Update, May 2022: Since this review, the Acer Nitro 5 line has been refreshed, you'll find our latest thoughts in our updated review.
The Acer Nitro 5 is an entry-level gaming laptop with a price point of around the four-figure mark (depending on configuration), designed for high performance in games at 1080p with minimum hassle. This is a plug-and-play situation; set up your new laptop, tweak your settings with the streamlined NitroSense software, and get straight into a game on what could be the best gaming laptop for you.
It’s not going to excite any hardcore gamers, but no laptop under two grand will. For the asking price (which has already been reduced to around $900 / £850 at some outlets), you get great HD gaming performance packed inside a system that is also capable of productivity tasks, whether that’s video editing on the 17.3-inch screen or 3D rendering tasks with the dependable RTX 2060 GPU. It might not run the static machines on best gaming PC lists that close, but for a mix of portability, power, performance, and price, it's always been a promising contender.
Here are the specs for the laptop sent to GamesRadar+ for review:
Processor: Intel Core i7-9750H
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060
Memory: 8GB DDR4 RAM
Display: 17.3-inch 120Hz
Storage: 256GB m.2 NVMe SSD
Ports: 1 x 3.5mm jack, 2 x USB-A 2.0, 1x USB-A 3.1, 1x HDMI 2.0, 1 x RJ-45 Ethernet, 1 x USB-C
Connectivity: Killer Wi-Fi 6 AX1650 (2x2) 802.11ax Wireless, Bluetooth 5.0
OS: Windows 10 Home 64-bit
Weight: c. 5.7 pounds (c. 2.6kg)
While we may like the Nitro 5’s sensible price point, it’s difficult to deny that the value has been achieved through the use of lower-quality materials. The all-plastic casing feels cheap in some places (although thankfully the screen hinge is perfectly robust) and the trackpad is a somewhat spongey affair - you'll need something of our best gaming mouse list to improve use. The entire assembly weighs a hefty 2.6 kilograms, so this isn’t exactly a laptop you’ll want to bring with you everywhere.
The aesthetic on display here feels like it’s stuck in the early 2000s, with the tried-and-true ‘gamer’ combination of black and red detailing. The membrane keyboard is backlit by red LEDs, with additional highlighting on the WASD and arrow keys along with the NitroSense button. The keyboard here is full-size, with no annoying truncation of keys to make everything fit. Rather than a dedicated button elsewhere, a power key sits in the top-left corner of the keyboard. If you’re a regular numpad user, you might have to be careful to avoid mis-types sending your Nitro to sleep.
The screen is bordered by a somewhat chunky bezel of textured plastic, with the webcam sitting top-centre. There’s some patterning cut into the plastic on the rear of the display panel, but the chassis is otherwise unremarkable. It doesn’t feel flimsy, but we’ve certainly seen more robustly built laptops of this size. Air is drawn in through slots at either side and heat is vented out from the rear of the base, preventing any hot-air-related discomfort when you’re using a mouse.
While the Nitro 5 generally comes in a few variations, our particular review model of the machine is the AN517-51, which packs a hexa-core Intel i7-9750H processor and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 GPU, backed with a conservative 8GB of RAM. It’s a solid selection of internal components for the asking price, but we wish Acer had sprung for a larger SSD in this model; 256GB won’t be enough for gamers who want to keep numerous games (or just more than one live-service title, such as Destiny) on local storage.
Thankfully, downloading new games shouldn’t be a problem, with both high-speed Wi-Fi 6 and ‘Killer’ Ethernet connectivity. There’s also Bluetooth 5.0, which has become a staple inclusion in the laptops of the 2020s.
When it comes to physical connectivity, the RJ-45 Ethernet port is joined by an HDMI output, 3.5mm audio jack, USB-C, and three conventional USB-A ports. The USB-C port doesn’t support Thunderbolt 3 speeds, and there’s no SD card reader here either, which is a shame. In short, this Nitro has all the connectivity we’d expect from an entry-level gaming laptop, but nothing to write home about.
The aforementioned NitroSense button allows users to bring up Acer’s own tweaking and monitoring software for quick and easy system adjustments. It’s a bit barebones but well-designed, allowing you to adjust fan speeds and power usage on the fly as well as monitor your CPU and GPU temperatures. Slapping the fans to maximum is fairly noisy, but is guaranteed to keep your chips cool even during demanding games.
This 1080p LCD display benefits from an anti-glare coating and a crisp 120Hz refresh rate - a decent stab at the beginnings of what makes the best gaming monitor on laptops - making it well-suited for snappy shooters like Overwatch and Valorant, where framerates take precedence over pretty visuals. Unfortunately, it also fails to impress with its brightness and colour reproduction, with some tones looking dull and muted in more vibrant games. The Witcher 3’s Blood and Wine expansion runs above 60fps, but we’ve definitely seen the dazzling colours of Toussaint look better on other gaming laptops.
How does the Acer Nitro 5 fare against some industry benchmarks? Here's how it got on with some rigorous gaming tests.
Cinebench CPU: 974cb
3DMark Fire Strike: 13,291
3DMark Time Spy: 5,720
CrystalDiskMark: SSD: 3,074 MB/s read; 1,665 MB/s write
Metro Exodus: RTX (ray-tracing on Ultra): 35 fps; High: 63 fps
Tom Clancy's The Division 2: Ultra: 59 fps; High: 63 fps
Shadow of the Tomb Raider: Highest: 79 fps; High: 86 fps
Total War: Warhammer II: Ultra: 70 fps; High: 82 fps
1080p gaming is this laptop’s bread and butter, with most games easily achieving 60fps+ at maxed graphical settings. More visually demanding games might need some slight drops in the graphics menu to clear 60fps, but we weren’t able to find any games that the Nitro 5 actually struggled with. Esports titles like CS:GO and Valorant comfortably sat above 90 frames per second, removing any obstacles between you and those sweet wrist-flick headshots.
Ray-tracing is an option here, but it does come with the harsh hit to framerates that we’ve come to expect. You can turn on ray-traced reflections in Control, but don’t expect to be getting framerates much higher than 30. The i7-9750H pulls its weight too, performing decently in CPU-bound games and benchmarks with particularly good single-core performance.
The 256GB M.2 SSD might be a bit on the small side for our liking, but it’s certainly fast enough. Read speeds of over 3000MB/s means that games load fast, and the drive didn’t see any significant difficulty with sustained reading and writing of data either. Battery life punches above its weight for laptops of this size and price, surviving over five hours of video playback. Naturally, though, a serious gaming session is going to demand AC power.
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Overall - should you buy it?
At and around the four-figure price mark, the Acer Nitro 5 is a solid proposition offering good performance at a fair price point. Even with the arrival of the RTX 3060 laptops, RTX 3070 laptops, and RTX 3080 laptops, If you’re in the market for an entry-level 1080p gaming laptop and can find it for, say, $900 / 900 or cheaper, we highly recommend you snap it up. The only major drawbacks here are the limited drive space and somewhat weak colour density of the display, but those won’t be dealbreakers for many gamers at this price point. Overall gaming performance is great, with a good keyboard and ray-tracing capabilities on the side.