpad

Get ready to fly on a wave of comfort, because the Helios 500's keys are just pleasantly clicky. The keyboard's font actually looks like it came from the Nintendo 64 Superman game. (Yes, that's a good thing.)


I nailed 65 words per minute on the 10fastfingers.com typing test, beating my typical 60-wpm average. The keys registered 1.6 millimeters of travel and required 70 grams of actuation force, which is well within our 1.5-to-2.0-mm travel range and above our standard minimum of 60 grams of force.

A neat addition to the Helio 500's keyboard is the five hot keys just above it. The keys' functions are customizable, but they default to CPU overclock, GPU overclock, fan speed, launch PredatorSense app and Sticky keys. There's also a button next to them, labeled "P," that allows you to switch to two other group sets, for a total of 15 customizable keys.


The 4.1 x 2.4-inch touchpad is very smooth, and its two discrete mouse buttons are clicky and responsive. However, the bar that separates the buttons and the touchpad feels quite flimsy. The touchpad did register all the appropriate Windows 10 gestures, like two-finger scrolling and three-finger app switching.

Audio

It feels so good to hear this baby roar. Packed with two speakers and a subwoofer, the Helios 500 blasted Quinn XCII's "Straightjacket" throughout my living room, capturing that concert atmosphere. The opening of the song filled the space with sick drumbeats and electric keyboard rhythms that embraced the meaning of bass. When the chorus hit, each track flourished, weaving the treble and bass together to entice me in.

It feels so good to hear this baby's two speakers and subwoofer roar.

While playing Wolfenstein II, I could hear the Nazis talking about the tales of Terror-Billy from quite a distance, and their voices became even fuller and richer when I shot an explosive barrel in their face. Noises like the creeks of my wheelchair were highlighted and immersed me further into this world. When I completed an objective, I got the chills as epic music again lured me into a battlefield.

MORE: The Best Headsets for Immersive Gaming

A big part of the Predator's audio system is the Waves MaxxAudio app, which comes with a full equalizer as well as presets for scenarios like Gaming, Movies, Music and Voice.

Gaming, Graphics and VR

Rocking an overclockable Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 GPU with 8GB of VRAM, the Helios 500 ripped through Wolfenstein II at 160 frames per second on those Mein leben! settings, taking its Predator lineage to heart. The GPU didn't even stutter when I was tossed out of the comfort of my own wheelchair and shot to death on a conveyor belt -- absolutely heartless.

The Helios 500 also did well on more graphically taxing games like Rise of the Tomb Raider on Very High settings, where it pumped out 55 fps. It matched the PowerSpec (GTX 1070) and fell in the range of the 59-fps category average, but the Alienware (GTX 1080) and the Aorus (GTX 1080) did better, at 68 fps and 73 fps, respectively.

Rocking an overclockable Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 GPU with 8GB of VRAM, the Helios 500 ripped through Wolfenstein II at 160 fps, taking its Predator lineage to heart.

On the Hitman benchmark (Ultra, 1080p), the Helios 500 averaged 103 fps, which beats the 89-fps average as well as the rest of the competition. The PowerSpec hit a low 60 fps, while the Aorus (96 fps) and the Alienware (99 fps) cut it a little closer.

The Predator hit 57 fps on the Grand Theft Auto V benchmark, and though that landed near the PowerSpec (60 fps), that mark is a lot lower than the 75-fps average. The Alienware (85 fps) and the Aorus (86 fps) did significantly better.

MORE: The Best PC Games to Play Right Now

Get ready to live the rest of your days in the Ready Player One's Oasis, as the Helios 500 blasted a 10.4 out of 11 on the SteamVR performance test. That's just above the 10.2 category average, but the PowerSpec (10.9), the Aorus (11) and the Alienware (11) are slightly better.

Performance

Core i9 don't stop for nobody. Despite juggling 40 Google Chrome tabs and a 1080p YouTube video in the background during my Nazi-killing spree in Wolfenstein II, the fans on the Helios 500 didn't even murmur. This rig is out to kill with its overclockable 2.9-GHz Intel Core i9-8950HK processor, 16GB of RAM, 512GB SSD, and 2TB 5,400rpm HDD.

On the Geekbench 4 overall performance test, the Helios 500 nailed a 19,896, which surpasses PowerSpec's 14,138 (Core i7-7700HQ) and the 18,043 premium-gaming-laptop average. The Alienware's Core i9-8950HK did slightly better (20,890), but the Aorus' Core i9-8950HK soared at 25,915.

The Helios 500's 512GB SSD copied 4.97GB of multimedia files in 13 seconds, which translates to 391 megabytes per second. It matched the PowerSpec but was somewhat slower than the Aorus (424MBps) and the 471-MBps category average. The Alienware's SSD hit 565 MBps.

MORE: Laptops with the Best Productivity Performance

On the HandBrake benchmark, the Helios 500 took 9 minutes and 33 seconds to transcode a 4K video to 1080p, which is slightly faster than the 9:59 category average. The Alienware (9:10) and the Aorus (8:15) turned in solid times, but the PowerSpec fell behind at 14:00.

Battery Life

Yes, power needs power, but the Helios 500 is just a pure glutton. After surfing the web over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness, the battery lasted only 2 hours and 36 minutes. That runtime is 29 percent lower than the 3:34 category average. The Aorus was even lower at 2:20, while the Alienware hit a solid 3:47 and the PowerSpec lasted like a champ at 6:15.

Webcam

I expected something much better at this price. The 720p webcam produced noisy images, and the color was always slightly off what was intended, like the light blue from my shirt registering as a dull bluish gray.


To be fair, the webcam does capture some detail despite the grain, like occasional strands of hair popping off my head. But overall, I'd recommend getting an external webcam for streaming.

Heat

Any premium gaming laptop can be a Predator if you put enough power into it, but the Helios 500 truly embraces the name by being a quiet and cool killing machine. After I played Wolfenstein II for 15 minutes, the underside hit only 93 degrees Fahrenheit, which is safely below our 95-degree comfort threshold. The center of the keyboard was warmer, at 101 degrees, but the touchpad reached only 83 degrees. The hottest part hit 105 degrees, which is located on the right underside near the hinge, an area you're not likely to touch while gaming.

The Predator Helios 500 truly embraces its name by being a quiet, cool killing machine.

The Helios 500 remained cool while not gaming as well. After the Helios 500 streamed a 15-minute HD video, the underside hit 90 degrees, the center of the keyboard reached 91 degrees and the touchpad measured 80 degrees.

Software and Warranty

The spark of light in the waves of software that Acer throws at you is the PredatorSense app. With PredatorSense, you can monitor your CPU and GPU, customize backlighting, manage overclocking, assign hot keys, control the fans and modify settings to specific games. There's also the QuarterMaster app, which you can use to customize any peripherals flying the Predator flag. The Acer Care Center offers basic tools like checkups and tune-ups to the battery, storage and overall system. Acer's Quick Access app also controls options for the fan speed, as well as a blue-light filter and power-off USB charging.


There are some useful apps on board unrelated to Acer, like PhotoDirector 8 and PowerDirector 14, which are basically discount Photoshop and Sony Vegas, but, hey, they're free. The Killer Control Center allows you to control the bandwidth being used by certain apps as well as analyze Wi-Fi signals. You also get a free six-month license for XSplit Gamecaster, which allows you to stream and upload videos to services like Twitch and YouTube.

Unfortunately, you'll also find some bloatware, such as Norton Security, Netflix and Candy Crush Soda Saga.

The Helios 500 ships with a two-year limited warranty. See how Acer performed on our Tech Support Showdown and Best and Worst Brands ranking.

Configurations

The Helios 500 I tested costs $2,499 and is outfitted with a 2.9-GHz Intel Core i9-8950HK processor; 16GB of RAM; a 512GB SSD; a 2TB 5,400rpm HDD; and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 GPU with 8GB of VRAM. The only other configuration runs for $1,999 and drops you to a 2.2-GHz Core i7-8750H processor; a 256GB SSD; and a 1TB 5,400rpm HDD.

Bottom Line

You've seen it tear benchmarks limb from limb with its Core i9 processor and GTX 1070 graphics card. The Helios 500 looks like a beast and acts like one, too, with its Core i9 processor, GTX 1070 graphics and roaring speakers. The keyboard on this machine is pretty great, too. But even this beast can trip up, and in this case, the display isn't quite top-notch.

If you're itching for a more colorful and crisp screen as well as somewhat better battery life, the Alienware 17 R5 will satisfy you with its QHD (2560 x 1440) display for $3,299.

Still, at the end of the day, the Helios 500's stone-cold temps under pressure and overall performance and design make it worthy of the Predator title.

Credit: Laptop Mag

CPU Intel Core i9-8950HK
Operating System Windows 10 Home
RAM 16GB
RAM Upgradable to 64GB
Hard Drive Size 2TB
Hard Drive Speed 5,400rpm
Hard Drive Type SATA Hard Drive
Secondary Hard Drive Size 512GB
Secondary Hard Drive Speed
Secondary Hard Drive Type NVMe PCIe SSD
Display Size 17.3
Highest Available Resolution 1920 x 1080
Native Resolution 1920x1080
Optical Drive
Optical Drive Speed
Graphics Card Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 (8GB GDDR5)
Video Memory 8GB
Wi-Fi 802.11ac
Wi-Fi Model Killer DoubleShot Pro Wireless-AC 1550 802.11ac WiFi featuring 2x2 MU-MIMO
Bluetooth Bluetooth 5.0
Mobile Broadband
Touchpad Size 2.4 x 4.1 inches
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
Ports (excluding USB) HDMI
Ports (excluding USB) Headset
Ports (excluding USB) Kensington Lock
Ports (excluding USB) USB 3.0
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
Ports (excluding USB) Thunderbolt 3
Ports (excluding USB) DisplayPort
USB Ports 5
Warranty/Support 2 year warranty
Size 16.9 x 11.7 x 1.5 inches
Weight 8.3 pounds
Company Website acer.com
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