Let’s just say I’m not the master race type. I’ve had Playstation and Xbox consoles through the years, and my gaming “roots” take me back to the days of Atari and Nintendo (the latter, a majority of the time), and while my love for gaming has persisted through the years it’s never been a top-5 hobby of mine. Just as much as the next guy, I’ll wait for certain titles to hit and will buy them immediately on whichever console is my “current” at the time–Halo, Assassin’s Creed, etc., but beyond that, I wouldn’t call myself an avid gamer. And maybe because of that primarily, the notion of a budget gaming laptop was appealing to me.
But I’m not completely new to the PC gaming space; I recognize that the hardcore master race guys and gals out there are building their own machines with the best specs and saving serious dollars by rolling their own (versus buying something off the shelf called a “gaming” PC), and even more recently with more mini-PC cases being made in a way that makes home-building easy for novice DIY-ers, I’ve been watching (and waiting) for the right time to build my own. Unfortunately, cryptocurrencies have pushed up PC internal prices in the last several months which has dropped this down a few spots on my “to-do” list (although the normal prices seem to be returning, slowly).
And while building your own gaming PC has been the cheapest way into the game for some time now, there’s still a temptation for the more mobile, more social among us to have access to a more compact way of taking gaming on the road (man oh man do I miss LAN parties). Enter gaming laptops, which we’ve seen more and more of in the last year or so, many of which are pretty expensive.
That said, this particular review is on the Acer Nitro 5, which hit the market somewhat officially several months ago but has since been upgraded to Intel’s 8th Generation Coffee Lake processors. A quick rundown of the review model’s specs are here:
- 1TB 7200RPM Hard Drive
- Intel Core i5-8300 Processor
- GTX 1050 Dedicated Graphics
- 8GB DDR4 RAM
- 15.6″ FHD IPS display
- I/O: 3x USB Type A, 1x USB Type C, Full-size HDMI Out, Ethernet, SD Card Slot, Headphone Jack
Being that I’m not an avid gamer, I’m going to leave the benchmarking to the more in-depth reviews you will find all over the internet…what I’m most concerned about, as with any gadget, is the experience…especially in light of the specs above. I went after the lowest model and lowest price solely with the intention of getting an idea of how it performed, realzing that upgradeability should be possible if I wanted to tweak it out a bit.
First and foremost–I had a few concerns about the spinning hard drive. But, it was cheaper, and would handle a library of games more readily than a 256GB SSD. I recognize that external hard drives (and especially USB-C ones) exist and can alleviate this quite easily, but there’s nothing more convenient than having access to more games without worrying about more attachments.
Note: In hindsight, going after the 256GB NVMe drive would have been the better decision up front I think, and now that I have a better handle on the computer’s upgradeability. Dropping in a 1TB SATA storage drive would not have set me back that far and I would have been able to have an immediately better-performing system.
All that said, aside from slower boot times and possibly slower game load times, the spinning hard drive did the job fine, and I will surely add some SSD to this machine in the future.
The Nitro 5 has customization opens for both Intel and AMD processors, and the Intel i5 was slightly lacking but not entirely terrible. If you’re going to spend some extra cash up front, focusing on the processor is a good place to start. The same is not true for the video card; currently only the GTX1050 is available in the Nitro 5 according to Acer’s website, but there was a time when you could get your hands on a GTXC1050Ti model, which might still be available in big box stores and online (not direct from Acer). Ultimately, the decision you make will depend largely on your budget. The 1050 did an adequate job at processing video without stutter or lag. And, not that Rocket League is the most video-intensive game, it pushed 100FPS consistently without fail every time I played.
My review model came with 8GB RAM, and this was another concern of mine heading into testing. Fortunately, this unit is easily upgradable to a max of 32GB, but as with the lower-spec graphics card I didn’t see any performance lags during gameplay running with only 8GB.
The 1080p display was good, not great. On a “budget” gaming machine, I wasn’t expecting much here–decent viewing angles and got the job done; a 4K display would have too drastic an impact on price tag and performance, so there’s not much here that is a surprise.
Stepping away from the specs, the design is one that I found to be pretty attractive and not too overstated. Gaming peripherals, PC cases and monitors (along with the various other gaming-related gadgets) are usually far too gaudy for my liking, but the Nitro 5 does a good job balancing the traditional “red” gaming components with an almost stealthy look for the rest of the device. The keyboard was good, although I don’t like the backlighting at all, as the backlights are more visible from the front of the device (with light bleeding out from beneath the keys) than they are on the keycaps themselves. I feel like this is a design flaw–making the keycaps just a bit taller can cover up these lines of light and add to the stealthy profile. The track pad is fine (although a bit “loose” feeling to me) and uses Windows Precision drivers, although I would imagine most folks would be connecting an external mouse to this during long-term use.
Accessibility to the internals is no issue; the SATA drive and RAM are both accessible through their own ports and the back cover comes off pretty easily for those who want to upgrade (or in my case, ADD) an SSD. The device comes in at over 5 pounds, which is not unreasonable for a gaming machine, and is primarily plastic.
There are a couple final points to make in this review. First, the master race PC builder isn’t going to waste their time reading a review like this, or even considering this purchase. But for someone like me, a not-so-serious gamer that wants to occasionally play some PC games, I think this machine is a really good choice. I think the intense gamers will probably be dissatisfied with something like this unless they’re looking specifically for a mobile-friendly rig to complement their already awesome home-built PC.
Second, there is a fair amount of competition at this price point. I would fully expect a little bit of a discount for the entry-level, budget-conscious gaming laptop, so keep your eyes out for that. Specs will all be about the same, so it may come down to price or design that makes you pull the trigger.
Third, if you’re not a gamer but plan to get serious about it, I wouldn’t spend the money here. There’s a lot of draw to having a gaming laptop, but in most cases, you’re going to be playing in one place–and at $700, you can build a pretty great starter machine that will be far more customizable and upgradeable for you in the years to come.
All that considered–I had a lot of fun with this machine. If a budget gaming laptop is on your shopping list, given that the Nitro 5 is available in several different configurations (hard drive, processor, RAM, video card), figure out where you think you’ll get the best bang for your buck and go for it. I think the sweet spot is probably the better graphics card with the larger hard drive, but that’s entirely subjective.
Overall it’s a decent machine that will provide some good entertainment for my family. I’m not a huge fan of the build quality, but for the price it was as expected. At the end of the day, the design is solid and performance at the price point is good enough to get you started in the master race.