Acer Nitro 5 (2020) Review – This Budget Gaming Laptop Is DIFFERENT
This is the Acer Nitro 5, it’s Acer’s entry-level 15-inch gaming laptop, and it’s targeted towards gamers who are looking for the best specs without breaking the bank. In fact, it’s cheaper than the famous Helios 300 lineup and it competes directly with the MSI Bravo 15 and the Dell G5 15 SE.
Now I’m typically not really excited about budget gaming notebooks, or I haven’t been excited lately, because when I took a look at the MSI Bravo 15 and the Dell G5 15 SE they had some serious issues. I just couldn’t entirely recommend those models, but there are a lot of great things to like about this newest Nitro 5 laptop. For starters, it has an RTX 2060 and it only costs about a $1,000 USD, which is actually a really good deal in my opinion. The build quality is also really good for the price, I’m surprised by a lot of factors, but given that it still has a lot of great specs there are certain things that you need to know about before pulling the trigger on the Nitro 5.
Models & Price
Acer is offering both Intel and AMD options with the Nitro 5. The AMD model starts at $600 USD, and for that you get a Ryzen 5 CPU and a GTX 1650. There is also a GTX 1650 Ti model, but that goes for about $1,000 USD and honestly that’s a poor value for gamers in my opinion considering what else is out there. The Intel flavour starts at $650 USD, and for that you get a quad-core 10th gen Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB NVMe drive, and a GTX 1650. The sample that we have in hand that comes with a 9th gen 6-core/12-thread Core i7-9750H processor, 16GB of RAM, the same amount of storage – which really isn’t that much at a time when games are starting to eat up at least 150 GB – a 1080P 144Hz IPS-like display, and an RTX 2060 for about $1,050 USD. Depending on when you see this and where you shop that price might be either higher or lower.
For those of you who noticed the odd Intel CPU, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. This laptop indeed uses an older 9th generation CPU, and while that might seem odd, Acer actually has a pretty good reason for this. As I mentioned earlier, this notebook is purely focused towards gamers, so they still decided to offer a 12-thread processor instead of going with one of the more expensive 10th gen CPUs, because the Intel tax is ridiculous. They decided to save a little bit of money on that front and then allocate that the money towards a faster graphics card, which in this case is an RTX 2060. This is actually something that we are pushing towards more desktops and notebooks because you know games these days are in one way, shape, or form limited by the GPU so getting something that’s faster is a win-win.
The Nitro 5 isn’t designed to be a superstar in multi-threaded productivity applications. I would call this the exact opposite of the MSI Bravo 15, even though MSI call that failure a gaming notebook. Its CPU performance was a priority, whereas Acer’s target here is strictly gaming. Now as I mentioned at the beginning, the Helios lineup lies just above this model, and that could cause some overlaps since there is a Helios 300 that is about $150 more, but it comes with a 512GB SSD, a 10th gen Core i7 CPU. If that ever goes on sale it could cause some serious issues for the Nitro 5.
Design & Build Quality
From a physical standpoint, there is nothing really special about this laptop. You can clearly tell that this is indeed a gaming notebook by the looks. Acer has added a touch of red and black here and there, but it isn’t overly done in my opinion. I really like the blackout logo at the front, it reminded me of doing a chrome delete on my car. The edges have a slightly different texture compared to the center area, but given that this is an all-plastic body it easily catches finger oils, so keep that in mind. It’s very difficult to keep clean for the most part. There is also another thing that I want to bring up, the rear ventilation grill right is actually really sharp. It won’t really cut you, but it’s just very edgy so it’s really not that comfortable when you’re holding it by the back. I think Acer could have done something better by implementing something a little bit smoother and lower profile.
The display hinge is okay, there is a little bit of wobble, but nothing to be worried about. There is also very little keyboard flex. Overall, I have to say that this laptop really surprised me in the build quality area. When you compare this to something like the MSI Bravo 15 or even the Dell G5 15 SE, the build quality here is really good, Acer just knocked it out of the park. This is exactly what a budget laptop should feel like in the first place. I should also mention that this model is pretty thin compared to the G5 15 SE, it’s only about an inch thick, and it weighs 4.85lbs so when it comes to portability you shouldn’t have an issue lugging this thing around.
The interior space is pretty clean for the most part, aside from the red accented keys. You are getting a full-size layout and I love how big the arrow keys are. The red accents tend to remove the stealth feeling and it stands out a bit more. It is LED backlit in red, however there are some models offering four zone RGB lighting. It doesn’t get that bright, and unfortunately it doesn’t light up consistently as well across all keys, so keep that in mind. The WASD and arrow keys are outlined, but it’s pretty subtle to differentiate it with the rest of the keys. The keys themselves are really good, they are a bit on the mushier side without a distinctive activation point, but there is plenty of travel distance and there is no key wobble. That is something that I did not expect from a notebook with this low of a price tag.
The trackpad is satisfactory, it has a plastic surface and support for Windows Position drivers. The only issue that I have is that it’s positioned way too far towards the left hand side of the notebooks, so there is not a lot of room to place your your left palm comfortably. It tends to just slide off the side. I had the same issue with the Dell G5 15 SE, Dell should have off-centered it a little bit so that you have more room to comfortably place your wrists. Overall though, the trackpad on this laptop is decent, but I wouldn’t say that it’s great. You are much better off using an external mouse. I do want to mention the bloatware that Acer pre-installed on the Nitro 5, there is a lot of Acer management utilities and other popup Windows that just show up, especially with the preloaded antivirus program. It gets annoying, so you will definitely have to spend a little bit more time cleaning those up.
Webcam & Speakers
This is what the webcam looks like, and honestly it’s pretty good. In fact, it’s better than the XPS 15 that I checked out recently. The microphone quality is also really good, there is no crackling or pops happening, which is awesome. Honestly, I think for $1,000 notebook it’s pretty amazing. The speakers are bottom-facing and they are bad, like really bad. In fact, Acer did build in some audio profiles within the Nitro Sense app, and after playing around with them the only thing I noticed is that it increased the treble and sort of distorted it at certain levels. Honestly, just get yourself a pair of headphones for a decent multimedia experience, because the speakers aren’t going to cut it.
Taking a look at the I/O on the left-hand side, you get a Kensington lock, a LAN port, a HDMI 2.0 output, one USB 3.1 Gen1 Type-C port, and two USB 3.1 Type-A ports. Just keep in mind that all of these USB ports are Gen1 5Gbps, even the Type-C. Switching over to the right, there is power-in, a USB 2.0 port, and an audio combo jack. I’m not a fan of the power connector on the right side, but Acer’s power input is a right angle connector so it does make it less intrusive.
Moving on to the display, ad this is where things get really interesting. You are getting a 15.6-inch 1080P screen with a refresh rate of 144Hz. Sounds great, right? And Acer claims that it is an IPS panel that can get as bright as 300 nits. My first impressions were pretty poor, I was noticing washed out colours and not the greatest viewing angles. When I ran my display analysis test that basically confirmed that those initial impressions. As you can see, it only covers 66% sRGB, 49% Adobe RGB, and 49% DCPI-P3, so don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can use it for photo editing or video editing just because it has an IPS panel. Don’t do it, because it’s pretty bad. Also the display only got as far as 280 nits, I never reached 300 nits, which is what what Acer claims. And finally I did experience some backlight bleed on the top portion of the display. It was a bit annoying, especially when watching movies and things like that. However, when you’re gaming you shouldn’t really notice it. Speaking of gaming, the 144Hz refresh rate is welcome. I love the fact that you are at least getting a higher refresh rate screen. Acer claims a 3ms response time but overall it really didn’t stand out as anything special.
When you get under the hood, this notebook reveals a pretty unique looking cooling assembly with two fans placed right next to each other. Even though the CPU and GPU are supposed to have their own fans according to Acer’s Nitro Sense utility, the two largest heatpipes are shared. Yes, there is a smaller one that runs from the GPU to a secondary heat ink on the notebook’s right-hand side, but it will be interesting to see if the setup causes any temperature issues.
Upgrading the Nitro 5 is pretty straightforward. Once you get inside you have instant access to the two RAM slots – maximum supported memory is 32GB – there are two M.2 slots that are covered with heatsinks. One of which is occupied by the 256GB NVMe drive, and unfortunately it’s slow compared to the competition. For those of you wondering, Acer is using a Hynix BC501 PCIe 3.0 SSD and it doesn’t have the greatest specs. You can also find a 2.5-inch hard drive bay, right beneath the M.2 slot. Acer does include the necessary cables in the box, so make sure you find that before tossing out the box. Honestly, I would rather have a bigger battery instead of a 2.5-inch drive bay, but that’s just me.
Speaking of battery, this one comes with a 55Wh cell and that’s large enough to expect 7.5 hours of light load use, which is quite respectable. If you watch your consumption it should get you through a day of note taking or light web browsing. This notebook achieved one of the longer run times I have seen in our Heavy Load test, which is probably because of the less power hungry 9th gen chip. Remember those CPUs tend to be capped at much lower power than current 10th gen Comet Lake processors.
We have already looked at what the cooling system is like on the Nitro 5, and it’s pretty unique. You can control the fans or the cooling system through Acer’s Nitro Sense app. It’s pretty straightforward where you can set the fan speeds, enable CoolBoost, and control the power plans. You can also set audio options through Acer’s TrueHarmony, which is useless in my opinion as it did nothing to improve the speakers output. Remember the Nitro 5 has two fans – one for the GPU and one for the CPU – through Nitro Sense they can be controlled individually through manual inputs or simply left on auto mode. On top of that, there is a CoolBoost setting that increases the maximum RPMs in situations where the fans are forced to run at 100%. Personally, I didn’t find CoolBoost to be doing anything since the fans never really hit their highest RPM levels in normal testing.
Temperatures & Acoustic Performance
Speaking of cool, the surface temperatures are right in line with some of the cooler running notebooks we have come across. In general, the palm rest area, the keyboard, and most of the bottom don’t get overly warm, though there is a hotspot right in the middle. That is pretty much expected since this is where there is that open ventilation. It’s also great to see that most of the heat is directed out the back instead of blasting your mouse hand with hot air. What is incredible is that Acer isn’t sacrificing on noise to get those super cool exterior temperatures either. Even in High Performance mode with CoolBoost enabled this laptop stayed pretty much quiet when compared to many of the other gaming notebooks that we have tested.
When loading the system up with an all-core render the temperatures stay super low, but check out the clock speed. It plunges down to Intel’s base clock of 2.6GHz and just sits there regardless of how cool the CPU is running. I even tried the exact same test with the fans running at 100% and the frequency didn’t change one bit. There are a couple of reasons for this sort of behavior. First of all, Acer is religiously sticking to the 45W TDP spec for the i7-9750H. As a result, the package power tends to bottleneck clock speeds, regardless of how cool the CPU gets. Many of the notebooks from the previous generation tend to run their 9750H’s at 50W to 60W, which then resulted in higher frequencies than what we saw here. The current generation of notebooks featuring the 10th gen Core i7-10750H’s are pretty much similar, but I have to wonder why Acer is actually doing something like this given that the cooling system is more than capable enough to cool a higher TDP spec CPU. I have a theory that maybe Acer is trying to sort of separate the performance levels between the Nitro series and Helios lineup, which is the step-up above this laptop.
And as we move on to benchmark results, sticking to the minimum Intel TDP spec hurts Cinebench multi-core results, especially against the MSI GS66 which has the i7-10750H running at a pretty constant 56W. However, check out the single-core run in Cinebench. It’s pretty obvious Acer is targeting one key area and that is why fan speeds increase more in lightly threaded situations. As far as other results, they are pretty much the same as Cinebench, where the CPUs are fully loaded. The Nitro 5 ends up trailing pretty much everything, but then the RTX 2060 and the integrated graphics can flex their muscles in applications like Adobe Premiere to beat the TUF A15 and almost match the A15 in DaVinci Resolve. Then WinRAR shows that the Nitro’s great lightly threaded performance can almost hide how slow its SSD is.
On that note it’s time to switch gears to gaming. With the usual temperatures and clock speeds over time graph you can see the i7-9750H turnaround in a big way. The Nitro 5 is laser targeted at providing higher clocks in gaming. It’s still running well under 90°C, but now the frequency averages are between 3.25GHz and 3.4GHz. Moving onto the GPU, it maintains clock speeds that are above NVIDIA specs while the core stays under 80°C. How does this compare to other notebooks? Well the TUF A15 also has an RTX 2060 and the Nitro 5 kept to about the same average 1550MHz clock speed, but it also stayed a good 7°C cooler.
Moving on to actual gaming results, and it’s so obvious that this laptop is punching above its price here. In most cases, it either passes or matches the more expensive TUF A15 from ASUS. That is a really good result for a notebook that costs about $1,000. I have to say when it comes to 1080p gaming the RTX 2060 and the i7-9750H are a really good combination for the price. Honestly, if the prices were the same, I would pick the RTX 2060 with a 9th gen CPU over a 10th gen and a GTX 1660 Ti any day.
All right, so I think it’s time to wrap up this review. The Acer Nitro 5 has surprised me in a lot of ways. The first thing is of course the price point: $1,000. I think you are getting a lot for that money. The first thing being the gaming performance, the RTX 2060 can actually push really good frame rates at 1080P. You are also getting really good build quality, with a fantastic keyboard for gaming as well as typing, and the battery life is pretty respectable too. Yu get a lot of upgrade options as well if you want to populate another M.2 drive or that 2.5-inch drive bay. With that being, there are some sacrifices that you are making. The first things is obviously the display. While Acer says that it is IPS, it is not colour accurate, so if you are planning on doing photo work or video editing you should probably connect an external monitor. I also have to admit that the SSD is slow, it’s really slow. Finally, there is bloatware, there are a lot of applications pre-installed, which you will have to spend some time cleaning up.
Another consideration is that if you need more CPU performance and a lot more storage, rather than raw gaming horsepower, there are a lot of great AMD-based alternatives as well. On that note, it will be really interesting to see how low the price gets, especially for special sales event like Black Friday/Boxing Day, so keep an eye out for this model.