Acer Nitro 5 review: This budget gaming laptop keeps getting better

WIth a revamped cooling system and a Ryzen 4000-series CPU on board, the affordable Nitro 5 should delight budget-minded gamers.

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General performance

For $670, you’re simply not going to get a gaming laptop with a GPU capable of ray tracing or Nvidia’s AI-enabled DLSS acceleration. Instead, you’ll wind up with a laptop like the Nitro 5, whose solid, midrange GTX 1650 will serve up graphically maxed-out visuals in the 60-fps range, give or take. That’s pretty much what we got during our real-world tests with the laptop, along with some pretty impressive CPU performance courtesy of the Nitro 5’s Ryzen 4000-series chip. We even saw some surprisingly good battery life.

HandBrake

Our first benchmark is a veritable torture test for CPUs, measuring how long it takes for a given laptop to process a 30GB MKV file using the free HandBrake utility. The test generally takes an hour or more, giving us a good idea of how a given system handles high CPU loads over long periods.

acer nitro 5 an515 44 r99q handbrake Ben Patterson/IDG

With its Ryzen 4000-series CPU, the Nitro 5 ripped through our HandBrake test.

The Nitro 5 and its hexa-core Ryzen 5 4600H processor manage to scare up some impressive numbers in our HandBrake test (remember, shorter bars are better), coming in second only to the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14, a laptop that costs twice as much as the Nitro, while squeezing past a series of gaming systems that cost hundreds more. It also blows away the Nitro 5 we reviewed last year, which was powered by a quad-core Intel Core i5-9300H chip. The Nitro 5’s processor won’t be a bottleneck as far as graphics go, and it’ll boost the performance of games that do depend more on the CPU, such as Minecraft and 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot.

Cinebench

Next, we spun up Cinebench, a test that involves rendering a 3D image in real time. Unlike the much lengthier HandBrake test, Cinebench is usually done in mere minutes, and thus shows us how a laptop CPU handles crushing but short-term processor bursts. Here, we’d expect to see chips with the fastest boost clocks get the upper hand. Longer bars are better this time.

acer nitro 5 an515 44 r99q cinebench Ben Patterson/IDG

The Nitro 5 scored better in our Cinebench test than many laptops that cost hundreds more.

Once again, we see the Nitro 5’s multi-threaded score land in second place, behind (again) the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 but ahead of all other comers, and achieving double the results of 2019’s Nitro 5. The single-threaded score for this year’s Nitro 5 is a bit lackluster, although I didn’t notice any slowdowns in the Nitro’s single-core performance. In any event, the Nitro 5 turns in an impressively strong Cinebench performance considering its price tag.

3DMark FireStrike Extreme

At last, let’s turn our attention to the Nitro 5’s GPU. Here we’ll see its performance come back down to earth. While the Nitro 5 has been whipping its competitors when it comes to CPU power, the laptop’s GTX 1650 is a decidedly mid-range graphics card. Even when paired with a hot-rod CPU like the Ryzen 5 4600H, it’s going to struggle to compete with some of the more powerful GPUs in our roundup.

acer nitro 5 an515 44 r99q firestrike extreme Ben Patterson/IDG

The Nitro 5's FireStrike Extreme score lands third to last in our chart, but that's not a surprise given its GTX 1650 graphics card.

As expected, the Nitro 5 slides down near the bottom of our chart, below gaming laptops with GTX 1660 Ti, RTX 2060, and (especially) RTX 2080 Super graphics cards. Still, our Nitro 5 review unit did manage to notch a better score than last year’s Nitro 5, which comes equipped with the same GTX 1650 GPU, as well as the Lenovo Yoga C940 and its Max-Q-optimized GTX 1650.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Now for some real-world tests, with the Nitro 5 running the benchmark in Rise of the Tomb Raider at maxed-out graphical settings and in DirectX 11 mode. With its GTX 1650 graphics card, we’d expect the Nitro 5 to land somewhere in the 60-fps range, and it did just that.

acer nitro 5 an515 44 r99q rotr Ben Patterson/IDG

With maxed-out graphics settings, the Nitro 5 manages to get awfully close (or close enough) to 60fps while running Rise of the Tomb Raider.

While its recorded score is slightly below that of last year’s Nitro 5, we regard that as well within the margin of error. Looking at the chart, you’d need to pay hundreds more for a laptop equipped with an RTX 2060 or better GPU to see frame rates substantially north of 60 fps. That Acer Predator Triton 500 at the top of the chart, with its 125-plus fps score, would cost a cool $2,600 to take home.

As promised, we re-ran the Rise of the Tomb Raider benchmark with the NitroSense “CoolBoost” mode switched on and the High Performance power plan enabled. The improvement was negligible: 56.97 fps versus 54.91 fps.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

The results are similar for Shadow of Mordor. The Ryzen-powered Nitro 5 sneaks past 70 fps for this more CPU-centric title, a tiny bit faster than last year’s Nitro 5.

acer nitro 5 an515 44 r99q som Ben Patterson/IDG

For Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, the Nitro 5 and its GTX 1650 GPU sneak into the 70fps range.

Once again, we re-did the benchmark with CoolBoost on and the High Performance power plan engaged, but this time we barely saw a budge in frame rate.

Destiny 2

We don’t have formal rankings for Destiny 2 given that it lacks a benchmarking mode, but having spent dozens of hours running Nightfalls, grinding Lost Sectors and toiling away at a solo Prophecy dungeon clear (I’m stuck at the second boss encounter) using the Nitro 5, I thought I’d detail my experience.

When maxing out Destiny 2’s graphical settings and turning vsync off, the Nitro 5 managed framerates in the 50-60 range, including during a hectic “the enemy is moving against each other” episode with dozens of Fallen and Cabal. That's pretty good considering the Nitro 5's GTX 1650 GPU, but there was also frequent screen tearing due to the 60Hz display on our Nitro 5 review unit.

Once I washed its video settings through the GeForce Experience optimizer (which, in the Nitro 5’s case, dials down such settings as foliage distance, shadow quality, and screen space ambient occlusion) and turned vsync back on, Destiny 2 on the Nitro 5 looked fantastic, with nearly rock-solid 60 fps (including during a chaotic Taken Blight public event) and no screen tearing whatsoever. So if you were thinking of snapping up a Nitro 5 to feed your Destiny 2 habit, and you don't mind giving up a few bells and whistles (who's looking at foliage when there's a Taken Captain in your face?), you'll be pretty happy.

Battery life

We test battery life on laptops by looping a 4K video with screen brightness set to about 250 nits and the volume at 50 percent, with headphones plugged in.

Generally speaking, we don’t expect much from gaming laptops when it comes to battery life. Given its midsized 57.5 watt-hour battery, the Nitro 5 isn’t exactly poised to knock anyone’s socks off.

acer nitro 5 an515 44 r99q video rundown Ben Patterson/IDG

The Nitro 5 snagged an excellent battery life score given its 57.5 watt-hour battery.

And yet, the Nitro 5 lands a solid second place, right behind the Microsoft Surface Book 3 and its mobile-optimized GTX 1660 Ti Max-Q CPU and well ahead of the rest of its competitors, including some with much larger battery capacities. The third-place Lenovo Yoga C950, for example, has a 69 watt-hour battery, while the Acer Predator Triton 500 has an 82Whr battery capacity.

The Nitro 5’s battery won’t last 10.5 hours if you’re playing a GPU-intensive game or encoding video files. Still, it exhibits some of the best battery efficiency we’ve seen from a gaming laptop.

Bottom line

You’re not going to find a $670 gaming laptop that’s perfect. In the Nitro 5’s case, you’ll have to settle for a mid-range GPU, a 60Hz display that (in our review model, at least) shows signs of screen bleed, and a fairly bulky and hefty design. That said, we still believe that Acer has managed to squeeze plenty of value out of this particular Nitro 5 configuration, which boasts excellent CPU performance, impressive battery life, and—if you don’t mind sacrificing such high-end niceties as ray tracing—solid 60fps-range visuals from popular AAA games.

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At a Glance
  • WIth a revamped cooling system and a Ryzen 4000-series CPU on board, the affordable Nitro 5 should delight budget-minded gamers.

    Pros

    • Speedy CPU performance
    • Solid 60-fps visuals
    • Excellent battery life
    • Comfortable keyboard

    Cons

    • Evidence of screen bleed in the full-HD display
    • Heavy and bulky design
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