The big deal with the Acer Nitro 5 is that, well, it's a deal - a laptop which (in theory) combines a highly reasonable asking price with enough grunt to manage even the most challenging games, if you're not expecting miracles.
The Acer Nitro 5 is a system that drops in a few premium features without breaking the bank, as well as being one that doesn't try to do far too much inside a laptop form factor, and thus remains a reasonable computer rather than an inferno of fan noise.
And that may well be A Good Thing; I've lost count of the number of laptops I've had on my desk over the years, but the one uniting factor of those which really impressed was their ability to exist without constantly reminding me of their existence.
Previous generations of Acer Nitro 5 impressed. So does the 9th-gen Core i7, RTX 2060 model here do the same and earn passage into T3's best gaming laptops guide? Let's find out.
Acer Nitro 5 review: Design and build
Does the Nitro 5 look impressive? That depends on your perspective. If you're swayed by angles and edges, perhaps it does. But it's more subdued than many of its peers, preferring more subtle red accents to the rainbow vomit of some other laptops, so it lacks that big wow factor. It's not thin and it doesn't seem especially tough, with a plastic case that does little to stop screen flex. That's one of those cut corners; not a deal breaker, unless you're dedicated to flinging your laptop around, but something to watch out for.
Acer's claims of a narrow screen bezel aren't entirely incorrect given the reasonably slim screen sides but compared to much of its modern company (and bearing in mind the chunky top and bottom edges) they're probably a bit rich.
The plastic case does, at least, hold up fairly sturdily on the keyboard side. While I'd never describe the squishy pop of a rubber-dome laptop keyboard as pleasant to type on, using the red-lit keys of the Acer Nitro 5 isn't a chore, and it only bends in the centre slightly if you're particularly heavy-fingered. The expansive base has been used wisely, with the keyboard sporting a number pad (big tick if you're ever likely to use this for work) though its inclusion does mean the arrow keys have been squished between it and the main key cluster. This is annoying, but something you'll get used to. A decently-sized and responsive touch pad is located centrally below the letter cluster. It's not the biggest, but there's nothing wrong with it.
That just about sums up the outward design. It's functional. It's there. It's neither offensively ugly or tremendously boring. There's nothing wrong with it.
Underneath and around back there's a very generous amount of ventilation, and the speakers are downward-pointing, angled slightly for a good stereo field, outputting from the front of the base. In terms of ports you get a passable two USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A ports on the left alongside a single USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C and HDMI output, and on the right there's a single USB 2.0 port for your mouse, a headphone/mic jack, and the power socket.
Acer Nitro 5 review: Specs and hardware
GeekBench benchmarks scores
Single core: 4806
For a laptop at this price point we're loathe to say anything too harsh about the hardware inside. That's not just a kindness, it's reality. There's no way, for example, you're picking up a laptop with a sparkling Max-Q RTX 2080 for this sort of price, at least not until Nvidia's next-gen mobile cards are released, widespread, and supersede it. The 2060 inside here is, as we'll see, perfectly adequate, as long as you're not the type of gamer that absolutely requires everything to be on Ultra settings with raytracing.
Much of what's on offer is actually better than you might expect. The 17.3" panel sets the Nitro 5 apart from some similarly-priced machines and other Nitro 5 models lower down the ladder; it's FHD, so it's not going to tax the 2060 too hard, but it's also 120Hz, a step up from the bog-standard 60Hz displays elsewhere, and IPS for some seriously sweet viewing angles and responsiveness. It's reasonably bright, but it didn't blow us away with its vibrancy or colour.
There's a Killer E2500 gigabit Ethernet controller, which should help to cut out any latency issues in online games, and an NVMe SSD on board with space for more drives inside, should you wish to upgrade - and you probably will, given that this model comes with a quickly-filled 256GB storage.
Acer Nitro 5 review: Gaming and performance
3DMark benchmark scores
Time Spy: 5858
Fire Strike: 13827
Fire Strike Extreme: 7123
Fire Strike Ultra: 3625
Sky Diver: 31554
Night Raid: 30620
Gaming on the Nitro 5 follows the string I've been trying to lay throughout this article: it's really very good as long as you have your expectations in check. If you're upgrading from anything other than a GeForce GTX 1080 Max-Q you'll definitely feel the difference. And the performance gulf on mobile isn't quite as large as it is on the desktop; comparing the benchmark numbers from this to, say, those of the RTX 2080 inside the Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX701 prove that this isn't a million miles off that mark.
This particular Nitro 5 is not quite as pacy as machines with 10th-gen Intel CPUs (and you can indeed get a 10th-gen version, if you're so inclined, and Acer announced an 11th-gen edition at CES) although the gulf, again, isn't that wide. The hexa-core i7-9750H is a cracking little processor, and it's really only going to reach its limit if you're running CPU-bound games like Civilization VI.
Putting the Nitro 5 through its paces with some Hitman 2 it performed just fine, and while FHD resolution doesn't kick the 2060 too hard, it was only after a fair few of the more advanced graphical settings were turned down that it reached anywhere near exploiting the the 120Hz potential of the screen to its fullest. That refresh rate does mean the panel can keep up with wild action well, but I have to confess to being a little disappointed with the contrast of the Nitro 5's IPS screen. It's all a bit wishy-washy.
Giving it heavy tasks also reveals Acer's rather excitable cooling solution, a battery of fans that seems to kick in early and suck a whole lot of air into the components. Thermal throttling, as far as T3's suite of tests went, appears to be mostly kept at bay. That's a bonus for consistency, but this thing makes quite the noise - not quite enough to overpower the speakers, but enough to make it feel like you're gaming in a wind tunnel.
Acer Nitro 5 review: Verdict
If you're on a limited budget and prepared to make a few sacrifices - notably turning down the odd setting, performing a storage upgrade, putting up with a slightly washed-out FHD screen, and maybe popping in some ear plugs when its engine really gets humming - the Nitro 5 as specced here is a thoroughly decent buy. It's a very good laptop, at a very good price.