Acer Chromebook 516 GE review: a Chromebook for gaming?

Acer 516 GE on railing outdoors at dawn.

Acer Chromebook 516 GE

MSRP $650.00

Pros

  • Performance and endurance
  • Great display
  • Good price for the specs
  • Well-built
  • Play AAA games without your lap turning into lava

Cons

  • Gaming-related bugs and crashes
  • No touchscreen
  • Could use customizable keys

There’s a surprising new genre in the world of Chromebooks. Google has partnered with companies such as Acer, Asus, and Lenovo to create the world’s first ChromeOS-powered cloud gaming laptops, and from what we’ve seen so far, that world is looking very promising.

We got a chance to test Acer’s premier offering recently — the well-priced, well-executed $650 Acer Chromebook 516 GE. It combines the convenience of ChromeOS with surprising hardware chops that might whet the appetite of cloud gamers, as long as you have the right internet connection for it.

Specs

  Acer 516 GE
Dimensions 14.04 inches x 9.80 inches x 0.84 inches (W x H x D)
Weight 3.75 pounds
Processor Intel Core i5-1240P
Graphics Intel Iris Xe
RAM 8GB LPDDR4X
Display 16.0-inch LED-backlit TFT LCD, WQXGA (2560 x 1600; 16:10), 120Hz, 350 nits, sRGB 100%
Storage 256GB, PCIe Gen3, 8 Gb/s up to 2 lanes, NVMe Solid state drive
Wireless Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.2
Webcam 1080p
Operating system ChromeOS
Battery 65 watt-hour 3-cell Li-ion
Price $650

Design

Acer 516 GE top view with Xbox controller on top.
Aaron Leong

Sporting an all-gray matte finish, the 14″ x 9.8″ x 0.8″ Acer Chromebook 516 GE is built on an aluminum chassis that doesn’t flex much, if at all. Thin bezels surround the display. The hinge action is smooth, carrying a splash of burnt/oxidized blue — one of the only two visible giveaways that this is meant to be some kind of a gaming laptop

The slightly top-heavy lid manages to stay at pretty much any angle, even during those animated gaming sessions in bed propped on your knees. The lid can continue to swing back to a full 180 degrees, in case you lay in a more supine position.

I particularly like the two slightly rubberized feet that run almost the entire width of the machine. They help keep the exhaust vents from being too close to your desk or your lap, aiding in heat dissipation. Another side benefit is they serve as substantial finger grips to keep this sizable laptop from slipping as you carry it around in your hands.

The Acer is definitely on the larger end of the size spectrum for Chromebooks, but its 3.1 pounds (1.7 kg) weight is well-balanced throughout the chassis. As a Chromebook on the chunkier end of the spectrum, it’s surprisingly portable.

Ports

Port selection is pretty solid for its kind. There are two pass-through USB-C, one USB-A, one full-sized HDMI, an RJ-45 2.5G Gigabit Ethernet (2.5GbE) LAN, Bluetooth 5.2, Wi-Fi 6E, one 3.5mm audio port, and one Kensington lock. All the I/Os are situated on the left and right sides of the machine.

One minor thing is that, with all the space on the sides of the Chromebook, it would have been nice to have a second USB-A port for when the only one is taken up for a mouse dongle.

Keyboard and touchpad

Acer 516 GE on desk with two hands typing.
Aaron Leong

I typed most of this review on this review unit, and while it’s not a mechanical keyboard, it has enough rebound, response time, and feedback for churning out your essays or future novel between hectic gaming sessions. I would have preferred slightly less sponginess and maybe more audible keypresses, but ultimately not bad for a first-time effort. 

One area that was disappointing, especially for a device with gaming aspirations, is the brightness of the RGB backlighting — or rather, the lack thereof. It’s fine in the dark, but you’ll be strained to see it in the daytime. Besides the usual ChromeOS backlight brightness control, Google has now added the ability to alter the color of the backlight to match the wallpaper (harking to Android’s Material You) or a few other color options. 

Top view of Acer 516 GE RGB keyboard.
Aaron Leong

Another improvement I’d like to see is customizable gaming keys, especially considering how much unused surface real estate there is on the Acer Chromebook 516 GE. At the very least, a larger function (customizable) row would be more becoming of a gaming laptop.

The OceanGlass moisture-resistant trackpad is responsive enough with very little drag. And speaking of resistance, apparently, the keys and all touch surfaces are anti-microbially treated to reduce the growth rate of stain or odor-causing bacteria.

One idiosyncrasy that popped up with the trackpad was that, whenever Xbox Cloud Gaming Beta crashes (which happens one or two out of ten times), the trackpad behaved really strangely. The sensitivity would be way off, it wouldn’t register finger swipes 80% of the time, and tap gestures stopped working. It usually took about 45 seconds to a minute before it resolved itself, but it was pretty distracting.

Webcam and display

Acer 516 GE on couch screen open at max brightness.
Aaron Leong

Why manufacturers don’t optimize their web-cam sensors will continue to remain a mystery. The single front-facing 1080p one of the 516 GE struggles with contrast and detail in the daytime and graininess in low light conditions. In other words, the camera is best saved as a backup to your primary webcam. The camera is flanked on both sides by speakers, which provides good quality sound, but bear in mind that there’s no noise canceling to keep vacuum cleaners, background chatter, or crying babies at bay.

There’s plenty of visual real estate for gaming and media consumption with an expansive 16-inch WQXGA 2560 x 1600 (16:10) display, making it a joy to use, whether you’re gaming for hours on end, staring at spreadsheets, or consuming media. Samsung and HP Chromebooks may have sharper, albeit smaller QHD+ displays, but let’s not forget: The price and display size of the Acer is hard to beat in the Chromebook world. 

While it doesn’t sport the 144Hz refresh rate of the Asus, in reality, you can’t really tell the difference. Granted, if you come from 30 or 60Hz displays, then 120 Hz will seem like a revelation (which it is), but if you’re cross-shopping between the Acer and Asus, there’s really nothing much to it — both will be as smooth as butter.  The matte IPS panel is sharp and colorful where it counts, although it pushes a little warm in terms of white balance. Outdoor or direct light viewing could be better, since the display maxes out at a little over 350 nits. The matte display, on the other hand, reduces glare immensely, such as when you’re using the laptop in the daytime by a window. 

If you’re used to touchscreen Chromebooks, it’s really hard to go back.

That being said, if you’re used to touchscreen Chromebooks, it’s really hard to go back. Performing certain actions and commands, such as pinching to zoom or closing pop-up dialog boxes directly on the display, are just more ergonomic and efficient. A gaming device like the Acer Chromebook 516 GE would certainly benefit from this little mod-con, such as when needing to quickly navigate Xbox Cloud menus or to fiddle with settings on the fly.

One glitch I found was whenever I dipped the screen brightness to minimum (i.e. off), waited for five seconds or more, and then tapped the brightness back up a notch, the lower half of the display would stay black, slowly flickering to match the upper half.

Speakers

Sound is supplied by two force-canceling speakers per side. The fancy-sounding name was made popular by Apple’s 2021 iMac. The basic idea behind force-canceling speakers there (as well as in this context) is having two woofers firing in opposite directions and in perfect unison to eliminate unwanted vibrations. In reality, overall sound quality is good — if a little woolly — with enough detail, composure, and bass, even at maximum volume.

An interesting note is that, even though these drivers are top-firing, the produced sound behaves like a down-firing setup. 

Performance

Acer 516 GE gaming with Xbox controller.
Aaron Leong

A quick glance at the processor and GPU specifications may cause one to quickly dismiss this device as a “gaming rig.” Let’s not forget, however, that the system only needs to run cloud-processed gaming apps or, at most, high-end games from the Google Play Store. Nonetheless, the Intel Core i5-1240P 12-core 1.70GHz processor is no slouch in this application.

Geekbench 5 tests produced scores of 1438 single-core and 5395 multi-core, which, for a Chromebook of this type and price range, is more than sufficient, lifting up the 516 GE. In fact, it’s one of the most powerful Chromebooks right now, thanks again to that 12-core 16-thread Intel i5. There’s also 8GB of energy efficient LPDDR4x RAM (up to 16GB) — on par with most high-end Chromebooks — which allows the 516 GE to hum along nicely with two to three Desks running, each with about 15-20 browser tabs open.

Using GeForce Now and Xbox Cloud Beta, for example, is straightforward. They’re progressive web apps (PWA) where you find and launch your games. I had smooth experiences (network quality-dependent, of course) playing A Plague Tale: Requiem, Death Loop, Scorn, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. While most modern Chromebooks can cloud-stream games, it’s quite a big difference playing on a machine with a fantastically colorful and smooth display without breaking a sweat. Control lag for wireless mice or controllers can be an issue, but that’s true with streaming on any device. When I switched to my wired Xbox controller, latency improved noticeably.

If you’re looking to utilize the hardware and 120Hz display to the max, the Acer is optimized to run 1400+ PC games in GeForce Now (RTX 3080 tier) at 1600p at 120 FPS (both Luna+ and Xbox Cloud tap out at 1080p 60 fps). Once you’ve gamed at that kind of framerates and resolution, the others seem comparatively plebian. A nice perk as well is that the Chromebook comes with a three-month trial of RTX 3080.

Your gaming experience can defer not because of the hardware limitations of the Acer itself, but with network speed.

Tests like 3DMark (6004 Wild Life score, average frame rate 36) show the obvious weakness of the Iris Xe graphics hardware. Running locally-installed games like Genshin Impact will require you to peg things at medium settings at around 30-35 fps. I do wonder how the numbers would improve with the Intel i7, 16 GB RAM version of the 516 GE, which is available in other markets.

That being said, your gaming experience can defer not because of the hardware limitations of the Acer itself, but with network speed. Internet speeds slower than 250mbps can cause major streaming quality and delay issues. I’d recommend 1 Gbps to really take advantage of what the system has to offer.

For the most part, the fan spins without being loud even under load. However, I noticed that, under low use (typing or light browsing), the cooling fan would occasionally say hi with literally a split-second burst to maximum rpm and then turn off. It’s random, it’s uncouth, and it’s mildly annoying.

Battery life

Binge-watching House of the Dragon on the go can be challenging if the battery life cannot keep up. Thankfully, the Acer Chromebook 516 GE with its very large 65 Wh battery managed to squeeze out an average of 12.3 hours (with the fantastic screen at 50% brightness and volume at 50%). That number predictably drops to a little over five hours when gaming (at 50% screen brightness and 50% volume, as well as with RGB lighting on).

Running a web browser macro test, the 516 GE was able to browse looped websites for a little over eight hours (again, at 50% display brightness) before giving up the ghost. For what it’s worth, Acer quotes nine hours maximum runtime per charge, although it’s unknown what the testing parameters were. There are, obviously, Chromebooks that get many hours more of battery life with lesser processors and screens.

Recharging a dead battery takes an average of two hours and 10 minutes with the supplied 65W charger. Note that, to protect the battery, charging actually maxes out at approximately 58W, gradually reducing as battery charge increases.

Our take

Acer 516 GE on couch with lid opened to 180 degrees.
Aaron Leong

The Acer Chromebook 516 GE has plenty of real-world performance to keep cloud gamers happy. The power and endurance complement the smooth, accurate display. So long as you have fast internet speeds, gaming on the 516 GE is a joy. As a Chromebook for all other functions, it’s fantastic as well, although it would be great to see a touchscreen or 2-in-1 version in the future.

Competition is pretty straightforward right now, with literally only three stream-gaming models to choose from: the 516 GE from Acer, the Asus Chromebook Vibe CX55 Flip ($700), and Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming Chromebook ($550). Lenovo is probably the closest specs-wise to the Acer, whereas the Asus offers a 2-in-1 solution and a 144 Hz refresh rate FHD screen.

Just as importantly, this new genre of Chromebooks is a nice surprise from Google. Following the failure of Stadia, it’s good to see Chromebooks specifically designed to run Nvidia GeForce Now (you get three months free with the 516 GE), Steam (now on the beta channel), Amazon Luna+, and Xbox Cloud Gaming. Most of these services can stream at 120Hz 1600p, which is in line with the hardware of these new models. It seems like such a natural progression that it makes you wonder why there wasn’t a push for these devices sooner.

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