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.
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.
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.
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
|17.3-inch, 1,920x1,080 pixels
|2.9GHz intel Core i9-8950HK
|16GB DDR4 SDRAM
|8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070
|512GB SSD + 2TB HDD
|802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.1
|Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit)
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.
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.)
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.
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.
|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