(Pocket-lint) - Generally speaking the words 'budget' and 'gaming' don't go that well together. Affordable usually means low specs and poor performance. But not so with this Acer. The 2020 version of the Nitro 5 is designed to not only be an improvement over the previous generation, but also an affordable gaming laptop that could open up the market to a wider audience.

It comes in variants that include not only Intel's 10th Generation Core i processors, but also Nvidia's GeForce RTX or GTX graphics card options. Add in super-fast SSD for fast booting and game loads, Intel Wi-Fi 6 and Killer Ethernet E2600, and a 15.6-inch Full HD IPS with either 120Hz or 144Hz faster-than-average refresh rate and you've got a real pleaser, at least on paper.

But how does the Acer Nitro 5 perform in reality?

Budget brilliance

  • Intel 10th Gen Core i processor options, Nvidia GeForce RTX or GTX graphics card options (RTX 2060, GTX 1650Ti / 1650)
  • 15.6-inch Full HD IPS display, 120Hz/144Hz refresh rate, 3ms response rate
  • Dual 2W speakers, True Harmony audio settings, WavesMaxx audio

It's immediately obvious that the Nitro 5 is a budget laptop. Not just because you know the price tag, but you'll see it in other areas too. The screen bezels, for example, aren't as thin as those on other more premium gaming laptops that we've tested. The screen also wobbles a bit if you type to aggressively and it's outwardly a bit cheap looking. 

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That said, the Nitro 5 is one device you shouldn't dismiss based on its looks. There are a few different variants of the model that include some decent specs and offer pleasing performance. This includes some Nvidia RTX GPU options that bring ray-tracing goodness to your gaming sessions. These specs also help you make the most of the 120Hz/144Hz refresh rate panel options. 

We tested the Nitro 5 using a few different games, including Assassin's Creed Odyssey, Far Cry: New Dawn, Cuisine Royale and Human Fall Flat. Assassin's Creed managed over 60 frames per second (60fps), while Valorant pushed over 180fps.

The Nitro 5 is also capable in other areas too. It comes with both Killer Ethernet E2600 and Wi-Fi 6 connectivity options. So you can plug in for a stable connection and faster download speeds if you need. We tested that streaming on Twitch and found the Nitro 5 was up to the job in that area too. 

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It is worth considering the specifications when you purchase though. The model we tested came with just a 250GB NVMe SSD. Fast boot times sure, but it doesn't take long to fill up a drive of that size with a smattering of games. Red Dead Redemption 2 takes up 150GB for a start, Call of Duty Modern Warfare tops out at 180GB. Fortunately, the Nitro 5 has two slots and can handle up to 1TB in RAID 0. 

The screen performs well under pressure and looks great for gaming sessions. We did note a small amount of light bleed in the bottom corners of the display, but only during darker scenes.  

Keyboard & Trackpad

As well as gaming performance, the Nitro 5 has a few other highlights. Like the Triton 500 we tested back in 2019, the Nitro 5 not only sports a backlit keyboard, but also one with some pleasant highlights around the WASD keys and directional arrows.

The trackpad also has a mean-looking red accent around the outside, which sets off the look. We found the trackpad a bit hit-and-miss during use though - it's a bit fiddly, so we'd highly recommend plugging in a mouse instead. 

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The keyboard setup also gives you easy, single-press access to Acer's NitroSense software. From there you can see an at-a-glance view of temperature and load on CPU and GPU, as well as access various power plan modes including power saving, balance and high performance. 

True Harmony audio settings including WavesMaxx audio can also be activated to change the audio settings. Though we did find that despite offering good quality sound, the speakers were regularly drowned out by the laptop's fans. 

Cooling & Performance

Acer claims that the latest Nitro 5 sports an improved dual-fan cooling system that offers 25 per cent better performance over the 2019 model. With CoolBoost technology the Nitro 5 certainly manages to intelligently adjust cooling to keep you playing at decent frame rates. 

Alas, performance comes at a cost - a lap-warming one. We found, as with many gaming laptops, that the Nitro 5 gets toasty on the lap when gaming in comfort. It's loud and warm, but certainly not the worst we've tried.

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Gaming on a desk with a headset on and it's a non-issue for the most part. And for standard (non-gaming) use it's much quieter and easy on both the eyes and ears. 

Battery performance is another matter. Battery life is managed in the software - but we found we got just three hours use out of this machine for everyday non-gaming use before it needed charging. So don't expect to be able to go for long when loading up a game when on the go - you'll want access to mains power. 

Convenient Connectivity

  • HDMI 2.0, USB 3.2 Gen 1, USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A, USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C
  • Intel Wi-Fi 6 and Killer Ethernet E2600

Despite its price point, the Nitro 5 also delivers in connectivity options. Multiple USB connections on both sides, an Ethernet port, and HDMI output all means you can easily connect plenty of other devices including a mouse, headset, and external monitor.

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It's worth noting that the Nitro 5 lacks Display Port options, which will be an issue if you're planning on using it with the latest and greatest virtual reality headsets - but otherwise we find its array of ports to please.

Verdict

All told, the Acer Nitro 5 is a pleasing package. It's an affordable gaming laptop that still manages to perform under pressure - delivering a great gaming experience to match the fast display. 

It's not without a few niggles that include minor light bleed, too much fan noise, lacklustre battery life, and a lack of Display Port output. But at this price point we can forgive that.

If you're looking for a gaming laptop that doesn't break the bank but doesn't disappoint then the Nitro 5 is well worth checking out.

Also consider

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MSI GE65 Raider

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The MSI GE65 Raider is a pricer option, but a fancy gaming machine with a number of highlights. Those include great design features and nifty additions like a SteelSeries crafted keyboard that's bound to please PC gamers.

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Asus ROG Zephyrus G14

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The Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 is a compact laptop with a smaller screen and snazzier looks. It has great battery life and is wonderfully portable.

Writing by Adrian Willings.