The Nitro 5 offers excellent bang for your buck in the budget price range.
- Manufacturer: Acer®
- Model: Nitro 5 (AN517-51)
- Price when reviewed: £999
- Supplied by: Acer
Acer produces excellent gaming laptops at the mid and premium end of the range, but they also make very capable entry-level devices. Obviously, making a budget-friendly device means some concessions have to be made to keep the price down, but Acer has struck a great balance with the Nitro 5, and it performs best in the areas that matter most.
Design and build
For a laptop packing a large 17.3” screen, the Nitro 5 doesn’t feel like a big device. The upper and lower bezels are quite large, but the slim side bezels help keep a narrow profile. At just 403mm wide with a depth of 26.9mm, it’s a relatively compact laptop.
To help keep the price down, the casing and surfaces of the Nitro 5 are manufactured from plastic. It’s well finished, and build quality is very good, with close-fitting panels and solid construction. The lid of the laptop has a sturdy hinge that resists wobble when you nudge your desk and maintains its position, yet is still able to be opened and closed one-handed, although the lid and screen assembly could have done with a bit more rigidity, as they have quite a bit of flex.
There are no vents on the surface of the Nitro 5, giving it a very clean aesthetic. Angular exhaust vents are located to the rear, while the right side and underneath provide the air intakes. Within the underside, there is also a set of discrete red LEDs that shine across the fans (I momentarily panicked when I first saw these, as I thought it was severely overheating!) Temperature management is as expected, with the CPU peaking at 96°C during gaming. It may seem high, but it’s consistent with other 9750H CPUs we’ve tested.
Surface heat build-up isn’t too bad, with the highest temperatures most apparent towards where F12 is on the keyboard. This is well away from where your left hand would rest during gaming, while temperatures during regular non-gaming usage aren’t a factor. Switching fan control to maximum helps with cooling, with the dual-fans spooling up to 6000 rpm and bringing the temps down a couple of degrees. At full chat, the fans are quite loud, but nowhere near the vacuum cleaner levels of some laptops.
The keyboard has translucent keys with a red surround, with a red theme that extends to an accent strip around the touchpad that not only looks good but also helps to identify the outer edges of the touchpad in the dark. Overall the look is quite understated, but the gamer-focused elements such as the keyboard backlight and subtle red accents give the Nitro 5 a touch of character.
Keyboard and touchpad
As you would expect for a 17” laptop, there’s plenty of room for a full-size keyboard. The keyboard backlight bathes the translucent keys in a soft red glow, that greatly improves visibility of the keys without distracting you from the display (some models of the Nitro 5 have multi-zone RGB). The brightness can be adjusted in four steps, with the brightest being easily visible and very useful for locating the keys in a darkened room. The WASD keys, directional keys and the unique NitroSense key have an extra-bold red surround to help them stand out, but it doesn’t make a huge amount of difference.
All of the usual functions are available, and there are a few clearly marked Fn shortcut combos for adjusting things like brightness and volume.
The typing and gaming performance of the Nitro 5 is perfectly acceptable. Keys are responsive and reliable, and there’s a satisfying gentle click with each keypress. Travel is a little on the short side at just 1.6mm, but it was never problematic. I wrote some articles and played dozens of hours of games, and it didn’t let me down.
Sitting below the spacebar, the trackpad is a little too far left for my preference, although it does well at ignoring palm pressure. It’s quite accurate and responds well to small movements, but I found the outer edges to be less responsive. It’s a decent size, though, and as long you aren’t trying to play any fast-paced games with it, it does the trick. The under-surface left and right buttons are ok, but they do feel a little loose.
The Nitro 5 is fitted with a 17.3” 1080p IPS display, running at 120Hz. The higher refresh rate is ideal for gaming and above what you often find in budget devices. Many recent games will run well above 60 fps on the Nitro 5, even at Ultra settings, so it’s good that you can extract the maximum performance from the device.
With a peak luminance of around 275cd/m², it’s a reasonably bright display if you stay indoors, but it suffers in very bright rooms and is very difficult to see outside. As is expected for an IPS display, the contrast ratio sits at 1,180:1, which is above average for an IPS display.
Where the Nitro 5 suffers is in its underwhelming colour accuracy. sRGB coverage is low at around 60%, with DCI-P3 and Adobe RGB coverage under 50%. If you perform any kind of work where colour accuracy is important, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
I tried side by side comparisons with my LG 27UK650, which has excellent colour accuracy, and there’s a clear difference in favour of the LG. The colours on the Nitro 5 display tend to look a little washed out, with the primary colours suffering from undersaturation. I tried increasing the saturation in the display settings, which did give more vibrancy to the image, but this came at the cost of lost detail and separation between different shades of colour. Once you find the happy medium, it’s fine for general gaming use, and you tend not to notice, but it could be better. There is still good separation and clarity across the range, and considering I was comparing with a dedicated HDR monitor, it was surprisingly close.
Response rates, however, are much better, with good response times and negligible input delay. Aside from the slightly washed-out colours, playing games on the Nitro 5 is very pleasing. Games running at 100+ fps feel satisfying, and the display responds to the action well. It’s such a shame the image doesn’t have the vibrant pop that brings games to life.
This is where the Nitro 5 excels. Gaming performance is, quite simply, superb. This isn’t with the caveat, superb, “for a budget laptop”. Just straight-up excellent.
The Nitro 5 is fitted with a 9th Gen Intel i7-9750H clocked at 2.6GHz (4.5GHz peak) and an Nvidia RTX 2060 mobile GPU. Performance is off the chart, and this modestly priced laptop can near enough equal the performance of laptops that are twice the price.
You are slightly restricted by the relatively small amount of RAM. Only having 8Gb (2 x 4Gb Dual-channel) DDR4-2666 is likely to be the component that falls short when you look at recommended specs for games. It runs dual-channel, so it does have benefits over a single stick of RAM, but if you choose to upgrade it means you need to replace both sticks. The Nitro 5 can handle 32GB RAM, and this will help boost performance significantly. Realistically, spending about £50 on 2 x 8GB DDR4-3200 will give you the best returns here.
We didn’t swap out any components for our testing, though, and performance was still great. We ran a series of benchmark tests, along with our usual real-world performance testing, and the Nitro 5 offers performance well above its sub £1000 price tag. Results in games were comparable to mid-range laptops and not far off the Acer Predator Helios 300 we recently reviewed.
In the budget laptop price-range, you’d be hard-pressed to find better performance, as we found in our benchmark tests:
Shadow of the Tomb Raider – Ultra – 66 fps / Ultra RTX – 46 fps
Forza Horizon 4 – Ultra – 85 fps
Gears 5 – Ultra – 75.9 fps
Gears Tactics – Ultra 72.1 fps / 80.4 fps VRS enabled
Wolfenstein: Youngblood (RTX On) – Ultra – 98 fps
Total War Saga: Troy – 69 fps average
As is evident from the results, the Nitro 5 excels where it matters most, turning in an excellent performance with ultra settings. With a little optimisation, you can keep most of the enhancements turned on and reach speeds of 90 fps or higher on many AAA games.
Gears, Wolfenstein and Forza all passed 100 fps after some tweaks, and the difference between my settings and ultra was almost imperceptible. Games that are less graphics-hungry comfortably hit the 120 fps cap of the display.
For the budget price, it’s brilliant, with performance levels on par with many mid-range laptops.
CineBench – CPU (Single)(cb)
- Regular (Balanced – Acer Optimised / Auto Fan): 178 cb
- Regular (High-performance mode / Max Fan): 181 cb
CineBench – CPU (Multi)(cb)
- Regular (Balanced – Acer Optimised / Auto Fan): 967 cb
- Regular (High-performance mode / Max Fan): 971 cb
CineBench – GPU (Open GL)
- Regular (Balanced – Acer Optimised / Auto Fan): 101.17 fps
- Regular (High-performance mode / Max Fan): 109.17 fps
CineBench – CPU (Single)
- Regular (Balanced – Acer Optimised / Auto Fan): 432
- Regular (High-performance mode / Max Fan): 439
CineBench – CPU (Multi)
- Regular (Balanced – Acer Optimised / Auto Fan): 2094
- Regular (High-performance mode / Max Fan): 2124
CrystalDiskMark – Sequential Read (MB/s)
- Regular (Balanced – Acer Optimised / Auto Fan): 3104.97
- Regular (High-performance mode / Max Fan): 3105.23
CrystalDiskMark – Sequential Write (MB/s)
- Regular (Balanced – Acer Optimised / Auto Fan): 1606.43
- Regular (High-performance mode / Max Fan): 1603.57
The Nitro 5 model we received for testing comes with a 256Gb SSD. Even though it may be small, it packs in amazing performance levels, with average sequential read speeds of 3105 MB/s, and write speeds of 1605 MB/s. System boot-up times are very fast, and it makes a big improvement to load times in games.
When it comes to the overall capacity, though, the Nitro 5 is distinctly lacking. When some popular games take upwards of 100Gb nowadays, you are likely to be restricted to having just a handful of games installed if you are lucky. Without any additional storage, it could be a pain having to uninstall and download new games frequently.
This is a budget machine, of course, so they have to make cutbacks to keep the price down. As we’ve seen, the all-important gaming performance from the CPU and GPU is excellent. Considering you generally can’t upgrade a laptop CPU or GPU, I’d always prefer they make savings on things you can upgrade.
Inside the Nitro 5 is space for an additional M.2 SSD as well as room for a 2.5” drive, so it’s very easy to bump up your storage. There are loads of options for storage at every price point you can imagine, and for around £50 you can get a decent 500Gb M.2 SSD. Add another £50 and you can add a 2Tb HDD or 2.5” SSD.
So, while it may only be a small amount of storage, it’s very fast. If you do need more storage, it’s also very easy to increase without costing a huge amount, which is very helpful if you are working on a budget.
Speakers and audio
Audio quality through the integrated speakers is ok for on the go media consumption and I happily watched a few hours of videos while commuting. The max volume level is good, and bass representation is surprisingly decent for a laptop. It doesn’t have any punch to it, but despite the heavy focus on the upper frequencies, the sound isn’t as hollow as it can often be on laptops, though the overall sound does have a tinny resonance. It’s ok for TV shows, but music or anything with a cinematic score is too underrepresented to fully enjoy. I’d recommend headphones for gaming or a decent set of desktop speakers because the fans tend to muffle the sound.
Audio enhancement is provided by Waves MaxxAudio. It gives you a decent EQ to play around with and a digital width extender that works to a degree, but whether you get on with the way it processes sound is going to be entirely subjective. For my tastes, a small amount of this effect does improve the soundstage, but anything above 25% goes too far from how the native source sounds to be enjoyable.
If you have a decent set of headphones, the sound quality is great. If you let Windows Sonic, Dolby Atmos or DTS Headphone:X (if you have the licenses) handle the surround sound processing you also get clear directional audio that benefits gaming.
Wi-Fi and ethernet performance
Network performance is excellent, with the Killer Ethernet card allowing you to prioritise network traffic to keep your gaming smooth and uninterrupted. Wireless performance is also very good, with Intel dual-band AC WiFi providing a reliable and fast connection at a good range.
It’s not quite as advanced as the Killer double-shot setup in the Helios 300, but it’s stable and effective. I had no issues with connectivity, even sharing the network with numerous connected consoles, phones, tablets and laptops.
Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity is also included, which is very useful for connecting supported peripherals like speakers, headsets or keyboards, especially if you have terrible cable management skills like myself.
NitroSense is Acer’s integrated system management tool, accessed with a single keypress. It offers up quick select control over the power plan, so you can manage system performance both on and off the battery. Fan control allows you to set a custom fan speed, allow the software to dynamically control the fans in auto mode, or crank them up to max for full cooling. It’s also here where you will find the toggle for CoolBoost, which I recommend you always leave on, as it provides additional cooling and should prolong the life of your components.
Within the settings is also a quick-toggle that deactivates the Windows and Menu keys, to prevent accidental presses while gaming.
The system monitoring isn’t as in-depth as PredatorSense, but it gives you a useful, at-a-glance, easy to read snapshot of the CPU and GPU temperature and load.
Ports are spread along the left and right edges of the Nitro 5. On the left side, there is an RJ-45 ethernet port, HDMI 2.0, USB-C and 2 x USB 3.1. On the right, there is a mains connection, a USB 2.0 port and a 3.5mm TRRS headset connection.
There’s plenty of ports to suit most peoples needs, and if you are like me with a load of external peripherals to connect, you can just add a USB hub for mouse, keyboard and headsets.
As is the case with most gaming laptops, they tend to perform best when plugged in. Battery life while gaming generally comes in under an hour, especially at full brightness. If you just want to watch a few videos while travelling you can still eke out a fair few hours of use, and it will handle a bit of light multi-tasking without you having to panic about the battery running out.
Streaming Netflix at full brightness the Nitro 5 was down to 25% battery in under 2hours. Gaming on the go fared a lot worse, with the battery down to 25% in under an hour. If you are more conservative with the brightness and enable more power-saving settings you can squeeze a bit more out of it. Battery life isn’t great, but it will do in a pinch – It’s definitely better suited to being plugged into the mains.
You can pick up this spec Nitro 5 for just £999, which is fantastic value for the power. The Nitro 5 doesn’t stand alone at this price point, but amongst its RTX 2060 equipped competitors you have to make the concession of smaller screens or less capable processors.
When it comes to performance on a budget, the Nitro 5 is arguably the best laptop you can buy. The fitted SSD is small, but you can easily add more storage. With a couple of upgrades, you can increase the RAM and storage capacity and have a laptop that will give you the ability to play AAA games at high settings and framerates for many years to come. The only real negative is the screen’s lack of vibrancy. The trade-off of a bit of colour saturation for excellent performance, though, is one I’ll gladly make.
|Operating system||Windows 10|
|Processor||– Intel® Core™ i7-9750H Processor- Hexa-core- 2.6 GHz / 4.5 GHz- 12 MB cache|
|RAM||8 GB DDR4 (2600 MHz)|
|Graphics card||– NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060- 6 GB GDDR6|
|Storage||256 GB SSD|
|Screen type||IPS LCD|
|Resolution||Full HD 1920 x 1080p|
|Screen features||– Anti-glare- LED backlighting|
|WiFi||– Intel® dual-band AC WiFi- 2×2|
|Ethernet||Killer Ethernet port|
|USB||– USB Type-C x 1- USB 3.1 x 2- USB 2.0 x 1|
|Video connections||HDMI 2.0 x 1|
|Audio connections||3.5 mm jack|
|Audio software||Waves MaxxAudio|
|Memory card reader||No|
|Camera||1 MP webcam|
|Mouse / trackpad||Multi-touch trackpad with gesture control|
|Keyboard||Backlit membrane keyboard with numeric keypad|
|Security features||Kensington security lock slot|
|Battery type||4-cell Lithium-ion|
|Battery life||Up to 7 hours|
|Box contents||– Acer Nitro 5 AN517-51 17.3″ Gaming Laptop (NH.Q9BEK.004)- Power adapter- User documentation|
|Dimensions||26.9 x 403 x 280 mm (H x W x D)|
|Manufacturer’s guarantee||1 year|
|Software||* Full version of Microsoft Office not included* Full version of anti-virus / internet security not included|
– XSplit Gamecaster- Nitro Sense