Acer Nitro 5 review: Terrific for 1080p gaming, but poor for work

With an Nvidia RTX 3050 Ti GPU, the Acer Nitro 5 is great for PC gaming on the go. Sadly, its poor ergonomics aren’t great for work.

20212 Acer Nitro 5 review: gaming powerhouse, underwhelming work laptop
Alejandro Medellin / Input

Acer’s 2021 Nitro 5 is 100 percent a gaming laptop.

The 2021 Nitro 5 comes in various configurations that range from as little as $800 to as much as $2,000. Like many gaming laptops, it’s big, bulky, and very red for some reason. No one would ever confuse it for a MacBook Pro or Dell XPS or Surface Laptop Studio. For gaming, the Nitro 5 lives up to its looks. It can handle graphically intensive, big-budget games at 1080p with no sweat.

But in pursuing gaming first, Acer has created a laptop that is not great for anything else, like work or entertainment.

As the ongoing shortage of computer parts (especially for desktop GPUs) continues, consumers are turning to gaming laptops to get their RTX30-series fix. If all you desire is a GPU to play the latest games with ray tracing turned on, the Nitro 5 has the right combination of performance and price. You don’t get quite the same amount of performance from a laptop GPU as you do from a desktop version, but it’s good enough.

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The 2021 Acer Nitro 5 has so many different configurations that it makes my head spin. On the lower $800 range, you’ll get a 144Hz FHD display, an Intel Core i5 processor, a GTX1650, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD. The spec’d up $2,000+ version comes with a 165Hz QHD display, a hyperthreaded AMD Ryzen 7 5800H CPU, an RTX 3070 GPU with 8GB of VRAM, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD. The Nitro 5 that I tested is a middle ground of sorts. It’s loaded with an Nvidia RTX 3050 Ti GPU, an 11th-gen Intel Core i7-11800H, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. It’s got a 15.6-inch LED display with FHD resolution and a 144Hz refresh rate for smooth gameplay. At $1,099, I think it’s a great value for the performance, and while it’s not as powerful as the gaming PC I built a few years ago, it comes close and costs a fraction of what I paid to build and upgrade it.

Big, chunky, and screams gamer.Alejandro Medellin / Input

The 8-core hyperthreaded Core i7 is one of the top options for laptops at the moment and somewhat comparable in performance to the Apple M1 chip. I could definitely feel the speed when booting up the Nitro 5 and loading games, and it blew me away when running 3DMark. It traded punches with my years-old, yet still very formidable, AMD Ryzen 2700X. The Nitro 5 is a gaming laptop, though, and that means the GPU runs the show — the Nvidia RTX 3050 Ti GPU does not disappoint.

Gaming boss

The Acer Nitro 5 has a 15.6-inch LED display with FHD resolution.Alejandro Medellin / Input

As the runt of Nvidia’s RTX GPUs, the RTX 3050 Ti is nowhere as fast as its older siblings, nor does it pack the same amount of VRAM. But when playing everything from Halo Infinite to Apex Legends to Ghostrunner, the GPU did better than I expected.

Halo Infinite ran at 70 fps, with no major fluctuations, when set to medium graphics settings. For comparison, the game ran at 90 fps when playing on my PC with the same settings. On the Nitro 5, the game warned me not to set the graphics too high because the 4GB of VRAM on the 3050 Ti wouldn’t be enough. In my opinion, the game looked comparable on medium settings to what I was seeing on my PC and Xbox Series S, albeit at a lower framerate; I didn’t notice the game looking worse off on the Nitro 5. In Apex Legends, a game that I mention too much, framerates were even better, hovering around 90 fps, which is not far off from the AMD Radeon 5700XT in my PC.

Those two games, however, don’t take advantage of Nvidia’s RTX ray tracing and Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS), which is why you want an RTX card above any other. These two features aren’t supported in every game, but more and more titles are. Ray tracing essentially allows light to realistically simulate light.

Meanwhile, DLSS uses a deep-learning neural network to upscale the resolution of the game from lower resolutions. This works through the AI Tensor Core processors on the GPU. The result is that you’re able to play games in 1080p or higher resolutions, though it’s actually running at a much lower resolution, which frees up GPU resources for higher, more stable framerates. Ray tracing is the big buzzword that publishers and developers like to throw around, but DLSS is equally as game-changing.

DLSS rules

To test DLSS, I played Ghostrunner first with DLSS turned off and then on. With DLSS off, the game looked good. That’s no surprise; Ghostrunner is one of the prettiest games to come out in the past few years. Framerates hovered around 70 fps for the most part when set to high graphics setting, though at times, they went up as high as 120 fps. While the game remained playable, the difference between 70 and 120 fps is noticeable, especially in a fast-moving action game like Ghostrunner. But with DLSS, framerates climbed to 144 fps and held steady. It dipped by a few frames occasionally but nothing as severe as before. I set the DLSS preference to “performance” which prioritizes higher framerates over resolution. I did notice some textures and surfaces were not as sharp as before, and there was some grain. However, the benefits of a stable framerate far outweighed the almost imperceptible change in graphics quality.

My experience with ray tracing in Ghostrunner on the Nitro 5 wasn’t nearly as positive. Even with DLSS on, framerates slowed to a painfully slow 9 fps; the game sometimes hit 40 fps but not often. The game was unplayable with ray tracing turned on. Regardless, DLSS as a standalone feature more than makes up for the shoddy ray tracing.

DLSS is worth it.

It was more of the same playing Wolfenstein: Youngblood, a two-year-old game that was one of the first to feature RTX and DLSS. The ray tracing in this game only covers reflections, which didn’t wow me if I’m being honest. You’ll notice ray tracing when walking past reflective surfaces such as windows, metal, or pools of blood, but I didn’t think it was worth turning on. On the other hand, DLSS is worth it. The feature is automatically turned on, and I noticed the game ran at around 144 fps. The run-and-gun shooter felt like a brand new game at higher framerates.

Overall, the Nitro 5 is a solid laptop for gaming, especially when considering the price of this particular model. As a budget-conscious consumer, I like that the RTX 3050 Ti won’t be obsolete by next year. Sure, you’ll need to lower your graphics settings, but I’m confident that this GPU will continue to deliver for years to come.

Some bugs?

As I said earlier, the Nitro 5 has one of the best laptop CPUs you can get right now. The model I tested also has 16GB of RAM, which is now considered the base amount of memory for modern gaming. In other words, the Nitro 5 shouldn’t be slow, particularly when browsing the web or the Steam store. For some reason, my Nitro 5 review unit would frequently slow to a crawl when downloading games, actively running other programs in the background, or when idling. I realized when unplugged, the laptop defaulted to its battery saving mode in the Nitrosense software, which throttled down performance to increase battery life. I changed both unplugged and plugged modes to high-performance; that didn’t seem to completely stop the random slowing from happening.

The Nitro 5 would come to a complete stop when using Microsoft Edge.Alejandro Medellin / Input
Upgrading RAM capacity to 32GB could improve performance.Alejandro Medellin / Input

Microsoft Edge, for example, is my preferred browser because it uses up less memory than Google Chrome. But more often than not it’d come to a complete stop. Clicking and typing lagged three to five seconds behind. I thought maybe it was a memory (or lack thereof) issue; the task manager would show RAM use over 50 percent even after I closed all my apps. Upgrading RAM capacity to 32GB could improve performance, and it’s something you can easily do on the Nitro 5.

I asked an Acer spokesperson and was told the company wasn’t aware of such problems on Nitro 5 laptops. They recommended I reset the laptop to factory settings. After doing just that, the problems disappeared. Maybe I had a bum review unit? Worth noting: the CPU still bottlenecks if you push it to its limits, but that can be said for any laptop. For games, I didn’t notice any unusual performance drops when the laptop was plugged in. That said, gaming laptops always come with trade-offs when on battery versus A/C power. On battery, I saw framerates in Halo Infinite drop to as low as 30 fps. It’s not a problem exclusive to the Nitro 5, but worth mentioning nonetheless.

Gamer layout

My potentially buggy review unit doesn’t change the fact that the Nitro 5 is not the comfiest laptop. It all comes down to the placement of the keyboard, which is just too far away from the front edge of the laptop. To be exact, the keyboard is four inches away from the right edge. In a normal typing position, it wasn’t my wrist but my forearms that were resting on the laptop. Furthermore, the 3/4-inch height of the laptop is too elevated and frequently put pressure on my arms. Typing on the Nitro 5’s keyboard for any amount of time is not pleasant. I typed this review on the keyboard; it’s not ergonomic at all. It’s slightly better when I keep my weight off the edge by placing the entirety of my forearms on the desk, but it’s awkward and requires pushing the laptop further back, which isn’t always possible (i.e. on small desks).

The keyboard is four inches away from the edge, leading to an uncomfortable typing position.Alejandro Medellin / Input
The feel of the keys is great.Alejandro Medellin / Input

As far as laptop keyboards go, the keys and travel are great. The keys have some resistance to them, so it’s not often that you’ll accidentally hit the wrong one as you move your fingers to another key. You have to hit each key with intention. As a heavy-handed individual that’s always grazing and inputting the wrong keys, I like that. The keys are also evenly spaced out, giving you plenty of room for error. And the travel distance gives the key a slightly superior quality to most thin laptop keyboards. Basically, it doesn’t feel like you’re typing on paper. The keyboard can’t compare to a mechanical keyboard like a Keychron Q1 (that would be ridiculous), but I found myself short of complaints after using it for gaming.

Besides the keyboard placement, the trackpad is another sticking point. Instead of being square in the middle where it feels more natural, it’s placed too far to the left. I typically use my right hand to navigate with the trackpad, but in this case, it feels far away. I get that the trackpad is center-aligned with the keyboard, but after a few hours of struggling, I switched to a mouse and never looked back.

The keyboard and mouse leave much to be desired, but the issues I outlined don’t impact gameplay for two reasons. First, you can angle your left hand at a 45-degree angle when gaming, you don’t have to worry about the edges digging in. Second, using a mouse is the only correct choice for PC gaming; nobody uses a trackpad to play games. Clearly, the Nitro 5 was designed to, you know, play games. I know, shocker! But it’s not enough to offset what it doesn’t do.

For gamers first

The 2021 Nitro 5, with its powerful CPU and GPU combo, is made for high-end 1080p gaming. Though playing modern games in ultra or epic settings is probably out of the question, the fact that the RTX 3050 Ti can use DLSS makes me hopeful that this laptop will continue to keep up with new titles. For $1,099, the Nitro 5 model I tested is one of the best ways to get a mobile RTX 30-series gaming experience. Other bonuses, such as the fluid 144Hz display, backlit keyboard, superb cooling, and generous I/O, can’t be overlooked. Yet, from where I stand, it’s hard to recommend this laptop to just anyone.

The Acer Nitro 5 has tons of ports. Here, a USB-C port, USB 3.0 port, and HDMI.Alejandro Medellin / Input
There’s also Ethernet and two more USB ports and a headphone jack.Alejandro Medellin / Input

Maybe you’re the type of person that can afford a laptop solely for gaming because you have something else for doing work, but I don’t fall in that category. I don’t think many others do either. Yes, $1,099 is a great value for what you’re getting, but it’s still a ton of money for, essentially, a gaming console. If you’re like me, a gaming PC or laptop has to be a device that can do it all, or at least a little bit of everything. The Nitro 5 is too uncomfortable to use for productivity work, and the random sluggishness hampers what should be a seamless Windows 11 experience. I might be singing a different tune if those annoyances didn’t exist, but I feel like the Nitro 5 can’t walk and chew bubble gum at the same time. Laptops — gaming or not — should be able to do both.