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Acer Predator Helios 500 review: A jam-packed gaming laptop with a giant screen

With a new Intel Core i9 processor, the Helios 500 is trying to stay one step ahead of the competition.

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Dan Ackerman
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Dan Ackerman

Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a semi-regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times

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4 min read

Anyone looking for a slim, upscale-looking gaming laptop that can do double duty as a portable work machine has been having a pretty good year. The 14-inch Razer Blade, the Asus Zephyrus and other high-design laptops have used new GPU and CPU technology to put more gaming power than ever into slim, light metal bodies with a minimum of over-the-top "gamer" aesthetics.

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7.9

Acer Predator Helios 500

The Good

This is one of the first laptops with Intel's new high-end Core i9 processor, which is paired with a powerful Nvidia 1070 graphics card. Plenty of ports, a big screen and decent lighting options make this a flexible game machine.

The Bad

Other gaming laptops have more powerful GPUs, better screens, more lighting options and cooler designs, leaving the Helios 500 stuck in the middle of the pack.

The Bottom Line

The Acer Helios 500 is a big-screen 17-inch laptop that has some excellent components and doesn't cost a fortune, but also offers few surprises.

And then there's the Acer Predator Helios 500. It's pretty much the exact opposite of all of those things. This is a huge 17-inch gaming laptop, with a chromed, horned logo, all sorts of multicolored internal lighting and the kind of desktop footprint rarely seen these days. It's 8.3 pounds (3.8 kg), without the massive power brick, and nearly 2 inches thick at the rear.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Why all the extra mass? Because it takes a much different approach to laptop gaming than those slimmer models. The Helios 500 skips the small, less-powerful Max-Q versions of Nvidia graphics cards found in many new gaming laptops, instead including a full-size GeForce GTX 1070 GPU. It's also the first gaming laptop (but the third laptop overall) we've tested with Intel's new Core i9 processor, which is pitched as a step up from the traditional high-end Core i7. This configuration is $2,499 in the US, while slightly different configurations can be found in the UK for £2,499 or AU$2,848 in Australia. 

Gamers will also appreciate the 144Hz screen and Nvidia G-Sync compatibility, both of which will help you get smoother on-screen gaming. Other than that, however, the nontouch 1,920x1,080-pixel display is a snooze, with dull colors and a thick throwback bezel. 

Acer Predator Helios 500

Price as reviewed $2,499
Display size/resolution 17.3-inch, 1,920x1,080 pixels
CPU 2.9GHz intel Core i9-8950HK
Memory 16GB DDR4 SDRAM
Graphics 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070
Storage 512GB SSD + 2TB HDD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.1
Operating system Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit)

Big-bodied

At least the massive body makes room for almost any port or connection a gamer could possibly need. There are three USB-A ports, two USB-C ports, an Ethernet jack and full-size HDMI and DisplayPort video outputs. Massive rear vents, and smaller side vents, help keep the Core i9 and GTX 1070 cool, and unlike many other gaming laptops, I didn't find the Helios getting too hot while gaming.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The big keyboard and number pad are chunky enough for keyboard-based gaming, and both the arrow keys and all-important WASD keys are outlined in blue to make them easier to see. The backlit keyboard is zone-based, not per-key, so it's not as flexible as some other ones we've seen. The default color for the lighting is blue, which is a welcome change of pace from every other gaming brand's obsession with fire/laser/lava red.

It's been a running joke among some of my colleagues to champion the idea of backlit touchpads in laptops, which make the pad easier to find in the dark. Here the pad has a backlit outline, which puts it in a select club. (I also love the totally backlit pads on some Alienware laptops.)

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Sarah Tew/CNET

100 fps or more

If you're going to invest in a big tank of a laptop like this, it had better be able to kill at gaming. Fortunately, the combination of Core i9 processor and full-power GTX 1070 GPU does just that. There is some built-in software overclocking, via Acer's proprietary software, but even without that it's a mighty performer. Only a couple of laptops with the even higher-end Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 GPU beat it out, and those are even more expensive options.

Because it's only driving a 1,920x1,080 screen, the Helios easily ran newer games like Far Cry 5, Strange Brigade and Shadow of the Tomb Raider at high or ultra detail levels and super high frame rates, from 90-115 frames per second in some cases. Playing with either a mouse or gamepad was really smooth, and the G-Sync display prevented screen tearing.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Stuck in the middle

A gaming laptop like this, with its unapologetic throwback vibe, may find itself in a bit of an awkward position these days. Many gamers are gravitating towards the newer, thinner generation of laptops, even at the cost of some power and flexibility. While the most hardcore of gamers may stick with a desktop, or else go all-in on a laptop with the GTX 1080 GPU.

And, don't forget that the next generation of Nvidia GPUs are hitting desktops any day now, and are reportedly coming to laptops by early next year. That makes investing thousands in a gaming laptop right now a different calculation.

Despite all that, the Helios 500 will appeal to a shopper looking for a specific mix of price, performance and features. The price is reasonable, especially considering the Core i9 processor; a big 17-inch screen like this is getting hard to come by in a gaming laptop; and the generous set of connections will give your slim-laptop-owning friends a severe case of port envy. 

Geekbench 4 (multicore)

Origin PC Eon 17-X (2018) 25576Asus ROG Strix Scar II 21588Acer Predator Helios 500 19794Razer Blade (2018) 18015Alienware 17 R4 (2017) 14503
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R15 CPU (multicore)

Origin PC Eon17X 1439Asus ROG Strix Scar II 1237Acer Predator Helios 500 1119Razer Blade (2018) 926Alienware 17 R4 (2017) 877
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Video playback battery drain test (streaming)

Razer Blade (2018) 473Alienware 17 R4 (2017) 191Asus ROG Strix Scar II 187Origin PC Eon17X 147Acer Predator Helios 500 127
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)

3DMark Fire Strike Ultra

Origin PC Eon17X 5330Alienware 17 R4 (2017) 5024Acer Predator Helios 500 4102Asus ROG Strix Scar II 3938Razer Blade (2018) 3431
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided gaming test

Origin PC Eon17X 103.6Alienware 17 R4 (2017) 95.9Acer Predator Helios 500 80.1Asus ROG Strix Scar II 76.7Razer Blade (2018) 72.2
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance (FPS)

System configurations

Acer Predator Helios 500 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.9HGz Intel Core i9-8950HK; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM; 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070; 512GB SSD + 2TB HDD
Origin PC Eon17X Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); (OC) 4.7GHz Intel Core i7-8700K; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2800MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080; (2) 250GB SSD RAID 0
Asus ROG Strix Scar II Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-8750H; 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,660MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeFroce GTX 1070; 512GB SSD
Razer Blade (2018) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-8750H; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,660MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeFroce GTX 1070 with Max-Q Design; 512GB SSD
Alienware 17 R4 (2017) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7720HK; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080; 512GB SSD + 1TB HDD
Dell Inspiron 15 7577 Gaming (late 2017) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-7300HQ; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 6GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 with Max-Q Design; 256GB SSD
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7.9

Acer Predator Helios 500

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 7Performance 8Battery 4