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October 6, 2017

Acer Predator Helios 300 review

by John_A

Research Center:
Acer Predator Helios 300

PC gamers seeking affordable gaming on the go have plenty of options. Acer, Dell, and HP are out to prove that the PC industry isn’t dead, despite the naysayers. If anything, gamers are helping to keep it alive and thriving, as we’ve seen an explosion of gaming-related desktops and laptops cranked out over the last few years. As our Acer Predator Helios 300 review will make clear, these laptops offer a lot of value.

The version Acer supplied to us for review is sold for $1,300. It packs an Intel Core i7-7700HQ quad-core processor, Nvidia’s discrete GeForce GTX 1060 graphics chip for notebooks, 16GB of DDR4 system memory clocked at 2,400MHz, and a single 512GB solid state drive. The screen is a hefty 17.3 inches diagonally, but the maximum resolution you’ll squeeze out of this gaming puppy is 1,920 x 1,080.

These specifications are far from the quickest around – but they’re not a slouch, either. In fact, the Acer Predator Helios 300 looks great on-paper, given its price. Does its value hold up after a close look?

This Predator has some teeth

On the outside, the Predator Helios 300 has the appearance of a gaming laptop. It’s mostly black throughout the design, save for red accents sprinkled here and there. On the lid, you’ll find a brushed, hard plastic surface highlighted by the Predator logo along with two metallic, vertical red lines that offer no illumination. On the back, you’ll find the exhaust vents highlighted by two red lines, one of which expands across the bottom of the device in an attractive angled design.

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

In addition to the feet, you’ll see the main intake vent stretch out across the back half of the laptop’s belly, so playing graphically-intensive games on your lap isn’t suggested. The bottom also plays host to two easily-removed pop-out lids that are secured with a tiny screw in each. This provides quick access to the two memory slots (upgradable to 32GB), and what appears to be a compartment for adding a second SATA 3-based 2.5-inch hard drive or solid state drive

The only other red accents you’ll find on Acer’s laptop is a thin red line outlining the touchpad, and accented WASD keys for right-handed gamers (lefties use the arrows). The red accents are complemented by the laptop’s overall angular design, such as the three-sided edge along the top of the screen, and along the front of the device.

Packed with premium ports

Along the left side of the laptop you’ll find the Ethernet port, one USB 3.1 Gen1 Type-C port, one USB 3.1 Gen1 Type-A port, an HDMI port, and an SD card reader. Meanwhile, the left side only plays host to the headphone jack, and two USB 2.0 Type-A ports. Wireless connectivity includes Wireless AC up to 867Mbps, and Bluetooth 4.1.

No game-centric frills with these inputs

In the keyboard area, you’ll see loads of wasted space. The keyboard itself rests in an angled depression sporting large, chiclet keys.

There’s nothing exciting to report here: no mechanical switches, no dedicated macro keys, or any other gaming-centric features outside red backlighting that’s only visible in normal lighting conditions through the WASD keys.

There’s no adjustable backlighting levels either — just on and off.

As previously stated, the touchpad is highlighted by a thin red line that does not illuminate. It’s a Windows Precision Touchpad input sporting a smooth, glass-like black surface. It moves the cursor accordingly without any effort, and supports four-finger gestures like pulling up the Action Center with four fingers.

1080p resolution will have to be good enough

With EVGA’s SC17 1080, we witnessed a completely flat screen with no protruding frame whatsoever. That’s not the case with Acer’s model, although the borders are nowhere near as thick as on the Alienware 17 R4 laptop. Improvements could also be made in how the screen connects to the base, as it relies on a visible hinge that leaves an ugly gap between the screen and the keyboard area.

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

However, the screen quality redeems clunky design. Black are dark and inky, reds are deep and brilliant, and the overall color saturation is visually more stunning than the washed-out colors you see on laptops relying on older display technology. We thought the Predator’s screen provided a great visual experience at any angle — yet when we compared it with other gaming laptops in our review portfolio, it did fall behind in a few areas.

If you need a gaming laptop right this second, the Predator Helios 300 provides great on-the-go gaming for the buck.

For one, we measured a contrast ratio of 640:1, which is less than what we measured on the Razer Blade laptop launched in early 2017, the recent HP Omen 15, and even Acer’s previous Predator 15 G9-593. However, it provides a better contrast ratio than the MSI GS63VR Stealth Pro, which has a recorded 610:1 measurement.

Yet the Predator Helios 300’s color accuracy isn’t too shabby. It falls behind the Origin EON15-S and the HP Omen 15, but provides better color accuracy than the Razer Blade, and Acer’s previous Predator 15 G9-5493 laptop. We also found the Predator Helios 300 to support 71 percent of the Adobe RGB color space, so you might want to look elsewhere if you’re a graphics designer or publisher looking for a work PC that can play high-resolution games.

Speaker location could be better

Backing this screen are two speakers that really needed to be relocated. When we tested EVGA’s laptop, we saw three facing speakers: one on each side of the touchpad, and a long rectangular speaker running across the top of the keyboard.

In this case, Acer planted the laptop’s two speakers on the bottom of the unit, so the sound is seemingly pointing downward and away from your ears. That also means there’s a lot of wasted space in the keyboard area.

Don’t get us wrong: Acer’s laptop produces decent sound. When it’s sitting on a surface, the audio is muffled to some extent, but there’s enough piercing volume to punch up through the keyboard area. Problem is, your ears really aren’t hearing audio in stereo, but rather enclosed sound with a slight metallic tint. Had Acer mounted the speakers in the keyboard area, the audio experience would likely be crisper and more engulfing.

We’ve seen this processor before

Backing this screen is Intel’s Core i7-7700HQ quad-core CPU for laptops, with a base speed of 2.80GHz, and a maximum turbo speed of 3.80GHz. In our Geekbench single-core testing, this chip scored 4,599 points, outperforming the same chip used in the Origin EON15-S, the Razer Blade, and the HP Omen 15. The same can’t be said in the multi-core test, as Acer’s laptop fell behind all three.

What’s interesting is the Predator Helios 300’s score when using Handbrake to convert video. The process took 472 seconds, falling slightly below the Razer Blade and the HP Omen 15 laptops. Yet it scored far better than the Predator 15 G9-593, which relies on an older Intel Core i7-6700HQ chip, as does the MSI GS63VR Stealth Pro.

Decent storage, but could be faster

What likely helped the Razer Blade convert the video faster than Acer’s solution was its speedy SSD. It has a read speed of 1,261MB per second, compared to the 1,1153MB per second we saw in the Acer Predator Helios 300.

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

The Razer Blade’s write speed is surprisingly slower than what we measured with Acer’s laptop, with a 312MB per second performance versus the Predator’s 582MB per second write speed. Both numbers are still extremely slow for PCI Express-based SSDs.

Despite the speeds, the laptop’s SSD only provides 512GB of storage, which should get you started. We’d prefer something bigger for a gaming laptop, but at least Acer provides a dedicated compartment for adding a secondary 2.5-inch hard drive or SSD. Acer likely didn’t provide secondary storage to keep the overall price down.

This predator is a monster on the battlefield

So, what about gaming? For starters, the Predator Helios 300 comes packed with means for overclocking through Acer’s PredatorSense software. The drawback is that you can’t switch speeds using dedicated keyboard keys. You’re also only overclocking the GTX 1060 graphics chip, so the boost won’t be phenomenal. That said, you can run games in three settings: Normal, Faster, and Turbo. Naturally, we had to taste-test all three flavors.

First up to bat is the Fire Strike benchmark in 3DMark. The Predator Helios 300 ruled the GTX 1060 world in this test, hitting 10,222 points in Turbo Mode, 10,112 points in Faster Mode, and 10,090 points in Normal mode. All three outperformed the MSI GS63VR Stealth Pro, the Razer Blade, and Acer’s previous Predator 15 G9-593.

Although the laptop provides physical means of updating the storage and memory, the BIOS isn’t gamer-friendly.

In actual games, we found the Predator Helios 300 to be a mixed bag. In For Honor with a 1080p resolution and medium detail  settings, the laptop produced more frames per second than the Razer Blade, the GTX 1060 Max-Q chip in the HP Omen 15, and the GTX 1050 Ti chip in the Origin EON15-S laptop. The same dominance stayed true when we cranked the detail level up to Extreme, with a 73.42 average framerate using the Turbo Mode setting.

In Battlefield 1, the Acer Predator Helios 300 did well too. Using a 1080p resolution and the Medium detail preset, the laptop’s Turbo Mode fell into second place behind the MSI GS63VR Stealth Pro. Even on Normal Mode, the laptop produced more frames per second than Acer’s previous Predator 15 G9-593 laptop, but somehow managed to fall slightly behind the GTX 1060 Max-Q chip in the HP Omen 15. When we cranked the detail setting up to Ultra, the Predator Helios 300 outperformed them all with an average rate of 85 frames per second.

But cowers when facing monster games

As expected, we didn’t see the same high numbers in the brutal Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. At 1080p resolution and using the High detail preset, the Turbo Mode only managed 54  frames per second, falling behind the Acer Predator 15 G9-593, and the MSI GS63VR Stealth Pro. Crank the detail level up to Ultra, and the laptop’s Turbo Mode fell into fourth place, with an average rate of 36 frames per second. Ouch.

In Civilization VI, we saw decent performance overall, but nothing inspiring when compared to its rivals. With a 1080p resolution and the Medium/Medium preset, we didn’t see any major variation across its three speeds, producing an average of 52 frames per second. That’s below what we saw with the HP Omen 15, Razer Blade, and two other similar laptops. We saw the same problem when using the Ultra / Ultra preset, which produced an average rate of 46 frames per second.

Finally, we’d like to note a limitation we discovered with the Predator Helios 300. There are no Display and Video options in Nvidia’s control panel, meaning the GTX 1060 is not the default graphics chip. To make matters worse, there are no options in the BIOS to switch the default graphics chip to the GTX 1060, so you can’t make any resolution or video changes within Nvidia’s control panel. That also means you can’t create a custom resolution, either.

That said, although the laptop provides physical means of updating the storage and memory, the laptop’s BIOS isn’t exactly gamer-friendly. There’s no mouse support, and no means of overclocking the processor or graphics chip to squeeze out customized performance.

Decent on-the-go PC gaming

Despite its performance, a gaming laptop shouldn’t feel like porting around a small desktop. Our in-house Alienware 17 R4 laptop is rather hefty, weighing roughly 10 pounds, and measuring 1.18 inches thick. By comparison, the Predator Helios 300 weighs a lighter 6.61 pounds, and measures just 1.14 inches. The Razer Blade laptop is even thinner at 0.88 inches, but it’s surprisingly heavier than Acer’s model, weighing almost eight pounds.

The real mobility competition is in the battery. You’re not going to see all-day endurance given the components inside, but we were tickled pink by how long Acer’s 17.3-inch laptop could last on a single charge. When using our iMacro test in Chrome, the battery gave up the ghost in 327 minutes. That’s shorter than what we saw with the Razer Blade, but a lot longer than the battery life seen in the MSI GS63VR Stealth Pro, the Acer Predator 15 G9-593, and the HP Omen 15.

Meanwhile, our video loop test produced similar results. The Predator Helios 300 lasted for 381 minutes, versus the 412 minutes seen with the Razer Blade. Both laptops lasted longer in looping video than the Origin EON15-S, MSI GS63VR Stealth Pro, the Predator 15 G9-593, and the HP Omen 15. Not bad at all!

Overloaded with unwanted junk

As we already mentioned, Acer installs PredatorSense on the laptop, which monitors the processor and graphics chip, and enables you to tweak the fan speeds of each (Auto / Maximum / Custom). This is also where you overclock the graphics chip using the specific, non-customizable Normal / Faster / Turbo pre-sets.

Acer Predator Helios 300 Compared To

Alienware 15 R3 (2017)

Asus ROG Strix GL553VD-DS71

Acer Predator 15

AVADirect Avant P750DM2-G

Asus ROG G752VS-XB78K

Acer Predator 17 X GX-791-73FH

Asus ROG G751JY-DH71

Origin EON 17-S (2014)

MSI GX70

Asus G750JX-DB71

Samsung Series 7 Gamer 700G7A

Alienware M17x R4

Maingear eX-L 17

Gateway P-7801u FX Edition

Alienware Area-51 m9750

Unfortunately, the list of other installed software is rather lengthy, some of which we had to disable from the startup to get clean performance. The list includes Microsoft Office 2016 (trial version), Acer Care Center, Acer Documents, Acer Recovery Management, Acer Collection, and so much more. Four Windows 10 gaming apps are installed too, along with XSplit Gamecaster, and World of Warships.

The warranty is longer than most

Acer’s Predator-branded laptops ship with a limited two-year warranty. Acer will repair or replace the product due to defects in materials and workmanship. Acer will also provide a refund if the company can’t replace the device, but you won’t fully get back what you shelled out due to depreciation. There’s no mention of a dead-pixel guarantee.

Our Take

On a whole, this is a great gaming machine for $1,300. There’s plenty to love at this price point, including means to overclock the GTX 1060 for increased performance. It’s attractive and easy to carry, and the battery is insanely good for a laptop packing high-end components for high-end gaming.

Is there a better alternative?

In our gaming benchmarks, Acer’s laptop seemingly competed with the Razer Blade, but that’s a $1,900 product with a smaller 14-inch screen. In fact, the laptops with the same processor and graphics chip combinations we’ve reviewed thus far relied on 15.6-inch screens. The fact that Acer’s product has a larger screen and the same internal components for a smaller price tag than the Razer Blade should be a huge selling point for the Predator Helios 300. It’s even lighter than Razer’s laptop.

How long will it last?

Given we’re at the tail end of Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 10 Series rollout, the chip in this laptop will likely become obsolete in the next six months. That’s the price you pay when sinking big funds into a gaming laptop. On the plus side, the GTX 1060 is a great chip for running games at a 1080p resolution, and you can go even higher when you connect an external display. The Intel processor is also fairly new, so the laptop should last for a couple of years before getting left behind by the PC gaming industry.

Should you buy it?

The Predator Helios 300 provides great PC gaming for the buck, and it should be your go-to rig if you want a gaming laptop that’s fast, affordable, and huge.

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