Acer Predator Helios 500 PH517-61-R0GX Review
The all-new Acer Predator Helios 500 PH517-61-R0GX is the company’s new benchmark among big-screen gaming laptops. A high-end model with a big, blue body, the Helios 500 packs an AMD Ryzen 7 2700 (8-core) processor, Radeon RX Vega 56 graphics card and a bright 17.3-inch screen. While an antithesis of svelte Max-Q gaming-laptop design, this laptop remains a potent gamer with a strong supporting feature set at a reasonable price.
It promises greater-than-60fps 1080p gaming performance in demanding games, plus a 144Hz AMD FreeSync 1080p display, for almost half the price of a comparable Razer Blade 15. This Helios is big and weighty, so you won’t be carrying it a backpack often, but the design comes with a few advantages. For instance, the bigger chassis allow the machine to achieve its full performance potential by combining impressive thermals and full-power silicon.
Everything from the design to the price is an able effort, but our Editors’ Choice-wining machines from Asus and Razer have better polish, are more powerful, portable and versatile – and expensive, too.
More: Best laptops under $500
For once, we have a gaming laptop that doesn’t follow its competitors in its color scheme. Most gaming laptops come in black-and-red, but the Helios 500 sports a black finish with blue accents. Aside from the blue color scheme, everything else on the PH517-61-R0GX looks gamer-laptop standard. Unlike the Asus ROG Zephyrus S and the Razer Blade 15, the Helios 500’s outer shell is fully plastic, a design decision most that we consider a little disappointing in any laptop in this price range. In all fairness, a plastic chassis should be constrained to gaming systems that are less than half the cost of the Acer Helios 500.
It measures 1.5 by 16.9 by 11.7 inches (HWD), which is comparable in size to other 17-inch gaming notebooks, like the Alienware 17 R5 (1.18-by-16.7-by-13.1 inches), but at 8.82 pounds its almost a pound-lighter than the Alienware. If you’re looking to replace an aging desktop, the Predator 500’s size and packed power make it a formidable choice that you can occasionally lug to tournaments and the like.
For the big size, you benefit from profuse I/0 options. The right edge holds two USB 3.0 Type-A ports, separate headphone and microphone jacks and a Kensington lock slot. On the left flank, there are two USB Type-C 3.1/Thunderbolt 3 ports, an Ethernet jack, and a single USB 3.0 Type-A port. Then, on the rear of the machine you have more ports – HDMI and DisplayPort outputs. Thus, you can extend the screen by up to three displays via HDMI, DisplayPort and the USB Type-C port.
Notably missing is an SD-card slot which comes handy for media professionals who often use dSLR cameras and high-end camcorders, but need to transfer the extra loads to the laptop. Wireless connectivity comes in way of 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0, alongside wired Ethernet connection.
Another win on the Helios 500 is the speakers that produce quality audio that’s impressive and bassy enough to fill a room, and free of distortion when cranked all the way up. There’s also a 720p webcam right above the screen, in the center of the bezel. It works well for video conferencing, but it isn’t your usual high-resolution cam.
What’s been added to that big chassis? Well, the Helios 500 gets a full HD (1,920-BY-1,080-pixel), 17-inch matte display that supports two-notable premium features: AMD Radeon FreeSync, and a 144Hz refresh rate. For starters, this screen can display your games among other content, at up to 144Hz frames per second (fps), courtesy of the high refresh rate, and you won’t suffer from screen tearing if you activate FreeSync.
In gaming, tearing is a common form of distortion that manifests when a display tries to write a new frame to the screen before the previous one has fully written, resulting in a screen with mismatched halves. When enabled, either AMD FreeSync or Nvidia G-Sync allow a screen’s refresh rate scale up and down in tandem with the frame rate that the graphics chip is putting out, thereby reducing the tearing issue.
Keyboard and Touchpad
On the keyboard, the directional-arrow and WASD keys are bordered with blue paint job that easily sets them apart. On the upper deck, near the hinges, you find a row of dedicated hotkeys that you can program to any function of your choice, including auto-overclocking.
Also, there is key backlighting that lets you change the lighting hues in the machine’s built-in PredatorSense software, but the entire keyboard and touchpad have a blue haze backlight by default, which also extends to the six hotkeys and the power button. However, the keyboard doesn’t offer per-key programmable lighting, instead, you have four-zone RGB backlighting that you can customize from a palette of 16.8 million colors.
As expected, the feel of the keyboard doesn’t disappoint at all. Acer uses a membrane keyboard here, but it still offers deep and satisfying key presses, and for a moment you’d think the Predator Helios 500 uses mechanical switches.
The model we’re reviewing is among the first Helios 500 to deviate from Intel and Nvidia hardware. Instead, it is fully powered by AMD’s high-end components, and it will sure give its Intel competitors a strong chase. It boasts an AMD Ryzen 7-2700 desktop-level processor, an eight-core, 16-thread processor which has a base clock of 3.7GHz and can perk all the way to 4.3GHz when Turbo Boost kicks in. The AMD Radeon RX Vega 56 graphics processor is backed by 8GB of HBM2 memory.
This is a solid configuration, that easily competes with Intel’s Core i7-8700K CPU found in gaming desktops such as the Dell Alienware Aurora and iBUYPOWER Pro Trace 928770, both high-end gaming rigs with solid gaming and productivity scores.
With such a powerful CPU and a capable graphics card, the Predator Helios 500 stands out as a perfect desktop-replacement laptop, that you can use for complex productivity tasks like media creation, Photoshop and gaming at the same time. Moreover, the Acer Predator Helios 500 has a 256GB PCI Express NVMe solid-state drive (SSD). Its 16GB of RAM is standard for a midrange or high-end gaming laptop in 2019.
So much for the core components, gaming performance gets a boost too. Powerful as it is, the Helios 500 fares well on modern games over its meatier competition, some of which use pepper CPUs or GeForce GTX 1080 graphics chips. It garners an average of 122 fps on Fortnite played at 1080p, High settings, but it slows a tad to 109 fps in Ultra settings. In Grand Theft Auto V, at Medium settings, the Helios 500 earned an average frame rate of 103fps, as opposed to 82fps at the High graphics setting.
This would be academic on a 60Hz screen, where the highest frame rate that can be displayed is 60fps. But, this being a 144Hz screen, the goal (for those gamers opting for this machine specifically for that feature) is to target the highest frame rate possible.
While you can’t really overclock the AMD Ryzen 7 CPU (only the Core i9 version of this machine comes with an unlocked CPU), the Helios 500 has a built in PredatorSense software that does make it easy to overclock the GPU when required. It usually has three overclock modes – Normal, Faster, and Turbo, through which you can crank up to better fps. On this machine, PredatorSense software lets you control and customize your gaming experience, from lighting, fan speed to game profiles.
Even with the playable frame rates, rarely will you bump up a game against the Helios 500’s 144Hz refresh rate display. Most games will be around 60-130 fps, but less demanding non-AAA games should see frame rates above 144fps even without tweaking the settings.
The Acer Predator Helios 500 is rightly a desktop replacement, and that’s more clear down to its battery life which is rather short. It clocks round 2 hours 46 minutes, which is way below the Alienware 17 R5’s equally-ho-hum 3 hours 58 minutes. Just picture yourself trying to work from a bar or coffee shop from this behemoth, then you discover they don’t have power outlets. A battery life south of 3 hours is hard to swallow for any laptop, especially one that the manufacturer touts for having “long battery life”.
The Acer Predator Helios 500 strays from the trend of lighter and leaner, but compensates with high performance and excellent GPU performance in a big 17-inch 144Hz screen. It has a lot going for it, despite having an economical plastic chassis that would feel nicer if it were a metal alloy (or even a metal cover on the outside), but the blue haze scheme is much welcome.
Is there a better alternative?
For the on-the-go who requires a 17-inch screen but not willing to sacrifice battery life and graphics, the Dell Alienware 17 R5 is an easy choice to recommend over the Helios 500. Of course, on a number of circumstances, like preference of the aesthetics of one over the other. However, Dell’s same-screen-size competing Alienware costs slight more, while the lower-cost configuration on the Alienware 17 R5 only gets a 60Hz screen, instead of the Helios 500’s 144Hz display.
On the other hand, if you need the same 17.3-inch, 144Hz display in a thin, portable laptop, the MSI GL73 9SDK-219 is an excellent buy. In addition to the 144Hz screen, you get a 9th Generation Intel Core i7-9750H CPU, Nvidia’s GTX 1660 Ti graphics card, 16GB RAM and a 512GB NVMe SSD.
Again, the company offers a 15.6-inch alternative that promises even better performance and portability for around the same price. The Acer Predator Triton 500 is a thin and light gaming laptop with the same blue color scheme, but pack a punch thanks to an Intel Core i7-9750H processor, Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 GPU, A Full HD 144Hz (3ms) IPS display, 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD. It remains our Editors’ Choice for midrange gaming laptops.
Should you buy it?
Yes. If you need a big, widescreen gaming laptop that strays from the trend of black and red color scheme in favor of high performance and solid GPU performance, the Acer Predator Helios 500 PH517-61-R0GX offers better bang for the buck than most competing 17-inch gaming laptops out there.
The Acer Predator Helios 500 PH517-61-R0GX offers better bang for the buck than most competing 17-inch gaming laptops out there, with strong gaming and productivity performance. It offers better bang for the buck than most competing 17-inch gaming laptops out there.
- Good value given components and panel
- 144Hz FreeSync display
- Full-power AMD Radeon RX Vega 56 (8GB) graphics
- Top-end gaming performance at 1080p
- All-plastic finish
- Short battery life