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The Acer Nitro Series is a New Line of Midrange Gaming Laptops [Hands-On]

Gone for too long, the decent gaming laptop market is roaring back.

UPDATE 06/01/17 – I got some hands-on time with the Nitro 5 at Acer’s Computex booth, and I liked what I saw. It’s hefty in a world that suddenly has somewhat light gaming laptops, but it’s a formidable performer for its price. I played Overwatch for a few minutes and got stable 60 fps performance playing in 1080p on high settings. I suspect it’ll struggle with more graphics-intensive games, but if you just want a mobile Overwatch or League of Legends machine while you have to be away from your main rig, it’s a pretty good deal.

It did get pretty hot, unsurprisingly, but the heat stays confined to the back of the laptop near the display — the palmrest stayed cool while I was playing. The widescreen display is another nice touch, especially considering the $800 price tag.

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In the 2000s, it wasn’t too hard to find a decent laptop with a GPU good enough for some occasional gaming, all at a reasonable price. As we pulled into the 2010s, things changed — it seemed like for the most part, you could only find super expensive specialty gaming laptops or laptops with integrated graphics. Gaming on the latter was, well, let’s just leave it at ‘not pretty.’

With the explosion of interest in gaming and esports, we’re now seeing a return of those reasonably priced sort of gaming laptops. This year, we’ve seen new lines of laptops exactly for that purpose — Lenovo introduced the Legion line at CES earlier this year, and HP is adding discrete GPU options on some of their new Envy machines. Today, Acer is joining in with a new series of laptops called Nitro.

The debut machine in the line is the 15.6″ Nitro 5, and while it’s a tweener, affordable laptop, Acer has given the Nitro 5 that classic gamer gear aesthetic — it’s black and red. The red comes from details on the chassis and the LED backlight behind the keyboard. The chassis is made of plastic, so there’s no doubt that this is meant to be an affordable option — not a complaint, because this has been a neglected market for a long time now.

The more important thing is that the specs check out. The Nitro 5 comes with a either a 7th generation Intel Core i5 or i7 processor with up to an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050Ti GPU or a 7th generation AMD A-series APU (similar in function to Intel’s CPUs) with an AMD Radeon RX550 GPU. AMD’s been catching up to Intel in recent years, so don’t be surprised if you start seeing more laptops using their processors — they’ll likely continue to be cheaper than Intel’s options, too, even if they’re not quite technically on a par. Either way, you’ll be able to get up to 32 GB of RAM. Seems gratuitous but sure, why not?

The Nitro 5 can be configured with up to a 512 GB SSD, which can be paired up with an additional HDD up to 2 TB. The SSD is a good choice for gamers, as it guarantees faster loading times — it will drive the cost up a bit, though. Having room for an extra HDD explains why the Nitro 5 is quite a bit thicker than the average laptop, although it’s nowhere near as big as a dedicated gaming laptop. The thickness does ensure a full array of ports — there’s a Gigabit ethernet port, a USB 3.1 Type-C port, a full-sized USB 3.0 Type-A port, and an HDMI 2.0 port. It also has 802.11ac dual-band Wi-Fi, for a faster short-range connection.

The audio and video is reasonable for the price. We’re looking at a 1080p IPS display with speakers supported by Dolby Audio Premium and Acer TrueHarmony technology.

If Acer does have a leg up on the competition, it’s in their cooling technology. They’ve invested quite a bit of money building their own solutions, and while the Nitro 5 doesn’t have their premium cooling system, it does have two fans with Acer Coolboost — software that lets gamers customize those fans when they’re putting heavy load on the processors.

For the most part, we know what we’re dealing with — a solid midrange gaming laptop. Don’t expect VR-level performance, but it’s going to give you passable results for the average PC game. There are still question marks, though, like how much we can expect in the way of battery life. We’re interested to see the dimensions and weight, too, to see if this is going to be light enough to pass for a mobile laptop for everyday use. We should be able to get some hands-on time with the Nitro 5 at Computex in Taipei next week, so check back for our impressions.

Acer plans to launch the Nitro 5 in the United States in July for $800.