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Acer Nitro 5 Review: More Than a Budget Laptop

More than meets the eye.

Acer Nitro 5 AMD 2021
(Image: © Tom's Hardware)

Our Verdict

This year’s Acer Nitro 5 refresh brings with it a strong range of components and premium features like high resolutions that help it reach beyond its budget trappings.

For

  • + Strong performance
  • + Good viewing angles
  • + Accurate Audio

Against

  • - Pricey for Acer Nitro
  • - In our opinion, ugly

Tom's Hardware Verdict

This year’s Acer Nitro 5 refresh brings with it a strong range of components and premium features like high resolutions that help it reach beyond its budget trappings.

Pros

  • + + Strong performance
  • + + Good viewing angles
  • + + Accurate Audio

Cons

  • - - Pricey for Acer Nitro
  • - - In our opinion, ugly

Acer usually positions its Nitro gaming laptops as a budget line, but with the Ryzen 7 5800H and the RTX 3070 in the new Acer Nitro 5, it’s looking to be a powerful mid-range contender this time around. Those components come with a slightly higher price point than we’re used to seeing from the Nitro, and when you add in that the only resolution available on the laptop’s 15 inch configurations is 1440p, it really does seem like Acer is targeting more than the budget market with this Nitro 5 refresh. 

It’s a shame that the new Nitro 5 still keeps the generally clunky look of its predecessors and hasn’t gone full premium with new trends like a 16:10 aspect resolution. But it’s got strong performance all around, and it’s $1,699 minimum price point shows that Acer thinks it can go toe-to-toe with the likes of Alienware, Asus ROG and more of the best gaming laptops

Specifications of Acer Nitro 5

CPUAMD Ryzen 7 5800H
GraphicsNvidia GeForce RTX 3070 8GB GDDR6 with 95W TGP and 1,245 MHz Boost Clock 
Memory16GB DDR4-3200
Storage1TB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD
Display15.6 inch, 2560 x 1440, IPS, 165Hz
Networking802.11ax Intel Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.1
Ports3x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A, 1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C, 1x HDMI 2.1, 1x RJ-45 Ethernet, 1x 3.5mm headphone/microphone jack
Battery57.5 Wh
Power Adapter180W
Operating SystemWindows 10 Home
Dimensions(WxDxH)14.31 x 10.04 x 0.94
Weight4.85 pounds
Price (as configured)$1,699

Design of the Acer Nitro 5

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Acer Nitro 5 AMD 2021

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Acer Nitro 5 AMD 2021

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Acer Nitro 5 AMD 2021

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Acer Nitro 5 AMD 2021

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Acer Nitro 5 AMD 2021

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Acer Nitro 5 AMD 2021

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The Acer Nitro 5 hasn’t  gotten much of a makeover since the last one we reviewed, but as the best gaming laptops’ bezels get thinner and aesthetics get sleeker, this Nitro design is starting to look gaudy by comparison. It’s got plenty of chamfered edges and red accents that try to emphasize power, but details like the laptop’s cheap plastic shell that seems practically addicted to fingerprints reveal its budget origins.

That shell has logos all over it, plus generic sci-fi theming on the lid and a frankly toyetic red fan grill along its back. The keyboard’s font has a similar low-rent sci-fi feel with large blocky letters, which can get overwhelming given that the arrow and WASD keys also have white borders. Also, the WASD keys have their own separate font. Safe to say, this laptop’s look is a lot to take in.

The horizontal bezels are about 1 centimeter long while the bezel above the screen is almost 1 and a half inches tall. These might be thinner than other Nitro models but don’t quite live up to the competition, and make the screen look less generous than it otherwise might, which is a shame given its 2560 x 1440 resolution.

This laptop is also on the bulky and thick end compared to similarly specced rivals. At 14.31 x 10.04 x 0.94 inches, it’s longer and thicker than the three laptops we tested against it. That includes the Alienware m15 Ryzen Edition R5 (14.02 x 10.73 x 0.9 inches), the Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 (13.98 x 9.59 x 0.78 inches) and the Asus ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition (13.94 x 10.2 x 1.07 inches).

On the plus side, this laptop’s got lots of ports that are  generally distributed well. Its left side houses two USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A ports, an RJ-45 ethernet connection, a 3.5mm headphone/microphone combo jack and a Kensington lock slot. The right side has a single USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A port that supports power-off charging, a single USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C port and an HDMI connection. My only complaint is that the power cable plugs into the back of the laptop, which is a little awkward since it’s the only input there. 

Gaming Performance on the Acer Nitro 5

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Acer Nitro 5 AMD 2021

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Acer Nitro 5 AMD 2021

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Acer Nitro 5 AMD 2021

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Acer Nitro 5 AMD 2021

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Acer Nitro 5 AMD 2021

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Our configuration for the Acer Nitro 5 had mid-range current-gen specs across the board, including a Ryzen 7 5800H processor, an RTX 3070 laptop GPU, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. That’s a more consistently mid-range set of parts than the computers we tested it against, which include the Alienware m15 Ryzen Edition R5 (Ryzen 7 5800H/RTX 3060), Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 (i9-11900H/RTX 3060) and the Asus ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition (Ryzen 9 5900HX/Radeon RX 6800M). In general, this gave the Nitro 5 strong, though not always leading, performance across our suite of test games.

In Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s in-game benchmark running on its highest settings, the Nitro 5 hit 75 fps at 1080p and 51 fps at 2560 x 1440. That’s definitively better 1080p performance than the ROG Zephyrus M16’s 69 fps and slightly more frames at 1080p than the Alienware’s 73 fps. At 2560 x 1600, which is admittedly a slightly more taxing resolution than 1440p, the ROG Zephyrus M16 puts out 42 fps, which is plenty fewer frames than the Nitro 5 at 1440p. Meanwhile, the Asus ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition was the only laptop to beat the Nito 5, hitting 88 fps on the benchmark at 1080p

The Acer Nitro 5 took the lead in Grand Theft Auto V’s very high benchmark, running at 93 fps at 1080p and 55 fps at 1440p. The Alienware only hit 82 fps at 1080p, while the Zephyrus ran at 86 fps at 1080p and 50 fps at 1600p. The ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition actually found itself bringing up the rear here, with an fps of 71.

Far Cry: New Dawn’s ultra benchmark also saw the Nitro 5 in first place. 1080p performance was at 84 fps and 1440p performance was at 55 fps. The Alienware ran at 82 fps, and the Zephyrus ran at 86 fps at 1080p and 50 fps at 1600p. The ROG Strix G15 Advantage was towards the lower end of performance here, hitting 81 fps.

Red Dead Redemption 2 saw the Nitro 5 fall back to mid-tier performance compared to rivals with the game at medium settings. Here, it hit 57 fps at 1080p and 39 fps at 1440p. The Alienware was weaker than it at 53 fps. The Zephyrus was only slightly better than it with 58 fps at 1080p and 39 fps at 1600p. But the ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition blew it out of the water with 70 fps.

On Borderlands 3's benchmark at badass settings,  the Nitro 5 came out slightly ahead of all rivals except for the ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition. It hit 68 fps at 1080p and 49 fps at 1440p. The Alienware ran at 66 fps, and the Zephyrus ran at 64 fps at 1080p and 43 fps at 1600p. The ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition pushed all the way up to 79 fps.

The Acer Nitro 5 was shockingly consistent across resolutions in my anecdotal testing. While playing Control, I averaged between 55 - 60 fps on the high preset in both 1080p and 1440p. When I turned ray tracing on, the dropped to between 35 - 40 fps in both 1080p and 1440p. Fan noise was minimal during gameplay, although the side vents would sometimes blow hot air on my hands and the case could feel toasty if I played for long enough.

We also ran the Acer Nitro 5 through the Metro: Exodus benchmark for 15 runs in a row on RTX settings, to test how it performs over an entire gameplay session. The Nitro 5 averaged 51.21 fps across these runs. The CPU averaged a clock speed of 3,556.28 MHz and a temperature of 75.84 degrees Celsius. The GPU, meanwhile, averaged a 492 MHz clock speed and a 77.29 degrees Celsius temperature.

Productivity Performance on the Acer Nitro 5

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Acer Nitro 5 AMD 2021

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Acer Nitro 5 AMD 2021

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Acer Nitro 5 AMD 2021

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The Acer Nitro 5 we reviewed had a Ryzen 7 5800H processor, which means it benefits from AMD’s excellent productivity power. The Alienware m15 Ryzen Edition R5 config we reviewed had the same chip, while the ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition went a step higher with the Ryzen 9 5900HX. The ROG Zephyrus M16 was the one Intel rival we tested, with an also high-specced Core i9-11900H.

Despite the stacked competition, the Acer Nitro 5 only completely lost to one computer in Geekbench, which is a synthetic test for general PC performance. It hit 8,073 points on multi-core tests and 1,469 points on single core tests. The Alienware, which had the same CPU, was the weakest performer here, with scores of 7,288 and 1,427. The Zephyrus beat the Nitro 5 handily, with a 8,495/1,636 report card. Finally, the ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition lost to the Nitro in multi-core tests, hitting 7,746 points, but beat it in single core tests, hitting 1,519 points.

Our file transfer speed test, where we track how quickly a computer can move 25 GB of files, saw the Nitro 5 take a much more definitive second place. Here, it transferred the files at a rate of 754 MBps, which only lost out to the Alienware’s 874 MBps. The Zephyrus hit just 567 MBps, by comparison, and the Strix was even slower at 340.86 MBps.

Finally, our Handbrake test is where the Nitro 5 shined. In this test, we track how long it takes a computer to transcode a video down from 4K to FHD. The Nitro 5, true to its name, completed this task in 6:42. The Alienware was slightly slower at 7:05, while the Zephyrus was slower still at 7:58. The Strix just barely lost to the Nitro, with a speed of 6:57.

Display of Acer Nitro 5

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

The Acer Nitro 5 has a 15.6-inch IPS screen, and the model we reviewed has a 2560 x 1440 resolution that runs at a 165Hz refresh rate. It’s a bit disappointing that this laptop still uses a 16:9 aspect ratio as 16:10 becomes more common in the laptop world, but the picture itself was great across a variety of conditions.

I used this screen to watch a trailer for F9: The Fast Saga, and found that the bright reds and yellows on the cars were pleasing and definitely not dull. Blacks were also deep, and viewing angles held up to about 75 degrees without washing out. The screen was also comfortably bright throughout the whole process, if not impressively so, and the biggest drawback I had was a moderate amount of glare that became far less noticeable when I watched in low light.

Our brightness and color lab testing generally backed up my experience. The Acer Nitro 5 covered 84.5% of the DCI-P3 spectrum, only losing to the Alienware m15 Ryzen Edition R5 across our test candidates. That laptop covered 87.3% of the DCI-P3 spectrum. The ROG Zephyrus M16’s DCI-P3 coverage was much lower at 75.8%, and the ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition was only slightly higher than the Zephyrus at 76.7% DCI-P3 coverage.

The Nitro ‘s screen registered at an average 271 nits of brightness in our tests, the lowest of our test candidates. The ROG Strix was the only laptop close to it, at 280 nits, while the Alienware was much brighter than it at 328 nits. The brightest laptop we tested was the Zephyrus, which hit an unusually high (for this price point) 479 nits.

As for the 165Hz screen, it was a perfect fit for the about 165 fps gameplay I got when playing Overwatch on high settings. 

Keyboard and Touchpad on Acer Nitro 5

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The Acer Nitro 5 has maybe the ugliest keyboard I’ve seen on a laptop yet. Its font looks like someone put an Instagram sci-fi filter over Arial and the special treatment given to the arrow and WASD keys is so busy that they just look distracting. All the keycaps also have white sides and black tops, which almost gives the keyboard a somewhat disorienting pop-out effect.

Despite its looks, the keyboard itself is perfectly usable. Keypresses weren’t hard nor were they cushiony, and the keycaps felt stable rather than slippery. I also regularly hit my 77 - 78 words per minute average on 10fastfingers.com. And for what it’s worth, 4-zone RGB might help you tune the aesthetics to your liking just a little bit.

As for the 4.2 x 3.1 inch precision touchpad, it had just a bit more friction than I’d like. Still, I was able to input multi-touch gestures like two-finger scrolling and three-finger app switching without struggle.

Audio on the Acer Nitro 5

The Acer Nitro 5 has two bottom-firing speakers that lack any partner branding but still have great fidelity. The tradeoff here is on volume.

I listened to Lil Nas X’s Montero (Call Me By Your Name) to test these speakers, and the first thing I noticed was how quiet the song was. This got a little bit better after the beat dropped, but even so, I had to pump the volume up to 70% to have a comfortable experience. Even at 100%, the song wouldn’t extend far outside of my office.

Still, that’s plenty of volume for one person. As for the song itself, the lyrics and highs were strong, and all of the bass elements were present. I did find that the song’s bass, which has synth, clapping and vocal tracks, tended to blend together more on the Nitro than on headphones, where it was more distinct. But that’s still better than other laptops I’ve reviewed, which might have omitted one of those tracks entirely.

The Acer Nitro 5 also has plenty of audio post processing preset options in its NitroSense software, though most are focused on different game genres. I found that, predictably, the music preset worked best for Montero. But if I wanted to, I could swap to the movie preset to emphasize sound effects, the voice preset to emphasize vocals, the shooter preset to emphasize directionality, and the like. 

Upgradeability of the Acer Nitro 5 

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The Acer Nitro 5 is easy to open and has plenty of configurability. Just unscrew the 11 screws (we used a Phillip’s head PH0 bit) and gently pry off the case. Inside, you’ll see 2 DIMMs of RAM that you can freely swap out, an M.2 slot that’s already in-use and the networking card. There’s also what looks to be an HDD drive bay next to the battery, but we couldn’t find a SATA plug for it. This isn’t too uncommon, since manufacturers will often re-use chassis from other models or offer other configuration options that might see use from bays that are vestigial elsewhere. 

Acer Nitro 5 Webcam 

The Acer Nitro 5 comes with a 720p webcam in its top bezel that does a great job of capturing texture and even detail in ideal lighting but tends to falter both in low-light and saturated light. As with almost every 720p webcam, there’s definite artifacting here, but this should still be plenty for making video calls with your coworkers. 

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Acer Nitro 5 Battery Life 

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The Acer Nitro 5 lasted 5 hours and 9 minute battery life in our benchmark, which continually runs OpenGL tests, browses the web and streams video at 150 nits of brightness. That’s respectable for a gaming laptop. By comparison, the Alienware m15 Ryzen Edition had a 3:29 battery life on the same test. The ROG Zephyrus M16 was somewhat longer-lasting with a 6:22 life, and the ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition had an unusually massive battery life for a gaming laptop at 10:14.

Heat on the Acer Nitro 5

The Acer Nitro 5 was reasonably cool during our non-gaming heat test, where we play 15 minutes of streaming video before taking temperatures, but could get warm during our gaming heat test, where we take temperatures during the sixth consecutive run of the Metro: Exodus Ultra benchmark.

In our non-gaming test, the Nitro 5’s touchpad registered 75.2 degrees Fahrenheit, the center of its keyboard (between the G and H keys) registered 85.1 degrees Fahrenheit, and the laptop’s underside was generally 90.3 degrees Fahrenheit. 1 inch from the underside’s center, towards the back of the laptop, did reach 91.9 degrees Fahrenheit.

Our gaming test pushed the touchpad, keyboard and general underside numbers up to 85, 109 and 125.6 degree Fahrenheit, respectively. The underside of the laptop was once again hotter closer to the laptop’s back, hitting 132.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Software and Warranty on the Acer Nitro 5 

Acer tends to pack a lot of software onto its laptops, and the Acer Nitro 5 is no exception. On top of the typical Windows pre-installs like Microsoft Solitaire Collection and Spotify, it’s got promotional installs of Dropbox, ExpressVPN, privacy service FigLeaf and a proprietary esports social networking service called Planet9. Planet9 is especially egregious, as it’s also part of your taskbar by default and the logo for the service is your default wallpaper. There’s also weird apps like Acer Product Registration, which probably could have been folded into other software. Even worse are “apps” like Acer Jumpstart, which actually just link you to the Acer website.

I could go on like this— Cyberlink’s Acer-branded photo and video editing apps are here again, in case you want to learn those instead of Photoshop or Premiere. There’s also a program called App Explorer, which lets you install even more bloat! But there are a few genuinely useful programs packed in here.

The most obvious one out of the box is NitroSense, which is where you’ll do most of the configuring for this device. That includes adjusting audio, power plans, fan speed and lighting. As a nice bonus, you can also open GeForce Experience from here. 

There’s also Acer Care Center, where you’ll update drivers, view your serial number and clear up disk space. DTS:X Ultra is a little extraneous, as it has the same audio control functions as NitroSense, but DTS Sound Unbound lets you enable DTS:X for your headphones. That's a useful feature, but this probably could have either been turned on from the start or rolled into another app.

We also found AMD Radeon Software on this device, which is a bit bizarre as it uses an Nvidia GPU. But you can still monitor performance and control graphics settings for certain games from here. Acer told us that this software is included on the device to help control the CPU's integrated Radeon graphics, should you choose to use them.

The Acer Nitro 5 comes with a one-year limited warranty.

Acer Nitro 5 Configurations 

As of this writing, the new AMD Acer Nitro 5 has three configurations that we are aware of. Ours came with a Ryzen 7 5800H CPU, an RTX 3070 laptop GPU, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD and a 15.6 inch 1440p, 165Hz IPS screen. It costs $1,699. There’s also a 17 inch model of this laptop that has almost all the same internals, but bumps the GPU up to an RTX 3080. The 17-inch version has a 17.3 inch 1080p @ 360Hz IPS screen, and the laptop overall costs $2,099.

Finally, there’s another 15 inch version of the Acer Nitro 5 that has a Ryzen 9 5900HX CPU, an RTX 3080, 32GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. It’s screen is the same as in our configuration, and the laptop costs $2,299.

If you want something cheaper, there’s also a current generation Intel Acer Nitro 5 that has a Core i7-11800H and an RTX 3050 Ti up for $1,099 at Acer’s store, plus a bunch of 10th gen and Ryzen 4000 series laptops with the same body for prices around or below $1,000. These machines tend to have 1080p screens, though, in addition to the older parts.

Bottom Line

The Acer Nitro 5 is a solid performer (but not a looker), and it’s got a screen and audio that are accurate if not exemplary. Its keyboard is probably the ugliest part of the laptop, but I was able to hit my typical word count on it.

The biggest concern with this laptop is the price. Normally, Acer Nitro is a budget line, but at $1,699, this laptop is actually more expensive than its Alienware counterpart. Granted, it actually slightly outperformed the Alienware m15 Ryzen Edition R5 in most of our tests, but thanks to a sale that’s been active for over a week now, the Alienware configuration we tested currently costs $1,372. And with that, you’ll get a look much more befitting of a premium laptop.

Of course, you won’t get the Nitro 5’s 1440p screen with the Alienware m15 Ryzen Edition R5, but the similarly specced ROG Zephyrus M16 does the Nitro 5 one better with a 16:10 2560 x 1600 screen. Of course, it’s also $1,849 and did generally slightly worse than the Acer Nitro in our performance tests.

If Alienware’s sale continues, that might be the better laptop for most users. There’s also the Intel and older Nitro 5 configurations, if you’re looking for a Nitro that stays true to being a budget machine. But if you’re willing to sacrifice aesthetics and cash for slightly higher performance and a 1440p resolution, the Acer Nitro 5 is looking to be our most consistent mid-range AMD gaming laptop for now. It’s a shame it doesn’t look like it.

Michelle Ehrhardt

Michelle Ehrhardt is an editor at Tom's Hardware. She's been following tech since her family got a Gateway running Windows 95, and is now on her third custom-built system. Her work has been published in publications like Paste, The Atlantic, and Kill Screen, just to name a few. She also holds a master's degree in game design from NYU.

  • VítorCorreia
    I strongly advise NOT to buy this equipment. the screen is proprietary to Acer and is not available on the market, only from Acer. my nitro 5 screen broke was sent to Acer and the budget was over 1000€
    Reply