B&H at Play with the Acer Predator Helios 300 Special Edition Gaming Notebook

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Gaming laptops are a dime a dozen these days. A quick look around the B&H website will uncover dozens of gaming laptops for all budgets and tastes, and choosing one can be as difficult as getting a Victory Royale in Fortnite. But the Acer Predator Helios 300 Special Edition, at B&H, adds so many gaming-centric variables to the arena that it may turn out to be the best gaming laptop for its price this year.

But wait, you say. Wasn't the Predator already released? You speak knowledgeably, gaming Padawan. Acer already released an all-black/red-highlights version of this laptop earlier this year. We're speaking specifically in this article about the white Special Edition Helios 300, which has a few upgrades that set it apart from its kin.

Acer 15.6" Predator Helios 300 Special Edition Gaming Notebook

Let's start with the pure aesthetics of the Acer Predator Helios 300 Special Edition. It now comes in a blinding-white version, with tasteful gold accents along the cover. Additionally, included with the product is a similarly patterned extra-responsive gaming mouse, all-white power supply and cords, and even earbuds with a similar gold-themed pattern on them. Additionally, you'll also get a free extra-large mousepad with the Acer diamond design on the face.

Moving on from the amenities, your next stop is the overall look and feel of the unit. While some may bemoan the cheap plastic feel of the laptop (and the awful, thick bezels, which will immediately bring back memories of the Commodore 64 to nostalgic older gamers), it's offset by the premium 15.6" screen, which features a Full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution and a 144 Hz refresh rate. Try it with Overwatch on your old 60 Hz monitor, versus the 144Hz refresh rate on the Helios, and you'll notice the difference immediately. This is one of the few gaming laptops with such a high refresh rate display, but caveat emptor—some will see the difference and some may not. Gamers will note the fluidity of the gameplay.

But you need power and a great graphics card to run that display, and this is also where the Helios SE comes out ahead. Instead of using a standard Intel® Core™ i7, the Helios opted for an 8th-Gen Coffee Lake Intel® Core™ i7-8750H processor, which is a six-core 12-thread processor, not your standard quad-core 8-thread processors seen in most gaming laptops (and not just the budget ones). This new processor has a 9MB Smart Cache, and can be overclocked to 4.1 GHz. It's plenty fast for most new games, and powerful enough.

The GPU is the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 with 6GB of dedicated GDDR5 RAM. Using the Pascal architecture, it outperforms the previous GTX 960 in speed and power by almost double, and is tuned for any VR experience you want to throw at it. But how do you cool such a beast in a smaller unit like a laptop?

Acer does it with a design change and maintenance software. Using the PredatorSense app, you can peek in on CPU and GPU performance and temperature, and even check fan speed and GPU core clock settings. I liked the ability to press a button and immediately have the laptop overclock the processor, while also giving me some feedback on the temps inside the chassis. Inside the unit, the laptop is cooled by a custom-engineered dual-fan cooling system, a proprietary all-metal AeroBlade™ 3D Fan. Be aware: the fan is annoyingly loud when it gets ramped up, but it does an excellent job of cooling the high-end GPU during critical load times.

Inputs

Let's take a trip back outside the internals and talk about the inputs that will change your gaming experience. The keyboard takes the white theme of the laptop and triples the brightness. One of the most startling things I found when using this laptop was that in full daylight, I could not see the keys when the backlight was on. I had to manually turn the backlight off, and suddenly the black outline of each character was displayed properly enough for me to see. Simple solution. Even in low light, the blinding (and inconsistent) lighting of the keys was high. The WASD keys (for non-gamers, these are known as the Walk keys) are offset with a small gold coloring accent (not a sticker) so they can be identified immediately. It's a cute gimmick, but didn't enhance gameplay or become a deal-breaker.

Before we jump into gameplay and how the computer handled graphics, one other sore spot should be addressed. The 256GB M.2 SSD included is barely enough to game with—I downloaded Far Cry 5, Battlefield 1, and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, to benchmark, and I had to offload files just to make the install. Part of this is because there is a serious amount of bloatware on the laptop (which you can remove at will) but a secondary reason is that most manufacturers have not caught up to the large storage = more games idiom. At 50GB per game, you may want to invest in a larger SSD for this laptop or buy the HD/SSD combo version.

Acer 15.6" Predator Helios 300 Gaming Notebook (Black)

After that, it's standard stuff: an SDXC media card reader, Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac), Bluetooth 5.0, a USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C (yes!), USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A port, and two USB 2.0 Type-A ports.

One other thing to consider is that the battery life on this unit is poor, clocking in at less than four hours (using a video-streaming test and a gameplay test). I suspect that super-powered processor, beefy GPU and fan have a lot to do with that, but this is still not a laptop that should stray far from a power outlet.

Real World Gameplay Metrics

GAME: Battlefield 1

VIDEO SETTINGS: Ultra
FIELD OF VIEW: 104 (Hor+119)
RESOLUTION: 1920 x 1080
REFRESH: 144.03 Hz
OVERCLOCKED: Yes
VYSNC ON: Off
MOTION BLUR: On
AVG FRAME RATE: 33

I love Battlefield 1. It took the FPS field (dominated by the Call of Duty franchise) and went back a century for its plot and storyline. It's also graphically gorgeous, with lots of smoky exteriors and verdant views of the European countryside thrown in for good measure. But at full speed, and with graphics quality high, it can choke a lesser GPU.

On the Helios 300, I found no problems with stuttering or screen tearing. I did notice a slight lag when switching between some cut scenes, which can also be attributed to a slow response from the SSD, but I've never seen that problem with other gaming rigs. On the highest settings, the detail was absolutely stunning. I saw enemies being shot and spurting blood in such detail that it made me slightly uncomfortable. I also saw great water effects like rivers turned into mud runs, and trees that shook and divested themselves of their leaves when artillery fire hit them. All in all, the Helios 300 SE held up its end of the bargain.

GAME: Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

VIDEO SETTINGS: Ultra
FIELD OF VIEW: 90
RESOLUTION: 1920 x 1080
REFRESH: 144.03 Hz
OVERCLOCKED: Yes
VYSNC ON: Off
MOTION BLUR: Off
AVG FRAME RATE: 30

Wolfenstein II was a mixed bag. The game starts out in this naturally muted, dusky, graphically underwhelming phase. When it moves to real FPS action, the colors pop a little more, but the game starts out (for the first three levels, at least) in a dark and dank atmosphere.

After that, however, the game really starts to pick out graphical details and you're soon treated to some real eye-popping nuances, like metallic sheen and lighting nuances that are hard to spot in a less graphically demanding game. Unfortunately, at the highest level, I had to tune it down a notch because the game began to stutter a little. At the Ultra High level, the game ran smoothly, clocking in at X frames per second consistently, which was key—on Mein Leben, there were spots of 30 fps, and then a drop whenever something too challenging was happening on screen (usually screen-filling mechs). At the high level, however, nothing was out of range for the Helios 300 SE.

GAME: Far Cry 5

VIDEO SETTINGS: Highest
FIELD OF VIEW: 90
RESOLUTION: 1920 x 1080
REFRESH: 144.03 Hz
OVERCLOCKED: Yes
VYSNC ON: On
MOTION BLUR: Off
AVG FRAME RATE: 57

One of my favorite games of this year, Far Cry 5 is suited to spank your GPU with its graphical demands. The lush Montana countryside, the many streams and tributaries you come across, and even the animals you hunt are so graphically imposing that at any setting you'll be wowed.

Not good enough for us. We cranked the graphic level to high, turned on all the bells and whistles, and immediately crashed the game. There seemed to be some issue with the game "blinking" on and off the main screen. Cut scenes played, but the game would minimize to the task bar until the main storyline started emerging. We don't know if this was because of the high settings or some software glitch, so we turned the setting a notch lower and still had the problem, so I'm guessing software glitch at this point. The great feature in Far Cry 5 is that it has its own frame rate and anti-aliasing test, so each time you go in and change a setting, you can see what the expected frame rate is going to be.

All in all, if you can deal with the plastic design, the obese bezels, and the low battery life, you may find yourself praising the speed, power, and sheer muscle this budget laptop brings to gaming. Sometimes it's the ugly frog that ends up being a prince. The Acer Predator Helios 300 Special Edition is certainly a hard-working frog in a prince's outfit.

Acer 15.6" Predator Helios 300 Special Edition Gaming Laptop (Pearl White)
Acer 15.6" Predator Helios 300 Special Edition Gaming Laptop (Pearl White)

Acer 15.6" Predator Helios 300 Special Edition Gaming Laptop (Pearl White)

What do you think? Have you had any experience with this gaming laptop yourself? Talk to us in the Comments section.

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