Acer Chromebook 516 GE review: All fun and games

The first Chromebooks were modest devices, intended only to provide a lightweight, affordable laptop that could handle basic web browsing, email and a spot of work in Microsoft Office.

However recently, Chromebooks have begun to spread their wings a little. That’s meant larger screens and more powerful processors – and some of them have even set their sights on the gaming scene. That’s very much the case with Acer’s Chromebook 516 GE – or ‘gaming edition’ – which boasts a high-quality 16-inch display and speedy 12th-generation Intel processor.

There’s a problem here, though, as gaming generally requires a dedicated GPU, as well as a powerful CPU, in order to cope with high-speed 3D graphics. And if Chromebooks simply mimic PC laptops by bulking out with more powerful hardware then they stop being lightweight and affordable. Herein lies the conundrum.

Acer’s solution is to focus on streaming games services, such as nVidia’s GeForce Now. That lets the cloud take the strain, relying on nVidia’s online servers to provide the graphical horsepower required for gaming, while still allowing the Chromebook 516 GE to maintain an admirably sleek and lightweight design.

Price And Options

  • 16.0-inch display, 2560 x 1600 resolution @ 120Hz
  • CPU: Intel i5-1240P; 4 performance cores (4.4GHz); 8 efficiency cores (3.3GHz)
  • GPU: Intel Iris Xe (integrated, 1.3GHz)
  • Memory: 8GB LPDDR4X
  • Storage: 256GB PCIe NVMe solid-state

Windows-based gaming laptops tend to provide a wide range of customisation options, so that you can build the gaming rig of your dreams. In contrast, the Chromebook 516 GE is more of a ‘take it or leave it’ proposition. Only recently launched in the US, the Chromebook currently offers just a single configuration, priced at $649.99 with a 12th gen Intel i5-1240P, a modest 8GB memory and 256GB solid-state drive. Its crowning glory, though, is its 16-inch display, with 2560×1600 resolution and 120Hz refresh rate, which is designed to provide smooth, precise motion for high-speed action games.

Acer tells us that the i5 version of the Chromebook 516 GE will go on sale in the UK early in 2023 – albeit at a higher price of £799.00. There are also plans to release a model with a more powerful i7 processor, along with 16GB memory and 512GB storage, although pricing has yet to be confirmed for that model.

Design And Display

  • 21.3mm thick, 1.7kg weight
  • Ports: 2 x USB-C (3.2), 1x USB-A (3.2), 1 x 3.5mm audio in/out, 1 x HDMI
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6E, 1x 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth 5.2
  • 16-inch display, 2560 x 1600 resolution, 120Hz refresh, 100% sRGB

There’s no denying that the Chromebook 516 GE is very smartly designed. It measures just 21.3mm thick and weighs 1.7kg, which is admirably slim and light for a laptop with a large 16-inch display. The plastic case could, perhaps, be a little sturdier, but it feels solid enough to cope with a few bumps in a backpack when you’re travelling.

The keyboard feels great – especially for a mid-price laptop such as this – and the keys have a nice, smooth action when you’re typing for work, or pounding the keyboard during long gaming sessions. Acer pays good attention to detail too, with multiple colour schemes available for the keyboard backlight – and it even highlights the WASD keys with a white border to improve visibility.

But, of course, it’s that 16-inch display that is the key selling point for gamers. It provides 2560 x 1600 resolution with 16:10 aspect ratio, and 120Hz refresh that is designed to serve up smooth, sharp movement when you’re playing high-speed action games.

The image is certainly sharp, bright and colourful – so much so that some of the colours seemed a little over-saturated at times. However, Acer states that the display supports 100% of the sRGB colour standard, which makes it suitable for basic photo or video-editing work, as well as gaming or watching online video. We were also pleased to find that the Chromebook includes a full HD (1920×1080) webcam too. Our only minor complaint is that the ‘quad’ speaker system sounds a little thin, so you’ll probably want to use a decent headset or external speakers for gaming or watching films.

A laptop that’s designed to be online most of the time also needs good connectivity, and the Chromebook 516 GE is one of the first laptops we’ve seen that supports the latest Wi-Fi 6E technology. This adds a new 6.0GHz band to the 2.4GHz and 5.0GHz used by Wi-Fi 5 and 6, so if you have a Wi-Fi 6E router you could dedicate that high-speed 6.0GHz band to the Chromebook to ensure that it gets maximum performance when you’re streaming your online games.

It supports high-speed wired connections too, with a 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet port tucked onto the left-hand side of the laptop, along with a 3.5mm audio connector and USB-C (3.2) port. There’s another USB-C over on the right-hand side, and a USB-A (3.2) as well. And if the 16-inch screen isn’t large enough there’s an HDMI port for connecting an external display.

Performance And Battery

  • i5 processor provides good performance
  • Integrated Iris Xe graphics
  • 6 hours’ battery life

It may not have a dedicated GPU, but the Chromebook’s i5-1240P processor still provides a very respectable performance. It achieves a score of 1,400 for single-core performance when running GeekBench 5, and a multi-core score of 8,100. That’s only slightly weaker than the multi-core score of 8,950 achieved by Apple’s M2-powered MacBook Air. The MacBook Air does have stronger graphics, but it costs around $1200/£1200, so the Chromebook 516 GE represents good value for money, and is more than capable of handling routine tasks such as web browsing or running Microsoft Office.

Its integrated Iris Xe GPU should also be able to handle a spot of photo or video-editing work if required. However, running the 3DMark Wildlife Extreme test produces a modest score of 11.7fps, which means that the Chromebook won’t be ideal for running games that are stored directly on the laptop itself.

That’s exactly why the Chromebook is focused on streaming services such as GeForce Now. This is pre-installed on the Chromebook, and also includes a free, three-month trial for the top-tier GeForce subscription plan with RTX 3080 graphics, running up to 120fps. That’ll set you back £17.99/$19.99 a month after that, or £8.99/$9.99 per month for the standard plan, at up to 60fps. There is a free option, but its one-hour playing time and log-in queues aren’t really practical for serious gaming.

Steam and Xbox Games Pass are also available for Chromebooks, but they’re still in beta and don’t offer the straightforward set-up of GeForce Now, which also has the advantage of supporting games that you might own from multiple online stores, including Steam, GoG and Epic.

It’s worth noting, though, that not all games run on GeForce now at the moment, with notable absentees including Skyrim and other Elder Scrolls games.

Still, having recently upgraded our office broadband to 150Mbps, we were pleasantly surprised to find that GeForce Now provided smooth, fast action – whether we were charging around in Shadow Of The Tomb Raider, or commanding hordes of demons in bang up-to-date games such as Total War: Warhammer III. An impressive performance indeed – and perhaps surprisingly so.

Casual gaming is a little more problematic, though. In theory, most Chromebooks can run hundreds of Android games downloaded from the Google Play Store. However, Android games are generally designed to work with the touch-screen controls of a smartphone or tablet, rather than the Chromebook 516 GE’s conventional keyboard and mouse controls – it’s unlikely to be a dealbreaker, but something to bear in mind all the same.

In fact, our only real disappointment here is that Acer’s claim of 10 hours’ battery life seems a little optimistic. Even with the screen brightness set at 50%, the Chromebook only manages to nudge a couple of minutes past six hours. However, quite how annoying that is is up for debate. Its reliance on online gaming services means that you’ll mostly be using it indoors, where you have mains power and wi-fi available at all times.

Original Article