Everything is more expensive these days, that’s a given. With inflation, shipping congestion, chip shortages and whatever else is happening around the world, you can expect to pay more for things, including gaming laptops.
My idea of a budget gaming laptop was $1,000 or less. Right now, I’ve re-evaluated and it seems like about $1,200 is the right cut between budget and mid range. Acer’s Nitro line of gaming laptops started at around $800, but the current least expensive model is $999, and with a 12th-gen Intel processor, the entry-level price goes up to $1,049. The specific Acer Nitro 5 I tested here is $1,299, which pushes the limit of what you’d pay for a budget gaming laptop. But even at that price, it’s a good mix of specs and design, with 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and an Nvidia 3060 GPU.
- Generous RAM / SSD, even in the least expensive config
- The Nitro Sense control software is easy to use
- Big keys, game-friendly
I do not like
- Thick and heavy
- Short battery life
- Too many pre-installed adware
There are a lot of different Nitro 5 configurations floating around, and this one has an Intel 12th-gen Core i5-12500H CPU. The least expensive model in the current lineup is $999 and has an 11th-gen Core i5 and Nvidia 3050 GPU, but the same 16GB RAM’512GB storage, so I wouldn’t rule it out of your consideration.
The standard 15.6-inch display is only 1,920 × 1,090, but with a reasonable refresh rate of 144Hz (which indicates the number of times per second the image can refresh the screen) and a matte screen. That matte top surface could be why the display felt muted, but I’m a fan of matte displays in general. I was a little worried, though, that the “144Hz” sticker was right below the cam screen. It indicates a lack of quality control at some point in the manufacturing process.
In the thick of it
I’ve always liked the Nitro line because it works as both a basic gaming laptop and an everyday 15-inch productivity laptop. Acer makes more specialized gaming systems, like the Predator-branded Helios and Triton lines, but the Nitro leans more towards the mainstream side. I could compare it to Dells mainstream G-series gaming laptops versus Dells specialized Alienware offerings as well.
I recently used this side by side with a Dell G15 which had similar specs, and frankly it’s a bit of a tossup between them. The Dell has a more mainstream look and would fit better in an office or airport lounge. But I liked the deeper, deeper keyboard keys on the Nitro 5 and its bold, bright backlighting that makes the keys stand out.
Still, it’s 5.1 pounds and just over 1 inch thick. I lugged it back and forth from the office to home several times, including a power brick, and it was painful.
It also has more USB-A ports than I’ve seen in a while (one on the left, two on the right), but only one USB-C/Thunderbolt 4. That’s on the back edge, along with an HDMI output and a port for the barrel connector power cable. Gaming laptops are among the last laptops without a more universal USB-C-based power connection, due to the power required to run the discrete GPU.
I noticed that the superfluous bloatware that used to be much more common on budget laptops is back: Dropbox, Planet9 (gaming social media network), ExpressVPN and a few others have adware or offers preloaded on the Nitro 5. De usually, PC makers make money from including these links and apps. Are those savings passed on to you in the price of the system? It’s hard to say. The silver lining is that, with a large 512GB SSD, it doesn’t eat up a lot of storage space.
What I do like, though, is Acer’s Nitro Sense software for controlling the system’s gaming features. Unlike some other PC manufacturers’ settings software on gaming laptops, it’s simple enough for casual users to understand and doesn’t clutter the interface with more than basic fan speed controls, temperature monitoring, keyboard backlight settings and some other things. Although the fans could crank up at times, the system never overheated, and it’s nice to have easy-to-access controls.
This is a mainstream-priced gaming laptop with a current-gen Core i5 CPU and an Nvidia 3060 GPU. That means you have a pretty good idea of how it’s going to perform before even opening the box. In some tests, the system suffers compared to other Nvidia 3060 laptops we’ve tested going with i5 vs. the i7, but every game benchmark we ran (like Guardians of the Galaxy at high-detail settings) was better than 60 frames per second. second.
I’ve been using the Steam Deck as my main gaming PC lately, so it was a nice change of pace to switch back to a big screen and an actual keyboard and mouse setup. New games, like my current guilty pleasure, Warhammer 40,000: Gate of Chaos – Daemonhunters, ran great, and playing next to a window made me especially grateful for the glare-free matte screen.
But battery life was on the short side, at 4:37. Note: that’s just for streaming video, without even playing a game. Many of the gaming laptops we’ve tested recently, like the same ones, held for longer. As a gaming laptop, that’s no deal breaker, but it keeps the Nitro 5 from being as useful as a crossover productivity laptop as it could be.
Acer Nitro 5 AN515-58
Microsoft Windows 11 Home; 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-12500H; 16GB DDR4 3,200MHz; 6GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060; SSD 512GB
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