Yes, it's true: For less than $1,000, you can play your favorite games at 1080p. The Acer Aspire VX 15 (reviewed at its starting price of $799.99) is a budget gaming laptop with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 GPU and a Core i5-7300HQ CPU. This attractive, 15-inch gaming rig also features a snappy keyboard, good audio output and strong performance for the money, but to get it at this price, you have to compromise on screen quality and internal storage.
Though I usually find the red-and-black color scheme on gaming laptops to be a bit of a cliché, the Aspire VX 15's look is subtle enough that I find it handsome. The lid is made of black plastic with a faux-brushed-aluminum pattern, and features Acer's logo in silver and two red stripes. The silver hinge reads "Aspire VX" and is flanked by two red vents that would look at home on a Transformer.
When I lifted the lid, I found the 15.6-inch, 1080p display; an island-style keyboard complete with a number pad; and the touchpad. There are a few more red trimmings here, including on the A, S, D and W keys as well as the touchpad's border.
At 15.3 x 10.5 x 1.1 inches and 5.4 pounds, the Aspire VX 15 is slightly larger than competitors but also a little bit lighter. The Dell Inspiron 15 7000 is 15.2 x 10.8 x 1 inches and 5.8 pounds, and the Asus ROG Strix GL553VD is 15.1 x 10 x 1.2 inches and 5.6 pounds.
On the left side of the laptop, you'll find a lock slot, a USB 2.0 port, an SD card reader and a combination headphone/microphone jack. On the right are a USB Type-C 3.1 port, a pair of USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI output port and an Ethernet jack.
The VX 15's 15.6-inch, 1080p screen is sharp, but its colors are bland and lifeless. When I watched the latest trailer for Wonder Woman, the skies and seas of Themyscira did not appear as two distinct, vivid shades of blue, but rather one pale shade of cyan. While the green grass that Diana tramples as she trains is sharp (you can see the individual blades), it didn't look rich and full of life.
When I stormed a beach in Battlefield 1, the craggy rocks were sharp, and I could see the sparks emanating from fires and pistols, but the scene was slightly darker than it should have been.
The Aspire's panel reproduces just 65 percent of the sRGB color gamut, falling far behind the 96-percent sRGB average. That's a worse range than on the Inspiron's dull display (67 percent), but the Strix was far superior (122 percent).
The screen's colors are not accurate, either. The Aspire got a Delta-E score of 6.8 in our testing (0 is ideal). While the Inspiron was much less precise (12), the Aspire scored much worse than the category average (2.4) and the Strix (1.6).
To top it all off, the Aspire's screen is relatively dim, measuring just 247 nits on our light meter. That's lower than the average (271 nits), the Inspiron (253 nits) and the Strix (269 nits).
Keyboard and Touchpad
The VX 15's keyboard is responsive and comfortable. With its 1.6 millimeters of travel and 65 grams of force required to press the keys, I found that the backlit keys (just red, no RGB here) struck a solid balance that made sure I rarely bottomed out. I reached 115 words per minute (the high end of my average range) on the 10fastfingers.com typing test with my usual error rate of 2 percent.
The 4.1 x 3-inch touchpad is smooth and responsive, and it works with Windows 10's precision gestures. Besides pinching-to-zoom and two-finger scrolling, I switched between apps with three finger side swipes and opened the Action Center with a four-finger tap.
When I listened to White Rabbits' "Percussion Gun" on the VX 15, the drummers practically reached out and punched me in the face. The speakers are surprisingly powerful and well-balanced. The song's namesake percussion is loud and strong, while the vocals, keys and rhythmic hand claps were equally clear and loud. It easily filled our small conference room with sound.
When I played Battlefield 1, I could clearly hear the thud of cannonballs landing on a sandy beach as my fellow soldiers shouted over the chaos. Despite all of that, I could still make out the orchestrated music in the background.
Gaming, Graphics and VR
The Aspire rocks an Nvidia GTX 1050 GPU with 4GB of VRAM, which is enough to play your favorite games at 1080p, although not on the highest settings (and definitely not in VR). I fired up Battlefield 1 and stormed the beaches of Gallipoli at high settings between 33 and 43 frames per second. When I moved the settings down to medium, I reached a more consistent 57 to 60 fps.
On our budget gaming test, in which we run Rise of the Tomb Raider at high settings with SMAA anti-aliasing at 1080p, the Aspire reached 43 fps, surpassing the Strix and the mainstream notebook average (both 38 fps).
But when we ran our regular Rise of the Tomb Raider test, the Aspire choked at an unplayable 16 fps. The Inspiron (22 fps) and the Strix (18 fps) weren't much better. The average is 32 fps, though that includes laptops with stronger GPUs. (Both the Strix and the Inspiron also have Nvidia GTX 1050 GPUs.)
Armed with a 2.5-GHz Intel Core i5-7300HQ CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive, the Aspire VX 15 is no slouch when it comes to performance. I had 40 tabs open in Google Chrome, including one streaming an episode of Last Week Tonight, at 1080p on YouTube, and I didn't experience any lag at all.
However, the Aspire earned a score of 7,898 on the Geekbench 4 overall performance test, falling far below the mainstream notebook average (11,235), the Inspiron (10,363, Core i5-7300HQ) and the Strix (12,253, Core i7-7700HQ).
The Aspire took 49 seconds to copy 4.97GB of mixed media files, which is faster than the average (1:10) and the Strix (0:54). The Inspiron 15 was one second faster (0:48).
It took the Aspire 3 hours and 39 seconds to pair 20,000 names and addresses in our OpenOffice Spreadsheet macro test. Both the Inspiron (3:37) and the Strix (3:31) were a hair faster, but all three were speedier than the category average (4:15).
For a gaming notebook, the Aspire VX 15 has solid endurance. It lasted 7 hours and 8 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi.
The category average is a slightly lower 6:59. The Strix fell far short (3:41), but the Inspiron had far better endurance (11:23).
During regular use, the Aspire stayed nice and cool in our testing. After streaming HD video from YouTube for 15 minutes, the Aspire measured 94 degrees Fahrenheit on the bottom, 88 degrees between the G and H keys, and 79 degrees on the touchpad.
But when I booted up Battlefield 1, the computer heated up. As I battled to take the beaches of Gallipoli, the bottom climbed to 111 degrees and the center of the keyboard reached 105.5 degrees, but the touchpad stayed cool, at 81.5 degrees.
The 720p webcam on the Aspire VX 15 is pretty standard for a laptop camera. In a photo I shot at my desk, I appeared slightly blurry, and my beard looked like it had been drawn on with a Sharpie. But you could make out all of my facial features, and the gray stripes on my black shirt were clear enough. You should get an external webcam for Twitch streaming, but this is good enough for Skyping with your pals.
Software and Warranty
The Aspire VX 15 is jam-packed with software, and although a few of them are useful utilities from Acer, the rest is junk you'll want to delete ASAP.
Acer's apps include abFiles and abPhotos to access your content from any connected device, as well as Quick Access to turn on features such as Bluelight Shield and Color Intelligence.
There's also a ton of bloat, including eBay, Priceline, Netflix, Kindle, the Acer collection (links to download more partner software), WildTangent games and Dashlane. Even Firefox is preinstalled.
That's on top of the usual crap that comes with Windows 10, including Candy Crush Soda Saga, Facebook, Twitter and Royal Revolt 2.
Our $800 review configuration of the Acer Aspire VX 15 came with a 2.5-GHz Intel Core i5-7300HQ CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 GPU with 4GB of VRAM.
It's hard to recommend this particular configuration because of its limited storage space. That 256GB SSD will be filled after installing just a handful of games. Gamers who buy any model with only an SSD can open it up and add a 2.5-inch HDD, but they'll have to buy that drive separately. Additionally, they will also need to fill out an online form for a complimentary mounting kit, which comes with a 2.5-inch bracket, a SATA cable and eight screws, so there's some assembly required.
For $1,000, you can get a version with an intel Core i7-7700HQ CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and the GTX 1050. This has the same storage limitations as our review model.
There are two options at $1,050. The first is the same as the $1,000 model, except it swaps out the GTX 1050 for the more powerful GTX 1050 Ti. You'll get better graphics but will still have limited storage. The other option at this price uses the regular GTX 1050 and includes a 1TB HDD. It's not as fast as an SSD, but you'll be able to install far more games straight out of the box.
The Acer Aspire VX 15 is a solid budget gaming notebook despite its rock-bottom price of $800, but the corners it cut to get to that price are quite annoying. The screen is dull, and there's just not enough room to hold a lot of games until you get to a more expensive configuration (unless you send away for a mounting kit and buy another drive). However, it lasts long for a gaming notebook, has a comfortable keyboard and even looks spiffy.
If you have more money to spend, consider the $1,099 Asus ROG Strix GL553VD, which has a superior screen and better storage options, and starts with a faster processor, although the speakers and battery life aren't as good.
The Dell Inspiron 15 7000 also starts at $799, lasts much longer on a charge and has more configuration options, but its screen is even blander than the Aspire's. Overall, the Aspire VX 15 is a strong choice if you need a gaming rig and can't afford to spend more than $1,000.
Photo credit: Jeremy Lips/Laptop Mag