Making a budget gaming laptop is like walking a tightrope. The manufacturer is stuck in the precarious position of balancing a reasonable price against solid specs. In the case of the Nitro 5, Acer gets some things right, like the good graphics performance, understated design and consistently cool temperatures. But missteps (or calculated choices) like weak speakers and short battery life keep the Nitro 5 from earning a higher score.
Despite the explosive moniker, the Nitro 5 isn't going to turn many heads. Still, its black brushed aluminum lid with the glossy embedded Acer logo has a low-key appeal that's office-friendly. The berry-red hinge adds a lovely pop of color, and the Nitro insignia engraved on the top is a nice touch. Those of us with oily hands will want to keep a cloth around, as the laptop tends to pick up any excess residue.
The laptop's interior is made primarily of black plastic with candy-red accents on the keys and touchpad. The power button has been incorporated into the function key row, which, along with the rest of the keyboard, resides in a slight recess in the deck.
The Nitro 5 has enough ports to make it a serviceable gaming battlestation. I was surprised to see a pair of USB 2.0 ports in this day and age, but there they were, sitting on the right side of the notebook with the headset jack and power port. On the left, you'll find a USB 3.0 port, a USB Type-C port, an HDMI 2.0, a Gigabit Ethernet, a Kensington lock and an SD card reader.
The 15.4 x 10.5 x 1.1-inch Nitro 5 is a tad heavy at 5.9 pounds, which is on a par with the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming (5.9 pounds, 15.2 x 10.8 x 1 inches). The Lenovo Legion Y520 (5.6 pounds, 15 x 10.4 x 1 inches) and the HP Pavilion Power 15t (5.6 pounds, 14.9 x 9.9 x 1 inches) are just a bit lighter.
The Nitro 5's 15.6-inch, 1920 x 1080 display is fairly bright, but the colors aren't as accurate as they could be. I immediately noticed a yellow tint while watching the Black Panther trailer that washed out many of the blues. However, details looked sharp, including the intricate scarring on Eric Killmonger's body and the texture in his jet-black coat.
That pall made its way into my Hitman playthrough, causing the exquisite white walls of the Parisian mansion to look yellow with age. It also made the red carpet look darker than normal.
The Nitro 5's panel can reproduce 68 percent of the sRGB spectrum. That matches the Legion Y520 and Power 15t, and is just a bit short of the Inspiron 15, which netted 70 percent.
One place the Nitro 5 really shines (literally) is display brightness. The notebook averaged 273 nits, surpassing the 247-nit category average. The Inspiron 15 came in a distant second at 233 nits, while the Legion Y520 notched 220 nits. The Power 15t was the dimmest with a dismal 173 nits.
You might want to take the Nitro 5 into a quiet room if you're expecting to hear anything. The pair of speakers mounted on the front of the system barely filled our medium-size conference room. And no matter what preset I used on the preinstalled Dolby Audio software, the usually bombastic horns on Bruno Mars' "Perm" sounded flat and uninspired. The track sounded best on the Dynamic mode setting with the Music sound profile running a close second. The speakers were so quiet that I strained to hear the strums of the bass guitar.
The lackluster performance continued during Hitman, muting the high-energy EDM track playing in the background as I stealthily made my way through a Paris Fashion Show. I was surprised I could hear the dialogue so well considering how low the overall volume was, but I could clearly hear every conversation or remark as I tried to blend into the crowd.
I would suggest a decent gaming headset.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Typing on the slightly concave keys was a polarizing experience in the Laptop Mag office. A colleague and I agreed it was a squishy and shallow experience, while others felt it was serviceable or comfortable. The varying opinions are due in part to the 1.3 millimeters of key travel (we prefer 1.5mm). The 70 grams of actuation force balances it out somewhat, but it still bottomed out too much for my taste. I hit 60 words per minute on the 10fastfingers typing test, which is below my usual 65 words per minute average.
The 4.1 x 3.0-inch touchpad is roomy and responsive. I effortlessly summoned Action Center with a quick four-finger tap, zoomed in on one of my test shots by pinching and quickly scrolled up and down websites with a two-finger scroll.
Gaming, Graphics and a Little VR
The Nitro 5 packs an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050Ti GPU with 4GB of VRAM, which means you can get solid frame rates on just about any game -- just not at the highest settings.
When we ran our budget version (high settings at 1080p with SMAA anti-aliasing) of the Rise of the Tomb Raider benchmark, the laptop delivered 52 frames per second (fps), topping the mainstream average and the Power 15t's (GTX 1050) mark of 41 fps. But on the regular test (Very High at 1080p), the Nitro 5's frame rate dropped to 24 fps, missing the 36 fps average. The Legion Y520 (GTX 1050 Ti) and Inspiron 15 (GTX 1060 Max-Q) notched 46 and 31 fps, respectively.
The Nitro 5 fared a little better on the Grand Theft Auto V test, scoring 32 fps, which is below the 49 fps category average, but just above our 30 fps playability threshold. It wasn't enough, however, to contend with the 44 fps from the Dell Inspiron 15.
When we switched over to the Hitman benchmark, the Nitro 5 achieved 54 fps, beating the Power 15t. But it's a bit short of the 55 fps obtained by the Inspiron 15 and the 60 fps reached by the Y520.
Thanks to its GPU and Oculus VR's Asynchronous Space Warp technology, the Nitro 5 can support an Oculus Rift headset. When we ran the SteamVR performance test, it scored 2.1, which is well below the 6.2 average as well as the 5.9 from the Inspiron 15 and the 3.2 from the Legion Y520. Still, I had a smooth romp through Wilson's Heart as I fought back against the things that go bump in the night.
When you aren't saving, creating or destroying the world, the Nitro 5 will switch over to its integrated Intel HD Graphics 630 GPU for less-demanding tasks.
The Nitro 5 is a hardy little multitasker, thanks to its 2.5-GHz Intel Core i5-7300HQ processor with 16GB of RAM. I watched an episode of Black Mirror on Netflix while I ran Windows Defender in the background with 15 open tabs in Google Chrome. The laptop carried on with its duties unperturbed.
On our synthetic tests, the notebook kept pace with or surpassed the competition. When we ran Geekbench 4, which measures overall performance, the laptop achieved a score of 11,572, beating the 11,023 mainstream gaming laptop average. The Power 15t and the Inspiron 15 obtained 11,214 and 10,535, respectively, with their own Core i5-7300HQ CPUs. The Legion Y520 and its Core i7-7700HQ processor predictably performed better, reaching 13,037.
During the Excel Macro Test, the Nitro 5 took 1 minute and 33 seconds to match 65,000 names and addresses, which is longer than the 1:24 average. The Inspiron 15 did somewhat better at 129, while the Power 15t clocked in at a zippy 1:22.
The Nitro 5's 256GB M.2 SSD duplicated 4.97GB of mixed-media files in 13 seconds for a file transfer rate of 391 megabytes per second. That's more than enough to defeat the 256.3MBps category average as well as the results posted by the Legion Y520 (363.5MBps 256GB SSD, 2TB 5,400-rpm hard drive), the Inspiron 15 (339MBps, 256GB SSD) and the Power 15t (68.8MBps, 1TB 7,200-rpm hard drive).
The Nitro 5 didn't have a good showing on the Laptop Mag Battery Test 2.0, which involves continuous web surfing at 150 nits of brightness. It lasted only 3 hours and 18 minutes, which is well below the 6:35 mainstream gaming laptop average. The Inspiron 15 and the Power 15t more than doubled the Nitro 5's time, at 7:17 and 6:59, respectively.
I spent 15 minutes in Hitman trying to assassinate a spoiled rich kid and his father's fixer. When the necessary time had elapsed, I measured the touchpad, center and undercarriage of the Nitro 5, which remained fairly cool at 85, 91 and 94 degrees Fahrenheit respectively. Each temperature is below our 95-degree comfort threshold, which means you can use this laptop in your lap without any discomfort.
Software and Warranty
Outside of Nvidia GeForce Experience and its suite of game-specific utilities, the Nitro 5 doesn't offer much in the way of gaming-centric programs. Instead, Acer loaded the notebook up with its catalog of productivity and multimedia apps. For example, abFiles and abPhotos allow you to easily access documents and images stored on your phone. There's also Acer Care Center, which lets you run diagnostic checks on the battery and storage and install any recent system updates.
Images shot with the Nitro 5's 720p integrated webcam tended to come out darker than I would have liked.
It made my beige-and-white sweater look gray, but it did a good job capturing the braided patterns running down the front.
I took the $899.99 version of the Acer Nitro 5 for a spin. It has a 2.5-GHz Intel Core i5-7300HQ processor with 16GB of RAM, a 256GB M.2 SSD, an Intel HD Graphics 630 GPU and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti GPU with 4GB of VRAM.
The $749.99 base model features a 3-GHz AMD FX-Series FX-9830P CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and an AMD Radeon RX 550 GPU with 4GB of VRAM. If you want something with a bit more power, there's the $1,099.99 iteration, which has a 2.8-GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ processor and throws in a 1TB 7,200-rpm hard drive with the 256GB SSD.
Just a few tweaks here and there, and the Acer Nitro 5 could great. As it stands, the $899 configuration earns a solid gentlemen's C. For the price, you get a nice-looking laptop that will fit in an office setting or a LAN party with Oculus-certified graphics and that stays cool while gaming. However, the short battery life, dull display and weak speakers are major hurdles, even for a budget system.
For $100 more, you can get the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming laptop, which addresses nearly all of the Nitro 5's shortcomings and offers more performance to boot. It can also support the HTC Vive. But for entry-to-midlevel gamers that want to play the latest titles and have a little money left over to buy a few, the Nitro 5 is a solid choice.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/Latptop Mag