Review Acer Nitro 5 (2021) – Budget Friendly, At What Cost?

Acer’s Nitro 5 is a cheaper budget friendly gaming laptop, but often lower prices result in compromises, so let’s find out what you’ll be missing out on in this review. I’ve got two configurations of Nitro 5 here, Intel i5 and Ryzen 5 6 core models, both with Nvidia RTX 3060 graphics, different single channel memory, more on that soon, and a 144Hz 1080p screen. There are both lower and higher specced options of the Nitro 5, you can find examples and updated prices with those links down in the description. Both the Intel and AMD Nitro 5’s look the same physically with an all black plastic build. The laptop alone weighs under 2.

3kg or 5lb, then under 2.9kg or 6.3lb total with the 180 watt power brick and cables, so not too heavy. The size is pretty standard for a modern 15” gaming laptop, it’s not super thin or anything but still portable. Both laptops have the exact same 15.

6” 1080p 144Hz panel. Unfortunately there’s no MUX switch to disable optimus, and they didn’t have FreeSync or Adaptive Sync.

Color gamut was on the lower side, so probably look elsewhere if you’re a content creator, but contrast was good. The brightness levels on both screens are extremely similar as they’re the same panel, but at under 260 nits when maxed out they’re on the dimmer side. The screen response time of both was basically the same and within margin of error, again same panels so similar results are expected, however they’re on the slower side compared alternatives, but at least not as slow as the TUF A15.

They’re both also the slowest results I’ve recorded so far in terms of total system latency, the amount of time measured between mouse click and a gun shot fire in CS:GO, and the AMD system was a little faster compared to Intel here.

The Acer website notes a 3ms response time, so I’m assuming that refers to the 165Hz 1440p panel option that I didn’t have, because the 144hz screens are slow. Backlight bleed wasn’t too bad on either, both had some subtle glow patches but I never noticed this during regular use, but this will vary between laptop and panel. There’s a 720p camera above the screen in the middle, no IR for Windows Hello though. The camera and microphone seem to be the same on both the Intel and AMD models.

This is what it sounds like while typing on the keyboard, and this is what it sounds like if I set the fan to full speed, so you can still hear me alright over the fan noise. Both of mine had 4 zone RGB keyboards which lit up all keys and secondary functions, however I think there are also red only options. I thought the lighting looked decent, and there are some effects available through the Acer’s Nitro sense software, the control panel for the laptop.

It’s got 4 levels of key brightness which can be controlled through software, or with the function key plus F9 and F10 shortcut keys. It’s got 1.

6mm of key travel, and personally I had no problems typing on it. My partner on the other hand thought the numpad was annoying to use because the right arrow key is where zero usually is, and the nitro sense shortcut shuffles things around a bit. The precision touchpad is plastic, I thought it worked alright but my partner also noted bad palm rejection, but I wasn’t able to replicate this, so your mileage may vary. The left has a Kensington lock, air exhaust vent, gigabit ethernet port, two USB 3.2 Gen1 Type-A ports and a 3.

5mm audio combo jack. The right has a USB Type-C port, USB 3.2 Gen2 Type-A port, HDMI 2.1 output, and there’s an air exhaust on this side too.

Now the Type-C port on the Intel model does offer Thunderbolt 4 support, which is not present in the Ryzen model, but one of the requirements of Thunderbolt 4 is to offer Type-C charging, but I didn’t find Type-C charging on my Intel model to work, so I’m not sure what the deal is, and Type-C charging wasn’t available on the Ryzen 5 model either.

Both of those Type-C ports offer DisplayPort output, however they both connect to the integrated graphics. Both of the HDMI ports on the other hand connect directly to the Nvidia GPU, so connecting an external screen should bypass optimus, and I’ll show you how much of a speed boost this gives in games later. I also want to note how annoying the ethernet port was. It might be fine with brand new cables, but most of mine have weak or broken clips, which is fine for most laptops I test, but I often had to get the laptop sitting just right for the network to work with the Nitro 5. The back just has the power input near the middle with more air exhaust vents out towards the corners.

As with previous Acer laptops, you really need to push the power plug all the way in. It can feel like it’s in but it’s not, it’s almost like it has a second level to clip in, which was a bit annoying. The front has no indentation for opening the lid, but I still found it easy to do. There’s some flex to the interior, which is to be expected from an all plastic machine, but it still felt alright when using it normally. Likewise there’s a bit of flex to the plastic lid, and at times I did find it to wobble a bit when carrying it around.

Getting inside requires removing 11 Phillips head screws of the same length. I found it easy to open using the tools linked in the description below, and here we can get a better look at where the holes are actually placed for air flow. Once inside we’ve got the battery down the front, a 2.5” drive bay to the left of that, two M.2 slots above on the left and right, Wi-Fi 6 card above the SSD, and two memory slots in the middle.

Both laptops also came with the necessary screws and cables to install a 2.5” drive.

I also need to note that my Ryzen model came with MediaTek Wi-Fi, while the Killer Wi-Fi in the Intel model was able to perform 55% faster. Not really sure why the AMD model uses a slower Wi-Fi card, and it also had more trouble finding my 5GHz network. Now there are some very important differences between the stock memory in these two laptops that we need to discuss.

I’m currently borrowing the Intel i5 model from Acer and it comes with one 8 gigabyte stick of x16 memory, while the Ryzen 5 model that I bought with my own money also comes with one stick, but it’s 16 gigabytes and faster x8 memory.

I’ve shown in previous videos how the memory bank difference can affect performance, so purely based on these specs I would expect the Intel model to perform slower in games compared to Ryzen, at least with the stock memory that both of my units came with. Now I know the Nitro series is meant to be a more budget friendly option so that’s probably why it came with just one stick of memory in single channel, but the fact is performance is being left on the table by not running two sticks in dual channel. I guess I’d be more fine seeing this in the lower cost GTX 1650 model, but seeing single channel x16 memory in RTX 3060 laptops is a bit disappointing. I guess that’s just one of the reasons that it’s generally cheaper than others.

The two speakers are found underneath on the left and right sides towards the front.

They don’t sound great, tinny with no bass and definitely below average, but the latencymon results were looking acceptable from both AMD and Intel configurations. Both configurations have the same 57Wh battery inside, however the Ryzen model was lasting significantly longer than the Intel one. I tested this twice to confirm and got the same results, the i5 model was one of the worst results recorded while the Ryzen 5 model lasted 52% longer in the YouTube playback test. Both were miles behind the last gen nitro 5 which is closer to the top.

Let’s check out thermals next. Acer’s Nitro Sense software is very basic. You’ve got the option to set the fan speed to auto, which is default, you can customize the two fans separately, or you can just press one button to set them to max speed. There aren’t any performance modes, the power plan section is just a front end for changing the Windows power plan.

There’s lots of thermal data here, give me a moment to explain.

Basically blue results are the Intel Nitro 5, while red are from the AMD model. The lighter colors represent the CPU, while the darker colors show the GPU. The idle results are down the bottom and Ryzen was a few degrees warmer than Intel. I’ve run stress tests with both the CPU and GPU loaded up to represent a worst case, as well as playing an actual game. With the fans in their default auto speed, the RTX 3060 graphics in the AMD model was running cooler, as per the darker bars, and the CPU was a little warmer on Intel too.

With the fans manually set to max though, the GPU temps are much closer together, though still an edge to the AMD model, however the processor on the Ryzen model was still thermal throttling around its 90 degree limit.

The cooling pad that I test with, linked in the description below, is able to get the Intel model cooler in all regards, and although the AMD CPU is still throttling in the stress test with it, this was removed in the game test. These are the clock speeds from the same tests, and it’s worth noting the i5-11400H has an all core turbo boost speed of 4.1GHz which was being hit, so full performance in some cases even with the GPU under load. The GPU clock speed on the 3060 was always higher on the AMD model, as shown by the darker red bars being higher than the darker blue bars, however the CPU clock speed on Intel was always ahead of Ryzen, possibly due to the thermal throttling noted on the AMD model.

It’s possible to boost the CPU thermal throttle limit of the AMD model up to 95 degrees Celsius with the Ryzen controller software, and this gives us a 100MHz or so boost in the stress test.

The higher GPU clock speed on the AMD model seems to be because it’s hitting higher GPU power levels between 90 and 94 watts, even with the CPU under load. The Intel model can run at 95 watts when the CPU is idle, but with the CPU also active it runs lower. The compromise seems to be that the Intel model instead shifts the power over to the processor with dynamic boost, as per the light blue bars. I think this is probably an acceptable compromise.

This graph shows Cinebench R23 multicore performance at different CPU power levels on both of these laptops.

The Intel processor needs more power to perform, while Ryzen is able to perform better with lower power levels, so allowing Intel to use more power on the CPU compared to the GPU in workloads like games might be more beneficial compared to boosting the GPU and keeping the CPU low. Here’s how both laptops compare against others in Cinebench R23, a CPU only workload with the GPU now idle. The Intel model was ahead both in terms of single and multicore performance, as shown by the blue bar. Things change when running on battery power though.

The Intel model, again in the blue bar, loses a fair bit of its single and multi core performance now, while the Ryzen model hardly changes at all comparatively, so AMD seems to perform better on battery power. Both laptops felt cool to the touch when just sitting there idle, though the Intel model was a few degrees cooler. They’re fairly similar with the stress tests running, and neither ever actually felt hot to the touch, just a little warm worst case in the center, and then with the fans manually set to maximum it’s possible to lower temperatures further, but at the expense of more fan noise, let’s have a listen.

The fans on both were audible when idling, but the Intel one sounded a little more annoying to me. They’re similar when under stress test, slightly louder on AMD with auto fan speed, probably because of the warmer CPU, and they can get quite loud maxed out, but at least we’ve got fan control to get it how you prefer.

Now let’s find out how well these configurations of Acer’s Nitro 5 perform in games and compare against other laptops. I’ve tested both laptops with their stock memory to show what they’re like in games as if you’d actually bought the same configurations, but I’ve also tested both with two 8 gig sticks of x8 memory in dual channel, linked in the description below, and this is to show what they can do with better memory. Cyberpunk 2077 was tested in little China with the street kid life path on all laptops. I’ve got the AMD Nitro 5 highlighted by the red bars and the Intel Nitro 5 highlighted by the blue bars. There are two results for each, with stock single channel memory and my upgraded dual channel memory.

There’s a bit to unpack here.

I suspect the Intel model with the stock RAM is significantly behind the other results because it’s both lower capacity at just 8 gigabytes, but also the slower x16 memory. Upgrading to dual channel with double the capacity and x8 sticks boosts average FPS by almost 24% on Intel. There’s not much of a difference to the AMD machine in terms of average FPS, however upgrading the memory boosted the 1% low by around 20%, so a much more stable experience with the dual channel memory. Technically AMD was ahead of Intel with the same memory here, but it’s close and honestly not a difference you’d be likely to notice.

Red Dead Redemption 2 was tested with the game’s benchmark, and this time Intel was in the lead here with the memory upgrade, however again the difference is small, with just a 1 FPS lead over Ryzen. Upgrading the memory on the Ryzen model only improved average FPS a bit, as per the red bars, but the difference to Intel is huge in the blue bars with a big 35% improvement to average FPS by going to dual channel and x8 memory. Again the difference is bigger for Intel because my review unit came with just 8 gigs of slow memory, whereas my AMD one came with 16 gigs of faster memory already, and although two memory sticks are better than one as you get dual channel, this generally makes a bigger difference at lower setting presets.

Control was tested running through the same part of the game on all laptops, and as this is a GPU heavy game, the memory difference is making the smallest change out of all games so far, to the point where for some reason the upgraded AMD system was slightly behind the stock configuration, so just goes to show it’s less important here. At the end of the day though, with the same memory kit installed once more the difference is only a couple of FPS, so again probably not a big difference given both have 3060 graphics.

The processor difference would matter more at lower setting levels though. It’s kind of depressing seeing older GTX 1660 Ti laptops beat the RTX 3060 in the Intel model due to its slower x16 memory. It just goes to show why it’s important to check these things. As mentioned earlier, it is possible to boost gaming performance on both configurations of Nitro 5 by connecting an external screen to the HDMI port, as this connects directly to the Nvidia GPU bypassing the integrated graphics and optimus. As was the case before adding the external screen, AMD is just one FPS ahead of Intel in the Nitro 5, and both are now closer to the Lenovo legion 5 and MSI GS76, which are two other RTX 3060 laptops that I’ve tested that aren’t limited by optimus as they have a MUX switch built in.

Either way though, the performance boost wasn’t that big compared to not using the external screen, just a 5 FPS gain which equates to about a 5% boost, but hey still an easy way to get an improvement, and other games that can hit higher FPS like esports titles will see larger improvements. The Ryzen model was ahead in most of the 3DMark tests, which makes sense as it seems to run the GPU at higher TDP when the CPU is active, but it’s quite close either way, and this was tested with stock RAM. Now for some creator tests. Adobe Premiere was tested with the Puget Systems benchmark, again the Intel Nitro 5 is highlighted in blue while the AMD model is red. With the stock default RAM, the Ryzen model was scoring a little higher, but this flips around when both have the same memory.

The Intel i5 is ahead when they’re not bottlenecked by single channel memory.

The Ryzen model had a big advantage with the stock memory in Adobe Photoshop, but again this is only because the Intel Nitro 5 I was sent has half the capacity and slower memory. When both were tested with the same memory though, the Intel based Nitro 5 took the lead. DaVinci Resolve is a little different, at stock this time Intel was a little ahead of AMD, and this didn’t change with the better memory. This test generally depends more on GPU performance, and although both get more than a 100 point boost just by upgrading the RAM, the margins between our two Nitros don’t change much.

I’ve also tested SPECviewperf which tests out various professional 3D workloads. This was done with stock RAM, so that might be why the Intel results were a little lower in some tests, but again the AMD model can also sustain higher GPU power levels. The 512gb NVMe M.2 SSD in the Intel model was decent for both reads and writes, and although the read speed on the AMD model were similar, the write speed was pretty bad comparatively.

It’s not clear if the Intel model supports faster PCIe 4 storage, Acer’s product page is honestly terrible for finding out detailed specs and I don’t have a faster SSD to test with.

There’s not too much going on in the BIOS, I found that I had to manually enable the F12 boot key if I actually wanted to use it, for some reason the boot menu key wasn’t enabled by default. Once that was sorted, I booted an Ubuntu 21 live CD to test Linux support. The touchpad, keyboard, speakers, ethernet and camera worked, though the touchpad on the Intel model was slow and choppy for some reason. Keyboard shortcuts for screen brightness, keyboard brightness and volume worked, but there’s no way of customizing the RGB without software so it stays red by default. Wi-Fi worked on the Intel model, but not on AMD, I suspect its MediaTek card needs additional drivers.

Let’s discuss pricing and availability next. This will change over time, so refer to those links down in the description for updates. At the time of recording, the Nitro 5 with RTX 3060 that I’ve tested here is about $1150 USD for the Ryzen model. Unfortunately I can’t find the i5 plus 3060 model right now, but if we instead look at the cheaper entry level GTX 1650 model we can see that it’s $30 cheaper compared to the Intel i5 model, so basically Intel is just 4% more money in this example.

You can refer to this video if you want to see a detailed comparison between the Ryzen 5 5600H and Intel i5-11400H, but basically the summary is that in most test Intel performs better, both in productivity workloads and gaming.

That’s not to say the Ryzen model is that far behind, both still offer excellent performance, but yeah in general Intel was better unless of course we’re talking about battery life where Ryzen was ahead, and that also extends to performance on battery power, and given these are designed to be portable machines if you are running on battery power you’ll probably get an edge with the AMD configuration.

Personally in most cases I think it’s worth paying a little extra to get the Intel model. You get better performance in most cases and you also get the advantages of Thunderbolt 4 plus the better Wi-Fi, granted you could upgrade the Wi-Fi in the AMD model for like less than $20. I get that the Nitro 5 is meant to be a budget friendly option, but this is the first laptop I’ve seen in over a year with a 2.5” drive bay.

Given it’s got two M.2 slots and you can certainly find cheaper M.2 drives these days, personally I’d like to see a bigger battery instead, or at least offer a larger battery for those that want it. Even if I want to upgrade the 57Wh battery right now, I can’t do it, there’s no other options that I can get.

The price for the 3060 model is quite competitive relative to other RTX 3060 gaming laptops out there.

The Nitro series is generally one of the cheaper gaming laptops out there, but as we’ve seen this does come with some compromises. The main one is the single channel memory and potentially slower x16 memory too, but at least you can upgrade that if you’re willing to spend more money. The 144Hz screen isn’t great. 1080p 144Hz sounds nice on a speed sheet, but with a lower 17ms response time, low color gamut and low brightness it’s just not impressive. I guess that’s not too surprising though, as memory and screen are two areas where companies definitely cheap out on first when making a budget laptop.

So yeah all things considered I don’t think the Nitro 5 is terrible, you’re just getting an all plastic build with some flex, a worse screen and suboptimal memory in order to hit the lower price point. Check out these videos next if you want to see more differences between these Nitro 5 laptops, I’ve done way more testing than was covered in this review. Get subscribed if you’re new to the channel for future laptop reviews like this one, and come and join me in Discord and get behind the scenes videos by supporting the channel on Patreon.

Read More: RTX 3060 vs GTX 1660 Ti – 15 Games Compared!

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