Acer pulls a Crocodile Dundee with the Predator Helios 500: “You call it a gaming laptop? This is a gaming laptop.” If you like 80s movies, you’ll understand what we’re talking about; if not, we’re sorry.
Acer also ignores all modern design trends in this area. The Predator Helios 500 is not at all small, it weighs a tonne (luckily not literally), and there are no oddball secondary displays, which usually seem a bit worthless.
The Predator Helios 500 is a laptop that is entirely dedicated to gaming. As a result, it’s quite good at what it does. Its performance is outstanding, the keyboard is excellent, the thermal control is excellent, and the screen is about as modern as laptop displays, even if far higher refresh rates are available for less.
However, most people will be put off by the price. In this configuration, the Helios 500 costs around $4,000. Yah ha. That’s so much money that we’ll have to forget about it for most of this review, or we’ll end up referencing it every other phrase.
- Dimensions: 400 x 319.2 x 35.30mm / Weight: 3.90 kg
- Abyss Black color scheme
The Predator Helios 500 is a gaming laptop designed for commuting between rooms at most. It weighs about 4kg and is 35mm thick. Stuff’s just not pleasant to move around.
However, we must remember that this is not a flexing exercise on Acer’s behalf. The better the cooling system a laptop can afford, the thicker and heavier it may be.
However, there is some flexing happening elsewhere. This year has seen many gaming laptops begin to reduce RGB highlights and typical aggressive ‘gamer’ design themes, but the Acer Helios 500 is full of them.
The lid features a huge light-up Predator emblem, the heat outlet on the back resembles something ripped from a flashy sports vehicle, and there are way more illuminated pieces than are necessary. The RGB illumination on the keyboard is a given, but there’s also a bright strip on the front edge, an illuminated ring around the touchpad, and extra LED strips on the sides and back.
It’s similar to a portable fairground ride. We’re more interested in how gaming laptops feel and function, but to Acer’s credit, these RGB elements certainly look nice if you’re into that sort of thing. There is no bleed, no noticeable variation in the light level, and the colors are bright.
The Predator Sense app on the Helios 500 also allows you to customize their behavior completely. There are five separate control sets, and five zones, allowing you to select a pretty crazy profile, for example, the side and front parts, and a logical static profile for the keyboard. You may make it as tasteless as you like.
The foundations of the Acer Helios 500’s design are well known. Its lid is made of aluminum, while the remainder is made of strong plastic, giving Acer better control over where the heat from the internals ends up because plastic conducts heat slower than aluminum.
- 17.3-inch Mini LED IPS panel
- 770 nits max brightness
- 3840 x 2160 resolution
The design of this laptop takes popular gaming laptop cliches and amplifies some of them. On the other hand, the screen employs fascinating new technology: it’s one of the first Mini LED laptops we’ve tried.
You may be familiar with this technology from Apple’s high-end iPad Pro tablets. These panels employ a greater number of tiny backlight LEDs that are zoned. The Helios 500, according to Acer, has 512 of these.
Each zone has independent control over its backlight power, which means that the brightest part of the image does not have to determine the overall display’s black level. It’s a cool feature that significantly improves gaming laptops’ high dynamic range (HDR) potential, which was previously almost non-existent. Read Also; ASUS ROG is releasing a new line of gaming laptops and accessories.
We put the Acer Helios 500 through its paces with a few videos of bright objects floating around a black screen, and unlike some of the most expensive Samsung TVs, the halo effect is quite visible. This is when the backlight zone is significantly larger than the bright area the display needs to render, resulting in a glow around high-contrast areas. However, it is not a major issue for gaming, and keep in mind that we are dealing with new technology.
FALD, or full array local dimming, has long been available on televisions but not laptops. As a result, if you’re a fan of black levels, you’ll prefer an OLED display over this.
The Helios 500’s mini LED panel has a high peak brightness. It’s rough twice as bright as the average high-end gaming laptop, reaching 670 nits or 770 nits when Windows’ HDR mode is enabled (as measured by us). Because the screen is so bright, it can be uncomfortable to look at in a dimly lit room.
When you combine that power with fantastic color coverage (nearly 100% of DCI P3) and the sharpness of a 4K resolution panel, you have one of the best gaming laptop displays ever.
It’s not perfect right now. The screen on the Predator Helios 500 is based on IPS LCD technology, so even with Mini LED backlight zones, the black level is not ultra-deep. An OLED laptop will look better if you play in a dark room.
It also has a lower refresh rate, at 120Hz, than many gaming laptops. When testing motion with the Acer Helios 500 and the 165Hz HP Omen 16, the HP clearly resolves fast motion better. We don’t entirely attribute this to the refresh rate because the speed at which the pixels can change state is just as important. Acer claims a 3ms response time, but this screen clearly does not have the fastest pixels in town.
Some areas will see improvements as the underlying technology matures. However, for the time being, this is one of the best laptop gaming screens available.
Keyboard and touchpad
- 3.1mm key travel
- Interchangeable WSAD keycaps
- Plastic touchpad with separated mouse buttons
The keyboard on the Predator Helios 500 is excellent. It has a lot of travel (for a laptop) to provide accurate feedback as you type, just like the best extra-large laptops. Or, at the very least, press the WSAD keys.
It’s quiet, the RGB lighting provides per-key control and looks great, and there’s a full Numpad, as you can see. You also get aluminum caps for the WSAD and arrow keys to give them a different look and feel.
Is this the best laptop keyboard available? That award could go to Alienware’s mechanical keyboard, found in some Alienware M17X models. But we’re not going to complain about Acer’s.
On the other hand, the touchpad on the Helios 500 is a little more basic, despite a rectangle of RGB lighting skirting its border. This is a small plastic pad; strangely, Acer didn’t use a glass one in a laptop this expensive.
It’s still comfortable, and the separate mouse buttons beneath the pad provide excellent semi-clicky feedback. However, like most gaming laptop pads, it appears to be designed with the expectation that you will use a separate mouse most of the time. Read More; Dell Updates Precision Laptops With Intel, Nvidia Hardware
Predator Laptop Performance
- Intel Core i9-11980HK processor, 32GB DDR4 RAM
- 2x 1TB PCIe 4.0 SSDs, RAID 0 array
- Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 16GB GPU
Acer sent us the same specifications as some popular UK retailers – for £3999 (approximately $5,400 at the time of writing). It has an Intel Core i9-11980HK processor, 32GB RAM, and two 1TB SSDs arranged in a RAID 0 array, resulting in a ridiculously fast read speed of 13GB per second when tested.
The real star, however, is the Nvidia RTX 3080. With 16GB of RAM, this is a high-end laptop graphics card. Continuing the trend of going overboard with the hardware, the Helios 500 comes with two XL-size power adapters to maximize performance.
These are required to activate the Turbo mode, accessed via a button above the keyboard. This isn’t the CPU’s turbo mode. When needed, Intel’s chipsets dip in and out of turbo mode. Instead, it drains extra power from the RTX 3080 and cranks up the fans to full speed.
This increases the power delivered to the graphics card from around 120W to around 150W – though we did see brief peaks above that. This laptop should be able to push the RTX 3080 up to 165W, but we couldn’t get it to do so using the standard modes, even when playing a game that was so demanding that frame rates dropped below 20fps.
Control is that game, and it is still one of the most punishing games available. With ray-tracing high and resolution boosted to 4K using Nvidia DLSS, the Predator Helios 500 can play it at around 55-60fps at 1080p. That may not sound particularly impressive, but disabling ray-tracing will yield better results in the 70+fps range.
This is one of the most powerful gaming laptops, competing for percentage points with the best from Alienware and Asus. It does highlight how far the latest laptop graphics cards lag behind desktop counterparts, with a roughly 40% performance difference here compared to the desktop-grade 3080.
It also begs why the Helios 500 requires 660W of power supply shoved up its backside. The Lenovo Legion 7 with an RTX 3080 can achieve comparable GPU Wattage draw with a single adapter. Perhaps Acer intends to release a plug-in cup warmer that will allow you to brew a cup of tea while you play. It has plenty of room for overclocking, but the power limit seems excessive.
That’s enough sass for now because the Acer Helios 500’s cooling system more than compensates for the laptop’s size. When playing games, there is no discernible thermal throttling because Helios does an excellent job of removing heat before it becomes a problem. Read; HP Spectre x360 Battery Replacement (2022)
After 40 minutes of working the RTX 3080 in Auto mode, which keeps fan speeds very quiet even under load, there was only a slight warmth to parts of the keyboard. On the other hand, the high-performance Turbo mode is quite noisy and should be reserved for when you’re wearing a headset.
Predator Laptop Battery life
- 4-cell battery (Whr unspecified)
- Wi-Fi 6
- Thunderbolt 4
The Acer Helios 500 is powered by a ‘4-cell’ battery. Acer does not specify the Watt-hour rating on its specifications page, but it is unimportant. This laptop is designed for speed rather than durability.
According to our testing, the battery will last approximately 45 minutes while playing games, even though performance is limited when not plugged in. When playing back the video, it takes 116 minutes.
This seemed so bad that we tried the Predator Helios 500 again, with the screen dimmed and power saving mode enabled. It was then 145 minutes long. Still bad, but not surprising.
The speakers are above average for a gaming laptop but not quite up to the standards of the best lifestyle laptops. The maximum volume is adequate, but there isn’t much low-frequency power here.
The Helios 500’s connections are arranged along the sides of the laptop – no ports on the back this time – but you get almost everything you’re likely to need. There are two Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports, three USB-A ports, HDMI, DisplayPort, Ethernet, and 3.5mm headphone/mic inputs.
Our Quick Take
In several ways, the Acer Helios Predator 500 is a heavyweight laptop. It’s large and heavy, has some of the best specs available in a laptop, and costs a fortune.
It’s overkill for most people, not because we believe you should all be content with Full HD at 30 frames per second. A predator laptop like the Lenovo Legion 7 can provide comparable performance for nearly half the price, which is insane.
The Helios 500 is probably the best choice for those who want to try overclocking their laptop’s graphics processor, as the thermal performance we see here suggests there’s plenty of room for that. It’s quite the beast.