Acer Ni­tro 5: A Cof­fee Lake– fla­vored gam­ing lap­top that won’t empty your wal­let

Not bad for $750.

PCWorld (USA) - - Reviews Nitro Pro 12 - BY BEN PAT­TER­SON

Acer’s Ni­tro 5 gam­ing lap­top says you can have a mod­est bud­get of $800 or less and get a de­cent amount of horse­power for play­ing AAA games. While most of the Ni­tro 5’s parts are midrange at best, it takes things up a notch with its new Cof­fee Lake CPU, of­fer­ing solid mo­bile gam­ing per­for­mance in an af­ford­able, if some­what hefty pack­age. Gamers who in­sist on max­ing out their graph­ics will have to set­tle for mid­dling frame rates on the Acer Ni­tro 5, and bat­tery life is on the short side. But even with those caveats, the Ni­tro 5 is a good value.

SPEC­I­FI­CA­TIONS AND PRICE

We tested the $750 ver­sion of the Acer Ni­tro 5 (Model AN515-53-52FA), which comes with an In­tel Core i5-8300h pro­ces­sor and 8GB of RAM, a 15.6-inch FHD dis­play, Nvidia Ge­force GTX 1050 graph­ics with 4GB of ded­i­cated GDDR5 VRAM, and a 1TB 7,200rpm SATA hard drive.

The Cof­fee Lake CPU that pow­ers the Ni­tro 5 marks the first Core i5 chip to boast Hy­per-thread­ing, a fea­ture that serves up two threads per pro­ces­sor core. This al­lows the quad-core i5-8300h to de­liver eight threads of pro­cess­ing power. While few cur­rent games take ad­van­tage of Hy­per-thread­ing (a fea­ture that was for­merly found only in Core i7 CPUS), it’ll still come in handy for mul­ti­task­ing gamers who (for ex­am­ple) want to stream while they shoot. (Want to learn more? Check out our story on the best CPUS for lap­tops [ go.pc­world.com/cpus].)

While the Ni­tro 5’s Cof­fee Lake Core i5 CPU qual­i­fies as cut­ting-edge, its GTX 1050 graph­ics card—while by no means a slouch—sits near the bot­tom of Nvidia’s Ge­force 10 Series line. As we’ll see in a bit, that means crush­ing gamers’ dreams of silky-smooth frame rates at Ul­tra set­tings. Still, bar­gain hunters who can live with some­thing closer to 30 fps can crank up their graph­ics set­tings all the way. See our story on how to choose a gam­ing lap­top GPU ( go. pc­world.com/gmpu) to learn more about choos­ing this es­sen­tial part.

There’s some good news if your bud­get can stretch a bit more, too. For about $100 more, you can step up to a model (specif­i­cally, the AN515-51-55WL) with GTX 1050 Ti graph­ics and a 256GB solid-state drive, plus a 2.5-inch bracket, a SATA ca­ble, and enough screws to in­stall a sec­ond drive. Noth­ing against the bud­get model we’ve tested, but as you’ll see in our per­for­mance sec­tion, mov­ing up to a GTX 1050 Ti would make a no­tice­able dif­fer­ence in the Ni­tro 5’s gam­ing prow­ess.

DE­SIGN

There’s noth­ing small about Acer’s Ni­tro 5 bud­get gam­ing lap­tops, and this new Cof­fee

Lake ver­sion is no ex­cep­tion. Mea­sur­ing a fairly bulky 15.4 x 10.5 x 1 inches and tilt­ing the scales at a hefty 5.4 pounds, the Ni­tro 5 barely squeezes into my 15-inch lap­top back­pack. It’s as heavy as it looks, too, al­though, to be fair, that’s more in com­par­i­son to a main­stream lap­top than to a gam­ing lap­top, where hefty is the norm. Pack in the charg­ing cord and power brick (and yes, you’ll need them, given the Ni­tro 5’s rel­a­tively mea­ger bat­tery life), and you’ll wind up with a more than 6.5 pounds of hard­ware to lug around.

Hulk­ing though it is, the Ni­tro 5 man­ages to look rea­son­ably sleek thanks to the brushed fin­ish on its lid, its crim­son hinge and match­ing back­lit key­board, com­plete with high­lighted WASD keys. While it’s quite an eye-catcher com­pared to busi­ness-minded lap­tops, the Ni­tro 5 is ac­tu­ally a bit low-key as far as gam­ing lap­tops go.

Flip the Ni­tro 5 on its back and you’ll find a pair of re­mov­able pan­els. One is for the drive bay (there’s room for only one drive, mean­ing you’ll have to re­place the ex­ist­ing drive to up­grade your stor­age), and a sec­ond for up­grad­ing the RAM. You can open each panel by loos­en­ing a sin­gle screw and pulling on a thumb tab.

DIS­PLAY

The Ni­tro 5’s 15.6-inch, 1920x1080-pixel dis­play looks rel­a­tively sharp and vivid given the lap­top’s bud­get price. Mea­sur­ing just 251 nits (or cal­en­das), the non-touch dis­play is some­what dim, just barely ex­ceed­ing our min­i­mum stan­dard for com­fort­able in­door view­ing. In other words, good luck mak­ing out the ac­tion if you’re gam­ing near a bright win­dow or out­doors.

View­ing an­gles on the Ni­tro 5’s IPS panel were fine, if not par­tic­u­larly awe-in­spir­ing. There’s no ev­i­dence of in­verted col­ors when view­ing the mat­ted dis­play from ex­treme an­gles, as we’ve seen on some cheaper lap­tops. That said, the screen dims no­tice­ably when viewed from the side, start­ing at about 50 de­grees or so. Look­ing from above or be­low, the screen is at its

dimmest when viewed from about 45 de­grees, be­fore bright­en­ing a tad as we edge closer to 90 de­grees.

KEY­BOARD, TRACK­PAD, SPEAK­ERS & EX­TRAS

The Acer Ni­tro 5’s key­board feels solid and snappy, with a tac­tile bump in the mid­dle of each key­stroke and a sat­is­fy­ing, springy re­bound. The slightly con­cave keys boast de­cent travel for a lap­top and dis­cov­ery is rel­a­tively easy, but the key­board would feel even roomier had Acer dis­pensed with the 10-key nu­meric key­pad. In­deed, the arrow keys look need­lessly squished thanks to the ded­i­cated key­pad, which seems out of place on a gam­ing-cen­tric lap­top like this one.

The Ni­tro 5’s mid-sized track­pad sits a lit­tle left of cen­ter, di­rectly be­low the main key­board. The track­pad re­quires a fair amount of pres­sure to click, and I also no­ticed a few ac­ci­den­tal in­puts as my palms grazed the track­pad while typ­ing. Given that most gamers will pre­fer us­ing a mouse, my track­pad quib­bles shouldn’t be much of a prob­lem for the Ni­tro 5’s core au­di­ence.

The Ni­tro 5’s built-in speak­ers are sur­pris­ingly good for a bud­get gam­ing lap­top, boast­ing rel­a­tively ro­bust, dy­namic sound—noth­ing a set of ded­i­cated speak­ers couldn’t do bet­ter, mind you, but not bad com­pared to the tinny au­dio you com­monly get from lap­top speak­ers. My usual test tracks, in­clud­ing “Live and Let Die” by Paul Mccart­ney and Wings, along with Mozart’s Sym­phony No. 26, sounded de­tailed and roomy, with a slight hint of bass. I was also pleased by the del­i­cate crunch of snow and am­bi­ent for­est sounds in Rise of the

Tomb Raider, as well as the glo­ri­ous ca­coph­ony of ex­plod­ing de­mons in Diablo 3. You can sweeten the au­dio with Dolby sound pro­cess­ing as well as crank up the vol­ume to im­pres­sively

loud lev­els, handy for drown­ing out the Ni­tro 5’s roar­ing fans.

The 720p we­b­cam videos look ex­pect­edly soft and grainy, but it’s still ser­vice­able for video chat. Un­for­tu­nately, the Ni­tro 5 lacks a fin­ger­print sen­sor for sign­ing in with your fin­ger­tip, nor does it in­clude an IR cam­era for fa­cial recog­ni­tion.

PORTS

The Ni­tro 5 comes with a de­cent se­lec­tion of ports for a bud­get gam­ing lap­top, start­ing on the left side with eth­er­net, USB 3.1 Type C Gen. 1 (up to 5Gbps), USB 3.0 Type A (with power-off USB charg­ing), a full HDMI 2.0 port, and an SD card reader. Also on the left side: a

Kens­ing­ton se­cu­rity lock.

On the right, you’ll find a bar­rel-shaped charg­ing port, a pair of USB 2.0 ports, and a combo au­dio jack.

We would have pre­ferred more USB 3.0 ports and maybe a Thun­der­bolt 3 port or two, but again, the Ni­tro 5’s port lineup isn’t bad con­sid­er­ing its sub-$800 price tag.

GEN­ERAL PER­FOR­MANCE

When it comes to a $750 gam­ing lap­top like the Acer Ni­tro 5, you need to man­age your ex­pec­ta­tions. Its per­for­mance was com­pe­tent or bet­ter in our gam­ing-fo­cused tests, but it

hung back no­tice­ably in some sit­u­a­tions, most likely be­cause of ther­mal throt­tling. You should still en­joy speedy pro­duc­tiv­ity and mul­ti­task­ing, and max-set­tings gam­ing, pro­vided you can set­tle for 30-fps vi­su­als. Oh, and keep that charg­ing ca­ble handy.

CINEBENCH R15

We start with Maxon’s Cinebench, which tests a CPU’S raw power—and the more threads, the bet­ter.

Here’s a chance for the Ni­tro 5’s 4-core, 8-thread i5 Cof­fee Lake pro­ces­sor to shine. In the sin­gle-threaded test, it jumps right into the mix with Core i7 CPUS and eas­ily bests pre–cof­fee Lake Core i5

chips. This is a good in­di­ca­tion that it’ll per­form just fine on most main­stream ap­pli­ca­tions and games.

The story changes when we run Cinebench in multi-threaded mode. The lap­tops with 6-core,

12-thread CPUS get to strut their stuff, leav­ing all the quad-core chips jostling for sec­ond place. The Acer

Ni­tro 5 lags be­hind its peers, with only a 7th-gen

Core i5 lap­top bring­ing up the rear. Just remember that there still aren’t many ap­pli­ca­tions that sup­port multi-threaded CPUS, so the score here doesn’t af­fect how most peo­ple will ex­pe­ri­ence the Ni­tro 5.

HAND­BRAKE

Af­ter Cinebench’s sprint, we send the CPUS on a marathon. The free Hand­brake util­ity lets us mea­sure how well the CPU per­forms over time with the in­ten­sive task of con­vert­ing a 40GB video file into An­droid tablet for­mat.

Dual-core lap­top pro­ces­sors of­ten need more than 6,000 sec­onds (an hour and 40 min­utes) to com­plete our Hand­brake bench­mark. The fastest mo­bile quad-core CPUS can fin­ish in fewer than 3,000 sec­onds (about 50 min­utes, un­der an hour).

The Ni­tro 5’s Hand­brake score of 3,119 sec­onds (a lit­tle less than 60 min­utes) is re­spectable for a quad-core sys­tem. But we were ex­pect­ing a bit more from this new Cof­fee Lake–era mo­bile per­for­mance chip. Our guess is that the Ni­tro 5 taps the brakes on per­for­mance to keep it cool un­der the hood.

(In­ci­den­tally, users who want to tinker with the Ni­tro 5’s cool­ing fans can do so with Nitrosense, an Acer util­ity that comes with a “Cool­boost” mode that ups the max­i­mum fan speeds.)

GAM­ING PER­FOR­MANCE

The Acer Ni­tro 5’s gam­ing per­for­mance is dic­tated by its lower-end Nvidia Ge­force GTX 1050 graph­ics card, and its bench­mark re­sults fell right in line with our ex­pec­ta­tions. In short, while the Ni­tro 5 de­liv­ers frame rates com­fort­ably north of 30 fps at “Ul­tra” set­tings for typ­i­cal AAA games, you’ll need to down­shift your graph­ics set­tings to boost those frame rates into the 60-fps range.

3Dmark’s Fire Strike Ex­treme is a syn­thetic bench­mark that fo­cuses on pure GPU per­for­mance.

The Ni­tro 5’s score of 5,476

is ac­tu­ally de­cent. The rea­son it’s at the bot­tom of this chart, is be­cause ev­ery other lap­top shown has a GTX 1050 Ti or bet­ter.

We’re not try­ing to make the Ni­tro 5 look bad. Com­pared to other GTX 1050 lap­tops, like the i7-7700hq-pow­ered Dell XPS 15, the Ni­tro 5 ends up look­ing pretty good. We’re just show­ing the trade-off of go­ing with a lower-end GPU in a bar­gain gam­ing lap­top.

Mov­ing on to some ac­tual games, we first tested the Acer Ni­tro 5 with the oldie-but-goodie Tomb Raider at its Ul­ti­mate graph­ics pre­set, with the dis­play set at 1920x1080 (and V-sync off). The Ni­tro 5’s GPU may be at the bot­tom of this chart, but that’s still log­ging a very good 53.7 frames per sec­ond.

Now for Mid­dle-earth: Shadow of Mor­dor at 1920x1080 and Ul­tra set­tings (a lit­tle harder). The Acer Ni­tro 5 strug­gles a bit more, manag­ing 47 fps and again bring­ing up the rear com­pared to lap­tops with huskier GPUS.

We could show you the Ni­tro 5 on Rise of the Tomb Raider, as we usu­ally would, but the trend is the same. Pushed even harder by this graph­i­cally in­ten­sive game, the Acer Ni­tro 5 tries its best, reach­ing 39.2 fps and trail­ing all the bet­ter-equipped com­pe­ti­tion.

That’s still solid gam­ing per­for­mance from a bud­get gam­ing lap­top, al­beit shy of 60-fps nir­vana. For those crav­ing but­tery vi­su­als on the Ni­tro 5, a lit­tle op­ti­miza­tion through the Ge­force Ex­pe­ri­ence app man­aged to do the trick with just a few min­i­mal com­pro­mises.

Pushed even harder by this graph­i­cally in­ten­sive game, the Acer Ni­tro 5 tries its best, reach­ing 39.2 fps and trail­ing all the bet­ter-equipped com­pe­ti­tion.

The Acer Ni­tro 5 is all plas­tic, but the tex­ture on its lid helps it rise above the or­di­nary.

The Ni­tro 5 has a sin­gle drive bay, so you have to lose your old drive to add a new one.

The track­pad cen­ters un­der the let­ter sec­tion of the key­board (there’s a nu­meric key­pad to the right). The keys are back­lit.

The Ni­tro 5’s right side in­cludes two more USB-A, an au­dio jack, and the charger port.

The Ni­tro 5’s left side in­cludes USB-C, HDMI, USB-A, and an SD card slot.

Con­sumer Re­ports pulled its rec­om­men­da­tion of the Sur­face Lap­top, even though the note­book wasn’t cov­ered in the sur­vey.

Acer’s Ni­tro 5 fares well on the Cinebench sin­glethreaded CPU test.

The Acer Ni­tro 5 la­bored through the Hand­brake test, prob­a­bly be­cause of ther­mal throt­tling.

In Tomb Raider at Ul­ti­mate set­tings, the Acer Ni­tro 5 logged a very good 53.7 frames per sec­ond.

3Dmark Fire­strike shows what a dif­fer­ence a GPU makes. The Acer Ni­tro 5’s GTX 1050 is com­pe­tent, but if you want max set­tings you’ll need to dial back the frame rate.

Acer Ni­tro 5’s 47 fps in Mid­dle-earth: Shadow of Mor­dor is a de­cent score.

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