Acer Predator Helios 500 Gaming Laptop Review

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The only thing missing is battery life.

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Acer’s Predator Helios 500 (See it on Amazon) is a high-end gaming laptop that has every part most people would put on their “dream machine” shopping list. It’s got a fancy new Intel Core i9 CPU, a full-powered GeForce GTX 1070 GPU (as opposed to lower-clocked Max-Q unit), an SSD and a 2TB HDD, along with a 17.3-inch IPS panel with a 144Hz refresh rate, so it’s stuffed with all the latest technology.

This is the second laptop I’ve been able to test with Intel new Core i9 “Coffee Lake” CPU, but it’s first that uses a “normal” sized chassis, so it’ll be interesting to see if Acer was able to keep it running cool, as it can run a single core all the way up to a fiery 4.8GHz. Priced at $2,500, the high-end Helios 500 is a gaming workhorse slash desktop replacement, so it’s going up against the latest from MSI, Asus, and Razer. I put it through its paces for a few weeks to see how it stacks up.

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Here are the specifications of the Acer Predator Helios 500 I am evaluating:

  • Model: Acer Predator Helios 500 (PH517-51-98Y7)
  • Display: 17.3-inch FHD (1920×1080) 144Hz IPS
  • Processor: Intel Core i9-8950HK at 2.9GHz (12M Cache, up to 4.80 GHz)
  • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce 1070 (8GB GDDR5)
  • Memory: 16GB DDR4 (2400MHz)
  • OS: Windows 10 Home
  • Storage: 512GB PCIe NVMe SSD, 2TB SATA
  • Webcam: 720p
  • Ports: 1 x Ethernet, 1 x Display port, 1 x HDMI, 2 x Thunderbolt 3 (USB 3.1 Type C), 3 x USB 3.0, 1 x audio in, 1 x audio out
  • Connectivity: Killer DoubleShot Pro 1550 802.11ac, Bluetooth 5.0, gigabit ethernet
  • Dimensions: 16.85 x 11.73 x 1.52-inches (WxDxH)
  • Weight: 8.82 pounds
  • Price:  $2,499

Acer Predator Helios 500 – Design and Features

I view the Helios 500 as a shapeshifter. Throughout testing I would see it on my desk from afar, and it looked exactly like the huge 17″ laptop that it is. However, when I sat down and actually used it, it somehow felt smaller. That’s despite its extra large display, and a its XXL weight of 8.82-pounds. Yeah, this isn’t a laptop you’re going to want to carry around much.

The weight and size seem to be due to its extravagant cooling, which includes two Aeroblade 3D cooling fans, five heat pipes, and four exhausts. The benefit to all these fans and heat pipes is hopefully the ability to have large, slow-spinning fans that are barely audible. It’s also a requirement, as this Helios 500 is packing an Intel Core i9-8950HK six-core CPU, which tops out at 4.8GHz with TurboBoost. That makes it the highest clocked mobile CPU in existence, and this CPU is pretty notorious for running really hot as well. The CPU works in combination with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 GPU, 16GB of DDR4 memory, a 512GB SSD for the OS and a 2TB SATA hard drive for data. Both memory and storage can be upgraded easily, and memory maxes out at a very generous 64GB.

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The Helios 500 has a full-sized RGB backlit keyboard with four lighting zones and a number pad. Just above the left-side of the keyboard are five shortcut buttons for tasks like launching Acer’s PredatorSense gaming software, or overclocking the processor. The shortcut and the power buttons are backlit as well, but aren’t included in personalized color schemes.  A touchpad is centered with the keyboard and not the laptop’s housing, making it easier to use, and has two physical buttons just beneath it.

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On the outside, the Helios 500’s design consists of various geometrical shapes and edges — particularly on the backside where part of the exhaust system is located. Also on the back is an HDMI 2.0 port, a full-sized Display Port, and the charging port.

The left side of the housing holds an ethernet port, a USB 3.0 ports that offers charging even when the laptop is closed, and two Thunderbolt ports. The Thunderbolt ports come in handy for connecting another display or an external hard drive, or heck, you could even using a USB-C cable to charge your phone. The right side has two more USB 3.0 ports and audio ports.

Overall, Acer provides a welcome selection of ports, and I’m referring to both the number, types, and locations. All the bases are covered, and they’re not all crammed onto one side or the back of the housing. After using laptops with all kinds of crazy port configurations, I’ve grown fond of the three-sided approach that Acer uses. It gives you options, and room to plug in a few peripherals on each side so that you don’t overload one side of your desk with cables and dongles. It’s a smart approach, and kudos to Acer for doing it right.

Acer Predator Helios 500 – Performance and Gaming

Prior to the Helios 500, I had only tested one laptop with an Intel Core i9 CPU, and it was a monsterthe MSI GT75 Titan. Beyond overall size, the biggest difference between the Helios 500 and the MSI GT75 Titan is that the GT75 boasted a GTX 1080 and 32GB of DDR4 memory, as opposed to the Helios’ GTX 1070 and 16GB of DDR4 memory. I didn’t include the GT75 Titan in the benchmark comparison chart for that reason. Instead, I’m comparing the Helios 500 to the Digital Storm Equinox, the ASUS ROG Zephyrus, the MSI GS65, and the all-new Razer Blade 15. All three feature an 8th generation Coffee Lake CPU, and although it’s the lower-clocked i7-8750H version, it’s still a six-core CPU.

As you can see in the results, the Helios 500 outperformed the other laptops by a decent margin, which isn’t that surprising since it is expensive, weights twice as much as them, and has a higher-end CPU and GPU. Still, it’s not that much more expensive, so you seem to be getting some horsepower in exchange for those extra dollars.

Also, there’s been a lot of attention about Intel’s Core i9 CPU and its use in a laptop chassis. Specifically, when it launched plenty of ink was spilled over its thermal throttling in Apple’s MacBook Pro. That issue was resolved with an update by Apple, but I wanted to see if there would be any throttling in this chassis. I used Intel’s Extreme Tuning Utility as it allows you to run a stress test on the CPU, and notifies you of any throttling in real-time.

In my tests there was some throttling, with a rough average of 3.7GHz under full load. This was the clock speed regardless of the Overclocking setting I selected in the PredatorSense app. Without the stress test running, and with Turbo CPU performance selected in the PredatorSense app, throttling didn’t occur until 4.3GHz, which is pretty good for a laptop.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about what really matters on a machine like this: Gaming.

Switching between Fortnite, PlayerUnknown’s Battleground (PUBG), I consistently saw performance over 100 frames per second. On PUBG, that number was over 130 fps throughout the entire match when on High settings. On Ultra settings, for both Fortnite and PUBG, I would see the frame counter hover around 120 fps.

The 144Hz display combined with persistently high frames per second provided an incredibly smooth experience overall. I failed to pick up on any stuttering or dropped frames as textures are rendered when dropping into a match. Color quality and saturation were spot on to my eyes.

At first, I played various matches with headphones and relied on the Helios 500’s speakers, and ultimately stuck to headphones only. The speakers are certainly loud, until the fans turn on in full force. Once that happens, only things like nearby gunshots and cars driving by can be heard. However the more delicate sounds like footsteps or someone building are overpowered.

That said, I do need to commend Acer for the cooling system in the Helios 500. When testing a laptop, I typically feel around the chassis to see if there are any hot spots. At no time during my use did I find a spot that was overly hot to the touch. That’s quite an accomplishment on a Core i9 laptop.

With 512GB of SSD storage, and another 2TB of hard drive storage, you have more than enough room to install a handful of games on the SSD, with more space for movie and music libraries on the hard drive.

Finally, one aspect I had to adjust to was the overall height of the keyboard. Since the Helios is 1.51-inches thick, it forced me to hold my wrists at an awkward angle for typing and gaming. Over the course of a few days, I was eventually acclimated to it, but it did give me a whole new appreciation for thinner gaming laptops beyond just portability.

Acer Predator Helios 500 – Battery Life

With great performance comes really bad battery life. That’s the saying, right? No? Well, it should be. The Helios 500 is supposed to have up to 3.5 hours of battery power, depending on the workload. My testing consisted of looping a movie until the laptop turns off, and it resulted in a measly 91 minutes of runtime. Most gaming laptops usually run for about two or three hours, though the Razer Blade 15 is the exception with its astonishing battery life. All that said, the Helios 500’s battery life is below average, and it’s a shame.

Acer Predator Helios 500 – Software

The Helios 500 isn’t immune to bloatware. Take Acer Jumpstart, as an example. This preinstalled app serves as little more than a web shortcut to the company’s IFA press conference. Seriously? There’s no need for that.

Norton Security is also installed, and it bugged me every few hours to renew my license, run a scan, or sign up for some random service. It’s annoying to have to deal with this on a $2,500 laptop, to say the least.

Outside of the bloatware, Acer’s PedatorSense software is also pre-installed. This is where you would go if you want to change the backlight colors, setup shortcuts for the dedicated shortcut keys found above the keyboard, change fan speeds, and view system stats such as temperature and CPU/GPU load.

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The lighting section of PredatorSense, as far as I can tell, doesn’t allow for lighting patterns. Instead, you can assign each of the four sections a specific color, and save each arrangement as a profile.

Overclocking the CPU and GPU is done through the aptly titled Overclocking section of PredatorSense. You can pick from Normal, Faster, and Turbo presets for both components. I rarely found myself using PredatorSense, other thank to check things out and for testing purposes. Outside of that, I would press one of the shortcut keys along the top to switch CPU performance modes and fan speed. Even then, that was seldom.

Purchasing Guide

This configuration of the Acer Predator Helios 500 has an MSRP of $2,499, and that’s generally what you’ll find it for online since it was recently released. There are other configurations for less money however, if you’re on a budget:

The Verdict

I really enjoyed using the Helios 500. From the display to overall performance, I can only think of small gripes, with the only major one being battery life. Overall it’s one of the most powerful laptops I’ve reviewed, and that’s saying a lot. Still, the Intel Core i9 model (with extra storage) is $500 more than the i7 version, which seems like a lot of money for what is likely to be not much of a boost in gaming, so be sure to consider that if you’re in the market.

SOURCE: IGN.com

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