Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From Grace

JT JT 17 November
Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From Grace

Acer’s Helios 300 was one of the best  gaming laptops available last year,   and although improvements have been made with the  newer 10th gen model I’m reviewing,   they’ve also taken some steps backwards and  made it worse in some areas, let’s discuss.Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From GraceOverall design appears the same as last  year, it’s got a matte black aluminium   finish with blue accenting. Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From GraceThe build quality  was decent, like last year the front corners   could feel a bit sharp on certain angles,  but it wasn’t noticeable during normal use.

There’s some keyboard flex when pushing down  hard, but it felt sturdy during normal use.  The lid also has some flex to it, but  it’s definitely more rigid feeling than   say the plastic Legion 5 or Omen  15. Weight distribution felt good,   it sat fine on my lap, and this allows  it to be opened easily with one finger. The Helios weighs 2.3kg or 5lb,   then when adding in the 230 watt power brick and  cables we’re looking at just under 3.2kg or 7lb. Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From GraceThe size is similar to a lot of  other 15” gaming laptops out there,   it’s not super thin, but definitely  far from being a thick boy. It’s got a 15.6” 1080p 144Hz display,   no FreeSync or G-Sync though, and no option  of disabling optimus.

The Predator Sense   software lets us enable or disable overdrive  mode which affects screen response time. Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From GraceWith overdrive off, we’re getting pretty typical  results from a 144Hz panel, just under an 8ms   average grey-to-grey response time. Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From GraceWith overdrive  enabled, the response time drops to 4.66ms.   

Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From GraceWhen we look at how it stacks up against  others, well it’s tied with the Legion 5   for fastest 144Hz laptop panel that  I’ve tested so far, a great result.

I’ve tested the screen with  the Spyder 5, and got 98%   of sRGB, 69% of NTSC, 75% of AdobeRGB and 75%  of DCI-P3, decent results from a gaming laptop.Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From Grace My panel was above 300 nits at 100% brightness  with an 820:1 contrast ratio, so again not bad. Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From GraceBacklight bleed was pretty bad in my unit though,  but this will vary between laptops and panels.

There’s a 720p camera above the display  in the middle, no Windows Hello support. Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From GraceThe keyboard has four zones of RGB  backlighting and all keys and secondary   functions are illuminated. There  are 4 levels of key brightness or   you can turn it off with the F9 and F10  keyboard shortcuts, or through software.

Let me be clear, the keyboard alone is enough of a  reason for me to not want to consider this laptop,   it was very annoying to use. Basically what  happens is when typing, some key presses don’t   trigger unless you push hard. I noticed when  playing games that I had to fully hold the   keys down completely. The key press ends even if  you just slightly reduce the pressure on the key,   even if it’s still fully actuated, so when walking  in a game unless I go out of my way to hold the   keys down extra hard you just randomly stop  moving.

The keys themselves felt fine to press,   and typing otherwise felt the  same as the older version. I don’t think this is just an issue with my unit,   as others have mentioned this to me in  Discord. I’m not sure what the deal is   as the keyboard basically seems the same  as last year, I’m not sure what’s changed.

The power button is part of the keyboard, but  an accidental mispress doesn’t put it to sleep,   you have to hold it down for a bit then  the software gives you some options. Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From GraceThere are some air vents above the keyboard,   as well as a turbo button towards  the left, more on that soon. Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From GraceThe precision touchpad is smooth, clicks down  anywhere, and works fine, no problems there.

Fingerprints and dirt show up on the black  finish, but as it’s a smooth surface they’re   easy to clean with a microfiber cloth.

Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From GraceOn the left we’ve got a Kensington lock,   air exhaust vent, gigabit ethernet, two USB  3 Type-A ports and a 3.5mm audio combo jack. Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From GraceOn the right from the front there’s a USB 3.2  Gen2 Type-C port, a third USB 3 Type-A port,   HDMI 2.0 and mini DisplayPort outputs  followed by another air exhaust.

The Type-C port does not offer Thunderbolt,   it cannot be used to charge the machine, and  it does not offer display output. The Mini   DisplayPort and HDMI outputs connect directly to  the Nvidia graphics, so VR should be possible. Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From GraceThe back has air exhaust vents towards the  corners, and the power input is near the middle,   a welcome change over last year's model which  had it on the side partially blocking one of the   air vents, this way the cable is kept out of the  way. There’s nothing going on over on the front.

he lid has the predator logo in the center  which lights up blue from the screen's backlight,   so cannot be customized, and there’s no  Predator text on the lid like last year's model. Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From GraceUnderneath has air ventilation holes  above the intake fans towards the back,   getting inside requires taking out 11  Phillips head screws of same length. Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From GraceThe internals look similar to last years model,  the battery is down the front with a 2.5” drive   bay, the M.2 SSD and WiFi 6 card are just above  this, two memory slots are near the middle,   and there’s a second M.2 storage  slot to the right of the memory.

My Helios came to me with single channel memory,   I installed dual channel for all testing in this  review, and I really hope single channel isn’t a   common configuration option. The ones I saw  on Amazon do at least specify dual channel.

The two speakers are on the left  and right sides towards the front,   I thought they were above  average for a gaming laptop,   still clear at higher volumes with some bass,  and the latencymon results were pretty good. 

The Helios is still powered by the same sized  4-Cell 58Wh battery as last year. Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From GraceI’ve tested   it with keyboard lighting off, background  apps disabled and screen at 50% brightness.   It lasted for over 4 hours in the YouTube playback  test, so not quite as good as the near 6 hours   I got with last year's model, though that one  did also have lower specs and was undervolted.

Quite a few people have reached out noting that  the fan speed increases when charging the laptop,   I didn’t personally experience this to  an annoying degree on the latest BIOS,   but it sounds like it’s an issue to be  aware of as I’ve received multiple reports.  

Charging batteries do warm up, it could  be some means of keeping the chassis a   bit cooler. My fans were around 1500 RPM  on battery, then 2000 RPM when plugged in,   but I could barely hear it either way, and I  did test with different battery charge levels.

Let’s check out thermals next. Last year’s model had a -0.125v undervolt  out of the box. This year, at least with   BIOS version 1.07 which was the latest at the time  of testing, undervolting is disabled to the user   and cannot be enabled through BIOS either. In  fact, there’s actually a small positive voltage   applied. People have told me that undervolting  is possible with older BIOS versions though,   so that might be an option if you’re fine  with missing security and stability patches.

Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From GraceThe Predator sense software lets us set the  fans to auto speed, max speed, or we can   customize each of the two fans individually. The  overclocking menu lets us select between normal,   fast, and extreme profiles.

Fast and extreme  overclock the GPU by the amounts specified here,   Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From Graceand it’s worth noting that these overclocks  are lower than last years model, however I did   test a 1660 Ti model previously, so it might  just be that the 2070 Max-Q model’s is lower.

It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that they  had to dial back the overclock though,   I had a few comments on last year’s Helios  review about games crashing in turbo mode,   so it seems that the GPU overclocks may  not have been stable for some people,   setting lower values should  result in better stability.

The turbo mode button above the  keyboard only works if you’re   plugged into wall power and have more  than 40% battery charge. It’s basically   just a shortcut to max out the fans and  enable the extreme GPU overclock profile. As I’ve got Max-Q, there’s also  the option of Max-Q Dynamic Boost,   which is enabled by default. The GPU  runs up to 90 watts with it enabled,   or 80 watts with it disabled. The normal  overclock profile also limits the GPU at 80 watts.

Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From Grace The idle temperatures were good with  a 21 degree Celsius ambient room,   stress tests were done with the Aida64 CPU  stress test with stress CPU only checked and   the Heaven GPU benchmark run at the same time,  while gaming was tested playing Watch Dogs 2.

The CPU was thermal throttling whether  I was running a game or stress test,   averaging 92 degrees Celsius in all instances  as shown by the blue bars. The GPU did get   cooler as the cooling improved though, and the  GPU wasn’t reaching thermal throttle limits.

These are the clockspeeds for the same tests. Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From Grace Performance was lowest with auto fan enabled,   which makes sense given the processor  was always thermal throttling,   so more cooling allows it to do better. The  GPU clockspeeds also increase in turbo mode,   as the extreme GPU profile that this applies  enabled the GPU overclocks. Some of this would   be down to the improved cooling as well though,  as better cooling means more GPU boosting. Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From GraceWe can see in normal GPU mode the GPU, shown  by the green bars, was capped to 80 watts,   but then this rises up to 90 watts with either  the fast or extreme profiles, again extreme is   enabled as part of turbo mode.

Processor TDP  increases as cooling improves, again because   thermals were the limitation here, and this is  why the cooling pad offers the best results.

Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From GraceThese results aren’t great when  compared to the last generation Helios,   just for comparison in the same workloads with  same ambient room temperature I wasn’t seeing   any thermal throttling, and I suspect this  would mostly be down to the default out of   the box undervolt to the processor, which again,  the new 10th gen 2020 model does not implement.  

Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From GraceLast year, the processor was basically  maxing out at 4GHz under all workloads,   but this year it only happened in the best  case in the game with a cooling pad. Again   I am testing a higher wattage GPU though, but I  doubt the 1660 Ti config will be too much lower.

Here’s how CPU only performance looks  in Cinebench with the GPU now idle, Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From Grace  so not much of a difference  by increasing the fan speed,   there aren’t any performance modes available  that otherwise affect processor performance.Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From Grace When we look at how it compares against  others, well, we can see last year's 9th   gen Helios 300 just below it. The 10750H  is offering a 4% higher single core score,   and less than a 1% improvement to the  multicore score, again because the 9th   gen model is undervolted out of the  box and the 2020 model disables this.

Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From GraceWhen idling the keyboard was around the  low 30 degree Celsius point which is pretty   normal. Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From GraceWith the stress tests running at  what I’d consider a stock configuration,   so basically turbo mode off and auto fan  speed, we’re looking at low 50s in the center,   so not too bad, just warm to the touch. Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From GraceWith  turbo mode enabled it’s a fair bit cooler now   due to the increased fan speed, however this also  results in more fan noise.

The fans were audible but quiet when idling in  auto mode. With the stress tests running it’s   similar if not a little quieter when compared  to a lot of other gaming laptops I’ve tested,   and then with turbo mode enabled  for max fan speed it’s quite loud,   but I consider this a good thing. As Acer are  giving the user some level of fan customization,   you should be able to tweak them a  bit to get a good mixture of noise   and performance that works for you.

As we  saw earlier though, don’t expect max fans   or even a cooling pad to prevent CPU thermal  throttling under heavy CPU plus GPU workloads.

Now let’s check out how well  the Helios 300 performs in   games and see how it compares with other laptops.

I’ve tested Battlefield 5 in campaign mode at  ultra settings, and the Helios 300 is highlighted   in red.Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From Grace Interestingly the average frame rate was  ahead of the Legion 7i, which has the same GPU but   with a higher power limit and better CPU, well  at least in terms of average frame rate, the 1%   low was lower, but still the Helios is very close  to the m15 R2 with 2080 Max-Q, so a good result.

These are the results from Far Cry  5 with ultra settings in the built   in benchmark.Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From GraceThe Helios is still  beating higher wattage GPU options,   but as this test is heavier on the processor  an undervolt would have given it an edge.   It’s unfortunate to see that Acer have removed  the default undervolt that was present previously.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider was also tested with  the games benchmark tool with the highest setting   preset.Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From Grace It’s just 1 FPS behind the 2070 Super  Max-Q with the same power limit in the Aorus 15G,   and like BF5, ahead of the Legion  7i with same GPU but better CPU,   so a good result and is probably down to the  overclock on the GPU applied by turbo mode.

I’ve also tested the Helios 300  in 20 games at all setting levels.

Now for the benchmarking tools.Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From Grace I’ve used Adobe Premiere to export one of my  laptop review videos at 4K. This is one of the   better results, and the Helios was only being  beaten by laptops with more powerful hardware. Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From GraceI’ve also tested Premiere but  with the Puget systems benchmark.   In these tests a higher score is better,  and the Helios isn’t as good here,   granted there’s not too big of a difference  between many of these machines in this test. Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From GraceThe results were similar in Adobe Photoshop,  this tends to be more of a CPU focussed test,   and given the Cinebench results  previously weren’t anything amazing,   I was surprised to see it offering one  of the best scores from a 6 core laptop.

Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From GraceDaVinci Resolve is more GPU heavy, and the  90 watt 2070 is able to do fairly well,   only being beaten by higher tier options. Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From GraceI’ve also tested SPECviewperf which tests  out various professional 3D workloads. Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From Grace  I’ve used Crystal disk mark to test the  storage, and the 256gb NVMe M.2 SSD was decent, Acer Helios 300 (10th Gen) Review - A Fall From Grace  while the 1TB hard drive was performing  like a spinning rust drive should.

As for prices, in the US it’s available  for around $1200 USD, but with RTX 2060 graphics,   now let’s summarise the good and the bad to help  you decide if the 2020 Helios 300 is worth it.

For the most part, the overall design is the  same as last year. This isn’t a bad thing,   but the competition has some  pretty compelling options now.   I was hoping Acer had taken a don’t  change what isn’t broken approach,   as I gave some high praise to last year’s  model, but that’s unfortunately not the case.

There are some nice small tweaks, like having  the power cable plug into the back rather than   blocking off an air exhaust vent, and not  having the predator text on the lid looks   a bit cleaner, and no offence, just a  bit less like an edgy gaming laptop.

The keyboard in my unit was seriously annoying,  I’d have to return it if I bought one and it came   like this, it was frustrating to use and  I hope that’s just an issue with my unit,   you’ll have to check other reviews to  confirm if that’s a widespread problem.

Screen bleed was also bad in my unit, and  much worse when compared to last year,   but that’s always going to come down to  a dice roll as it will vary between unit.   The screen was otherwise excellent. It’s  tied for first place with the Legion 5 for   the fastest 144Hz laptop panel I’ve tested so far,  and the colour gamut and brightness were decent.

Performance in and out of games was good, just  not as impressive or as cool as last year's model   which was finely tuned out of the box. This  is mostly down to undervolting being locked,   something which is quite common with Intel 10th  gen laptops to mitigate the plundervolt security   vulnerability, however it would have been  great if Acer could give the enthusiast the   option of accepting the risks and enabling  this through advanced BIOS, like MSI does.

The lack of undervolt, or in fact positive  voltage, results in thermal throttling on the   CPU under combined CPU plus GPU workloads like  gaming, and this was still the case even with   the fans at full speed and a cooling pad.  The fans do get very loud, but they can be   customized so that can be seen as an advantage,  you’re less limited and have more control. The GPU wasn’t overclocked as much as last  year, but that may just be because I’ve got   a 2070 model here rather than 1660 Ti,  but if it results in more stability for   the more casual user then I’m fine with it. 

Although my Max-Q graphics have dynamic boost,   it’s not too useful given we had 90 watt  power limits before dynamic boost was a thing,   it would have been good to see a sustained 100  watt boost like others offer, granted due to   the shared heatpipe design perhaps they decided  against this as it would likely result in worse   CPU performance, as dumping more heat into the  cooling system will throttle the processor more.

All things considered, I’d probably be more  inclined to save $200 and get the Legion   5 with 1660 Ti, the CPU performance is much  better, and the GPU difference isn’t too large,   granted you can of course get a  1660 Ti Helios for less money too,   I just couldn’t see any for sale. People have been screaming  for a Ryzen based Helios,   and while it wouldn’t be a silver bullet to  the problems outlined in this review, it would   probably offer better multicore performance  without getting quite as hot with not too much   difference in gaming.

It would be great to see  both an Intel and Ryzen configuration next year,   at the moment Acer do this for the Nitro  5, which I think originally started as   Ryzen for a long time was more of an entry level  offering, but things are different since Zen 2. Honestly if the 9th gen model is on sale,  it’s still worth considering compared to the   10th gen model in my opinion.

Thermals and  performance are better due to undervolting,   and there’s otherwise not that  many game changing differences,   just some small tweaks, it just  depends on price at the end of the day.

Let me know if you’re considering  the Helios 300 down in the comments.

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