Gaming

Acer Predator Helios 500: Big, brawny gaming laptop

Acer's beefy Predator Helios 500 has a bright and vibrant 17.3-inch screen and weighs in at about 4kg.
Acer's beefy Predator Helios 500 has a bright and vibrant 17.3-inch screen and weighs in at about 4kg.

PC-makers are racing to produce svelte gaming laptops, but there is still a market for big and brawny gaming notebooks such as Acer's new Predator Helios 500.

This beefy 17.3-inch desktop replacement notebook, which made its local debut last month, weighs about 4kg. Its thick plastic chassis looks like a stereotypical gaming laptop - angular with large aggressive-looking air vents.

Acer did refrain from overloading the Helios with LED lights. Besides the obligatory backlit keyboard, the edges of the touchpad and the additional shortcut keys are illuminated with blue LED lights.

For a high-end gaming laptop, I am surprised that Acer did not follow the lead of other PC-makers, which have included individual LED backlights for each key on the keyboard. Instead, the keyboard is divided into four lighting zones which can be assigned a specific colour. The keyboard, though, is spacious with good key travel.

Above the keyboard are five programmable hot keys as well as a "P" switch that toggles between three sets of hot keys. These hot keys can be configured using the preloaded PredatorSense utility to do certain tasks, from launching a specific game to turning up the fan speed. In short, you can have 15 custom hot keys. Each set of hot keys is distinguishable by a different LED backlight colour.

The PredatorSense software can be used to monitor key system metrics, such as the temperature of the processor and the speed of the internal cooling fan. Its Game Sync feature is handy as it can be configured to automatically enable a bunch of settings, such as turning up the fan and boosting the processor speed when a specific game is launched.

  • SPECS 

    PRICE: $4,998

    PROCESSOR: Intel Core i9-8950HK (2.9GHz)

    GRAPHICS: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 8GB GDDR5

    RAM: 32GB DDR4

    SCREEN SIZE: 17.3 inches, 1,920 x 1,080 pixels

    CONNECTIVITY: 2 x USB Type-C Thunderbolt 3 ports, 3 x USB 3.0, HDMI, DisplayPort, Ethernet port, audio jacks

    BATTERY: 74 watt-hour

  • RATING

    FEATURES: 5/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 3/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 1/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

The 17.3-inch screen is bright and vibrant with excellent viewing angles. It supports Nvidia's G-Sync technology, which matches a game's frame rates with the screen's refresh rate (which goes up to 144Hz) to prevent screen tearing and stuttering.

It is one of the few laptops equipped with Intel's highest-end Core i9 mobile chip, which sounds impressive on paper.

But the chip, despite top billing, has six processing cores like the Core i7-8750H processor found in the latest gaming laptops. The difference is the i9-8950HK chip in the Helios runs at a higher 2.9GHz clock speed, compared with 2.2GHz for the i7-8750H. The i9 chip also peaks at 4.8GHz (if required and conditions are optimal), compared with 4.1GHz for the i7.

This advantage in clock speeds helps the Helios complete certain tasks, such as the Cinebench rendering test, faster. In this test, the Helios scored 184 points in the single-core run, compared with 167 points for the Gigabyte Aero 15 W, which has an i7-8750H.

The Helios comes with 32GB of system memory, which should be sufficient for most gamers, even if they are simultaneously uploading their games to livestreaming services such as Twitch. This can be upgraded to 64GB of memory for better performance in memoryintensive tasks involving large videos and high-resolution images.

Its graphics chip, arguably the most important component in a gaming computer, is not Nvidia's top GTX 1080 chip, but the GTX 1070, which is a tier below. It is still very capable, scoring over 100 frames per second in both our game benchmarks (Crysis 3 and Doom).

I find the cooling fans loud when running at their maximum speed. To be fair, they do an excellent job because the keyboard and palm rest remain comfortable and cool during a lengthy gaming session.

With an uptime of 1hr 35min in our battery test, the Helios is definitely not a portable gaming laptop - especially when I ran a video at maximum brightness and volume for this battery test. A game would have drained the battery even faster.

• Verdict: This Acer gaming laptop comes with the most powerful mobile processor available, though its graphics chip is not quite top-class. Still, it will run the latest games without fuss and, more importantly, without overheating.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2018, with the headline 'Big, brawny gaming laptop'. Print Edition | Subscribe