There has been a great increase is availability of portable gaming machines of late. I’ve uttered this statement for quite some time now. In the beginning, however, the market was saturated by two kinds of units, the high-end and the entry-level. With the likes of the Predator 21 X and Predator Triton 700, Acer has delivered on some of the best gaming laptops the money can buy. But not everyone has that kind of spare change lying around. Earlier this year, Acer launched the Nitro 5 mid-range unit, which offered great value at a great price, a successful combination that had fans talking. Acer’s Predator range, however, remains their premium gaming laptop range, and with the addition of the new Helios range, offers a good mix of mid-to-high-end units. Having recently received the Acer Predator Helios 300, the unit proved worthy of its name.
Build and Design
- Mix of aluminium and plastic
- Good number of Ports
- Not as lightweight as competitors
The Helios 300 follows a conventional mid-range gaming laptop design, with a good mix of aluminium and plastic. The lid has a brushed metal finish with angled sides, highlighted by the two red streaks flanking both sides. This is finished off with a large Predator logo in the centre. The red accents are extending to various other corners of the Helios 300, namely the backlit keyboard, the edges of the trackpad, and the vents at the back. The ventilation system and its grills extend across the entire back of the device. While it doesn’t look bad, the design has been around for roughly two years now, and while it was novel at the time, it has certainly aged since.
The exterior is made of some premium materials, which look the part. But things aren’t as easy on the eye once the lid is lifted. The plastics on the inside, surrounding the screen and keyboard, feels notably cheaper. The bezel surrounding the screen also takes up quite a chunk of real estate, which also houses another Predator logo at the bottom, with the Acer logo on the top left. It’s this second logo that feels out of place on the unit. There’s no real need for Acer to stick its logo alongside the Predator brand, especially one so oddly placed. A good example of brand positioning is the Alienware range, which doesn’t feature any of Dell’s logos on any of the catalogue. The Predator range has matured sufficiently in 2018 to stand on its own.
When it comes to physical specifications of the Helios 300, it weighs just shy of 2.5KG and measures 391×266.7×38.1mm. This makes the unit heavier and larger than both the Acer Nitro 5 and Lenovo Legion Y520 units. It has the same length and breadth of the Nitro 5, but is surprisingly 10mm thicker. It may be less portable in terms of its specs, but may not necessarily be worse off as an option for casual gamers, for which you can skip to the performance results for evidence of that. The unit has a good number of ports available to users, including a USB Type-C port, HDMI out, USB 3.0 port, SD card slot and Ethernet port all on the left-hand side of the unit. On the right-hand side, you’ll find a headphone jack, and two USB 2.0 ports.
Audio, Keyboard and Touchpad
- Standard red backlit keys
- Poor keyboard layout and keys
While the design team has done a decent job with the budget it had available in developing the Helios 300, there are some weak points to note. This comes in the form of the keyboard and touchpad. While the red backlit keys are nice to look at, the keys are quite soft for a gaming laptop. Yes, this keeps the sound down to a minimum, but that shouldn’t be the objective when designing gaming units. In addition to this, the keys felt quite squashed together, especially moving over to the right, around the included numeric keypad. It may be a nice to have when looking for additional options to boast about, but not worth the sacrifice in key layout as a result.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve often critised touchpads and the likes a little harshly over the years. That’s only because I don’t find them very useful, especially in terms of accuracy, stickiness, clumsiness, and sometimes awkwardness. There have been a few exceptions, some of which felt great, smooth and easy to use in place of a, more reliable, mouse. That said, the Helios 300 delivers a mixed bag of results. In terms of accuracy, the unit does well enough, and is reliable too in terms of gesture support. Where the touchpad comes unstuck is with its single frame pad, which houses the left and right click buttons. These are often times sticky and awkward to depress, and just doesn’t feel as simple to use as the rest of it. It also has a bit of play on the corners, which feels cheap and like it could go at any moment.
Acer’s TrueHarmony speakers are well-rounded. They offer sufficiently clear sounds with good volumes to boot. While the bass may be a bit flat, the laptop is more than capable of filling a medium-sized room with adequate sound. The surround sound capabilities, powered by Dolby Audio, aren’t too shabby either, with clear distinction between the direction of gun fire and lasers in most games.
Screen and Display
- Not Very Bright
- Good Colour Gamut
Acer have bolted on a 15.6”, 144Hz, IPS panel to the Helios 300, which has a 1920x1080px resolution display. The panel manages great clarity and sharpness of image, but fails to deliver significant brightness to round off the results. The screen registered 226 nits of brightness on average. This is slightly higher than the 220 achieved by the Y520, and down on the Nitro 5’s 260. With decent brightness expected in the region of 270-300 nits, these latest mid-range gaming laptops seem to all suffer the same lacklustre screen brightness. When playing games and watching films, there were no issues during most scenes set in full brightness. During the darker scenes, however, it became a little trickier to view all the finer details. The brightness on the screen itself cannot be turned up, but it can be set in-game or within the media player, but it appears slightly more washed out as a result.
When it comes to colour reproduction, the results are slightly better, covering 81% of the sRGB colour gamut. This is significantly better than the Nitro 5 and Y520, which covered 69% and 68%, respectively. Despite the advantage, it still falls below the industry standard of 94% for 15.6” displays. Overall, then, the results aren’t that great, but still manages to outperform some of its closest rivals.
Performance and Battery
- Brilliant SSD Speeds
- Excellent GPU Performance
- Poor Battery Life
The Helios 300 variant received for review sported an Intel Core i7-8750H @2.2GHz CPU, 32GB DDR4 RAM, Nvidia GTX 1060 6GB graphics with overclocking support, 512GB M.2 NVMe solid state drive as well as 2TB hard drive. On paper, the specifications are similar to those presented on the Nitro 5, with an upgrade over the Y520.
In the real world, the results were nothing short of amazing. Even before setting up the benchmark tests and the likes, there was a noticeable difference in how smooth the unit performed its tasks, and just how quick loading times were. Compared to the Nitro 5, which has a very similar build, the Helios 300 just felt better. Once the benchmarks were in place, the following scores were achieved:
- 3DMark 11: P14014: Physics – 10892; Graphics – 15379
- 3DMark 13 – Graphics: Sky Driver – 40724; Fire Strike – 11913; Time Spy – 3903
- PCMark 08: 4870
- PassMark: 5506: CPU – 14461; 3D Graphics – 5942
- Geekbench 4 64-bit: Single-Core: 5139; Multi-core: 20038
- CineBench R15: OpenGL 59.71 fps, CPU 1087, CPU Single Core 175
On average, the Helios 300 outperformed the Nitro 5 by between 10-30% across the listed benchmark scores. The biggest differences were as a result of the graphics benchmark scores, which is accounted for by the difference between the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti with 4GB VRAM versus the Nvidia GTX 1060 with 6GB VRAM. While standard computing scores were slightly higher, the graphics and gaming scores are where the Helios 300 really started to stretch its legs. In terms of the overall FPS differences between the two devices, the Helios 300 was able to achieve much higher results, average between 60 and 70 FPS versus the roughly 50 FPS for the same tests on the Nitro 5. For GTA V, the unit was able to keep a respectable 30+ FPS at 1080p resolution, up by nearly 10 FPS over the Nitro 5. The Helios 300 definitely proved itself to be a robust portable gaming unit.
When it comes to battery life, however, the Helios 300 falls a bit flat. While Acer claim to achieve a battery life of around 7 hours, the unit managed to eke out around 5 hours at best. It is worth keeping in mind that the device would have undergone many such benchmark tests and wrung out quite a bit, but it’s still down 30-40 minutes on the Nitro 5 I reviewed in July. That said, 5 hours isn’t the worst I’ve observed over the years, and a long way from the 3-hour standard of 5 years ago.
- Overclocking software support
Acer’s PredatorSense software comes preinstalled on the unit. It’s actually pretty useful, especially since it lets the user control key features on the Helios 300, namely the GPU overclocking. While it wasn’t used during the benchmark tests, to maintain standards, it was able to make some improvements to the gaming experiences. Users will notice an increase of around 10 FPS on average across most games. There’s also a host of other important information viewed via the software, such as the heat distribution of specific elements, clock speeds of the CPU, etc.
The Acer Predator Helios 300 ticks quite a number of boxes when it comes to being a suitable gaming laptop. While it may have a few negatives aspects, such as the screen brightness, there’s more than enough to make up for it. The benchmark scores, super-fast response times, and great gaming capabilities make the unit an extremely good option for prospective buyers.
The Helios 300 is available in a few different builds, which also includes the 7th and 8th generation Intel chips. The 7th-gen Core-i7 unit, with 16GB RAM retails for R16,999, while the more powerful, and later variants with its 8th-gen Core-i7 CPU and 32GB retails for R24,999.