On the surface, the Acer Predator Helios 300 is not a rotating gaming laptop. It is a 15-inch system with an Intel Core i7-7700HQ processor and GeForce GTX 1060 graphics, which is the starting platform for many portable gaming machines. But what got me interested was the price: Helios is basically the cheapest gaming laptop with this specification on the market, at $ 1,049 in Amazon, and user reviews are mostly positive.
With this in mind, I want to get some time right with this gaming laptop to see where Acer has a street corner and if the laptop is actually worth for your money. However, whenever a laptop tries to be the most affordable in any category, sacrifices are often made to get there.
In this case, the Predator Helios 300 does not compromise the specifications. Some gaming laptops dump SSDs in their budget variants, but the Helios 300 packs a 256GB SSD in its basic model. There's still 16GB of RAM, just like most other GTX 1060 gaming laptops. And the look; Again, it's 1080p, so there's no difference in paper relative to similar products. For the price, it tastes like a lot.
But there are some aspects of this laptop that has not been prioritized Acer. The design is one of them. Helios 300 is not slim, as thick as 27mm, and bezels around the screen as big as a gaming budget laptop. It's also about 6lbs weight, which is on the top end for a GTX 1060 laptop this size; The most portable ones often shave two pounds of this weight. Despite its weight and size, this laptop only packs a 48 Wh battery, which is a mid-tier for this hardware.
The Helios 300 development is basic, basically just marking the box for a modern gaming laptop that should be provided. There are two metal parts brushed - the lid, and the keyboard around it - but the rest of the laptop is made of matte plastic. Little attention has been given to keeping the device seamless, so the end result is a combination of several different materials and textures. This works, but only because it is an entry level product..
There is no shortage of gamer styles around this laptop, especially on the lid, which features an aggressive Predator logo along with some red highlights. This is the same story when the laptop is open: the massive Predator logo at the bottom of the screen, the red highlight around the keyboard and trackpad, plus the usual corner design usually limited to gamer products. Some like this aesthetic; I'm not a big fan.
Ventilation along the back has received a dose of gamers style as well, thanks to the big red outline. It is interesting to see that half of this 'vent' is essentially fake, leaving only half of the total space for actual airflow. This is the only vent around the side, so all the exhaust passes through this smallish port. This again Acer chose the functional and basic design because of something more sophisticated, which is great for cheap laptops.
The selection of I / O ports on this laptop is, unsurprisingly, basic. The left side has Ethernet, HDMI, one USB 3.0-A port, and USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C port, along with an SD card reader. Right to get a power port, 3.5mm audio jack, and two USB 2.0-A ports. So yes, the Helios 300 has only a single USB 3.0-A port, because Acer is roughly convinced you'll be using the right USB port for an external mouse and possibly a keyboard. Ideally these three USB ports will support a minimum speed of 3.0.
Their keyboard is pretty typical for laptops: nothing special but nothing bad either. The travel and tactile feedback is similar to other ultraportable laptops, with spongy responses though not unbearable. Each button is sufficiently spaced, with Acer successfully crammed full-size arrow keys and numpad into this device. The WASD button is highlighted, and the keyboard has a red backlight. Again, nothing special like RGB here, just your standard gaming laptop keyboard.
You'll want to use the mouse with this laptop for gaming, but the included trackpad is not terrible for casual usage, which is a bit of a shock as it uses ELAN hardware. Now, this is not the best trackpad I've ever used, and tracking performance is only fair, but for web browsing and other light tasks, this service is very useful.
Until now, everything is pretty standard for entry-level gaming laptops; It remains unclear what hardware has compromised Acer to reach a low price point. I say "up to now", because I will discuss the look, which is by far the worst aspect of this laptop.
On paper, there is nothing wrong with the panel. It is an IPS 15.6-inch 1920 x 1080 LCD that runs at 60 Hz. There is no high refresh rate or G-Sync support, which is not surprising for budget laptops, and it does not matter. As you explore screen performance, serious problems are revealed.
To begin with, the panel on my review unit is only capable of 65% sRGB coverage. This is completely unacceptable for any modern look, and frankly I am very surprised by this result. After checking several other reviews, this number seems to be a little different, as I have seen other tests showing coverage up to 85%. I may have a very bad sample review, but in any case, coverage of less than about 95% of sRGB should not be tolerated in 2017 for the product category, budget or not. In fact, I've seen many other low-level gaming laptops that offer much better sRGB coverage.
The horrible results of this gamut cause widespread undersaturation, since the screen can not push the color to the required vibrance level. The image looks flat and less blow as a result. Put this look next to anything that can produce sRGB accurately - we're not even talking about wide gamut panels here - and the Helios 300 screen looks less interesting to say.
With this kind of gamut, it is not surprising to see poor color accuracy. The contrast ratio is okay, at 1160: 1, and the color temperature is acceptable for the most part. But gamut prevents this display from an even half-decent accuracy level, and this is not something that can be calibrated properly. Brightness is also weak, maximum only 230 nits.
Will you see a bad look when playing games? It depends on the game, but because the panel can not reproduce the bright punchy colors we expect in high-end on sRGB displays, particle effects and so on will be washed and unsaturated.
System Performance Acer Gaming Predator Helios 300 GTX 1060
One of the main selling points of Helios 300 is the standard gameplay hardware for the budget price. This laptop packs an Intel Core i7-7700HQ and discrete GPU Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060, a combination used in various gaming laptops. Not something new or special, but a very solid duo worth almost $ 1,000.
The I7-7700HQ is Intel's standard 45W Kaby Lake quad-core CPU used in most gaming laptops. It has four cores, eight threads clocked at 2.8 GHz with a maximum boost frequency of 3.8 GHz. The GTX 1060 for laptops is basically the same as the GPU used on the desktop, with 1280 CUDA cores and a 1670 MHz rated amplifier frequency. To go with the GPU is 6GB GDDR5 at 8000 MHz.
The rest of the hardware is also typical for gaming laptops. There is 16GB DDR4 as standard, in the form of a single DIMM. As for storage, there are various options, the default is 256GB SSD and 1TB hard drive. My review unit comes with slightly less standard SSD storage, at 128GB, but for most people who buy this laptop in North America, you'll get a 256GB SSD.
These benchmark results are not surprising whatsoever. The Acer Predator Helios 300 performs within a few percent of other laptops that use the same hardware. So yes, you are getting the same performance as a lot of other, more expensive devices.
The only real performance difference between Helios and other gaming laptops is in storage. Helios 300, at least in the case of my review unit, uses SSDNow SATA M.2 SSD Toshiba, which only delivers sequential read / write performance around 360 MB / s mark. Many other laptops prefer a faster PCIe NVMe drive instead, which brings far superior storage performance. Acer has a tight budget with Helios, so they use a slower SATA SSD. The good news, however, is that having an SSD is still much better for general OS operation than not having it, so it's great if Acer can put it on this laptop even though it's affordable.
As for the hard drive, this is a Toshiba 1TB 5400 RPM drive, which is again a hardware budget. A number of more expensive gaming laptops use 7,200 RPM drives instead, but Helios tight budget has led to slower movers used here.
Once again, there’s really no surprises here when it comes to gaming performance. The GTX 1060 performs basically exactly as expected, and there’s no real difference between the Helios 300 and a range of other laptops with the same hardware in new-ish titles. This is great news for those that want to save a few hundred dollars compared to other GTX 1060 gaming laptops: you’re not sacrificing game performance.
The cooling solution is decent as well, which surprised me a bit considering its single exhaust vent design. When playing a game like Watch Dogs 2, which hits the CPU and GPU pretty hard, the Helios 300 reached 84°C on the CPU and 74°C on the GPU. This is a respectable result that’s well within the thermal limits of both parts, and allows the GPU in particular to hit its highest possible clock speeds for the longest time.
When punished under an AIDA64 stress test, I saw the CPU climb as high as 91°C and the GPU hit nearly 80°C, but this is a non-standard use case that’s not reflective of real-world gaming scenarios. And even though it’s a torture test, the Helios 300 did surprisingly well here.
The great news is that it’s not outrageously loud to achieve these temperatures either. It’s not a silent laptop by any stretch, but with some headphones or external speakers, it should be fairly easy to drown out the white noise produced by the cooling solution. Laptops such as the Razer Blade are significantly louder under full load.
Killer Specs for the Price, But
The Acer Predator Helios 300 is the gaming laptop you should purchase if you are on a budget. At just over $1,000, it provides the best collection of gaming hardware available at this price point, matching more expensive laptops in a range of popular games.
And this isn’t a surprise, because a significant chunk of the budget has gone to the Intel Core i7-7700HQ processor and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 graphics: the baseline hardware duo for many popular gaming laptops.
With this hardware inside, the Helios 300 provides a very good experience at 1080p with ultra settings, which is exactly what you’d be hoping for. Despite its low price, the in-game experience hasn’t been compromised.
To my surprise, the Helios 300 also includes a respectable cooler that keeps the components in check during lengthy gaming sessions, without overwhelming you with noise.
There’s also an SSD inside, and while it’s a pretty basic SATA drive, it’s better than having no SSD at all, which is often an option in entry-level gaming laptops. 16GB of RAM further indicates that Acer wasn’t willing to compromise on key hardware for this laptop.
Where the compromises have come is in "less important" areas. The Helios 300 has a rather uninspiring design, which is above average in size and weight. The keyboard and trackpad are okay. It provides only one of three USB-A ports supporting USB 3.0 speeds. Most of these compromises are relatively minor, and do not affect the gaming experience.
From this regard, the Helios 300 is perfect for those that want a laptop that goes all out on hardware, while still managing to fit into a tight budget. If you want a better design, a faster SSD, or better I/O options, this is where more expensive gaming laptops come in to play.
The only key criticism I have of the Helios 300 is its display, which is terrible. The main issue here is the color gamut, which at 65% of sRGB is well below the standard we’ve come to expect from modern displays, even on budget machines. This leads to undersaturation and an underwhelming display in general.
Whether or not you can overlook the display issues will determine whether the Helios 300 is the right choice for you. But in general, the fact this laptop includes GTX 1060 gaming hardware for a few hundred dollars less than its competitors makes it an option you should closely explore.