- Crisp QHD display
- Competitive performance for the price
- Roomy 1TB SSD with room to add second drive
- Heavy and bulky case
- Flimsy display lid
- Shortened Shift key is annoying
The Acer Nitro 5’s design is decidedly budget-class, but it still offers outstanding value among midrange gaming laptops.
Best Prices Today: Acer Nitro 5 (AMD, 2021)
You’re likely accustomed to seeing models of Acer’s venerable Nitro 5 budget gaming laptop line with prices comfortably in the triple digits. The company extends the line into midrange gaming laptop territory with this configuration ($1,700 at Acer), which packs a QHD display powered by an AMD Ryzen 7 5800H CPU and Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 graphics.
Despite its many charms and strong performance, the Nitro 5 takes a close second to the Asus ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition, which remains the best gaming laptop value we’ve seen lately. The Nitro 5 has an obvious advantage in screen resolution, however: Its 15.6-inch QHD display lends a versatility to the Nitro 5 that makes it an excellent productivity machine as well. If you’re looking for a do-it-all laptop for both work and play, there’s a good argument to be made for the Nitro 5.
This review is part of our ongoing roundup of the best laptops. Go there for information on competing products and how we tested them.
Acer Nitro 5 features and specifications
This Nitro 5 model we tested (AN515-45-R7S0) is one of the higher-end configurations in the Nitro 5 line, pairing the AMD Ryzen 7 5800H CPU with GeForce RTX 3070 graphics. Here’s the longer spec list:
- CPU: Octa-core AMD Ryzen 7 5800H
- Memory: 16GB DDR4 3200MHz
- Graphics: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 with 8GB dedicated GDDR6 VRAM
- Storage: 1TB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD
- Display: 15.6-inch, QHD (2560×1440) IPS, 165Hz refresh rate
- Webcam: 720p
- Right side: 1 x USB SuperSpeed 10Gbps Type-C,1 x USB SuperSpeed 5Gbps Type-A, HDMI 2.0.
- Left side: 2 x USB SuperSpeed 10Gbps Type-A (one with power-off charging), ethernet, combo audio jack.
- Networking: Wi-Fi 6, Killer Gigabit ethernet E2600, Bluetooth 5.0
- Biometrics: None
- Battery capacity: 4-cell, 57.5 Watt-hours
- Dimensions: 14.3 x 10 x 1.0 inches
- Measured weight: 4.77 pounds (measured), 1.3-pound power brick
At $1,700, our test system costs significantly more than many Nitro 5 models that you can find for less than $1,000, but it’s not the priciest Nitro 5 that Acer sells. The top model in the line is more than double the price of our test system. It costs $3,798 and features the same QHD, 165Hz display powered by the Ryzen 9 5900HX CPU, 32GB of RAM and RTX 3080 graphics.
Great value in a gaming laptop
Asus ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition
Midrange components in a budget chassis
Premium parts or no, it appears that every Acer Nitro 5 uses the same bulky, plastic case as lower-cost models. I am much more accepting of such bulk and heft when priced below $1,000, less so as the price nears $2,000. The laptop is nearly all black, with only a few design touches geared toward gamers. You’ll find a piece of molded red plastic on the back edge between the laptop’s vents, and the front corners are angled to make the system appear somewhat less bulky than it really is. It already weighs 4.77 pounds, and you’ll need to lug around more than 6 pounds if you include the hefty power adapter.
The all-plastic chassis feels fairly solid and rigid. There is a hint of flex under the keys when typing, but the lid is more concerning, feeling very thin and flimsy. At this price, it’s not too much to expect a metal lid for increased rigidity behind the display. The similarly priced Asus ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition, for example, features an aluminum lid and keyboard deck. The Nitro 5’s display bezels are also a bit on the thick side, which adds to the system’s overall hefty feel.
Back to the keyboard: The keys felt soft, yet responsive. They are quiet without feeling mushy. Acer squeezes in a number pad, with a sacrifice: The right-Shift key is shortened, which might take some getting used to. While I understand full-size arrow keys are useful for a gaming laptop, I really dislike having to give up some of my right-Shift key. I constantly hit the up-arrow key by accident when attempting to press the right-Shift key—very annoying. The arrow keys and the WASD keys are outlined to guide gamers to the buttons they mash most. Acer also highlights one more key—the special ‘N’ key above the numpad that launches Acer’s NitroSense utility.
The NitroSense utility lets you adjust the mode or speed of the cooling fans, select a power plan, and customize the RGB keyboard backlighting. You can set the color of the backlighting across four zones and select between static and dynamic modes. Most laptops at this price feature zone-lit keyboards, rather than per-key, so the Nitro 5 is right on trend.
The system is average in terms of fan noise. The fans kick in during games and other intensive graphics tasks and can clearly be heard, but they are rather quiet (not rarely silent) during lighter loads. I played with the fan settings in the NitroSense utility and tried out the CoolBoost setting that cranks up fan speed to optimize CPU and GPU performance, but found little change in fan noise or performance.
The touchpad looks a bit undersized, given the expanse of the keyboard deck, but it accurately recorded my mousing gestures. Its clicks felt firm with snappy feedback. No complaints here, other than believing Acer could have made the touchpad a touch wider.
Display goes to QHD
Most Nitro 5 models you’ll encounter feature a basic 1920×1080 display, but this Nitro 5 boasts a QHD (2560×1440) panel. The added pixels may not pique the interest of gamers, who likely play the majority of their games at 1080p rather than 1440p, but the higher resolution is a bonus during productivity tasks because it provides a larger workspace and a finer image. Moving a step further to a 4K resolution on a 15.6-inch display is less useful—most users won’t notice much of a difference in resolution on this size of a display, and battery life suffers the higher the resolution gets. A QHD resolution is right in the sweet spot for a 15.6-inch laptop.
The display looked fairly bright and exhibited vivid color and good contrast. I played CS:GO in a sunny room and was able to see details in dark scenes on the Ancient and Militia maps. If a friend or two wanted to watch sitting next to you while you played, they’d be able to see the action because the display is an IPS panel. IPS technology delivers a wide viewing angle, so the display doesn’t look overly dim when viewed off axis.
The speakers provide merely average output. They have enough power to fill a small room but the sound is muddied, with little separation between high and mid tones, and little in the way of a bass response. Gamers will want to keep their headphones handy.
The 720p webcam above the display is underwhelming. Video suffered from noise and reddish skin tones. It also lacks a privacy cover.
The port offerings cover the basics (see photos of left and right sides, below). As with other AMD laptops we’ve seen, however, the USB-C port doesn’t include Thunderbolt support. And while you do get an HDMI port, you’ll need to make do without a DisplayPort connection.
Our Nitro 5 test system features a roomy 1TB SSD, and the laptop has room to add a second storage drive if you want to expand. Remove 11 screws from the bottom panel and you can get inside the laptop, where you’ll find a spot for a 2.5-inch drive. Acer thoughtfully includes in the box the cable and screws you’ll need to make such an addition. The DIMM slots are also easily accessible, but both were occupied in our test system, with an 8GB stick in each.
Acer Nitro 5 Performance
If not for the Asus ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition, a good argument could be made for this Acer Nitro 5 config as the price-for-performance champ. Still, the Nitro 5 acquitted itself almost as well in labs testing.
We compared the Acer Nitro 5 against other high-end laptops with the latest AMD and Nvidia GPUs. The Acer Predator Triton 300 features RTX 3060 graphics, the Asus ZenBook Pro Duo 15 OLED UX582 features RTX 3070 graphics, the Razer Blade 14 features RTX 3080 graphics, and the Asus ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition features Radeon RX 6800M. The Gigabyte Aorus 17G features a GeForce RTX 3080 GPU dialed down with a lower Total Graphics Power (TGP) of 105 Watts. We also included systems with previous-generation Nvidia graphics from Alienware, MSI and XPG.
Our first benchmark tests how a laptop is able to handle crushing CPU loads over a lengthy period—in this case, transcoding a 30GB MKV file to a format suitable for Android tablets using HandBrake, the free video encoding utility. The Nitro 5 bested the Intel Core i7- and i9-based competition and even edged the Ryzen 9-based Razer Blade 14. The Asus ROG Strix G15, however, took top honors.
Next up is Cinebench, another CPU-intensive test but one that renders a complex 2D scene over a short period of time. The Acer Nitro 5 again topped the Intel-based competition, but this time finished behind both Ryzen 9-based laptops. The Ryzen 9 5800HX and Ryzen 7 5800H CPUs are more similar than you might think—both feature 8 cores and 16 threads, with the Ryzen 9 5800HX offering a slight edge in base and max boost frequencies. We show multi-thread and single-thread results below.
Now it’s time to see how the Nitro 5’s RTX 3070 graphics chops stack up against laptops with RTX 3080 graphics and previous-generation RTX 20-series graphics, as well as the Asus ROG Strix G15 and its Radeon RX 6800M GPU. On 3DMark, the Nitro 5 not surprisingly slotted behind a pair of laptops with RTX 3080 graphics. However it topped the other RTX 3070-based laptop (the Asus ZenBook Pro Duo) and stayed well ahead of the RTX 3060-based Acer Predator Triton 300 SE. The Asus ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition finished first, and by a healthy margin.
Moving on to real-world games, we first run Rise of the Tomb Raider at 1920×1080 resolution set to Very High and in DX11 mode. The Nitro 5 turned in a very playable framerate of 101 fps, as we’d expect an RTX 3070-based laptop to do on an older game at these settings. We also ran the benchmark with CoolBoost enabled, and the framerate actually dropped slightly to 99 fps.
On the newer Shadow of the Tomb Raider at 1920×1080 resolution, the Nitro 5 averaged 104 fps. We also ran the more demanding Metro Exodus (which might be too stiff) at 1920×1080 at the benchmark’s Extreme preset, and the Nitro 5 averaged 36 fps. It fared better at the same resolution with the Normal preset, where it achieved an average framerate of 102 fps.
We test laptop battery life by looping a 4K video using the stock Windows Movies & TV app, with screen brightness set to about 250 nits and the volume dialed to 50 percent, with headphones plugged in.
It’s rare to find a gaming laptop with decent battery life, and the Nitro 5 is not an exception to this rule. It lasted less than 5.5 hours on our battery-drain test, which is a bit below average. Mind you, video rundown is much less demanding than gaming, so don’t expect to frag bots for long off AC.
Strong performer with QHD bonus
The Acer Nitro 5 we tested costs more than most models in the Nitro 5 line, better known for its sub-$1,000 budget offerings. It’s somewhat disappointing to be paying more for a laptop that’s still dressed in bargain-bin clothing, but if you can get past the aesthetics, this Nitro 5 model delivers outstanding midrange gaming laptop performance. With an AMD Ryzen 7 CPU and RTX 3070 graphics, it outperforms laptops that cost hundreds more. And while its QHD 1440p display may not be of interest to gamers, the bump up in resolution from the more common FHD 1080p panel provides additional value because it makes the Nitro 5 a more useful productivity machine—as long as the shortened Shift key doesn’t drive you crazy.
If it weren’t for that pesky Asus ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition, the Acer Nitro 5 would be a greater value. Still, it’s one of the better (if not the best) deals out there, and well worth considering.