Acer Predator Helios 500 review

The Helios 500 is the overclockable, high-performance machine gamers deserve

The Predator Helios 500 is an unapologetic gaming laptop, and it’s great.
The Predator Helios 500 is an unapologetic gaming laptop, and it’s great.
The Predator Helios 500 is an unapologetic gaming laptop, and it’s great.

Highs

  • Excellent gaming performance
  • Durable design with access to upgrades
  • Great keyboard
  • G-Sync, 144Hz display
  • Two-year warranty

Lows

  • Not individually-backlit keys
  • Limited battery life
  • Hefty design looks a bit outdated

Many of today’s popular gaming laptops, like the Razer Blade, seem almost ashamed of their heritage. Yea, they can game, but they seek to blend in with a sleek, elegant exterior and thin profile. Acer’s Predator Helios 500, though, lets its freak flag fly. It’s unapologetic as a gaming laptop, both in look and capabilities.

Acer knows its target audience and offers two configurations of this 17-inch behemoth, starting at the $2,000 base model. Our $2,500 review unit came with an Intel Core i9-8950HK processor, a GeForce GTX 1070 graphics card, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. If you can’t spend that much, the Helios 300 has a GTX 1060 and starts at just $1,500.

Whatever configuration you opt for, Acer has brought together the right ingredients to cook a meaty gut-bomb of a gaming feast.

For the unapologetic gamer

High-end gaming hardware has trended towards subtle designs as of late, but not everyone wants or needs a sleek, nondescript laptop to play games. Some gamers want a laptop that screams its gaming credentials. Others are fine paying less for a thicker, larger laptop with equivalent (or better performance). Whatever the reason, Predator Helios 500 is certainly cut from a different cloth than many of its peers.

This 17-inch laptop has the angular panels, flashing lights, and layers of chrome we’ve come to expect of the Predator brand. It takes a careful eye to distinguish the Helios 500 from the likes of the Predator 17, 17X and Helios 300. There are a couple of small differences between the models, but the key to decoding Acer’s messy glut of brands and names is to know that the Helios laptops are the only models which have been updated in 2018 so far.

That said, we like the admittedly small changes Acer has made for the Helios 500. The red LEDs have been replaced by blue, and silver has been (almost) completely removed from the chassis. Would we prefer a less ostentatious logo, smaller bezels, and sleeker panels? Definitely. The Predator Helios 500 isn’t a looker. Still, for those who want a in-your-face gaming laptop, the Helios 500 fits the bill.

The Helios 500 is not a thin or light laptop, and it doesn’t pretend to be.

Similarly, the Helios 500 doesn’t pretend to be thin or light in any sense of the word. Weighing in at 8.8 pounds, don’t expect to throw this in your backpack and not notice. Compared to the competition though, it’s actually a bit lighter than the Alienware 17, the king of bulk.

The Helios 500 measures in at 1.5 inches tall with the lid closed, which is thicker than two Razer Blades stacked up. In other words, the Helios 500 is not portable in the slightest, so look elsewhere if portability is a deciding factor for you. The good news is that if you do need to lug it around, you can pretty much guarantee it’ll handle the transportation thanks to its bulky chassis. We did notice some flex in bend in the lid, but everything is as sturdy as a $2,500 laptop should be.

Acer Predator Helios 500 review
Riley Young/Digital Trends

Acer has smartly moved some of the video output ports, like HDMI and DisplayPort, making them both easier to find and out of the way. On the sides, the Helios 500 has a standard array of three USB-A ports, two USB-C ports, and an ethernet jack. It’s all the connections a gamer would ever need, complete with options for futureproofing accessories and powering external GPUs through Thunderbolt 3.

Ready to mash some keys? This is the keyboard for you

Predator’s unchanged design over the years means the good parts have hung around as well — and the keyboard is one of those. The keyboard provides decent travel for fast typing, and the layout is comfortable. Quick controls are hidden in the function row that gamers will appreciate, such as on/off toggles for Wi-Fi, the screen, and touchpad. You also get six programmable buttons above the function row that open up PredatorSense, Acer’s proprietary thermal control software, by default.

Animations and response times feel incredibly smooth.

The keyboard is backlit with RGB lighting, though it’s lit in zones rather than individual keys, like on the Razer Blade. In addition, Acer still hasn’t included multiple levels of brightness for the backlighting. It’s on or off. That’ll be an annoyance for gamers who play in the dark and need to see their keys without being blinded.

Under the keyboard you’ll find a high-quality touchpad that’s good enough for general use (gamers generally don’t use touchpads in games). It’s made of glass, though tracking isn’t as smooth as many other laptops. We also found the tap-to-click functionality to be overly sensitive, resulting in skips down the page while scrolling or accidentally dragging browser tabs. Fortunately, it uses Windows Precision drivers, so two-finger scrolling and four-finger swiping worked as expected.

Lightning fast refresh rates

The Predator Helios 500’s display puts it ahead of laptops like the Alienware 17 R5, which lacks the contrast and color accuracy of the Helios 500 has. The inky blacks of the Predator’s display make the bright colors of a game like Fortnite pop.

The Helios 500 has a 144Hz display, which means it can display framerates of up to 144 frames per second. A game like Fortnite, which the Helios 500 can play at up to 144 FPS, will look ludicrously fluid. The animations and response times feel so smooth you’ll swear you’ve become more skilled. This isn’t the only gaming laptop with a 144Hz display, but it surpasses the Alienware 17 R5’s 120Hz refresh rate. Throw in G-Sync to keep those frames free of tearing or stutter, and you have a display that does everything gamers ask.

A six-core speedster

You may have read controversies involving Core i9s in MacBooks, but rest assured the ultra-fast, six-core processor was made for laptops like the Helios 500. These are the fastest processors we’ve tested in a laptop, and that’s not wasted on the Helios 500. Geekbench scores are off the chart compared to Core i7-powered gaming laptops like the Razer Blade or Digital Storm Equinox. The same is true in more practical testing such as 4K video encoding. This Acer zips through any task you throw at it.

Fortunately, Acer bundles that with some equally fast and plentiful storage. There are two configuration options available. You can buy a SATA HDD with either one or two terabytes of space, paired with either 256GB or 512GB of PCIe NVMe solid state storage. Both the RAM and storage are accessible and expandable, ensuring you can upgrade this machine down the road.

More graphics power than you probably need

The Helios 500 comes with an overclockable Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070, a powerful and smooth graphics card. It’s plenty enough to handle the 1080p display and spits out beautifully smooth gameplay. Unfortunately, the Helios 500 doesn’t offer an optional GTX 1080. You’ll have to opt for last year’s Predator 17X if you want that. Still, in our testing, there weren’t many cases where we felt limited by the 1070. That’s thanks to the laptop’s advanced thermal system, which includes five heatpipes and some large fans.

Its advantage is demonstrated in our 3DMark benchmarking, where it scored 10 percent higher than the Razer Blade or Digital Storm Equinox (both of which use the Max-Q version of the same GTX 1070).

The Helios 500 shines in 1080p gaming, making the most of its components. The Helios 500 even matched the Alienware 17 R5’s framerates across the board, despite its lesser graphics card. With settings maxed, the Helios 500 earned 139 frames per second (FPS) in Battlefield 1, making great use of the high-refresh display. Civilization VI and Deux Ex: Mankind Divided didn’t run quite as well, but still looked and played beautifully on the Helios 500.

You won’t want to leave home without the power adapter.

The only situation where you may want to splurge for a gaming laptop with the GTX 1080 is if you’re hooking it up to a high-resolution monitor. The games we tested look great at 1440p, but it’s here where the Alienware 17 R5 and Razer Blade Pro start to take a noticeable lead in framerates

High resolution gaming isn’t out of the question, however. If you want to plug into a 4K monitor, you’ll see respectable framerates in Fortnite or Battlefield 1 — and wow, do those visuals come alive. With settings maxed, the games were playable at around 30 FPS. Even 60 FPS is possible if you’re willing to play with detail settings a few notches below the maximum.

Battery life

The Helios 500 doesn’t make any strides in battery life. As with most gaming laptops, let alone 17-inchers, you won’t want to leave home without the power adapter.

In our testing, the Helios 500 lasted just under five and a half hours in video playback and two hours and eleven minutes in web browsing. That’s like other gaming laptops, unless you’re comparing it to the Razer Blade, which proved much better. Part of the problem is no doubt the inclusion of G-Sync, which fixes screen tearing, but prevents the laptop from switching GPUs to save battery.

Our Take

The Predator Helios 500 is a compelling mid-range gaming laptop that delivers fast framerates to justify the high-refresh display. Though it’s not the most extravagant, and certainly not the most portable, the Predator Helios 500 sits at fantastic balance of value and performance. It’s the 17-inch gaming laptop to beat.

Is there a better alternative?

The best alternative we’ve tested is the Alienware 17 R5. Both are top-of-the-line gaming laptops, but unless you plan on gaming in 1440p or 4K, the Predator Helios 500 offers a better value and a higher-refresh screen.

If you’re looking to spend a bit less money but like the vibe of Predator, Acer also offers a 17-inch Helios 300, which features a GTX 1060 and starts at $1,500. Dell also has a 17-inch version of the affordable G3 Gaming Laptop, which uses the same six-core processor, along with a GTX 1060.

How long will it last?

Despite the upcoming release of Nvidia’s new RTX 2000 GPUs, the mobile versions haven’t yet been announced. Even if they were, the components in the Predator Helios 500 should last you many years in gameplay, given how long it will take for developers to begin utilizing the new tech. The same can’t be said about the thick bezels and slightly outdated design, but that won’t have a tangible effect on longevity.

Fortunately, Acer provides a two-year parts and labor warranty for its Predator laptops. This is a huge bonus given that one-year warranties have become the norm for laptops.

Should you buy it?

Yes. If you want a gaming laptop that makes fantastic use of its components, the Predator Helios 500 is a great choice.

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