Acer Nitro 5 Review – IGNOctober 24, 2020
- Model: Acer Nitro 5 (NH.Q9GAA.001)
- Display: 15.6-inch IPS 60Hz Full HD (1920×1080)
- Processor: AMD Ryzen 5 4600H at 3.0GHz (up to 4.0GHz, 8MB cache)
- Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 (4GB)
- Memory: 8GB DDR4
- OS: Windows 10 Home
- Storage: 256GB PCIe SSD
- Webcam: 720p
- Ports: 3 x USB 3.2, 1 x USB-C 3.2, 1 x HDMI 2.0, 1 x Ethernet, 1 x audio out
- Connectivity: 802.11ax, Bluetooth 5.0
- Dimensions: 14.3 x 10 x 0.9 inches (WxDxH)
- Weight: 4.8 pounds
- Price: $669.99
Acer Nitro 5 — Design and Features
With its aggressive red accents and tapered corners, the Acer Nitro 5 looks the part of a gaming laptop. The all-plastic enclosure comprises matte and glossy surfaces. The bottom panel and screen bezels have a matte finish, and the lid and wrist rest below the keyboard feature glossy finishes that are magnets for fingerprints. The red accents can be found on the letters and side edges of the keys, a narrow border framing the touchpad, and a sculpted plastic piece on the back edge of the laptop.What really takes the red accents to the next level and marks the Nitro 5 as nothing but a gaming laptop is the four-level keyboard backlighting. It’s very bright at its top brightness level, and the red glow lends a menacing appearance to the laptop.
Another gaming-centric design element is the outlining used for WASD and arrow keys. These keys feel and respond like the other keys but the red accents and a nub on the W key give gamers a quick reference point for the keys they use the most. A special key above the number pad that launches Acer’s NitroSense utility is also highlighted.
The keyboard creates a comfortable typing experience, with responsive keys that are quiet when pressed but not mushy. My only complaint is the right Shift key was shortened to accommodate the dedicated number pad, but it’s the only key forced to make such a sacrifice. The four arrow keys are full size, which is more important to gamers than a Shift key.
The touchpad integrates the mouse buttons and is roomy and responsive. It’s a bit too firm when clicking the touchpad, but I’d argue it’s better to be too firm than feel flimsy and wobbly.
The 15.6-inch, non-touch, IPS display features a crisp 1,920×1,080 resolution and a 60Hz refresh rate. A glossy screen coating may have allowed colors to pop more. The matte finish means you don’t suffer from glare and reflections on the screen, but colors appeared to be somewhat dull and muted. Rated at 300 nits, the display gets fairly bright but is still better suited for a darkened den or basement than, say, a sunny kitchen table. Still, it did look a bit brighter than the Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3i’s display.
Likewise, the Nitro 5’s 2-watt stereo speakers offer slightly bigger sound than the 1.5-watt speakers on the IdeaPad Gaming 3i. Still, gamers and music listeners will want to keep a set of headphones within reach. The sound output is not dynamic, with little separation between mid and high frequencies and a weak bass response.
Above the display sits a 720p webcam, and it is not good at all. The image is incredibly pixelated, and there’s no privacy cover.
The Nitro 5 is bulkier and heavier than the IdeaPad Gaming 3i, but neither would make a suitable laptop for daily commutes. At 14.3 inches wide by 10 inches deep and 0.9 inches thick, the Nitro 5 is a hair thinner than the IdeaPad, but wider and deeper. The Nitro 5 forces you to carry around a few extra ounces, weighing 4.8 pounds to the 4.5-pound Gaming 3i.
The Nitro 5 offers a useful selection of ports: a pair of USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports, a mic/headphone combo jack, and an Ethernet jack sit on the left side, while on the right, you’ll find an HDMI 2.0 port, a USB 3.2 Type-C port and a USB 3.2 Gen 2 port. The power connect is centered on the back edge of the laptop. (A word on the changing and confusing USB terminology: USB 3.2 Gen 1 was formerly known as USB 3.1 Gen 1 and offers speed up to 5 Gbps. USB 3.2 Gen 2 was formerly known as USB 3.1 Gen 2 and supports speeds up 10 Gbps.)
Remove 11 small screws and you can pop off the bottom panel to find memory and storage expansion options. There is an open DIMM slot to expand the laptop’s memory, and there’s also a free 2.5-inch SATA drive bay to add a hard drive to expand the laptop’s storage capacity beyond our test system’s 256GB SSD. The IdeaPad Gaming 3i has the edge on expansion options; in addition to a free DIMM slot and 2.5-inch drive bay, it also offers a free M.2 connector for adding a second PCIe SSD.
Acer Nitro 5 — Performance and Gaming
Our Acer Nitro 5 test system features the AMD Ryzen 5 4600H processor, 8GB RAM, a 256GB SSD, and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 graphics. The Ryzen 5 4600H CPU offers six cores and 12 processing threads with a core frequency of 3.0GHz and a Max Boost frequency of 4.0GHz. The GeForce GTX 1650 is a low-end GPU from Nvidia’s previous-generation of graphics processors with 4GB of VRAM that lacks support for real-time tracing you get from current GeForce RTX GPUs.
For comparison, I pitted Nitro 5’s benchmark performance against that of another budget gaming laptop, the $880 Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3i. It features the same GeForce GTX 1650 GPU and 8GB of RAM but uses an Intel Core i7-10750H, which has the same number of cores and threads as the Nitro 5’s Ryzen 5 4600H chip but features a slower base frequency (2.6GHz) but a higher max frequency (5GHz).
These two budget gamers traded punches throughout testing, but the Nitro 5 has the advantage where it matters most: 3D graphics performance. The Nitro 5 was a step behind the IdeaPad Gaming 3i on PCMark 10 but was the better of the two with 3DMark. On our gaming benchmarks, the Nitro 5 was slower on the Heaven benchmark but posted betters framerates than the IdeaPad in Borderlands 3, Total War: Three Kingdoms, and Metro Exodus.
I also played Fortnite and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, two less graphically demanding games that are better fits for a budget GPU. At 1080p, I was able to run at 60-65 fps on Fortnite with settings at Epic, and routinely hit 140 fps on CS:GO with High settings. Those framerates are both better than what I experienced with the IdeaPad Gaming 3i. Both budget systems deliver playable, full-screen framerates, but the Nitro 5 does so while costing significantly less than the IdeaPad Gaming 3i.
Acer Nitro 5 — Battery Life
The Nitro 5 also has a significant edge in battery life. It ran for 9 hours 40 minutes on PCMark’s battery test while the IdeaPad Gaming 3i lasted for only 5 hours 32 minutes.
Acer Nitro 5 — Software
The Nitro 5 is not loaded with bloatware, which is appreciated when storage capacity is at premium. Our test system’s 256GB SSD doesn’t leave much room for anything resembling a local game library. A game or two? Sure. A library of installed games? Not unless you add a second drive.
Acer includes its own NitroSense utility that provides basic controls and will likely not be opened too frequently. You can adjust the speed of the cooling fans, switching from the default Auto setting to Max or Custom. On Max, the fans run at full blast and are very loud. And if Max isn’t enough, you can engage CoolBoost, which increases the speed at which the fans can spin on Auto mode.
NitroSense also provides a large area where you can monitor the CPU and GPU, and there’s a small panel that provides access to Windows power plans for running on battery or AC power. In settings, there’s a toggle switch for turning off the keyboard backlighting after 30 seconds or letting them stay on continually. Next to the gear icon for settings is an icon for changing audio modes for Shooter, RPG, Strategy games among other pursuits, but I wasn’t able to hear much of the difference between the various modes.
The fans sound like jet engines when fully engaged, so I would caution against running them in Max mode unless the system is really heating up. Since you are likely to just keep the fan control setting at Auto, the most useful tool in NitroSense is the keyboard backlight setting. And even that is lacking.
I would like to set it so the keyboard backlights turn off after 30 seconds when running on battery power, and I’d like them to remain illuminated when running on AC power. The setting, however, allows for only one option and doesn’t let you set it differently for battery and AC power. There are, of course, function keys that let you turn the keyboard backlights on and off and choose one of its four brightness levels.
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