The field for entry-level gaming laptops is a vicious battleground: Legions fighting Predators with Blades, while Strixes and Stealths circle overhead. Modern graphics chips provide more power to affordable machines than ever, and Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1660 Ti GPU, in particular, provides great bang for your buck. That’s what powers Acer Predator Helios 300. Its $1,199.99-as-tested price stretches the definition of a budget laptop, but the high frame rates and the features this laptop packs rival those of midrange models that cost hundreds more. In the end, gaming laptops are about gaming, and the budget tier is about value. The Helios 300 hits both of those marks better than any competitor on the market right now, earning our Editors’ Choice for entry-level gaming laptops. Let us discuss about the latest Acer Predator Helios 300.
Entry-Level Pricing Conceals a Powerhouse Acer Predator Helios 300
The Helios 300’s design isn’t quite premium-laptop quality, but it’s visually restraining, and physically solid for the price. Acer went with its relatively new black-and-teal color scheme—an improvement on the overdone red-and-black combo used in the 2018 model, to my eyes—and opt out of any flashy, garish aesthetic choices.
The lid is the most partisan part, with the word “Predator” and a logo dripping gaming attitude. They’re pretty small, though, and some teal muscle lines moderate the look.
The chassis itself is sturdy, with a metal lid and keyboard deck that adds a quality touch. The screen bezels and the underside are plastic, so you don’t get a super-premium, wraparound-metal feel, but it’s fine at this price. The dimensions are a similar compromise: The body measures 0.9 by 14.2 by 10 inches (HWD) and weighs 5.1 pounds. It’s not overly slim or too thick, nor is it particularly light or heavy, for a 15.6-inch-screened gamer. Again, for the price: a “good enough” build.
In fact, it stacks up nicely to the competition. The Dell G5 15 SE, a less-expensive budget gaming laptop, measures 0.95 by 14.3 by 10.8 inches and weighs 6 pounds, a heftier proposition. Our last-generation Editors’ Choice, the Lenovo Legion Y530, came in at 0.95 by 14.4 by 10.2 inches and 5.1 pounds, very close to the Helios 300. The Y530 was just $1,029 in our test model and had a slightly nicer design, but since we praised that system for its size, the Predator earns the same kudos. Our Editors’ Choice among midrange gaming models, the $1,699 MSI GS65 Stealth, measures just 0.69 by 15.1 by 10.2 inches and 4.4 pounds. It includes very similar internal components; the extra money gains you much better portability.
The screen bezels on this laptop are thinner than those on most gaming laptops of the past few years, but not as thin as they come. Trimmer bezels let manufacturers fit traditional-size screens into smaller overall footprints, and, of course, they also look sleeker. The new Helios 300’s side bezels are pretty thin, but the top and bottom ones aren’t. It’s a partway transition, versus what we have seen on many other (admittedly, often pricier) systems.
The display nestled between those bezels is average-quality. The resolution of Acer Predator Helios 300 is 1080p/full HD (1,920 by 1,080 pixels), and it’s a high-refresh gaming panel. Acer Predator Helios 300 features a 144Hz top refresh rate, as well as a 3ms response time with overdrive. These are gaming-focused features, and the 1080p native resolution is the right pick for the graphics chip (more on that below).
Visually, the picture is good enough, if not remarkable. It’s roughly what you’d expect from an average laptop, with fine sharpness and colors, no more and no less. A matte finish cuts down on annoying reflectivity. At this price, it’s a win if the screen isn’t a demerit, and the Helios 300 provides a serviceable display with useful gaming features.
Last but not least for the physical build: the keyboard and touchpad. Both are surprisingly good, particularly the keyboard. It has a balanced amount of key travel with a satisfying bounce, making for a pleasant typing experience. Our tester unit, sold on Amazon, has only blue key backlighting as an option. Other models allow for multicolor lighting that is customizable by zone. As for the touchpad, the surface is made of plastic, but it doesn’t have that rough texture that tends to lend a distinctly “budgety” feel. The action is responsive and smooth, so it feels less cheap than what’s on our pricey Dell G7 15 model, even if it’s not one of the nicer, glass-surfaced touchpads found on premium laptops like the Razer Blade 15.
That Dell G7 model, incidentally, is a rival of the Helios 300’s, and indeed, a big takeaway is that the Helios 300’s whole build exhibits the inverse of the Dell G7 15’s main issue: The G7 15 is a machine with a budget-feel build that Dell lets you up-configure pretty far, making it feel cheap at higher configurations. The Helios 300’s build is above-average quality at the starting price, so it scales just fine as a pricier laptop if you opt for a loftier configuration.
Rounding out the feature set are some software goodies. The laptop comes with Acer’s PredatorSense software suite, which includes component-temperature monitoring, fan control, and per-game settings profiles. Also in the mix is GPU “overclocking”—the scare quotes there because you’re really choosing between normal, fast, and extreme clock-speed presets rather than manually overclocking the GPU.
A dedicated button (it has the Predator logo on it) above the number pad will bring up the PredatorSense software, but you can just access it through your desktop, too. Similarly, a Turbo button on the top left corner of the system switches the fan speeds from automatic to maximum, but you can do this manually in the software, and set custom speeds.
Ports and Configurations Acer Predator Helios 300
The Helios 300 is well-equipped with ports, packing a little bit of everything and all of it practical. The left flank holds two USB 3.0 ports, an Ethernet jack, and a headset jack. The opposite side has another USB 3.0, a Type-C USB 3.1, a mini DisplayPort connection, and a full-size HDMI out.
There are multiple configurations for this model, and you should pay close attention if you’re browsing through Acer’s site. Last year’s version is still being sold, most easily identifiable by the red-and-black color scheme. The exact unit we’re reviewing here, model PH315-52-78VL, is included on Acer’s list of configurations but is sold only through Amazon. The others are sold either directly through Acer, or through some combination of retailers (such as Amazon or Newegg).
With our $1,199.99 model, you get an Intel Core i7-9750H processor, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti graphics, 16GB of memory, and a 256GB boot SSD. The other 15-inch models include various combinations of component options, such as a 512GB SSD (along with the zonal key lighting) and/or GeForce RTX 2060 graphics. Acer also offers some 17-inch versions of this laptop, which can take up to a GeForce RTX 2070 and 32GB of memory. All units share the same display and processor.
The Helios 300 is the best bang for your buck in this price range right now, and it competes well with midrange machines closer to $2,000 than $1,000. Though it’s at the outer edge of what we’d call budget pricing, this is today’s best budget-gamer value if you can swing a little extra dough.