Earlier this week, Google and hardware partners ASUS, Acer and Lenovo announced a somewhat surprising initiative to build Chromebooks expressly for cloud gaming. While many Chromebooks are a riff on the classic 13-inch laptop, the first round of these devices have large, high-resolution screens with fast refresh rates, anti-ghosting keyboards, powerful processors and a few software tweaks to work better with cloud gaming. services like GeForce NOW.
All of these laptops are slated for release by the end of October, but I got a chance to check out a pre-production version of Acer’s GE Chromebook 516. Over the past week, I’ve played several games with it and put it through my daily work routine. I’ll have to test the final version before I give it a proper review, but the Chromebook 516 GE has a lot going for it, whether you play games or not.
Acer will offer a few configurations of this laptop, but the one I tried is on pre-order at Best Buy. It has a 12th generation Intel Core i5-1240P processor, 8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage and a 16-inch, 2,560 x 1,600 display with a 120Hz refresh rate. The 516 GE is larger and heavier than many Chromebooks, but 3.75 pounds is quite reasonable for a 16-inch laptop.
As an all-purpose machine, there’s a lot to be said for the 516 GE, assuming you’re okay with a less-than-portable computer. The screen is great to work on – with an effective resolution of 1,600 x 1,000 by default, there’s plenty of vertical space, and I was easily able to have large windows (like Google Doc and Slack) next to each other. together without feeling cramped. Its brightness rating of 350 nits isn’t going to blow you away, but it felt plenty to me, and colors were nicely saturated without being overpowering. And while the 120Hz refresh rate doesn’t change the basic experience of using a Chromebook, things like scrolling through YouTube or switching windows felt smooth and fluid.
The keyboard and trackpad are great too. The keyboard is large and spacious, and the keys have plenty of travel. It is equally suitable for a long writing session or playing games. And the computer’s large deck means the trackpad is one of the largest I’ve used on a Chromebook; it is smooth and responsive. As a nod to its gaming heritage, the keyboard has an RGB LED backlight and an outline around the WASD keys, but these are about the only changes that make this computer feel like a “gaming laptop.”
The big question with this laptop, though, is whether it really offers a better cloud gaming experience than other options (including other Chromebooks). I’m not ready to judge that yet, but NVIDIA’s GeForce Now and Xbox Cloud Gaming worked without any issues here. I plugged in my Xbox Controller and got down to business. On GeForce Now, which I linked to my Steam account, I spent some time playing Portal and Shadow of the tomb raiderand I tried favorites like Game Forza Horizon 5 online and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge through my Game Pass subscription.
There is no doubt that this display elevates the experience, simply because of its size and resolution. I haven’t tried any games that played at 120Hz yet, but everything I played looked great – assuming my connection stayed solid. The 516 GE has a 6E wifi chip inside, but since I don’t have a 6E router yet, that didn’t do me any good. And even when I was in the same room as my router, with a strong signal, the quality of my game streams varied greatly. Overall, GeForce Now feels much more reliable than Xbox Cloud Gaming. When playing Xbox games, the picture came out noticeably, often disrupting gameplay. GeForce Now, on the other hand, I would experience the occasional burst of dropped frames, but the visuals rarely began to tear and distort as they did on Xbox Cloud Gaming.
Neither was nearly as good as playing a locally installed game, and the overall experience isn’t that different from what I’ve experienced cloud gaming on my MacBook Pro or other laptops. Acer can make a great laptop, but there’s only so much they can do about iffy streaming quality. And my internet connection isn’t exactly slow – I got about 170 Mbps down in a speed test I did when I was done playing.
At $650, Acer’s GE Chromebook 516 seems like a solid value—the combination of powerful hardware, a great screen and keyboard, and solid build quality is a very solid device. Chromebooks with an i5 processor usually cost at least this much if not more, and the 516 GE has a fair number of features that make it unique. Whether this helps Google’s initiative convince people that Chromebooks are worth gaming is another story, but at the very least, Acer’s latest is probably worth a look when it’s out. available.