October 22, 2021

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Acer Nitro 5 Review: A Stand-Out Budget Gaming Laptop

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Photo: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo

It’s not a stretch to say we’ll probably see new gaming laptops with bigger and better graphics cards soon with 2021 and CES right around the corner. That’s all well and good for anyone who wants the latest and greatest, but many people would prefer something that just good enough—aka something on a budget. These laptops may weigh more than five pounds, they may not have the best display or the best keyboard. They get the job done though, and they do their jobs well, which is why I’d be happy to recommend Acer’s Nitro 5 to anyone who wants something that can do it all, but doesn’t need to spend an ungodly amount of money on a gaming laptop.

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The Acer Nitro 5 is the type of laptop I would have loved to have in college. At 5.07 pounds, it’s light enough to carry around in your backpack, but it’s dimensions are thick enough so you don’t have to worry about it sliding around on your desk. Even at that weight, it’s still sort of brick-like with 14.3 by 1.02 by 10-inch dimensions. It would be nice to have that height under an inch at the very least, but it still comes with attractive features that budget laptops normally would not in the past, like a 1080p, 144 Hz IPS display. It’s a more-than-solid gaming laptop for $1,100.

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The Nitro 5 has just the right amount of ports, too: one USB 2.0, two USB-A 3.1, one USB-C 3.1, Gigabit Ethernet, audio line out, headphone jack, and one HDMI port. Some $2,000-plus laptops have less ports than that! This laptop isn’t built for streaming, but if you want to plug in a wired mouse, a headset, and a standalone mic to coordinate with your friends over several rounds of Apex Legends, you can do that. There’s also Bluetooth 5.0 support, and a built-in 1280 x 720 webcam plus microphone.

The last-gen Intel processor isn’t that big of a compromise compared to the Nitro 5’s total package. The Core i7-9750H performance is definitely not as fast compared to the 10th-gen. But I’d rather sacrifice a bit of performance that only amounts to small decrease in frame rates or a few additional seconds of processing or loading time instead of DRAM, storage capacity, or a ray-tracing graphics card. The 512 GB SSD is middle-of-the-road for the overall price of this laptop, but it can easily be upgraded down the line. Games’ file sizes are massive these days, so any tier of gaming laptop should come with at least a 1 TB SSD. That’s one of the biggest drawbacks to the Acer Nitro 5, but again, it’s a budget laptop. Concessions need to be made somewhere.

The Nitro 5 also comes with an RTX 2060, which is also a last-gen graphics card, but has the performance you’d expect in a laptop at this price. Gaming on a budget usually requires some sacrifices, but the Nitro 5 is the best possible combination you can get for the price. It’s stellar. Acer does offer a Nitro 5 version with a Ryzen 7 4800H and a GTX 1650Ti for exactly the same price, though. The Ryzen is the better of the two CPUs, but most games rely heavily on the GPU, and the RTX 2060’s performance is miles ahead of the GTX 1650 Ti. Again, I’d rather sacrifice a bit of CPU performance than a lot of GPU performance, especially since the Intel and AMD models have the same specs otherwise for the same price.

For reference, the Core i7-9750H has slightly better performance as the Intel i5-10300H in the Gateway Creators Series we recently tested, scoring 5186 in single-core performance on Geekbench 4, just 12 points higher than the Gateway. Not surprising since they both have the same 4.50 GHz boost clock. Multi-core was no contest between the two though; the i7-9750H has 6-cores/12-threads and the i5-10300H has 4-cores/8-threads. The Nitro 5 obviously scored a lot higher.

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When it came to our usual Handbrake and Blender tests, the Nitro 5 was about 15-20 seconds faster rendering 3D images and transcoding a 4K video to 1080p 30 fps, which took between 12.5-13.5 minutes for each task. The Nitro 5 was a tad slower than the Gateway in the Blender GPU test though, by about 20 seconds, even though both have the same GPU.

Gaming-wise, The Acer Nitro 5 was generally faster than the Gateway. Although the more GPU-intensive the game, the smaller the difference. In Overwatch, the Nitro had a 30 fps lead at 1080p on ultra over the Gateway, 195 to 165 fps. Far Cry 5 was 86 to 72 fps, Total War: Warhammer II 67 to 59 fps, Shadow of the Tomb Raider 69 to 63 fps, and Metro Exodus 46 to 47 fps with ray tracing off, and 37 to 38 fps with ray tracing on. Those two extra cores in the 9th-gen CPU are definitely being put to use.

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As for battery life, the Acer Nitro 5 is slightly above average compared to other gaming laptops. Acer advertises up to an 8-hour battery life on the Nitro 5, but our tests showed an average of six hours. That’s nearly the same as the MSI Creator 15, Razer Blade 15 Advanced, and Asus ROG Zephyrus G14. It beats the Gateway by an hour, the Asus Strix Scar G15 by an hour and 15 minutes, and the Razer Blade Pro 17 by two and a half hours. Suffice to say, the Nitro has decent battery life.

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And that brings me to thermals, which I, surprisingly, don’t have much to complain about. Intel’s 10th generation of laptop processors run notoriously hot, and that’s generally my main complaint of all the gaming laptops I have tested in 2020. Sometimes that heat makes the chassis too hot, and then it’s downhill from there. Intel’s 9th-generation of laptop processors fair better, but just a bit. I saw CPU temps reach a max of 93 C (199.4 F), which caused some thermal throttling according to HWInfo, but it never hit the maximum temperature of 100 C (212 F). Skin temps never broke 50 C (122 F), so I could game for long periods of time comfortably.

If price is your number one priority, and you’re fine with getting some previous-gen parts, the Nitro 5 is one of the best-specced gaming laptops that you can get for $1,100. Acer makes a few sacrifices to get the best price to performance ratio possible, and it pretty much nailed it.

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README

  • Reasonable price for the specs
  • Decent battery life
  • Wish the SSD was 1 TB instead of 512 GB
  • Pleasant skin temps, though the CPU gets toasty

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