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.Overall design appears the same as last year, it’s got a matte black aluminium finish with blue accenting. The 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. The 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. With overdrive off, we’re getting pretty typical results from a 144Hz panel, just under an 8ms average grey-to-grey response time. With overdrive enabled, the response time drops to 4.66ms.
When 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. My panel was above 300 nits at 100% brightness with an 820:1 contrast ratio, so again not bad. Backlight 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. The 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. There are some air vents above the keyboard, as well as a turbo button towards the left, more on that soon. The 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.
On 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. On 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. The 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. Underneath has air ventilation holes above the intake fans towards the back, getting inside requires taking out 11 Phillips head screws of same length. The 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. I’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.
The 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, and 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.
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. 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. We 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.
These 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.
Last 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, so not much of a difference by increasing the fan speed, there aren’t any performance modes available that otherwise affect processor performance. 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.
When idling the keyboard was around the low 30 degree Celsius point which is pretty normal. With 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. With 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. 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.The 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. 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. 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. I’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. The 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.
DaVinci Resolve is more GPU heavy, and the 90 watt 2070 is able to do fairly well, only being beaten by higher tier options. I’ve also tested SPECviewperf which tests out various professional 3D workloads. I’ve used Crystal disk mark to test the storage, and the 256gb NVMe M.2 SSD was decent, 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.