Acer’s Predator Helios 300 has achieved something we never thought a gaming laptop could do. It actually manages to be popular, powerful, and affordable.
You’d think popularity would be the hardest thing to prove, but that’s what caught our eye first. A specific model of the Predator Helios 300 has maintained a steady position among the top ten bestselling laptops on Amazon for many, many weeks. It just won’t quit.
We reviewed the original Predator Helios 300 here and called it a “great notebook.” Months later, we tested a model updated with Intel’s 8th-gen Core i7, and clad in an eye-catching white-and-gold chassis. With a markup in price of several hundred bucks, our opinion was far more muted.
The model that’s selling so well on Amazon is basically that same updated laptop, but without the marked-up price to go with that white exterior. That’s why we decided to bring in this laptop to get a closer look at what it offers—and why it’s managed to hit such a sweet spot.
Looking into the specs, we can see why it’s powerful (relatively, anyway): With its GeForce GTX 1060, 6-core Core i7-8750H, 16GB of RAM, 1080p/144Hz panel and 256GB SSD, it’s a decently configured gaming laptop.
Considering those specs, its list price of $1,100 is pretty fair, and the 5.5-pound weight is pretty bearable too.
Acer Predator Helios 300 ports
One of the few things that hasn’t changed on the Predator Helios 300 is the connectivity—and that means it’s starting to get a little outdated. The right side of the Predator Helios 300 houses two pokey-slow USB 2.0 ports, along with a headphone jack.
On the left side you get a dedicated charging port, Gigabit ethernet (using a Realtek ethernet chip), one USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C (5Gbps), one USB 3.0 Type-A, and an SD card reader. The fact that there’s just one USB-C port, and it’s not even Thunderbolt 3, is disappointing, though not surprising for the price.
Acer Predator Helios 300 Performance
We’ll keep our performance somewhat abbreviated since it hasn’t changed much. First up is Cinebench, which can show us performance in short multi-core CPU tasks. As you can see, the current model’s score is just a pinch faster than the Special Edition’s score, and just a pinch slower than the Dell XPS 15 9570 and MSI GS65—which all feature the same CPU.
Using Cinebench to measure single-core performance, we can see performance is right where you’d hope it would be. You might think this is boring, but it’s actually a good sign for the laptop to be tied with every other Core i7-8750H laptop.
We also like to check the performance of laptops in longer tasks, to see how the CPU performs (and heats up) under stress. For that, we use the free HandBrake utility to encode a 30GB video file. The task can take 30 minutes on a typical six-core laptop. It’s pretty much a tie here among similar systems, except for the Razer Blade 15, which was tested in its default mode. Set it to “gaming mode,” and it falls in line with the other 6-core laptops.
Moving onto the performance of the GeForce GTX 1060, the Acer Predator Helios 300 doesn’t disappoint as we see it just barely edging out the other GTX 1060 laptops. We’ll call it a tie again—which is good news.
Our last gaming test uses Rise of the Tomb Raider set to Very High in DX11 mode and, yup, it’s a tie again. And yes, that’s a good thing.
Our last test looks at battery life. We set the PC in airplane mode to eliminate network interference, attach ear buds with volume set to medium, and set the screen brightness to a comfortable 250 to 260 nits. We charge the battery to full, unplug the laptop, and loop a 4K video until the machine shuts down.
The result with the current Predator Helios 300 is slightly better than what the SE version of the laptop achieved, but still pretty below average overall. Blame part of this on the battery size: at 48 watt-hours, it’s a fairly small supply. The higher-refresh-rate panel in the newer version will also tax the battery. We had the same complaint with the SE version.
Remember, of course, that your battery mileage will vary depending on how you use the laptop. Trying to play any games off AC will drain this little battery lickety-split.
Acer Predator Helios 300 Overheating?
Scroll through any reviews of the Acer Predator Helios 300, and you’ll likely run across someone with stories of major overheating and falling performance.
To see how well the Predator Helios 300 holds up under a load, we cranked up the Unigine Heaven benchmark and let it loop for five hours while monitoring the GPU’s performance clock speeds. Because graphics benchmarks rarely push the CPU hard, we also ran Cinebench using four threads to see how much performance suffered. Cinebench results were consistent, and after five hours, the GPU’s clock speeds remained consistent.
We then let the Predator Helios 300 continue to loop Heaven overnight. In the morning we checked the GPU clocks and Cinebench results, and we found nothing had changed.
Does this mean the that some of the user experiences are invalid? No, but it means our particular unit had no overheating issues. We will say that this isn’t the end of the story. The CPU did occasionally hit its a power limit throttle and thermal limit throttle. Power throttling keeps the CPU within its thermal limit, while thermal throttling means the CPU is bumping right into its thermal limits. Both are indications that the Predator Helios 300 operates right at the margin of its design.
Looking inside the Predator Helios 300, its design presents a few thermal challenges. To the right of the two fans (only one is shown in the picture) you can see that that the heat pipes make direct contact with the GPU first, and then the CPU.
In other gaming laptop designs, the fans are typically arrayed on the corners of the laptop, which gives the CPU or GPU with direct access to the cooling fans. More extreme designs keep the GPU and CPU on their own separate heat pipes and cooling fans. With the Predator Helios 300 design, the CPU is always going to get waste heat from the GPU.
But again: We didn’t experience any serious issues, and nothing that would dissuade us from buying the Predator Helios 300.
Best Upgrades for the Acer Predator Helios 300
Perhaps the best feature of the Predator Helios 300 is the mostly friendly approach to user upgrades. Acer puts the RAM slots and a 2.5-inch hard drive bay behind two doors. Assuming you purchased this particular model, with 16GB of DDR4/2667 RAM in dual-channel mode, we don’t think you should invest in increasing the RAM.
Instead, we’d open up the door for the 2.5-inch drive bay and drop in a 1TB or 2TB hard drive. A 1TB drive will set you back $50, and a 2TB drive about $130. This upgrade is critical for anyone who plans to use the Helios 300 as a gaming laptop, as games today can easily push 50GB of space.
With a mere 256GB Intel NVMe SSD for the operating system, you’ll likely run out of space in a month on the SSD. And that leads to our only real criticism of the upgrade options. If you want to upgrade the M.2 slot to a larger drive, you’ll have to remove the entire bottom of the laptop.
The good news is that it’s pretty easy to do. Just remove the screws on the bottom of the laptop and then carefully split the body open with a plastic shim.There are plenty of video examples on Youtube.
With the bottom removed, you can swap the battery, M.2 SSD or M.2 WiFi module. There are Predator Helios 300 owners who even remove the cooler and apply higher-quality thermal paste to improve the heat dissipation.
Overall it’s hard to complain much about the Acer Predator Helios 300. Sure, the battery could be larger, but then it would be heavier and bigger too. With its friendly upgrade paths, top-notch CPU and GPU, and hard-to-beat price of $1,100, there’s a good reason why the Predator Helios 300 has long been the bestselling gaming laptop on Amazon.