Acer Predator Triton 300 SE review: The everyday gamers' laptop

2 weeks ago 9
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(Pocket-lint) - The Acer Triton 300 SE is a dream gaming laptop, in one specific sense: it's small and just about light enough to treat like an ultraportable. It also has an Nvidia RTX 3060 graphics card with the power to let you play some of the latest games with fancy graphical effects like ray tracing turned on. 

Acer's real success here is that the Triton 300 SE is a bunch cheaper than the Asus Zephyrus G14, which was a nominee in the 2020 Pocket-lint awards. In this review model we've got an Intel Core i7 CPU, 16GB RAM and 1TB SSD. These are the sort of specs you might see in a non-gaming laptop at the same kind of price, but here you get the RTX 3060 graphics card too. 

It's a winner in that regard, but is only the right choice if you actually need the sort of portability Acer has tried so hard to achieve in the Triton 300 SE. If not, consider something like the Lenovo Legion 5 Pro instead. It runs cooler, is more powerful, and has a better screen for similar cash. 

Design

  • Dimensions: 323 x 228 x 17.9mm / Weight: 1.7kgs
  • DTS X: Ultra Audio
  • Fingerprint sensor

Acer has taken what it learned after years of making some of the thinnest, lightest laptops in the world and put that knowledge to work in the Acer Triton 300 SE. 

The result is not a gaming laptop that weighs under 1kg. That is still a fantasy. But at 1.72kg you can treat the Acer Triton 300 SE much like any other ultraportable laptop. It's only 400g heavier than the category average. Put a bit less in that water bottle you carry around in your rucksack and the weights even out, even if your hydration doesn't.

This benefit isn't just about saving your shoulders though. The Acer Triton 300 SE feels more at home when sat on your knees than any other gaming laptop we've reviewed in 2021.

Acer uses magnesium-aluminium alloys to keep the weight down. Almost all of the Triton 300 SE's casing is made of this stuff. The underside, the keyboard surround and the lid are all magnesium alloys, leaving only the screen surround and the angular hinge casing with plastic. 

This difference in materials isn't too obvious until you take the Acer Triton 300 SE outside and notice the plastic seems to sparkle more in the sunlight than the metal. 

Magnesium-heavy alloys don't feel quite as good as aluminium ones, but they do give the laptop a construction similar to a pure style laptop. Build quality is good in most respects too. The keyboard plate does not flex to any significant extent, the lid is stiff and (this one we didn't expect) you can even lift the lid from closed with a single finger - one of the tick boxes of luxury laptops.

The entire Acer Triton 300 SE hinge system is an unexpected highlight all-round. It folds the screen back almost to 180 degrees, and is almost entirely wobble-free. We used the laptop to work outdoors for part of the UK's 2021 July heatwave, and it did the job extremely well for a gaming laptop. 

Build quality and design are not perfect, however. We've come to expect this from Acer's high-end laptops (if not, surprisingly enough, its cheap ones where lower standards apply). When you lift the hinge you may hear some light creaking noises, presumably caused by the magnesium and plastic parts reacting to the pressure of the movement a little differently. 

The entire screen part of the Acer Triton 300 SE also looks slightly dated thanks to its thick bottom screen border and the way the embossed plastic - presumably used to provide a little clearance when closed - look as though it has seams running across it. This laptop does not look as slick as a Razer Blade Stealth 13. 

Display

  • 14-inch IPS LCD, 1920 x 1080 resolution
  • 144Hz refresh rate, 300 nits brightness

The Acer Triton 300 SE's screen is a very solid 14-inch 16:9 aspect IPS LCD panel. This widescreen aspect ratio is why there's that big chunky border at the bottom. 

Brightness is its one potential weak point. At 322 nits (as measured by us) it's no better than some non-gaming laptops around half the asking price. We came to the Acer Triton 300 SE from reviewing the Lenovo Legion 5 Pro, and that latter laptop's larger, high-resolution 500-plus nit display is immediately more impressive. 

But does it really matter? We used the Triton 300 SE outside for a bunch of hours in sunlight as bright as it gets in the UK and were still able to work happily on the Acer because it has a full matte display layer. Reflections just aren't a major issue, and in many cases this will be more important than a, say, 25 per cent increase in peak brightness. 

Colour is good too - but, again, doesn't reach into the "wide gamut" saturations we're likely to see in future when gaming laptop companies become obsessed with upcoming Mini LED display panels. 

Contrast is at least slightly above average for an IPS LCD, meaning blacks will look at most slightly raised if you play in a dimly lit room. The Triton 300 SE's contrast is actually higher than that of the Lenovo Legion 5 Pro mentioned earlier. 

Maximum refresh rate is also 144Hz. This matches the 2021 Asus Zephyrus G14, and means the laptop can display frame rates high enough that you reach a point of diminishing returns. If your eyes can tell a huge difference between 144fps and 200fps, they're better than ours. 

Keyboard & touchpad

The Acer Triton 300 SE is a gaming ultraportable and, sure enough, it has a keyboard similar to those you might find on a good ultraportable laptop. 

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Key depth is good but not ultra-deep, and while the keys don't have supremely crisp actuation, we slid into using it for all-day typing with zero problems. We'd be perfectly happy to use this keyboard for work each day. 

Acer uses the "spare" space provided by a chassis slightly wider than a classic portable 13.3-inch screen laptop to fit in an extra row of keys. These offer media controls and quick access to PredatorSense - an Acer app that lets you control fan behaviour and the keyboard backlighting system. 

The Acer Triton 300 SE's keyboard backlight has three zones, not the per-key lighting you get in some chunkier or ultra-high-end laptops. But there are still custom profiles, full access to a rainbow of colours and those animated presets we imagine people trying for a day before reverting to solid colours. 

Before we got the Acer Triton 300 SE in we didn't expect too much from its touchpad. Does a gaming laptop really need an in-laid fingerprint scanner taking up part of its touch area?

However, it's a mostly rather good pad. This is a textured glass one, not the tackier plastic kind often used in fairly expensive gaming laptops, under the presumption most will plug in a mouse anyway. 

There's no wobble or float to the surface and the clicker strikes a good balance between speed and a sure-feeling click mechanism. You'll still find a fairly large click dead zone at the top, because this is a classic clicker and not the haptic type that lets you press every square millimetre of the pad. 

We also found the Acer Triton 300 SE's touchpad a bit too tap-click sensitive to start, but you can tweak its behaviour within Windows 10. 

Hardware & Performance

  • Intel Core i7 (11370H) processor, 16GB RAM (up to 24GB)
  • 5th Gen AeroBlade 3D Fan cooling system
  • Nvidia RTX 3060 GPU (as reviewed)
  • Dedicated Turbo button
  • 256GB/512GB SSD
  • Wi-Fi 6 (AX1650i)

The design challenge Acer faced with the Triton 300 SE was how much power it could fit into a relatively thin and light laptop. The answer? A lot! We got the Intel Core i7-11370H CPU, 16GB RAM, a 1TB SSD, and Nvidia's RTX 3060 graphics card.

Let's take a look at the compromises involved here. First up, while that Core i7 CPU belongs to Intel's performance H-series line, it only has half the amount of cores as you might see in a big and chunky gaming laptop. You get four instead of eight, bringing its performance closer to that of a normal thin and light Core i7 CPU. 

Maxed-out, with all processor cores doing their thing, the Asus Zephyrus G14's Ryzen 7 5800H will beat the Acer Triton 300 SE. 

However, in AAA games the graphics card is almost always going to be the thing that defines performance. And laptop graphics cards can be confusing in 2021. 

These days one of the best ways to judge how much a laptop is getting out of a card like the Nvidia RTX 3060 is to check how much power is going into it. It can range from 60W to 115W, based on the version used and the laptop's ability to get rid of heat. 

The best you'll get from the Acer Triton 300 SE is 75W, bang on what Acer claims (although it also cites 90W elsewhere). However, to get this you need to use the Turbo mode. There's a dedicated button for this above the keyboard, and it makes the fans run just about as fast as they'll go, creating a whole lot of noise. 

If you play with a headset on, this is no problem - as long as there's no-one in the vicinity. Switch Turbo mode off and you lose about 15 per cent power, along with a similar drop in frame rate. But the laptop is also then relatively quiet. 

Judging by our testing you get about 56 per cent of the peak gaming power on battery only. But this is still enough to make a game like Control run OK as long as you don't try to switch on ray-tracing lighting effects

So what does all this mean? The Acer's performance is pretty similar to the latest Asus Zephyrus G14's. Actually the Asus does slightly better with the fans doing their best jet engine impression. The Acer, meanwhile, performs slightly better in "auto" fan mode, which is what most people will probably want to use most of the time. 

You can play Control with ray-tracing set to High and the resolution at 1080p and see frame rates around 40fps with Turbo fan mode, or 35fps with Auto fan speed. If that doesn't sound too impressive, you can drop ray-tracing down a bit to get closer to 60fps. Or switch off ray-tracing and use the upscaling DLSS feature to get frame rates well over 60fps. 

Maxed-out the Acer Triton 300 SE generates enough heat to make the grille above the keyboard too hot to touch for more than a second or two. And in Turbo mode the CPU runs at 100 degrees Centigrade, which is its absolute limit. 

Acer has done a pretty good job here in maxing out what the hardware can do in this form. But it's a reminder of why sometimes a bigger gaming laptop is a better idea for many. 

Battery life

  • Ports: 2x USB-A, 1x USB-C, 1x HDMI, 3.5mm headphone jack
  • 4-cell battery, 180W charger, "up to 10 hour" life

The Acer Triton 300 SE has a battery capacity similar to that of a good non-gaming slim and light laptop. We tried three types of usage to see how long it lasted, and one of them got pretty close to Acer's 10-hour claim. 

Playing video streamed from YouTube at 50 per cent brightness the Acer Triton 300 SE lasts around nine hours 20 minutes. Not too bad at all, for an Intel CPU gaming machine.

Writing this review and other documents out in the blazing sun, with the screen brightness set to max but the processor barely taxed at all, and the battery lost 24 per cent in two hours. This suggests roughly a maximum battery life of eight hours to eight hours 20 minutes with the screen at its brightest. 

This all sounds pretty promising. But Acer's decision to still feed the Nvidia RTX 3060 a decent amount of power even when unplugged means intense gaming kills it in no time. We estimate its AAA gaming longevity at 62 minutes. 

The Acer Triton 300 SE uses a classic cylindrical jack system to charge, not USB-C. And while the charger brick is good for 180 watts of power, it's actually relatively small. It's good to see Acer consider this element too, as a light laptop's appeal wanes a bit if the charger weighs a tonne. 

Your array of connections seems to focus on what you might need for portable use. There are two USB 3.2 ports, an HDMI and a headphone jack, but no Ethernet socket. There's also one USB-C with Thunderbolt 4 support. This offers the bandwidth for a port-laden dock if you want to use this laptop as the brains of a full desktop setup. 

Verdict

The Acer Triton 300 SE is a great gaming laptop for someone who also needs something portable they can realistically carry around most days. Battery life is solid for light work. The 1.7kg weight may not be light as such, but it's much lighter than the gaming laptop norm.

The Acer is also a bit cheaper than the Asus Zephyrus G14, which set the standard for this genre of laptop back in 2020. So now there's much more competition to consider.

A couple of design elements look ever-so-slightly dated, though, sticking out in an otherwise very '2021' style of laptop. The Triton 300 SE also runs hot and loud when you max-out its gaming performance.

But you know what? At this price point it's a bit of a badass, particularly when you can pay a similar amount for a laptop with no real gaming skills, and end up with less SSD storage too.

Also consider

Asus Zephyrus G14

This laptop proved a laptop this powerful could be made this portable in 2020. You can get it with a far punchier Ryzen 9 CPU and the design looks a little more cutting-edge. However, the results for gaming are comparable and the Acer is up to £200 cheaper, versus the Ryzen 7 Zephyrus G14.

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Lenovo Legion 5 Pro

If you don't need portability, we'd suggest a Lenovo Legion 5 Pro instead. It has a higher-power version of the RTX 3060 graphics card, a more powerful CPU and makes less noise when playing AAA games. The screen's better too. But would we want to use one as a portable laptop? Hell no. 

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Writing by Mike Lowe. Originally published on 8 January 2021.

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