(Pocket-lint) - The whole pitch of the Acer Nitro 5 is that it can deliver gaming goodness without costing a fortune. When we reviewed the laptop back in June 2020 we said much the same: "[It's] a pleasing piece of kit for the money, proof that good gaming performance doesn't necessarily need to cost a fortune".

For 2021 Acer's take on the Nitro 5 is to shake up the specification options, introducing AMD Ryzen 5000 series processors - Intel Core i5 or i7 is still an option - along with optional bumps in screen resolution and refresh rate.

So how does the 2021 Acer Nitro 5 refresh stack up? We've had our paws on the 17.3-inch mega model to preview what to expect...

Design & Display

  • 17.3-inch IPS LCD, 1920 x 1080 resolution, 360Hz refresh rate
    • (15.6in & 17.3in at 144Hz or QHD at 165Hz also available)
  • Dimensions (17-inch): 403.5 x 280 x 24.9mm / Weight: 2.7kgs
  • Ports: 3x USB-A, 1x USB-C, 1x HDMI, 1x 3.5mm
  • 1x Ethernet port (E2600), Wi-Fi 6 connectivity
  • 4-zone RGB keyboard
  • DTS X: Ultra Audio

The Nitro 5 comes in two size options: the 17.3-inch model, as seen here; or the 15.6-inch option (not shown). Both offers specifications that are much the same, it's down to how large a screen you want and how much you want to customise the internals (and, by virtue of that, the overall asking price).

The screen can be decent staple gaming quality - with a Full HD (1920 x 1080) panel shown here with 144Hz refresh rate - or the company has really pushed the options list with up to a QHD resolution 165Hz refresh rate available or a Full HD with 360Hz refresh rate. You'll obviously need all the power you can get to try and keep frame rates to match the refresh, though, so we suspect the 144Hz option will be the most popular of the lot (and the more affordable).

In terms of design not a massive amount has changed generation to generation though. It's still fairly obvious that the Nitro 5 is a budget laptop - not just because of the asing price, but based on other features 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.

There are some tweaks though: the charging port has gone from the side of the laptop and is now slap bang in the centre of the rear, which ought to help tidy up those desk-bound gaming sessions. Otherwise there's no lack of ports overall: three full-size USB meet just one USB-C (we'd have liked two - oh, and there's no Display Port options either), along with both Killer Ethernet E2600 and Wi-Fi 6 connectivity options.

Being a gaming laptop, the Nitro 5 comes with a backlit keyboard - but one with some pleasant highlights around the WASD keys and directional arrows. The trackpad no longer has the mean-looking red accent around its outside, but we can take that. The keyboard offers 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. It's a really handy button to have.

Hardware & Performance

  • AMD Ryzen 5000 series processor
    • (Intel Core i5/i7 option)
  • 16GB RAM (upgradable to 32GB)
  • Next-gen Nvidia GeForce GPU
    • GTX 1650 w/ Intel option
  • Acer CoolBoost cooling
  • Quad exhaust system
  • 256GB/512GB SSD

On the inside the Nitro 5 sports the dual-fan cooling system of its predecessor, called CoolBoost technology, which intelligently adjusts cooling to keep you playing at decent frame rates. Those fans will kick in under little pressure, adding some sound as a result, but that's typical of such a laptop.

The big change is the AMD Ryzen 5000 processor under the hood, paired with the up-to-the-minute Nvidia GTX GPU. Whether that will be enough to stop the Nitro 5 heating up quite as much as its predecessor we're yet to see. But it should result in better still performance thanks to the chipset's architecture.

It's also worth considering the overall spec when you purchase. The base model comes with a 256GB SSD - sure, it's fast, but when games these days are over 100GB a piece you'll fill it up in a matter of moments. Certainly consider the 512GB option as a minimum.

First Impressions

Overall the 2021 Acer Nitro 5 is a more powerful and customisable offering than its predecessor.

It's an affordable gaming laptop - well, at its entry point - that should still manage to perform under pressure thanks to up-to-date AMD and Nvidia on board, while delivering a great display experience (depending on which of the Full HD/QHD 144Hz/165Hz/360Hz options you pick/can afford!).

Whether the ongoing questions of the series from before - light bleed, excess fan noise, limited battery life - continue here we'll need to do some more thorough testing. But at this price such foibles are forgivable for all the potential gaming joy the Nitro 5 can bring.

Writing by Mike Lowe.