Helios, Triton... Acer has made it a habit to give his gaming laptops the names of Greek gods. Does this divine inspiration bode well? We will try to answer in this test of the Predator Helios 300 model.
Where the Helios 500 and 700 models are more like semi-nomadic play stations that will rarely be moved due to their size, our Helios 300 intends to offer a slightly more versatile experience around a relatively compact 15" format. However, we remain on a performance-oriented machine, as evidenced by the Predator logo and the sound of a Formula 1 engine that welcomes us when the PC is switched on. In fact, our test copy includes nothing less than a solid trio of components, including Core i7-9750H, RTX 2060 and DDR4 memory 2666 MHz (16 GB).
Performance and versatility, therefore, should be the two pillars around which this Predator Helios 300 will be structured. Two pillars whose solidity will depend to a great extent on the cooling system, as we will discover.
- Horses under the hood
- Easy disassembly of the chassis
- No silent operation mode
- The chassis that heats up a lot
- 2.5 inch slot present but not usable
- Display with questionable quality and limited to 60 Hz
- No SD card reader
Acer Predator Helios 300 Review
Last week, we were very amicably mocking the unadventurous design of the MSI GE 65. Acer does not do much better with its Predator Helios 300. The manufacturer uses visual codes that have already been seen 1,000 times: a plain black dress enhanced by a few simple or raised highlights, back vents with sharp edges and aggressiveness, and several backlit elements. The logo on the back of the screen glows with a pale blue glow, while the keyboard has RGB LEDs on all its keys. However, it should be noted that the interest here is only aesthetic, since the lighting can only be configured on 4 zones and not touch by touch.
More generally, there are a lot of small details that indicate that the ergonomics can be improved compared to what is usually found on Asus or MSI productions of the same calibre. Thus, the Helios 300 can vary its operation (CPU/GPU torque and ventilation speed) according to 3 profiles. Unfortunately, the call of these different profiles must necessarily involve the launch of the Predator Sense management software. A keyboard shortcut that would allow a switch on the fly would have been much more convenient. Then, these profiles are all performance-oriented, and in the absence of a passive or semi-passive mode, the fans will run continuously, around 2,000 rpm in light office work, and between 3,500 and 5,000 rpm in heavy load (encoding/video games).
Consequently, noise pollution will be very moderate in the first case, or very high in the second, between 46 dB for the "Normal" profile and 51 dB for the "Extreme" profile. With such values, the lack of a more reasonable operating mode is quite incomprehensible, especially since this option is available on almost all machines on the market today. Acer provides some tools to create a personalized profile, but they too are oriented towards performance research, and are therefore limited in the possibilities they offer. It should also be noted that frequency increases or decreases only affect the graphics circuit (GPU and memory). The changes in profile have no consequence for the processor, and again, this is a pity, because it seems to be at the origin of the high temperatures observed in the chassis.
When heavily stressed, the Helios 300 core can reach 95°C, and generates hot spots at the base of the 66°C hull (at the intersection of the CPU and GPU heat pipes, as shown in the thermal images). Worse still: this heat is difficult to dissipate, since the central zone of the keyboard can rise up to 50°C. The diffusion effect does not extend to the user's wrists, but when the hands slide over the affected areas, the heat is clearly noticeable.
The omissions do not only concern operational management, judging by the provision of connectivity and storage. On the edges, one is immediately absent: the SD card reader. Acer is therefore satisfied with the essentials with 3 USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI output, a combo jack socket to manage a headset, a USB type-C port, and an RJ45 socket, which will be semi-removable and quite painful to use (its lower part closes to limit its thickness, making connections difficult). Another missing size on our test copy is the possibility of connecting a 2.5-inch storage unit. The location is there, but no SATA connector is available nearby. Either the latter exists, but the link layer is absent in models that do not require it, or the connection possibility is shared with the nearest M.2 port. In either case, it's limiting. At least we will be comforted by the fact that the chassis will be very easy to dismantle, and that it will reveal, in addition to the two RAM memory slots, the Killer 1650X controller, synonymous with Wi-Fi 6/Bluetooth 5.0 support.
Let's be clear, the Acer Predator Helios has a solid manufacturing quality. The various components that make up the chassis are precisely assembled, and the back of the screen and the support surrounding the keyboard benefit from a welcome rigidity, which is due to the use of a metallic rather than plastic alloy. Nevertheless, the whole is steeped in small functional renunciations that leave a taste of too little compared to the competition. Some will say: it doesn't matter if the performances are there. And fortunately, you'll see that Acer makes a copy quite convincing at this level.
Acer Predator Helios 300 Laptop
When it comes to laptops and performance, it's hard to escape Intel and its Core i7-9750H. It is very logically on this component that Acer has chosen and if it is very hot, it delivers the services that are expected of it. The CPU reaches a cruising frequency of around 2,950 MHz on average over 6 cores as part of H.265 encoding. On a game like Assassin's Creed Odyssey, the frequency stabilizes at about 3,100 MHz, which is very correct. So there's not much to say, except that the Acer Helios 300 takes full advantage of its processor and will give you one of the highest processing capacities on the market today.
As we mentioned above, Acer wanted to make its Helios 300 a reference machine in the field of videogame entertainment, by offering 3 overclocking profiles of the graphics circuit. In normal mode, the latter displays an average frequency of 1,388 MHz, which is already high for an RTX 2060 GPU. In Fast Mode, the GPU and its memory are offered a bonus of about 100 MHz. Finally, the Extreme mode puts 100 MHz back on the table for everyone, but with noise levels increasing sharply. In terms of frame rate, the gains will obviously be variable, each game responding differently to frequency increases, but, for example, we have gone from an average of 66 to 74 fps on our Witcher 3 test sequence, while Assassin's Creed Odyssey's test sequence indicated 5 fps of gain, from 63 to 68. With these results, the Predator Helios 300 does as well as the MSI GE65 tested last week.
In terms of experience, Acer's notebook PC will be just as comfortable on games that require high GPU computing power as it is on fast games that will combine CPU and GPU. As proof, the frame rate values we obtained on WRC 8 (98 fps in normal mode) or Overwatch (236 fps, still in normal mode). RTX requires, the Helios 300 will also be able to handle ray tracing effects. It should be noted, however, that the RTX 2060 remains limited to take advantage of these refinements, which keep a very high cost in terms of computing resources.
Let's start with two important clarifications: the first, on the Acer site, and unless we are mistaken, all Helios 300 models in RTX 2060 are delivered with a 144 Hz panel. This will not be the case with our test copy, which is well marketed, and whose matt AHVA slab will only increase up to 60 Hz in refresh frequency. And that's a problem, as a large part of the competition has now integrated faster displays.
Second point to note: our screen had a singular defect, particularly visible on blue colours, a kind of weft effect. This is probably a one-time problem (we sometimes receive products from pre-series instead of commercial versions), but we advise you to monitor forums and customer reviews about this model, in case this failure alerts you to a wider failure.
These two remarks aside, the Helios 300's screen remains average, almost losing a star. Its calibration, without being catastrophic, does not shine through its fidelity (average delta E of 5.4), and no alternative profile is provided by the manufacturer. Contrast and brightness are also just average. But the biggest problem remains the persistence. Measured at 28 ms, it may be felt on fast games even at 60 Hz. From a general point of view, we expected a much higher set, taking into account the displayed specifications (Full HD 60 Hz).
If the hardware part of the sound rendering does not leave the usual cannons (a Realtek circuit), the accompanying software solution is surprising: the Wave MaxxAudio system. It will allow you to define equalization parameters, or to focus on certain sound elements, scene width, voice. But given what Nahimic is proposing today, these options seem a little limited. In addition, our measurements on the headphone output indicate that the software or its drivers print a change in the sound signal that can only be partially overcome by choosing the speaker profile, rather than the headphone or headset profiles, when a device is connected. Once this obstacle has been overcome, we benefit from an output of good power, in accordance with current market standards.
As for the loudspeakers, they are, as often, positioned on the side edges, slightly under the chassis, and as close as possible to the user. Therefore, the quality of the sound broadcast remains dependent on the surface on which the machine is placed, and even under good conditions, the rendering continues to lack amplitude and focuses on mediums and high-mediums, with correct stereophony, nothing more.
With a 15-inch format, a weight of 2.4 kg and a power supply weight of 0.7 kg, the Predator Helios 300 will be one of those that can be carried fairly easily in a backpack and that can be taken out on an occasional basis. But it is obvious, and this is a common feature of most gaming laptops, that it will not be possible to leave it too long away from a power outlet.
The autonomy measured on our "Netflix" test is barely 4 h 30 min, so Acer's computer is not very durable, being in the lower range of its category. Here again, an energy-saving operating mode would not have been too much.
Is not a Greek god who wants. The Predator Helios 300 may have very convincing performance, but it is still lagging behind in too many aspects to escape the market average. The excessive heating of the chassis, the absence of a silent mode of operation, the absence of an SD card reader, a choice of slab that would have deserved more care... Taken one by one, these elements do not necessarily seem decisive, but put end to end, they end up weighing heavy. In fact, the Helios 300 would probably have been a good choice a year or two ago, but the current level of gaming laptops at Asus, MSI or Lenovo - to name but a few - now leaves it little room to express itself.
Acer Predator Helios 300 Laptop