The Predator Helios 500 sees Acer ‘pull a Crocodile Dundee’: “You call that a gaming laptop? This is a gaming laptop”. You’ll know what we’re on about if you’re a fan of 80s movies; if not then, well, sorry.
Acer ignores all the recent design trends in this area too. The Predator Helios 500 is not remotely thin, it weighs a tonne (not literally, thankfully), and there are no quirky secondary displays – which usually seem a bit pointless anyway.
The Predator Helios 500 is a laptop 100 per cent focused on one thing: gaming. And as such, it’s kind of brilliant at its craft. Its performance is excellent, the keyboard is great, thermal control is top-notch and the screen is about as advanced as laptop displays get, even if you can get far higher refresh rates for less money.
However, price will be the real stumbling block for most. The Helios 500 in this config costs just about four grand. Yah ha. That’s so much cash that we’re just going to have to largely forget the cost for most of this review or we’d end up mentioning it every other sentence.
- Dimensions: 400 x 319.2 x 35.30mm / Weight: 3.90 kg
- Abyss Black colour scheme
The Predator Helios 500 is a gaming laptop made for, at most, transport between rooms. It weighs almost 4kg and is 35mm thick. Moving it around just isn’t fun.
However, we always need to remember this isn’t a flexing exercise on Acer’s part. The thicker and heavier a laptop can be, the better a cooling system it can afford to use.
There is some flexing going on elsewhere, though. This year we’ve seen a lot of gaming laptops start to cut back on RGB highlights and classic aggressive ‘gamer’ design motifs, but the Acer Helios 500 is full of such things.
The lid has a prominent light-up Predator logo, the heat outlet on the back looks like something ripped of a gaudy sports car, and there are far more lit parts than is really necessary. The keyboard has an RGB backlight, which is a given, but there’s also a bright strip on the front edge, a lit ring around the touchpad, and additional LED strips on the sides and back.
It’s like a portable fairground ride. We’re more interested in the how gaming laptops feel to use, and how they perform but – credit to Acer – these RGB elements do look good if you’re into this kind of thing. There’s no bleed, no obvious inconsistency in the light level, and their colours are vibrant.
The Helios 500’s Predator Sense app also lets you customise their behaviour comprehensively. There are five different sets of controls, five zones, letting you choose a pretty wild profile for, say, the side and front sections, and a sensible static one for the keyboard. It can be tasteless as you like.
The fundamentals of the Acer Helios 500’s construction are familiar. Its lid is aluminium, the rest is tough plastic, which grants Acer more control over where the heat from the internals ends up, because plastic conducts heat less quickly than aluminium.
- 17.3-inch Mini LED IPS panel
- 770 nits max brightness
- 3840 x 2160 resolution
This laptop’s design takes familiar gaming laptop tropes and amps some of them up a bit. The screen uses exciting new tech, though: it’s one of the first Mini LED laptops we’ve tested.
You may know this tech from Apple’s top-end iPad Pro tablets. These panels use many more, smaller backlight LEDs that are grouped into zones. Acer says there are 512 of them in the Helios 500.
Each zone has independent control over its backlight power, meaning the brightest part of the image doesn’t have to determine the black level of the entire display. It is a neat feature that dramatically improves the high dynamic range (HDR) potential of gaming laptops, which up until now has been pretty much nil.
We tested the Acer Helios 500 with a few videos of bright objects floating around a black screen and, unlike some of the very latest ultra-pricey Samsung TVs, the ‘halo’ effect is quite obvious. This is where the backlight zone is a good bit larger than the bright area the display needs to render, resulting in a glow around areas of high contrast. But it’s not a huge issue for gaming and let’s remember we’re dealing with new tech here.
TVs have had FALD – or full array local dimming – for ages, but laptops have not. As such, if you’re a black-level fiend, then you’ll prefer an OLED display over this.
Peak brightness is a primary benefit of the Helios 500’s mini LED panel. It’s around twice at bright as the average high-end gaming laptop, reaching 670 nits or 770 nits when you switch on Windows’s HDR mode (as measured by us). This is so bright the screen can be uncomfortable to look at in a dimly lit room.
Add that power to fantastic colour coverage (almost 100 per cent of DCI P3) and the sharpness of a 4K resolution panel and you have one of the best gaming laptop displays ever on your hands.
Now, it’s not perfect. The Predator Helios 500’s screen is based around IPS LCD tech, so even with Mini LED’s backlight zones on hand, the black level is not ultra-deep. If you play in a dark room, an OLED laptop will look better.
It also has a slower refresh rate than a lot of gaming laptops, at 120Hz. Using the Acer Helios 500 side-by-side with the 165Hz HP Omen 16 for some motion testing, the HP clearly resolves fast motion better. We don’t actually put this entirely down to the refresh rate, as the speed at which the pixels can change their state is just as important. Acer claims 3ms, but this screen clearly doesn’t have the fastest-reacting pixels in town.
There are some areas that will see improvements as the underlying tech matures. But for now this is still among the best screens for laptop gaming you can get.
Keyboard and touchpad
- 3.1mm key travel
- Interchangeable WSAD key caps
- Plastic touchpad with separated mouse buttons
The Predator Helios 500 has a great keyboard. Like those of the best extra-large laptops, it offers masses of travel (for a laptop) to provide proper feedback as you type. Or at least tap on the WSAD keys.
It’s quiet, the RGB lighting offers per-key control and looks great, and as you can see there’s a full Numpad. You also get supplementary aluminium caps for the WSAD and arrow keys, for a different look and feel.
Is it the best laptop keyboard going? That gong may go to Alienware’s mechanical keyboard, used in some Alienware M17X models. But we’re not going to gripe about Acer’s one.
The Helios 500’s touchpad is a little more basic, however, even if there is a rectangle of RGB lighting skirting around its border. This is a relatively small plastic pad, and it frankly seems a bit weird Acer did not use a glass one in a laptop this expensive.
It still feels good, and the separate mouse buttons below the pad offer great semi-clicky feedback. But like most gaming laptop pads, it seems to be designed under the expectation you’ll use a separate mouse most of the time.
- Intel Core i9-11980HK processor, 32GB DDR4 RAM
- Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 16GB GPU
- 2x 1TB PCIe 4.0 SSDs, RAID 0 array
Acer sent us the same spec you’ll find in some popular UK retailers – for a cool £3999 (which is like $5,400 equivalent 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, so that when you try to test their read speeds you get a downright ridiculous result of 13GB per second.
The Nvidia RTX 3080 is the real star, though. This is a top-end laptop graphics card, with 16GB RAM. Continuing the trend of just about going overboard with the hardware, the Helios 500 actually comes with two XL-size power adapters to get the best performance from it.
You need these to turn on the Turbo mode, accessed using a button above the keyboard. This isn’t the turbo of the CPU. Intel’s chipsets dip in and out of their turbo capability when needed. Instead it sucks extra power from the RTX 3080 and sets the fans to full blast.
This takes you from delivering around 120W to the graphics card to around 150W – although we did see very brief peaks above that. Apparently this laptop should be able to take the RTX 3080 to 165W, but we couldn’t get it to do so using the standard modes, even when playing a game so taxing the frame rates were down below 20fps.
That game is Control, which is still one of the most punishing titles around. The Predator Helios 500 lets you play it at around 55-60fps at 1080p with ray-tracing set to high, and resolution boosted to 4K using Nvidia DLSS. That may not sound too impressive, but you’ll see much better results in the 70+fps range if you disable ray-tracing.
This is among the most powerful gaming laptops around, duking it out for a percentage point here and there with the best from Alienware and Asus. It is a reminder of quite how much the latest laptop graphics cards lag behind the desktop kind, though – there being a roughly 40 per cent performance difference here compared to the desktop-grade 3080.
It also makes us question why the Helios 500 really needs 660W of power supply shoved up its rear. The Lenovo Legion 7 with an RTX 3080 can reach similar Wattage draw from the GPU with a single adapter. Perhaps Acer plans on releasing a plug-in cup warmer that can boil you a cup of tea while you play. It offers plenty of headroom for overclocking, but the power ceiling still seems excessive.
That’s enough sass for now, though, because the Acer Helios 500’s cooling system pretty much justifies the laptop’s bulk. There’s no perceptible thermal throttling when playing games because Helios does a great job of evacuating heat before it can pose a problem.
When using the Auto mode, which keeps fan speeds very quiet even under strain, there was just a slight warmth to parts of the keyboard after a good 40 minutes of giving the RTX 3080 a workout. The ultra-performance Turbo mode is pretty noisy, though, so is best left for times when you’re wearing a headset.
Battery life and features
- 4-cell battery (Whr unspecified)
- Thunderbolt 4
- Wi-Fi 6
The Acer Helios 500 has a ‘4-cell’ battery. Acer doesn’t specify the Watt-hour rating on its specs page, but it doesn’t matter really. This laptop is made for performance, not longevity.
According to our testing the battery will last around 45 minutes when playing games, even though the performance is capped when not plugged in. Or a dismal 116 minutes when playing back video.
This seemed so dreadful we gave the Predator Helios 500 another go with the screen a little dimmer, and the power saving mode turned on. It then lasted 145 minutes. Still bad, but it’s no surprise.
The speakers are above average for a gaming laptop, but still not close to the best lifestyle laptops. Maximum volume is good, but there just isn’t much lower-frequency power here.
All the Helios 500’s connections are arrayed along the laptop’s sides – none on the back this time – but you get just about everything you’re likely to need. There are a couple of Thunderbolt 4 USB-Cs, three USB-A ports, HDMI, DisplayPort, Ethernet, and headphone/mic 3.5mm inputs.