Acer Nitro 5 (2022) Short Review

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The Acer Nitro 5 is an old friend – this is the sixth time since 2017 that we’ve reviewed the budget 15.6-inch gaming laptop positioned under Acer’s Predator series, not counting our two eyes on the version 17.3 inches. Now starting at $699.99 and $1099.99 as tested, the smaller Nitro 5 is a decent 1080p gaming rig, but this year’s model doesn’t wow us like the super-cheap 2020 edition l did, nor like the MSI Katana GF66 does with a faster GPU and twice the storage for $100 more.


A hard-to-read keyboard

The cheapest Nitro 5 combines an Intel Core i5 processor with Nvidia’s old GeForce GTX 1650 GPU. Our $1,099.99 test unit (model AN515-57-74TT) heats things up with a 2.3GHz Core i7-11800H chip and 4GB GeForce RTX 3050 Ti, plus 16GB of memory and an SSD. 512GB NVMe. Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) non-touch display has 144Hz refresh rate. Top end is identical except for 6GB RTX 3060 graphics; it’s $1,299.99.

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Acer Nitro 5 (2022) rear view

(Photo: Molly Flores)

Clad in what Acer calls Shale Black plastic, the Nitro 5 measures 0.94 by 14.3 by 10 inches (HWD), a close match to the Katana (0.98 by 14.1 by 10.2 inches) although only imperceptibly lighter at 4.85 versus 4.96 pounds. I’ll complain for the third time that its dark red keyboard lettering is pretty much invisible against the black keys, so you can only tell what the top row keys are doing in a dark room with the backlight on at fund.

Mid-thick bezels surround the screen; there’s a good amount of flexibility whether you’re grabbing the corners of the screen or tapping the keyboard. Potential Windows Hello users will be disappointed to find no fingerprint reader or facial recognition webcam. This year’s model continues the Nitro 5’s welcome tradition of expandable storage – removing a dozen screws and the bottom panel reveals a second M.2 SSD slot and 2.5-inch HDD bay, and it there is a drive cable in the box.

Acer Nitro 5 (2022) left ports

(Photo: Molly Flores)

Prominent cooling vents are joined on the sides of the Nitro 5 by a set of ports, though Thunderbolt 4 and an SD or microSD card slot are missing in action. On the left side are two USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A ports, an Ethernet port and an audio jack. Two USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports (one Type-C and one Type-A with device charging) sit alongside an HDMI port on the right. The AC adapter plugs into the back.

Acer Nitro 5 (2022) right ports

(Photo: Molly Flores)


A pretty cool feature set, but no frills

Except that it’s extremely hard to read, the red-backlit keyboard has its good sides, including the Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down keys in the top row (though they and the Escape and Delete keys are small , and Delete is in the middle of a group of three rather than its usual position in an upper right corner).

There’s a number pad and a hotkey to launch the NitroSense utility (more on that in a minute). The keyboard has a shallow, spongy typing feel, but allows for a fast pace with a little practice. A buttonless touchpad glides and taps easily and has a slightly stiff click.

Acer Nitro 5 (2022) Keyboard

(Photo: Molly Flores)

The webcam has the usual cheap, soft-focus 720p resolution; it captures relatively well-lit and colorful images with some static. It doesn’t have a privacy shutter, although one of the top-row keys mutes the microphone for conference calls. The bottom-mounted speakers produce a hollow sound that’s barely audible even with the volume turned up; bass is imperceptible, although you can faintly distinguish overlapping tracks.

The 1080p display isn’t particularly bright and white backgrounds are a bit dull, but contrast is fair and colors are relatively vivid. Fine details are crisp enough for a budget panel, and the 144Hz refresh rate makes games and videos smooth. Viewing angles are wide.

Acer Nitro 5 (2022) front view

(Photo: Molly Flores)

The NitroSense pop-up lets you crank up the fan speed to stay cool while gaming, and choose an economical, balanced, or high-performance battery plan (we used the latter for our benchmark tests). It offers shortcuts to the GeForce Experience video control panel and DTS:X Ultra audio presets such as Music, Movies, Shooter, and RPG. Acer Care Center manages system updates and storage cleanup. Promotions range from Norton Security Ultra and Acer’s Planet9 gaming community to ExpressVPN monitoring and Aura Privacy.

Acer Nitro 5 (2022) rear logo

(Photo: Molly Flores)


Benchmarks: Affordable Gaming Scrum

For our benchmark graphics, we compared the Nitro 5 2022 to four other gaming laptops under $2,000, with prices ranging from $784 for the Dell G3 15 to $1,699 for the MSI Delta 15. MSI Katana GF66 and the HP Victus 16 landed in between. You can see their basic specifications in the table below.

Productivity tests

UL’s leading PCMark 10 benchmark simulates a variety of real-world productivity and content creation workflows to measure the overall performance of office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet, web browsing and videoconferencing. We also run PCMark 10’s Full System Drive test to gauge a laptop’s load time and storage throughput.

Three benchmarks focus on the CPU, using all available cores and threads, to gauge a PC’s suitability for CPU-intensive workloads. Maxon’s Cinebench R23 uses that company’s Cinema 4D engine to render a complex scene, while Primate Labs’ Geekbench 5.4 Pro simulates popular applications ranging from PDF rendering and speech recognition to machine learning. Finally, we use the open source HandBrake 1.4 video transcoder to convert a 12 minute video clip from 4K to 1080p resolution (lower times are better).

Our final productivity test is PugetBench for Photoshop from Puget Systems, which uses the Creative Cloud 22 version of Adobe’s popular image editor to benchmark a PC’s performance for content creation and multimedia applications. It is an automated extension that performs a variety of general and GPU-accelerated Photoshop tasks, ranging from opening, rotating, resizing and saving an image to applying masks, gradient fills and filters.

The quintet performed well overall. Even Dell’s lowly Core i5 topped 4,000 points in PCMark 10 which indicates excellent productivity for Microsoft Office apps, and the Acer shone in our CPU tests and took silver in Photoshop. These laptops are well suited to dual function as gaming rigs and daily drivers.

Graphics and game testing

We test Windows PC graphics with two DirectX 12 game simulations from UL’s 3DMark, Night Raid (more modest, suitable for laptops with integrated graphics) and Time Spy (more demanding, suitable for gaming rigs with discrete GPUs).

We also ran two tests from the GFXBench 5 cross-platform GPU benchmark, which emphasizes both low-level routines like texturing and high-level, game-like image rendering. 1440p Aztec Ruins and 1080p Car Chase, rendered off-screen to accommodate different display resolutions, drive graphics and compute shaders using the OpenGL programming interface and hardware tessellation respectively. The more frames per second (fps), the better.

Our next three tests involve real games, specifically the built-in 1080p benchmarks of a AAA title (Assassin’s Creed Valhalla), a fast-paced esports shooter (Rainbow Six Siege), and a sports racing sim (F1 2021). We run each benchmark twice, using different image quality presets for Valhalla and Rainbow and trying F1 with and without Nvidia’s DLSS anti-aliasing technology.

The Nitro 5 performed admirably in Rainbow Six Siege, surpassing the capabilities of its 144Hz display and making a strong claim to budget esports gamers. Sadly, it joined the Dell at the bottom of the pack in our other games and sims, proving that Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3050 Ti is the GPU you get when you can’t spare the extra cash for an RTX 3060. price of $100 or $200 higher will make you a much better perfumer.

Battery and display tests

We test laptop battery life by playing a locally stored 720p video file (the open source Blender movie Tears of Steel) with display brightness at 50% and audio volume at 100%. We make sure the battery is fully charged before testing, with Wi-Fi and keyboard backlight turned off.

We also use a Datacolor SpyderX Elite sensor and monitor calibration software to measure a laptop screen’s color saturation (what percentage of the sRGB, Adobe RGB and DCI-P3 color gamuts or palettes the screen can display) and its 50% and maximum brightness in nits (candelas per square meter).

Acer’s nine-hour battery life is impressive for a gaming rig, but screens on budget laptops are less so; none were as bright as we’d like, and the Nitro 5, G3 15, and Katana GF66 showed poor color coverage.


A viable esports option, but not a star

It’s annoying that Acer heard our complaints about the Nitro 5’s hard-to-read keyboard for years without fixing it, but the laptop otherwise showed steady improvement, going from the 30 fps threshold to 60 fps and now approaching the big leagues with a 144Hz display.

Acer Nitro 5 (2022) right angle

(Photo: Molly Flores)

Unfortunately, the competition has also improved – it’s easier to stand out in the $700 or $800 segment than in the fierce and crowded $1100 or $1200 arena. We still love the Nitro 5, but it’s no longer our top pick.

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