We’ve sampled Acer’s Nitro 5 entry-level gaming laptop twice before, in October 2017 and June 2018. Today’s unit, model number AN515-42-R5GT, is the most affordable yet at $699.99. The reason? It breaks from its predecessors’ Intel Core i5 power and Nvidia GeForce graphics: Both the quad-core Ryzen 5 2500U processor and 4GB Radeon RX 560X graphics are AMD parts. The result is a 1080p gaming rig that will tempt cash-strapped shoppers—it doesn’t challenge our Editors’ Choice for budget gaming laptops, the Lenovo Legion Y530, but it can play top titles at close to top visual quality.
The Simple Bare Necessities
Seven C-notes buy you not only the Radeon GPU and the 2GHz (3.6GHz turbo) CPU—whose own, integrated Radeon Vega 8 graphics silicon steals 1GB of the system’s 8GB of memory—but a 256GB SATA solid-state drive (SSD) and a 15.6-inch full HD (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) display. Don’t look to the latter for touch functionality or a refresh rate above 60Hz; this Nitro 5 is engineered to reach the minimum acceptable 30, not 60 or more, frames per second (fps) during gameplay.
There is no hard drive to bolster the SSD’s storage capacity, though you can add one (or a second SSD) by unscrewing a panel on the Nitro 5’s underside to expose an empty 2.5-inch drive bay. Nor is there an optical drive, though you’ll find a pretty full assortment of ports around the edges. On the left are Ethernet, USB Type-C, USB 3.0 Type-A, and HDMI ports (plus an SD card slot), while on the right are two USB 2.0 ports, an audio jack, and the connector for the AC adapter.
Styled in black plastic with a textured lid and a faux carbon-fiber palm rest, the Nitro 5 is just a bit bulkier and heavier than average, at 1.05 by 15.4 by 10.5 inches (HWD) and 5.9 pounds. (Compare the Legion Y530 at 0.95 by 14.4 by 10.2 inches and 5.1 pounds, or the Dell G3 15 at 0.89 by 15 by 10.2 inches and 5.4 pounds.) It’s sturdily built, with only a little flex when you grasp the screen corners and none when you press the keyboard deck.
Acer backs the Windows 10 Home system with a one-year warranty, half as long as that of its Predator gaming series. Preinstalled software includes Netflix, a Norton Security trial, and a NitroSense utility. The last is the least dispensable; it displays CPU and GPU temperature and fan speed, as well as letting you switch among fan and power modes.
Giving Your Eyes, and Fingers, a Workout
The bezels on the Nitro 5 are a bit chunky, and the screen is recessed a tad into them, telegraphing that, again, it’s not a touch panel.
But big bezels mean a webcam in its proper position above the screen, where nature intended it. This particular webcam takes par-for-its class bright and detailed shots. It’s not a face-recognition camera, and there’s no fingerprint reader, so Windows Hello is not available.
Flipping over the chassis shows you where the sound comes from. Audio from the bottom-mounted speakers is loud enough to fill a room, if not to rattle its windows. In my playback trials, games and music tracks sounded pretty good, though there’s not a lot of bass.
I’ve seen red-on-black keyboard lettering before (it’s practically a gaming-hardware cliche), but the Nitro 5’s has close to zero contrast. In short: Good luck trying to see what the function-key commands are unless you’re in a very bright room or a very dark one with the keyboard backlight on. On a more positive note, the keyboard does offer inverted-T cursor arrows (though they’re crowded among other keys) and dedicated Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down keys (though they, and the Delete key, are tiny). Its typing feel is decent, with soft, quiet feedback and adequate travel.
In contrast, the buttonless touchpad needs a heavier touch than most, and it will take some getting accustomed to. Simply brushing my finger across it didn’t always move the cursor in the way I’m used to, and it took a sharp rap instead of a gentle tap to produce a click. I adjusted after a day or two, but it was frustrating at first.
Then there’s the screen. The 1080p panel is passable. In its favor, it uses in-plane switching (IPS) technology, for wide viewing angles and punchy colors, instead of the twisted nematic (TN) technology that often prevails in the cheapest gaming laptops. Details are sharp, and brightness is good, even when dialed down slightly to save the battery. Backgrounds, though, are just a touch off-white instead of blindingly white.
Taking the Red Team Banner Into Battle
I compared the AMD-equipped Nitro 5 to its latest Intel-based Nitro 5 kinsman, as well as to a handful of budget-priced gaming machines from Asus, Dell, Lenovo, and MSI, including the Legion Y530 mentioned earlier on.
The Ryzen-powered Nitro 5 managed a fine score in our PCMark 8 office productivity benchmark, which tests a system’s aptitude for everyday tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet jockeying, Web browsing, and video conferencing. It trailed the Lenovo, the Intel-based Nitro 5, and other sub-$1,000 gaming laptops equipped with Intel’s Core i5-8300H in our CPU-intensive Cinebench trial and Handbrake video-editing exercise. (In fairness, the Asus TUF Gaming FX504G was within hailing distance.)
As for graphics, machines with Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1050 Ti predictably led those with GTX 1050 GPUs, which in turn edged out the Radeon GPU in the AMD-based Acer; the latter placed just behind its Intel Nitro 5 cousin in 3DMark’s demanding Fire Strike Extreme test.
Oddly, the review unit failed to run our Heaven and Valley gaming simulations at 1,366 by 768 resolution, likely due to some driver issues. (When I tried, it would run only at 1,280 by 720.) And while it completed the simulations at 1080p resolution with image quality set to the max, it just missed the 30fps threshold for smooth gameplay: 27fps and 29fps in Heaven and Valley, respectively.
The Nitro 5 did better with an actual Steam game, Rise of the Tomb Raider. (I used the Lara Croft adventure’s built-in benchmark utility and three detail presets, running the tests at the laptop’s 1080p native resolution.) The Nitro 5 managed 43fps at Medium, 38.6fps at High, and a borderline 31fps at Very High quality.
The AMD-outfitted Nitro 5 also finished in the middle of the pack in our battery-life benchmark. Its unplugged video playback time of four-and-a-half hours is not exceptional, but we don’t hold gaming rigs to the same battery standard as ultrabooks and convertibles. It’s not bad for a budget model.
When $200 or $250 Really Matters…
If you don’t mind playing at a game’s second- or third-best quality settings at 1080p, the AMD-based Nitro 5’s clearing the 30fps hurdle matters more than its bringing up the rear in our synthetic performance benchmarks. So does its bargain price, which all by itself turns this three-star into a three-point-five-star review.
Don’t get me wrong: All else being equal, I’d opt for the Lenovo Legion Y530 or Dell G3 15 over the Nitro 5. But all else isn’t equal when money is tight, and saving enough to buy three or four new-to-market games is no small incentive. If you’re in that kind of buyer’s bind, you’ll find that Acer’s Nitro 5, with an able assist from AMD, succeeds in its value-minded mission.
Acer Nitro 5 (2018, AMD Ryzen)