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Acer Nitro 5 (AN515-45) review: Ray tracing for the masses

1 Dec 2021
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
1,000
(£1,100 for Ryzen 7)

A stupendously powerful gaming laptop for less than £1,000, the Acer Nitro 5 is a no-brainer

Pros 
Amazing performance for the price
Surprisingly quiet
Abundant upgrade options
Cons 
Poor sRGB coverage and colour accuracy
Poor battery life
Plastic chassis is a fingerprint magnet
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It was bound to happen: a big AAA video game was eventually going to launch that would require a ray-tracing-capable graphics card in order to play it. An expensive GPU is a strict requirement if you want to play Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition, and there’s a good chance that other big-name games will likely follow the same route in the future, too.

Thankfully, Acer has come to the rescue of impecunious gamers who want to fight – or sneak – their way across a post-apocalyptic Russian wasteland, without having to spend too much cash beforehand. Its newest Nitro 5 gaming laptop comes with an Nvidia RTX 30-series GPU and remarkably it costs less than £1,000.

READ NEXT: Best gaming laptops

Acer Nitro 5 (AN515-45) review: What you need to know

Granted, its starting price is only one penny under £1,000, but regardless, we’re still looking at a ridiculously affordable gaming machine. If the Nitro 5’s price is still too rich for your blood, then you’ll have to wait until Nvidia launches its RTX 3050 GPUs, which are intended for machines in the £700-£800 range and will ship “this summer”.

Circling back to the present, though, and this year’s Nitro 5 is filled to the brim with high-end specifications. The configurations don't differ much, but depending on how much you’re willing to spend you can choose from either an AMD Ryzen 5 5600H or a more powerful Ryzen 7 5800H (which I received for review). Both models come with an Nvidia RTX 3060 GPU (with 6GB of VRAM), as well as 8GB of RAM and 512GB of SSD storage. The Nitro 5’s Full HD screen, which measures 15.6in, also has a maximum refresh rate of 144Hz.

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Acer Nitro 5 (AN515-45) review: Price and competition

Nvidia’s RTX 30 series graphics cards (the mobile versions of Nvidia’s full-fat desktop Ampere GPUs) are slowly but surely making their way into affordable notebooks, and at £999 (or £1,100 for the Ryzen 7 model) the Nitro 5 finds itself in familiar company.

First out of the gate was Asus’ Tuf Dash 15, which Amazon is now selling for £999, with the Nvidia RTX 3060 GPU and an 11th-gen Intel i7 CPU. Lenovo’s new Legion 5 gaming machine (£999) also uses a combination of an AMD Ryzen 7 5800H and RTX 3060, although we haven’t reviewed this model yet.

Razer also has an RTX 3060 laptop, but the Razer Blade 15 starts at a wallet-crunching £1,600 and it also comes with an older tenth-gen Intel Core i7 processor.

That’s about it for direct competition with an RTX 30 series GPU. Over at HP, you’ll find a choice of Omen gaming laptops, but they all come with the previous-generation RTX 2060 GPU (which admittedly still supports ray-traced visuals).

Acer Nitro 5 (AN515-45) review: Design and key features

Physically, the latest Nitro 5 is still a big, black, angular plastic affair. When it comes to its looks, it’s mostly identical to the cheaper Ryzen 5 (GTX1650Ti) Nitro 5 we reviewed earlier in the year. The black plastic case is a bit of a fingerprint magnet, but the laptop’s assembly feels solid and well screwed together. It certainly looks suitably “gamey”, that’s for sure.

Talking of screws, if you remove 11 of them from the underside of the laptop, you can take the base panel off to access the Wi-Fi 6/Bluetooth 5.0 wireless card, two DDR4 RAM slots, two M.2 storage slots and a 2.5in SATA 3 storage bay. Clearly, there’s plenty of room for any future upgrades.

Weighing 2.3kg and measuring 363 x 255 x 23.9mm, the Nitro 5 isn't exactly compact or light, but the same could be applied to most other gaming laptops. The good news is that the Nitro 5 is packed with ports, with two USB Type-A 3.2 Gen 1, one Type-A 3.2 Gen 2 and one 10Gbits/sec Type-C data port.

You’ll also find a Gigabit Ethernet port, as well as an HDMI 2 connector and a 3.5mm audio jack. Charging is done via a DC-in port, too, which is located at the back.

The Nitro 5’s keyboard feels robust, and it should stand up to the frantic prodding of enraged gamers. My test machine was shipped with the optional four-zone RGB keyboard backlight, which is fully customisable via Acer’s NitroSense software and can be accessed via a dedicated button located above the keyboard’s numpad.

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Acer Nitro 5 (AN515-45) review: Display, webcam, audio

The Nitro 5’s 15.6in matte finish IPS display isn’t the greatest. The maximum brightness of 257cd/m² and sRGB gamut volume of 61.4% are both quite poor, and the screen’s average Delta E (colour accuracy) was badly adrift too, at a depressingly high 6.97.

This news doesn’t come as a huge surprise, though, since this model is fitted with the same rather dull and dreary display used by the last Nitro 5 we tested. The panel at least has a maximum refresh of 144Hz, which I’d argue is more important in a gaming laptop than wholly accurate colours.

Despite the promotional sticker boasting “DTS: X Ultra” and “immersive gaming” audio, the speakers are also pretty humdrum. The laptop’s pair of speakers are quite quiet, and an extra dollop of bass would be more than welcome. You might want to invest in a decent pair of external speakers or a new gaming headset.

The 720p webcam is decent enough, though it doesn’t support Windows Hello biometric security, and the laptop doesn’t have a fingerprint scanner, either.

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Acer Nitro 5 (AN515-45) review: Performance and battery life

The Nitro 5’s potent combination of a 3.2GHz Ryzen 7 5800H octa-core CPU and an Nvidia RTX3060 GPU is frankly astounding for the price, and it came out rather well in our usual array of laptop benchmarking tools.

There’s no point beating about the bush, since this thing goes like the clappers. Our standard 4K media-processing test returned the second-highest score we’ve ever seen from a laptop, with a total of 323 points.

The multicore PCMark5 test told a similar story, with a score of 8,200. Only the Asus ROG Strix Scar 15 has done better, but that’s a £2,700 monster of a gaming laptop. In terms of sheer performance per pound, the Nitro 5 is simply off the chart.

Turning our attention to the Nitro 5’s gaming benchmarks, it became clear that the GTX 3060 is an ample performer, but it’s a long way from the output offered by its bigger brothers, the RTX 3070 and 3080.

Kicking things off, the Nitro 5 reached an average frame rate of 144fps in Wolfenstein: Youngblood with ray tracing and DLSS enabled. Switch off DLSS but stick with the ray-tracing settings, and the Nitro 5’s frame rate dips to a still playable 89fps.

What do these scores tell us? Well, while the RTX 3060 lacks the gaming grunt of the RTX 3070 (after all, it only has 3,840 CUDA cores to the 3070’s 5,120), it still has the capability to render ray-traced visuals and shaders well above 60fps at 1080p, without any AI upscaling required.

The much-more demanding Hitman 2 benchmark reached an average frame rate of 47fps, but this jumped to 99fps as soon as I dialled the game’s supersampling setting down from two to one. Doom, on the other hand, hit a rock-steady 144fps at the highest settings.

Oddly, our review unit was equipped with a 1TB Samsung PCI-E NVMe SSD, although the retail model only comes with 512GB of space. Regardless, the SSD I tested performed well in our sequential read and write test, with speeds of 2,127MB/s and 1,615MB/s respectively.

All that raw power dramatically takes its toll on the Nitro 5’s unplugged stamina, though, which is further exacerbated by its small 58Whr capacity battery. In our video rundown test, the Nitro lasted for just 6hrs 30mins before running out of juice.

One final note, however, is that the RTX 3060 Nitro 5 runs a lot cooler and quieter than the previous (GTX 1650Ti) model I tested. Even at max spin, the laptop’s fans aren’t particularly loud.

Acer Nitro 5 (AN515-45) review: Verdict

The Nitro 5’s screen is a bit on the weak side and the battery life is verging on the dismal, but other than that it’s hard to fault the Nitro 5 when it offers such stunning performance at such a low price.

Make no mistake, the Nitro 5 redefines the sort of gaming performance you can expect for less than a thousand pounds. Combine that with the plethora of upgrade options, the surprisingly efficient and quiet cooling system and a pretty good keyboard, and the Nitro 5 is a surefire success.

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