There are quite a few gaming laptops available in stores for around $1000, and we’ve reviewed most of them here on the site, but it’s now time for one more: the Acer Nitro 5.
This is a full-size laptop with a 15-inch matte IPS screen, a backlit keyboard and pretty standard hardware for the segment: quad-core Intel processors, DDR4 RAM, Nvidia GTX 1050 / 1050 Ti graphics and hybrid storage. In fact, even Acer offer at least two more devices with nearly identical traits, the Aspire VX15 and the Aspire 7.
The exterior design is what mostly sets these apart though: the VX15 gets aggressive gaming inspired lines, the Aspire 7 is simple and sober, while the Nitro 5 fits somewhere in between, with mostly black lines, but also a dark-red strip and red backlit keys to suggest the powerful hardware inside. There are however a few other minor differences between the three, as they get different keyboards and panels, among others.
We’ll get in-depth on all of these details in the article below, which primarily includes our impressions of the Acer Nitro 5, but with references to the other options available at the time of the article (July 2017).
Specs as reviewed
|Acer Nitro 5 AN515-51|
|Screen||15.6 inch, 1920 x 1080 px, IPS, non-touch, matte|
|Processor||Intel Kaby Lake Core i7-7700HQ CPU|
|Vide0||Intel HD 630 + Nvidia GT 1050 Ti 4GB|
|Memory||32 GB DDR4 (2x DIMMs)|
|Storage||512 GB SSD (M.2 NVMe) + 1 TB 5400 rpm HDD (2.5″)|
|Connectivity||Gigabit LAN, Wireless AC , Bluetooth 4.1|
|Ports||2 x USB 2.0, 1 x USB 3.0, 1x USB 3.1 Type C gen 1, HDMI, LAN, SD card reader, mic/headphone, Kensington Lock|
|Size||390 mm or 15.35” (w) x 268 mm or 10.47” (d) x 27 mm or 1.05” (h)|
|Weight||5.46 lbs (2.48 kg) + 1.1 lbs (.5 kg) for the charger|
|Extras||red backlit keyboard, webcam|
Design and first look
For us, the Nitro 5 is one of the most beautiful laptops in its class, but since it uses a black and red theme you might expect us to be a little biased here (hint: check out the colors in the site’s header). It is without a doubt a nice mix of simplicity and interesting design accents that suggest it’s not just an ordinary notebook.
In fact, it shares its format with the Predator Helios series, but with a few differences. It’s not a completely rectangular device, as its front corners are slightly cut. It also gets some interesting lines on the hood and some exhaust grills on the back edge. But unlike the Predator, it’s otherwise simple. The logo on the hood for instance blends in with the black surface around and except for some status LEDs placed on the right edge, there are no lights or any elements that stand out in any way. Even the red bar between the hinges, with the branded NITRO engraving, is fairly subtle, with a matte finishing and dark-red color, not the shinny kind used on the VX15s.
That’s why overall this laptop is a suitable option for stricter school and work environments where something like the Predator or the Aspire VX15 won’t be allowed, and it’s an alternative to the even simpler Aspire 7 series.
The Nitro 5 is entirely made out of plastic though. The lid gets a dark brushed finishing and might even be confused for aluminum on a first look, but it’s plastic nonetheless and shows smudges easily. The interior is made from smooth matte plastic, albeit it’s not the nice rubbery kind Acer puts on the Nitros V series, it’s something that feels somewhat cheaper. The bottom and sides are made from rougher textured plastic, and in fact this is similar to the bottom half of the Predator Helios 300.
The build quality is fairly good. There’s some flex in the lid, but overall the screen is thick and solid, and pressing on the hood doesn’t have any impact on the panel inside. The keyboard deck is pretty solid too, as it gets a metal plate beneath the keys, like with all modern laptops. The hinges’ mechanisms are metallic as well and attach to this inner plate. In fact, the hinges work well, allow to lift the screen with a single hand and lean back to about 150 degrees, which is enough for desk use.
I do have to add that the Nitro 5 is fairly chunky and on the heavy side as well, at 2.5 kilos not including the power brick, yet while there are lighter 15-inch laptops out there, they do sell for more than $1000. The Aspire 7, the Lenovo Legion Y520 and Acer ROG GL553 are marginally lighter, with the Acer VX15 being heavier though.
Still, a few hundred grams shouldn’t matter much in your decision, but how the laptop actually feels in daily use should, and it’s quite practical. It gets a spacious palm-rest and the screen is easy to lift up, it sits well on a desk thanks to the big rubber feet on the bottom and the edges and corners are nicely blunted, unlike on other Acer laptops with metallic interiors. So overall this is the most comfortable to use out of all the notebooks Acer offers in the class.
Flipping it upside down you’ll notice the air-intake grills, two quick access bays for the RAM and HDD, as well as the speaker cuts. The speakers actually fire down and due to where they’re placed, are quite easy to cover when using this computer on the lap. It might seem there are speaker cuts on the front lips as well, but those are just some decor elements and don’t actually let the sound pass trough.
As far as IO goes, the Nitro 5 gets what’s pretty standard for a laptop of its category, which means 3x USB Type A slots, 1x USB Type C gen 1 (without Thunderbolt 3), full-size HDMI, LAN, a card-reader and an audio jack. Nothing fancy, but nothing missing either. Most of these are placed on the left edge, but the PSU is on the right and I found it a little annoying with my setup that has the wall plugs on the left side of the desk.
Overall, there’s not much not to like about how this laptop feels and looks. It’s a bit chubby and heavy, but not a lot heavier than other options in the class, and what sets it apart from the competition are the simpler design lines and the choice of materials. I’m a fan of the looks, yet not that much of the plastics used for the hood and especially the interior, which feel a little cheap, show smudges easily and seem quite prone to scratches and dents.
Keyboard and trackpad
I was pretty sure I was going to like this keyboard, but after typing several thousands of words on it I can say there’s something lacking about it. Keep in mind I type for a living and I’m testing at least 50 laptops each year, so I have high expectations from keyboards and a lot of comparison points. The regular user won’t have that much to complain about this one though.
The layout is standard for an Acer laptop, with 15 x 15 mm main keys and narrower arrow keys and NumPad section. Those directional keys feel especially crowded, as they’re not just narrower, but the Up key is also placed just next to the Right Shift, with virtually no space in between. The Power button is also integrated as the top-right key.
I could eventually get used to the layout, but what prevents this keyboard from being one of my favorites is the overall feedback. The keys are just too soft for my liking and put too little resistance, which for me made it fairly easily to miss strokes or hit something else by mistake when typing fast. In fact, I have nothing to complain about the speed, quietness and stroke depth, but even after thousands of words I couldn’t get my accuracy to improve.
In conclusion, I had a nicer typing experience with the Aspire VX15 and Aspire 7, but that’s just me, maybe this just didn’t fit my style. Like I said, most of you will probably be happy with this keyboard, but I do advise you to try it out in a store if possible.
This keyboard is also backlit, with red LEDs and just one brightness level to choose. The illumination is only activated by hitting a key and not by swiping fingers over the trackpad.
The clickpad is pretty good. It’s a large plastic surface made by Elan, and despite that it performed well during our tests, handling daily swipes, taps and gestures smoothly. If I’d be nitpicking I’d say the surface sometimes didn’t register softer taps, but that can be tweaked in the settings, and I’d also mention that it rattles loudly when tapped a little firmer. The clicks are also fairly stiff, but at least they’re quiet.
All in all though, there’s not much to complain about this clickpad. The keyboard on the other hand just didn’t rub me the right way.
Acer puts a 15.6-inch matte screen on the Nitro 5, with a fairly average IPS panel, similar to what all the other options in this range offer.
It’s not the same panel as on the Aspire 7 or the Aspire VX15, but it’s a very similar one, with the same low maximum brightness and limited color coverage, but otherwise good contrast and viewing angles. More details below.
- Panel HardwareID: Chi Mei CMN15D3 (N156HCE-EAA);
- Coverage: 69% sRGB, 50% NTSC, 52% AdobeRGB;
- Measured gamma: 2.2;
- Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 226 cd/m2 on power;
- Contrast at max brightness: 800:1
- White point: 6600 K;
- Black on max brightness: 0.28 cd/m2;
- Average DeltaE: 1.06 uncalibrated, 0.84 calibrated.
The gamma and colors are fairly good out of the box, yet you can improve the gray levels with our calibrated profile available here. Even so, reds, yellow and blues are still far off from ideal, so this screen is a decent choice for daily use, multimedia and games, but won’t suffice for anything that requires high color accuracy. Still, just as I concluded in my other reviews, I would expect a better panel on a $1000 laptop, given you can also find similar ones on laptops going for under $500 these days. Regardless, there are very few better alternatives at this level, and most of them on slightly more expensive laptops.
This aside, I will also add that the display is very well built on this notebook and as a result I didn’t notice any light bleeding, which usually plagues computers with matte screens. This is however a matter of QC and luck, so there’s no guarantee yours won’t show bleeding.
The screen also leans back to about 150 degrees which is a bit more than most other similar laptops offer. The Aspire 7’s screen on the other hand can go back flat to 180 degrees, which is a selling point for those of you that won’t always keep their computer on a desk.
Hardware and performance
The Nitro 5 is available in a few different configurations, with quad-core processors, Nvidia 1050 series graphics and various amounts of RAM and storage. Our test model is the high end version, with the Core i7-7700HQ processor, Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti graphics, 32 GB of RAM, a 512 GB M.2 NVMe SSD and a 1 TB 5400 rpm HDD.
16 GB of RAM will suffice for daily use and gaming, and you can also save a few hundreds by getting a smaller SSD and even by choosing the Core i5-7500HQ processor. In fact, if you plan to get the Nitro 5 primarily for gaming, the i7-7700HQ won’t help very much, with the i5 selling for less and running cooler at the expense of not including HyperThreading.
This laptop leaves room for upgrades as well, with the 2.5″ bay and the RAM slots easily accessible through dedicated bays on the back. For the SSD, Wi-Fi chip or battery you’ll have to get under the entire back panel, which means unscrewing all the visible screws, taking the HDD out, which is hold in place by four screws as well, and then prying open the belly with a plastic card. I suggest starting from the front and taking extra care on the clips on the back edge, around the exhaust. You’ll probably have to reset the battery once you put everything back together, otherwise the laptop won’t boot, it’s a basic procedure and is explained here.
Still, let’s see how our test sample performed. Keep in mind we had a pre-release review unit in our hands, so take our findings with a pinch of salt and expect some aspects to improve down the line, with perhaps better QC and newer drivers.
As expected, this laptop handles everyday tasks flawlessly, from multimedia content to browsing, editing, documents and so on. I’ve added details on temperatures and performances with such tasks below, however, if that’s what you want from a laptop, you’ll get better value in lower-end computers with Core U hardware like the Aspire 5 , for instance.
The Nitro is made to handle demanding loads and games, and you’ll pay extra for these abilities so you’d better make sure you need them. We ran some benchmarks and you can find the results below:
- 3DMark 11: P8834;
- 3DMark 13: Sky Driver – 18398, Fire Strike – 6443, Time Spy – 2371;
- PCMark 08: Home Conventional – 3536;
- PCMark 10: 4501;
- Geekbench 3 32-bit: Single-Core: 3575, Multi-core: 13587;
- Geekbench 4 64-bit: Single-Core: 4564, Multi-core: 13853;
- CineBench 11.5: OpenGL 65.41 fps, CPU 6.79 pts, CPU Single Core 1.62 pts;
- CineBench R15: OpenGL 94.26 fps, CPU 625 cb, CPU Single Core 148 cb;
- x264 HD Benchmark 4.0 32-bit: Pass 1 – 164.54 fps, Pass 2 – 39.31 fps.
We also tested a few games:
|Shadow of Mordor||56 fps|
|Grid Autosport||90 fps|
|Tomb Raider||63 fps|
|Bioshock Infinite||74 fps|
|FarCry 4||61 fps|
|Need For Speed Most Wanted||60 fps|
Most of these numbers are about what I’d expect from the platform, with the exception of Cinebench scores and a few other CPU related tests. The thing is, while the GPU works consistently on this Nitro 5 sample, the CPU runs hot and as a result, clocks down in benchmarks and in the most demanding games, as you can see in the pictures below.
The CPU doesn’t throttle, as it still runs at speeds above its standard frequency of 2.7 GHz, but is able to consistently maintain its top TurboBoost speeds of 3.4 GHz. This has a marginal impact in most games, which are primarily GPU dependent, of about 1-3 fps, but a bigger impact in synthetic tests and in applications that would require high and constant CPU effort, like synthetic tests, virtual machines, video editors, rendering software and so on.
Again, I must stress our sample is not a final retail unit, so you should check other opinions as well and find out if the final models suffer from this same issue.
There’s a good chance they won’t and we just got a very poorly pasted unit, as we didn’t run into similar issues on the Aspire 7 or the Predator Helios 300. Both of those ran hot, but not as hot as this Nitro 5 sample, and as a result the CPU did not have to clock down.
Regardless, even if you do get an unit that runs very hot, you can tweak things by undervolting the CPU or by repasting the CPU/GPU, stock pasting is usually crap, but keep in mind that repasting voids warranty.
Emissions (noise, heat), Connectivity and speakers
What boggles me is the fact that the Aspire VX15 with its older internal design allows the CPU and GPU to run a little cooler than on this Nitro 5. The pic below shows the cooling system on the Nitro 5, with two fans and two heatpipes that spread over both the CPU and the GPU, and here’s the cooling on the VX15. The Aspire VX15 averages 80C – CPU , 59C – GPU in a 30 min session of FarCry 4, while this Nitro averages 83C – CPU, 64C – GPU in the same game, but with the CPU mostly running at around 2.7 – 2.9 GHz and not at 3.4 GHz (TurboBoost speed).
But that’s not even the most the annoying part of the story. The Nitro’s fans are some of the noisiest I’ve ever seen on any laptop, averaging 50-51 dB at head-level in games, while most others in its class hardly go above 46 dB. That means you’ll absolutely have to use headphones when playing demanding games for a longer period of time.
Case level temperatures get pretty high as well, albeit not as high as on the Aspire 7 with similar specs and cooling and albeit only on the interior. Mid 40s at the keyboard level is a bit much considering the thickness of the chassis and the hardware inside, but what’s annoying is that the interior runs hotter than the back and the hottest zone is the left-side of the keyboard, around the WASD keys that are so commonly used in games, an area that you’ll often come in contact with. You’ll find details on temperatures below, and here’s how the VX15 does in similar conditions, for comparison.
*Daily Use – 1080p Youtube clip in EDGE for 30 minutes
*Load – playing FarCry 4 for 30 minutes
Even if we consider the chance of our test sample being somewhat flawed, given the experience with the Aspire 7 and Predator Helios 300 I wouldn’t expect the final retail units to run significantly cooler. In fact, they might even run hotter if Acer tames down the insanely loud fans, as shown in the Aspire 7 review, whose fans don’t ramp up as much and that results in case temperatures above 50s in certain spots.
This Nitro offers a completely different experience with daily use though, when runs cool and quiet. The fans are active all the time, but at low speeds they are pretty much unnoticeable at head level, yet people around you will hear them, especially those placed behind your laptop where their noise propagates more aggressively.
As far as connectivity goes, there’s Gigabit LAN, Wireless AC and Bluetooth 4.1 on this laptop, We mostly used it on wireless and we can conclude that the included Intel 7265 wireless module is a solid performer, both near the router and at longer distances. Download speeds drop at 30 feet with two walls in between in our tests, but still remain at levels where we didn’t notice any sluggishness or buffering in any of our activities.
The speakers on this laptop are identical to the ones on the Aspire 7, Aspire 5 and Predator Helios 300 and are just average. We measured about 75 dB max volume at head level, and the sound coming out of them is decent, but rather tinny and with very little low end. These should do for an occasional movie and song, but if you’re more pretentious you’ll once again have to turn to those headphones.
As for the webcam placed on top of the screen, it’s somewhat washed out, but will do fine for Skype calls. I do suggest getting a proper external webcam if you plan to stream from this laptop though.
Acer puts a 48 Wh battery on the Nitro 5, which is on the lower-end of the class, but also similar to what most other alternatives offer. We set the screen’s brightness to about 120 nits (60% brightness) and here’s what you should expect:
- 9.4 W (~5 h of use) – very light browsing and text editing in Google Drive, Balanced Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 7.5 W (~6 h 20 min of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Internet Explorer, Balanced Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 5.3 W (~9 h of use) – 1080p fullscreen .mkv video in the Movie app, Balanced Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 7.2 W (~6 h 40 min of use) – 4K fullscreen .mkv video in the Movie app, Balanced Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 13.5 W (~3 h 30 min of use) – heavy browsing in Edge, Balanced Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 40.0 W (~1h 10 min of use) – gaming, High Performance Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON.
That’s not bad from a computer with a Core HQ i7 inside and only a 48 Wh battery, Acer did a good job optimizing this laptop. Still, a few other options in the segment can last longer, due to having bigger batteries inside, and I’m mostly looking at the Dell Inspiron Gaming here.
Our model came with a 135 Wh power brick and a full charge took around 2 hours. The Power brick is pretty standard and weighs about 1.1 lbs (500 g), including the attached power cable.
Price and availability
As of July 2017 the Nitro 5 is listed for $899 an up in the US and 999 EUR and up in Europe (Germany). It’s available in various configurations.
The base model comes with a Core i5-7300HQ processor, 16 GB of RAM, Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti graphics and a 256 GB SSD in the US, or 8 GB of RAM and a 1 TB HDD in Europe. $100/EUR100 extra will get you the Core i7-7700HQ processor, but in a configuration with a regular HDD, and $200 extra will get you the Core i7 with a 256 GB SSD and an included HDD.
The base model offers the best value imo, as the i5 CPU will suffice for daily use and gaming, allowing you to save $100 that you can put towards a HDD or a 2.5″ SSD, if you want a faster and completely silent mass storage option.
Follow this link for more details and updated prices at the time you’re reading this post.
There are a bunch of good laptops with very similar traits to this Acer Nitro 5. Among them, there are Acer’s Aspire VX15 and Aspire 7 A715, the Lenovo Legion Y520 or the Eluktronics N850HK1 in the sub $1000 segment. If you’re willing to spend about $100-$200 more you can also opt for the Dell Inspiron Gaming 7559 (with a larger battery, quiet fans and options for a high-resolution screen) or the Asus ROG GL553VE (with a better screen and much cooler hardware), although at this point you can already find laptops with GTX 1060 graphics that will do a much better job in games. Each has pros and cons, and each have small particularities that set them apart from the competition, as you can find out from our detailed reviews.
The Nitro 5 puts its nice design lines on the table, the overall good build quality, the decent IPS matte screen and backlit keyboard, as well as the solid specs, long battery life and some of the better pricing policies. On the other hand, its panel is rather dim and washed out, and the keyboard somewhat shallow and inaccurate (at least for my taste). However, what’s keeping me from recommending this notebook at this point are the questions surrounding the noisy fans, potential performance issues and high temperatures, which I can’t completely answer based on this early sample we had here.
Like I already said earlier, make sure to read other opinions and reviews in order to find out more exact details about these aspects on the final retail units. If those end up checking these boxes the right way, then the Acer Nitro 5 can be a best buy. If not, and the final Nitros are still very noisy and don’t perform flawlessly, then your money would be better spent on something like the Acer Aspire VX15 or Lenovo Legion Y520.
That’s about it for our review of the Aspire Nitro 5 multimedia/gaming laptop, but the comments section awaits your feedback and questions below, we’re around to reply and help out if possible.
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