Introduction, Design Features
The gaming laptops in Acer’s Predator lineup have quite a bit going for them already, including excellent keyboards, solid build quality, and bright IPS screens. But starting at about $1,400 and ramping up above $2,500 for a top-end 17-incher with a GeForce GTX 1080, they’re not exactly budget models. And that’s to say nothing of that goliath among gamers, Acer’s Predator 21 X, with its curved 21-inch display, dual GeForce GTX 1080 chips, and desktop-class mechanical keyboard. That model, luggable mega-luxury machine that it is, sells for a staggering $8,999.
On the other end of the expanding Predator spectrum sits Acer’s new Predator Helios 300. Available in 15.6- and 17.3-inch models, both of them with 1080p IPS displays, they sell for between $1,099 and $1,399. We received the low-end model for review (it’s more specifically known as “G3-571-77Q”), a 15-incher with VR-ready Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 graphics, a powerful Intel Core i7-7700HQ processor, and 256GB of solid-state storage. It’s a solid configuration for mainstream gaming with rigid build quality, thanks to a smart mix of metal and plastic.
But perhaps the most impressive feature of the Acer Predator Helios 300, at least for the entry model we tested, is its price. With a $1,099 MSRP, the Helios 300 is priced more in line with lesser GeForce GTX 1050 Ti laptops (like Dell’s similarly configured Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming (7567)), which, as we’ll see in our comparison testing, are markedly less capable on the gaming grid.
Note, though, that pricing on the unit we tested was fluctuating dramatically while we wrote this review. At one point, it was selling for $1,049 on Amazon; then it was, briefly, a Prime deal at $899 (at that price, it’s almost a Prime steal), and as we wrapped up the review, it was selling for $1,249. Those prices were all at Amazon, which seemed to be the only big-name retailer in the U.S. selling the laptop when we wrote this in mid-July 2017, though Acer told us others would be getting stock soon. We assume, once that happens, pricing will slip back to (or below) the $1,099 MSRP.
Of course, some sacrifices must be made for the more affordable price. For starters, 256GB of storage is a tad cramped for any gaming system. There is no secondary hard drive on this model, although it’s pretty easy to add one yourself via a removable panel on the bottom of the laptop. And the screen—while it is IPS, resulting in excellent viewing angles—doesn’t get as bright as we’d like. Also, the red-backlit keyboard isn’t quite as nice as the one found in Acer’s pricier Predators, for a few reasons we’ll detail later on.
Still, these quibbles are relatively minor given the price and performance. If you’re looking for a portable gamer in the $1,000-to-$1,100 price range, the Predator Helios 300 is among the best options out there. Just note that some of the upticked Helios models push close enough to the price of the Predator 15 that the latter models (with better screens and keyboards) are almost certainly a better choice.
The Helios 300 is inexpensive as midrange-price gaming laptops go, but you wouldn’t think so to look at it. Even when you pick it up, it feels well-built. Most of the chassis is plastic, with the keyboard deck and lid decked out in brushed aluminum. But the laptop as a whole feels rigid and ready for gaming on the go.
At 1.5 inches thick and 5.95 pounds, the Helios 300 is far from the slimmest or lightest gaming laptop. But it also doesn’t feel overly bulky or heavy.
We’d love to see slimmer bezels and a smaller footprint, but those are big asks for a laptop that obviously emphasizes performance and value over everything else. And the Helios 300 feels more solidly built than many pricier machines that rely on mostly metal for their chassis materials. (We’re looking at you, MSI GS73VR Stealth Pro.)
The use of plastic on the bottom also means that the Helios 300 is surprisingly easy to upgrade. A pair of doors on the bottom pop off once you remove a screw on each one, revealing a 2.5-inch hard drive bay (empty in our model) and a pair of SO-DIMM RAM slots (populated by two 8GB sticks in our unit). While the 16GB of RAM here will suffice for most users (it’s more than enough for gaming), we’d definitely suggest popping a hard drive, or even a 2.5-inch solid-state drive, into the empty bay, because the 256GB boot drive (which can’t be accessed via these doors) is pretty cramped for a gaming PC. Unless you play only a few games at a time and have a very speedy Internet connection that makes quick work of re-downloading games, you’ll want more storage for your Steam library.
Also on the bottom, near the front on each side, are the laptop’s downward-firing speakers. As speakers in mainstream laptops go, they aren’t bad. But they don’t get all that loud, even in an ideal situation with the laptop sitting on a table, reflecting the sound back up into the room. And there’s little to nothing in the way of low-end thump. If you’re looking for the kind of punchy audio that you often find in higher-end gaming laptops, which often have a small subwoofer in addition to two or four speakers, you won’t find that here. But then, most serious gamers are probably going to use a headset, anyway.
The port selection is mostly good, though we would have liked at least another USB 3.0 port. And the distribution of connectivity could be a little more balanced. Starting on the right edge, you’ll find the power jack, activity LEDs, a pair of USB 2.0 ports, and the headphone/mic combo jack for headphones or gaming headsets…
The left edge is much busier…
Here you’ll find a lock notch, the Ethernet jack, a USB 3.1 Gen 1 port of the USB-C variety, a full-size HDMI port, and a USB 3.0 port that can charge your mobile devices even when the laptop is off. Also here is an SD card reader, and the laptop features dual-band 802.11ac wireless in a 2×2 MIMO (multiple-input/multiple-output) setup. This theoretically doubles the wireless-connectivity speed, but that’s mostly for transferring large files from one device to another over Wi-Fi (provided you also have a MIMO-enabled router). Standard single-antenna 802.11ac wireless can deliver more than 50MB per second of bandwidth on its own, which is likely faster than most Internet connections.
The good news about the Helios 300’s 15.6-inch display is that it’s an IPS panel, and its 1080p (1,920×1,080-pixel) resolution is a good fit for the laptop’s GeForce GTX 1060 graphics.
That means viewing angles aren’t really an issue. Color and contrast hold steady at all but the most extreme off-center angles. But the screen doesn’t get overly bright. It’s fine for indoor use under artificial light, to be sure, although you’ll probably want to stick at or close to 100 percent brightness even then. But venture outdoors or even into a bright, sunlit room, and the Helios 300’s screen can be tough to see. To be fair, this is par for the course for lower-cost laptops, and we’ve seen dimmer displays, to be sure. But if you often game (or do anything else with your laptop) in a brightly lit room, it may be worth paying more for a premium model with a brighter screen.
As for the keyboard, it’s not bad, but not perfect. Most of the keys are full-size and spaced well apart from each other. And we like that the WASD keys are offset in red for first-person gaming purposes.
But the number pad area is squished, and the function-row keys are small. The fact that the power button is integrated into the keyboard isn’t ideal, especially given that it’s right next to the End key, which does double duty as a media-playback control key. But Acer seems to have done some smart work in software, because pressing the power button accidentally (or even intentionally for a brief period) doesn’t do anything by default. You actually have to hold it down for a few seconds for anything to happen. So you shouldn’t have to worry about putting the laptop to sleep or powering it down by hitting the button by mistake.
We also miss the broken-out arrow keys found on Acer’s higher-end Predators. Also, the red backlighting of the keys lacks any kind of intensity adjustment; it’s either on or off. And there are no dedicated macro keys here, so serious gamers who rely on these kinds of features will want to look elsewhere or plug in an external keyboard.
The touch pad looks good and feels good, framed by both a shiny beveled edge and a strip of red. And it generally works well, too. But note that there are no dedicated buttons. As is quite common at this point, you depress the touch pad itself to garner your clicks. This would be fine, but the clicking mechanism is stiffer than we’d like. If that’s a problem for you, though, you can of course tap-to-click.
Components Configuration Options
As noted up top, our review configuration of the Acer Predator Helios 300 is the entry-level model, G3-571-77Q, which ships with a quad-core Core i7-7700HQ processor that can ramp between 2.8GHz and 3.8GHz, as well as an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card with 6GB of dedicated memory. These first two hardware specs are the same for all current models of the Helios 300, whether you opt for the 15-inch or 17-inch screen size. As for memory and storage, with this model you get 16GB of DDR4 and a 256GB Serial ATA-based solid-state drive (SSD). The latter is cramped, as we noted, but it’s easy to install your own by popping the door off the bottom. And we’d suggest you do that, because Acer charges a hefty premium for versions of the Helios 300 with a hard drive pre-installed. The DIY route is easy and way cheaper.
Acer’s product page for the Helios 300 lists two other models of the 15-inch version. One just adds a 1TB hard drive to the 256GB SSD boot drive, and bumps up the price up to $1,399, while a second—even more inexplicably—adds a 1TB hard drive and halves the size of the SSD boot drive to 128GB. The inexplicable part? That model also lists for $1,399. So you could opt for the model we’re reviewing, pay $300 extra for an additional 1TB hard drive, or spend $300 extra for a hard drive and slice off half the capacity from your already cramped boot drive.
We’re not sure how the latter two models make sense, but perhaps Acer doesn’t either. Because while the three models mentioned above are listed on Acer’s site, only the $1,099 model we tested actually had a “Buy Now” button (which linked to Amazon). Acer says additional models of the Helios 300 will arrive in August or September, equipped with an additional fan that also allows for overclocking. But at least until then, you should stick with the $1,099 model, as it’s by far the best value.
In fact, for the $1,399 list price of the two higher-end models, you could buy an entry-level model of the Acer Predator 15, with a better G-Sync screen, a better keyboard, and both a 256GB SSD and a 1TB hard drive. The Helios 300 makes the most sense by far around its $1,099 price point.
In case you’re wondering, the 17-inch version of the Helios 300 lists for a $1,399 MSRP with the same graphics, CPU, and screen resolution as the 15-inch models. But we couldn’t find it for sale anywhere yet when we wrote this in mid-July 2017.