Acer don’t have a long history of making dedicated gaming laptops, yet they managed to create some great Predator computers in these last two years since the series was released. Most of them are aimed at the high end gaming niche though, with devices like the Predator 17 X or the monstrous Predator 21 X.
More recently Acer unveiled a mid-range Predator, the Helios 300 line, and we’ve spent time with a pre-production unit before it was released in shops, enough to gather a handful (or two) of opinions in the article below. This line includes 15 and 17-inch notebooks and in this post you’ll read about the 15-inch model, the Helios 300 G3-571.
In very few words, the Helios 300 is a gaming laptop capable of providing a solid FHD experience thanks to the Nvidia GTX 1060 graphics chip inside most configurations (1050 Ti on others), paired with modern Intel processors, DDR4 RAM and dual-storage. It’s also a well built computer with a metallic exterior and some gaming design accents, a good keyboard, good IO and a matte screen.
In fact, in some ways it’s a redesigned version of the Aspire V Nitro series, with whom it shares many traits, but with a few changes. Some positive, like the new cooling system, some subjective, like the design lines, and some unexpected and unwanted, like the screen choice and battery size. Read on for the whole story.
Specs as reviewed
|Acer Predator Helios 300 G3-571|
|Screen||15.6 inch, 1920 x 1080 px, IPS, non-touch, matte|
|Processor||Intel Kaby Lake Core i7-7700HQ CPU|
|Video||Intel HD 630 + Nvidia GT 1060 6GB|
|Memory||16 GB DDR4|
|Storage||512 GB SSD (M.2 NVMe) + 1 TB 5400 HDD (2.5″)|
|Connectivity||Gigabit LAN, Intel AC 7265 Wireless AC , Bluetooth 4.1|
|Ports||1x USB 3.0, 2x USB 2.0, 1x USB 3.1 gen 1, HDMI, mic/earphone, SD card reader, LAN, Kensington Lock|
|Battery||48 Wh, 180 Wh charger|
|Operating system||Windows 10|
|Size||390 mm or 15.35” (w) x 270 mm or 10.62” (d) x 27 mm or 1.06” (h)|
|Weight||5.64 lbs (2.56 kg)|
|Extras||red backlit keyboard, webcam|
On a first look I was pretty sure the Helios 300 is more compact and thinner than other 15-inch laptops with similar same specs, but once I measured the dimensions and weight I realized that was an illusion. In fact, at 5.6 lbs this 15-inch Helios is actually a little wider, thicker at the back and even heavier, if my scales are not mistaken, than the Aspire Nitro V15, with whom it shares most characteristics. It’s also bigger and a lot heavier than the MSI GS63 we reviewed a while ago.
But while it’s not lighter and smaller than other laptops with Nvidia 1060 graphics, the Helios 300 does have its aggressive design lines as a potential selling point. It’s advertised as a gaming laptop and makes sure there’s no confusion about that from the first time you’ll get your eyes on it. Its exterior is mostly black, but with sharp beveled edges and quite a few red accents and embossed logos. There’s a big Predator logo on the lid, flanked by two red bars, but neither are backlit, so perhaps there’s a small chance you might get this laptop accepted in more strict business environments. There’s also a red frame around the exhaust on the back and a big Predator branding on the inside, under the screen.
All these are elements consistent with most Predator laptops, and while I’m not a fan, I have to admit the aggressive accents are more tamed on this Helios 300 than on other Acer gaming machines. The great news is there are no LEDs that cannot be switched off on the interior, as the power button is integrated withing the keyboard and the status LEDs are discrete and placed on the right edge. I’ve always complained of how annoying lights are on other Predators when watching a movie in a dark room, that’s not an issue here anymore. And like I mentioned above, there are no lights on the lid either.
As another novelty of the Helios 300, Acer went with a different choice in materials: brushed metal for the lid cover and the interior, and rough plastic for the sides and the underbelly. Aesthetically, the black metallic surfaces are prone to smudges and finger oil, so you’ll have to wipe them clean often. There is however a practical aspect that I find potentially more annoying: Acer went with beveled edges around the entire interior, which are a nice aesthetic touch, but are sharp and if you have larger hands, your wrists won’t like coming in contact with them. Most people won’t have a hard time with these though, as the palm-rest is spacious and the front profile low enough to fly the sharp bits under the radar.
In terms of build quality, the Helios 300 is fairly well made, with a strong inner deck, but still some flex in the lid. The two hinges that attach the screen to the main body are well made too. If you’ll look at the laptop from its profile, you’ll notice the screen is a little longer than the body and that leaves an edge for your fingers to easily grab and lift the screen, which can be done with a single hand. The display leans back up to around 150 degrees and the hinges are able to keep it sturdily set up in any intermediate position. So nothing to complain here.
As far as the IO goes, there’s mostly what you’d expect on this device: three USB A ports, one USB 3.1 Type-C without Thunderbolt 3 support, HDMI video output, LAN, a card reader, a headphone/mic jack and a Kensington lock. Most of these are placed on the left edge, which is great for righties. The PSU is still on the right side, but on the back and won’t interfere with a mouse.
The back lip is entirely occupied by cooling vents, yet while the design is symmetric, only one half of the back is used for exhaust, as the other is covered with a plastic component. That’s because the cooling system uses two fans placed one next to the other, and not one on each side of the case, like on most other laptops. As for the front lip, you might notice something that looks like speaker cuts here, but in reality these are just design pieces, as the speakers only fire though grills on the belly.
Speaking of that, flipping the laptop upside down you’ll notice four big and grippy rubber feet and plenty of air-intake grills, as well as the speaker cuts on the sides. If you’ll peak through the air grills you’ll notice the inner fans, so I’d advise you not to cover these grills if possible, especially when playing games or performing other demanding tasks. Down here there are also two separate quick-access bays, one for the HDD and another for the RAM. Getting to the SSD, the Wi-Fi chip, battery or the cooling solution will require you to go past the entire back panel, which is hold in place by a dozen of Philips screws and is fairly easy to remove. I didn’t get to open this sample though and I can’t share any pics of the internals.
Keyboard and trackpad
The Helios 300 gets the exact same keyboard Acer also puts on the Nitro V15, which is one of my all-time favorites. However, it’s not necessarily for everyone, as it’s a short stroke keyboard and those of you coming from older devices might struggle with it.
These keys only travel 1.2 mm into the frame, but I find the feedback and click response very good, or at least a good match for my typing style. These keys are also very quiet, due to the short travel, and have a soft, rubbery finishing, so they feel great to the touch. The keyboard is also backlit, with red LEDs, but there’s just one brightness level to choose from and the illumination is not activated by swiping your fingers over the trackpad, but only by pressing a key. That might not seem much, but it can be annoying at times.
I also have a few nits with the layout. Most keys are properly sized and spaced, however the NumPad section and the directional keys are narrower. On top of that, the up key is closely bound to the right Shift, so there’s a fair chance you’ll end up pressing the wrong one of the two. I don’t use the right Shift often, but I can see how this can be a problem for those who do.
A large trackpad sits beneath the keyboard, centered on the Space key. It’s slightly recessed into the frame and gets both a physical beveled edge and an aesthetic red framing, so there’s no way you’ll miss it, even in the dark.
It’s a plastic surface with Microsoft Precision drivers as far as I can tell, and it performs well with all daily activities, swipes, taps and gestures. The click buttons and a little firm and the plastic surface rattles a bit when tapped harder, but overall there’s not much to complain about here.
There’s a matte 15.6-inch screen on the Helios 300, but Acer skimmed on the panel’s quality judging by this sample.
I’m going to update the section if the final retail units ship with a different panel, but the one we got here is average at best. It’s an IPS LG Philips panel similar to what Lenovo uses on the Legion Y520, MSI on the GS63 and OEMs like Clevo or Schenker on some of their units, a panel that doesn’t keep up with the competition in terms of brightness and color reproduction, as you can see from the numbers below.
- Panel HardwareID: LG Philips LGD0590 (LP156WF6-SPK6);
- Coverage: 70% sRGB, 50% NTSC, 52% AdobeRGB;
- Measured gamma: 2.3;
- Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 252 cd/m2 on power;
- Contrast at max brightness: 790:1;
- White point: 6900 K;
- Black on max brightness: 0.32 cd/m2;
- Average DeltaE: 1.46 uncalibrated, 0.99 calibrated.
The contrast is pretty good though, due to the rich blacks, there’s little to no light bleeding around the frame (at least not on my test unit, but I’ve seen some complains from buyers on the forums), and the color accuracy out of the box is not that bad either. The gamut coverage is limited though and there’s no need for a color-meter to tell that, your eyes will be able to tell that this screen looks washed out, especially if you’re used to better screens from your phone or other laptops. We uploaded the calibrated color profile in here if you want to squeeze the best out of this display, but don’t expect wonders.
As a side note, this panel also uses PWM across the entire brightness range.
Bottom point, if you don’t have high expectations, this screen will do for daily activities and games as long as you don’t use the laptop in bright environments or outdoors. But even so, this panel is sub-par in this day and age and Acer should have went with a better choice. Whether Acer will also offer an UHD screen option for the Helios line is unknown at this moment.
Hardware and performance
Acer offers the Helios 300 in a bunch of different models, but we got to test a high end 15-inch configuration with a Core i7-7700HQ processor, 32 GB of DDR4 RAM, Nvidia GTX 1060 6 GB graphics and dual storage, with an M.2 NVMe SSD and a 2.5″ HDD.
That’s my first encounter with an Intel 600p series SSD BTW, and it’s a good performer (good read speeds, slower write speeds) given it’s price, but there are much faster options out there. As for the included HDD, well, it performs just like a 7200 rpm HDD. Details below.
Acer puts a fair amount of bloatware on the laptop and most of it should be uninstalled. Keep the Predator Sense app though, it’s a quick way of monitoring CPU and GPU temperatures and can help you tweak the fans’ behavior, but more about that in a bit.
Performance wise, this laptop flies. It can handle everyday tasks, demanding software and games fine, and it doesn’t show any signs of throttling and performance drops. I’ve added some benchmark results below:
- 3DMark 11: P11774;
- 3DMark 13: Sky Driver – 23383, Fire Strike – 9399, Time Spy – 3440;
- PCMark 08: Home Conventional – 3526;
- Geekbench 3 32-bit: Single-Core: 3818, Multi-core: 14047;
- Geekbench 4 64-bit: Single-Core: 4387, Multi-core: 13899;
- CineBench 11.5: OpenGL 63.39 fps, CPU 8.12 pts, CPU Single Core 1.71 pts;
- CineBench R15: OpenGL 88.57 fps, CPU 726 cb, CPU Single Core 144 cb;
- x264 HD Benchmark 4.0 32-bit: Pass 1 – 170.25 fps, Pass 2 – 46.07 fps;
- x264 HD Benchmark 5.1 64-bit: Pass 1 – 77.25 fps, Pass 2 – 16.40 fps.
Some of these results are about 3-5% lower than what we got on the Nitro V15 tested a while ago, but keep in mind our Helios 300 is a pre-release sample and doesn’t get the best of drivers. That means results in test and games will be improved on the final retails units.
As far as gaming goes, you can find some numbers below. I’ll also add that the CPU and GPU performed as expected, maintaining high frequencies during all sessions.
|FHD Ultra – Nitro V15||FHD Ultra – Helios 300|
|Shadow of Mordor||48 fps||47 fps|
|Grid Autosport||88 fps||93 fps|
|Tomb Raider||99 fps||91 fps|
|Bioshock Infinite||101 fps||93 fps|
|Total War: Attila||34 fps||35 fps|
|Need For Speed Most Wanted||60 fps||60 fps|
Gaming on battery was deficient though, as the CPU was quickly clocked down to 800 MHz on this sample, as you can see in one of the pictures below.
Emissions (noise, heat), Connectivity and speakers
The big selling point for the Helios 300 is its improved cooling system, with Acer’s redesigned fans capable of an up to 35% increased CFM, according to the brochures. Technically, these fans use very thin metallic blades and that allows Acer to put more blades on a single fan and thus improve the amount of air these blades can push. In practice, I did notice serious airflow coming from the exhausts and it seems these new blades are not just advertising, they actually do push a lot of air.
In order to test their performance, I’ve compared the Helios 300 with the Aspire Nitro V15 in daily use. The Helios averaged CPU temperatures of around 40-45 degrees, while the Nitro average CPU temperatures of 35 to 40 degrees Celsius. However, the CPU on our Helios sample only clocked down to 1600 MHz and not to 800 MHz as it should, which means final retail units will run cooler. As far as fan noise goes, the fans spin on both of these laptops with daily use, but they are quieter on the Helios, to the point that you’ll only hear them if you put your ear on the laptop.
Besides that, while the components get a little warmer, the outer case temperatures remain lower on the Helios than on the Nitro, which combined with the quieter fans, makes the Helios the winner in this scenario.
As a side note, the HDD can be a noise source on both these laptops, but can be replaced with an SSD. And as an extra note, I didn’t notice any electrical noise on the Helios, which was unfortunately present on the Nitro V15 sample I reviewed a while ago.
When it comes to gaming, both the Helios and the Nitro V15 performed the same, with the CPU consistently running at 3.5 GHz and the Nvidia graphics at 1.65 GHz. The CPU averages temperatures of around 80-85 degrees on both laptops, yet the GPU averages 70-73 degrees on the Helios and 77-80 degrees on the Nitro, so the cooling solution does a better job at keeping the graphics cool on the newer laptop. Fan noise is around 43-45 dB with both units, yet the fans on the Helios are pulsating between 4000 and 4500 rpm most of the time, which is audible if there’s no sound coming from the speakers, while the fans on the Nitro spin at a constant rate.
I noticed the pulsating behavior in the fan’s Auto profile, but you can also set them on maximum speed, which seems to be 4900 rpm based on the Predator Sense app. At this point the sound jumps to 48 dB at head level, but the fans very rarely have to spin that fast in everyday use. Speaking of Predator Sense, it includes it allows you to set fans on Auto, on Max, or manually adjust their spin rate. Auto works just fine if you can accept that pulsating, so there’s little need to tweak it, especially since the manual option is just a slider than can increase or decrease the rpm in steps of 100s. I would have preferred a smarter app that would have allowed to set various fan speeds based on the CPU temperatures, similar to what motherboard manufacturers offer on desktops. As it is right now, the manual tweaking in Predator Sense is pretty useless.
As far as outer case temperatures go though, the Helios gets hotter than the Nitro. There’s also a big difference between the right and left halves of the laptop, as the right part that includes the CPU and GPU reaches much higher temperatures than the left part that includes the cooling fans. That’s not unexpected, but it makes me wonder if this design choice is actually a smart idea or not. I can’t really draw conclusions base on this early sample alone though.
Bottom point, the cooling on the Helios 300 is cooler and quieter than the Nitro 15 in daily use, but when it comes to demanding tasks, while the internals reach lower temperatures, the outer case gets very hot in certain spots around the CPU and GPU.. These are influenced by the fact that the Helios uses metal for the interior, which spreads heat more aggressively than the plastic case of the Nitro, as well as the angled shape of the Helios, which translates in less space inside, so comparing the two cooling solutions in these two different builds isn’t very fair for the new implementation.
*Daily Use – 1080p Youtube clip in EDGE for 30 minutes
*Load – playing FarCry 4 for 30 minutes
Connectivity wise, there’s wireless AC, Bluetooth and Gigabit LAN on this laptop. Our test sample came with an Intel 7265 wireless module, which is a bit surprising, given how the other Predators get Killer Wi-Fi chips, but the Intel module performs alright. I did notice a drop in signal strength and speeds and 30 feet with two walls in between, but not the point where I would encounter sluggishness or buffering when browsing and streaming video content.
BTW, Acer put the same wireless chip on the Nitro V15, which is one more similarity between the two lines.
As far as speakers go, they’re not as good as on the Nitro V15. I didn’t open this laptop up and can’t tell whether Acer went with the same 4 speakers grouped in two pairs implementation as on the Nitro, but the measured maximum volume is lower on the Helios, at about 78 dB at head level (vs 85 dB on the Nitro). Update: They’re not the same. The fact that sound only comes from the belly has in impact on the audio quality, as those front cuts are just design elements and don’t actually let the sound pass through.
You shouldn’t conclude that these speakers sound poorly though, that’s not the case, as the audio quality is decent, but with little low end. They don’t distort at high volumes either, but they do cause the laptop’s frame to vibrate, something you’ll feel when using it on the lap.
As a side note, the Helios doesn’t get a separate SPDIF jack, like the 2017 Nitro does, but just a regular audio/mic jack. The sound coming through to headphones is pretty good though.
One last thing to mention here is the webcam. It’s placed on top of the screen, flanked by two microphones and an LED that signals when it’s on. It gets a wide angle lens, but the images taken are grainy and washed out even in properly lit rooms, so not something to brag about.
There only a 48 Wh battery on the 15-inch variant of the Helios 300, which alongside the screen is one of its important flaws.
This is not the only laptop with a 48 Wh battery in its niche, but the Nitro V15 gets a much bigger 69 Wh battery for example, and even the way lighter MSI GS63 gets a 52 Wh battery. So given the weight and size of this laptop, I was expecting more in terms of battery life. Here’s what our sample ended up with (screen was set at 50% brightness, around 120 nits):
- 16.2 W (~3 h of use) – very light browsing and text editing in Google Drive, Balanced Mode, screen at 50%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 12.4 W (~3 h 50 min of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Internet Explorer, Balanced Mode, screen at 50%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 10.8 W (~4 h 20 min of use) – 1080p fullscreen .mkv video in the Movie app, Balanced Mode, screen at 50%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 12.0 W (~4 h of use) – 4K fullscreen .mkv video in the Movie app, Balanced Mode, screen at 50%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 17.5 W (~2 h 45 min of use) – heavy browsing in Edge, Balanced Mode, screen at 50%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 53.0 W (~50 min of use) – gaming, High Performance Mode, screen at 50%, Wi-Fi ON.
Keep in mind the CPU did not clock down all the way to 800 MHz on this sample, which means final retails units should squeeze a little more in basic activities, but the gains will be marginal.
This laptops comes with a standard 180 Wh power brick and a full charge takes around 2 hours, longer if you’re playing games though.
Price and availability
The Helios 300 is already available in stores in the US and should be available worldwide soon enough.
Initially we were told that the base versions of the 15-inch model are scheduled to start at around $1100 with Nvidia 1050 Ti graphics, while the Nvidia 1060 configurations were supposed to go for $1200 and up. However, the 15-inch Helios 300 with Nvidia GTX 1060 6 GB graphics is listed at $1099 as of late May 2017, with a Core i7 processor, 16 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD. That’s an unbeatable price for a GTX 1060 6 GB laptop, more affordable than any other alternative at this point.
I’m not sure if this is a limited time deal or Acer will actually keep this aggressive pricing for good, but you can follow this link for the latest configurations and updated prices at the time you’re reading the article.
The 17-inch versions of the Helios 300s are expected to sell for around $100 more than a similarly configured 15-incher.
Price at the time of this update, but it might not last
The base Nvidia 1050 Ti configurations of the Helios 300 will have to face rivals like the Acer Aspire VX15, Acer Aspire 7, Acer Nitro 5, Dell Inspiron Gaming 7567, Asus ROG Strix GL553, Lenovo Legion Y520, MSI GL62 and others mentioned in this list. The competition is very tough at this level, with many options available around the $1000 point, so whether the Helios 300 will be able to compete will depend much on its final retail price.
As far as the higher end configurations with GTX 1060 graphics go, the Helios faces the Acer Aspire Nitro V15, Lenovo Legion Y720, Asus ROG GL502VM, MSI GS63 Stealth Pro, Gigabyte Aero 15 and GE62 Apache Pro and some of the other options in this list, selling for between $1200 and $1500. At $1100, the Helios 300 is more affordable than all those other options, with the exception of some lower-end Lenovo Legion Y720 models with a smaller SSD and less RAM, or the newer Dell Inspiron 7577 that sells for under $1000 with a Core i5 processor and Nvidia 1060 MQ graphics. It’s even cheaper than the popular Asus FX502VM with Nvidia GTX 1060 3 GB graphics. The average battery and panel quality might weigh heavier in this higher-tier segment, but with that kind of pricing I’m pretty sure many will be able to look past that.
Although we tested a pre-production version of the Helios 300, I’m convinced it’s identical to the final retail versions. Still, take some of our findings on performance and temperatures with a pinch of salt, as these and some other aspects noticed on this test-unit might change on the final units.
However, based on our review sample, the 15-inch Helios 300 is a proper gaming laptop with a nice construction, interesting design lines, good inputs and IO. It packs the latest hardware specs and performs flawlessly even in demanding tasks, while running quiet and cool with most tasks (but not under heavy load, though), thanks to its new cooling solution. On the other hand, Acer puts a rather average panel on this laptop, deficient in terms of brightness and color reproduction, as well as a rather small 48 Wh battery, which translates in short battery life. Neither are truly something you absolutely can’t live with, but some competitors offer better alternatives.
All that means potential buyers will find themselves torn when looking at this option. Yes, it’s well made, and yes, it performs very well, but are these enough to compensate for the average screen and battery life? Initially, I believed they could be for the right price, and now that I’m seeing the Helios 300 listed at $1100 for a GTX 1060 configuration, I’m pretty sure they will be for many potential users. Yes, there are overall better options out there, like the complete Acer Nitro V15 or the highly portable MSI GS63, but at $1100 for a top-tier configuration, the Helios 300 offers unrivaled value for the buck.
That wraps up our review of the Acer Predator Helios 300 15. The comments section is open though, so if you have anything to add or any questions about this laptop and other similar ones, don’t hesitate to get in touch.