Lots of laptop companies claim that their systems are great deals, but Acer is actually putting its money where its mouth is — and with a gaming laptop, no less. The Acer Predator Helios 300 offers a powerful, VR-ready Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU for a lower price than competitors and runs circles around the GTX 1050 Ti cards that competing laptops use at that price. It’s upgradable, should you want to spend more to improve it later, but the display is dimmer than I’d like. But if you don’t mind that, you’ll get a powerful gaming notebook for a steal.
The Predator’s aluminum-and-plastic design doesn’t stray far from the look of Acer’s other budget gaming notebooks; its black, metal lid has two red stripes flanking the Predator logo. There’s a small plastic bumper on the top of the lid that feels far cheaper than the aluminum that surrounds it.
When you lift the lid, you’ll find the 15.6-inch, 1080p display, surrounded by a bezel that has the Predator logo on the bottom and the Acer logo on the top-left corner. That second logo is distracting, and I wish Acer had the confidence to let the Predator brand stand on its own, the way Dell does with Alienware and Asus does with its Republic of Gamers line. There’s also a full keyboard with a number pad utilizing red backlighting and red WASD keys, as well as a black, metal deck.
At 5.5 pounds and 15.4 x 10.5 x 1.5 inches, the Predator Helios 300 is a little larger than other mainstream gaming notebooks but also just a tad lighter.
The 15.6-inch, 1080p display on the Predator is sharp but otherwise lackluster. When I watched the trailer for Marvel’s Inhumans, Medusa’s red hair didn’t pop against her lavender dress, and bright lights overpowered both Black Bolt and Medusa in a scene together. It wasn’t as bright as I would have liked, but it was perfectly usable.
I had a similar experience in Mass Effect: Andromeda. In dark areas, I wished I could bump up the brightness, but in lighter parts of the game, I could see fine. Some fires during a space battle looked more orange than red, but it otherwise looked accurate.
The Predator’s display covers 81 percent of the sRGB color gamut, surpassing the Legion (68 percent) but falling below the 15-inch laptop average (94 percent), the Strix (122 percent) and the Leopard Pro (165 percent).
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Predator’s keyboard is comfortable, but I wish it felt more responsive. The keys have 1.6 millimeters of vertical travel, so I never felt as if I were bottoming out. But the keys require 79 grams of pressure to actuate, which kept them from feeling light and clicky. It didn’t take long to get used to the extra pressure, though, and I typed at 109 words per minute (within my usual 107-115-wpm range) with my standard 2 percent error rate).
There are a few oddities on the keyboard. The Shift key and the top arrow key are very close together — far closer than any other two keys on the keyboard — and the right arrow key takes up some space in the number pad. Unlike the keyboard on the similarly priced Strix, the Predator’s keyboard is backlit only in red; it doesn’t have full RGB lighting.
The 4.1 x 3-inch touchpad is spacious, accurate and responsive to Windows 10 gestures; I had no problem pinching to zoom or swiping my Windows away. I had to click a bit harder than I usually expect to, though for games, most players use a dedicated gaming mouse anyway.
The Predator is armed with a 2.8-GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive, which is more than enough for some serious multitasking. I had 30 tabs open in Chrome while I watched a 1080p stream on Twitch, and didn’t see any lag.
On the Geekbench 4 overall performance test, the Predator notched a score of 13,587, overcoming the mainstream average (10,675) and the rest of the pack. The Legion earned a score of 13,037, the Strix reached 12,253 and the Leopard Pro achieved 12,147.
Acer’s TrueHarmony speakers are nice and loud, just how I like them. When I listened to Zedd and Alessia Cara’s “Stay,” the computer pumped the song from wall to wall of our midsize meeting room, producing clear vocals, synths and drums. The bass wasn’t as strong as I would have liked, though.
When I played Mass Effect: Andromeda, I could clearly hear the lasers in the middle of a space battle, and chatter with teammates was loud and clear.
Configurations and Value
The Predator Helios 300 we reviewed was the base model, which has a 2.8-GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ CPU, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU with 6GB of VRAM, 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD.
It’s remarkably easy to upgrade. On the bottom are two doors — each secured by a single screw — to access the memory and the drive bay.