Earlier this week, Google and hardware partners ASUS, Acer and Lenovo announced a somewhat surprising initiative to build Chromebooks expressly for cloud gaming. While many Chromebooks are a riff on the classic 13-inch laptop, the first round of these devices have large, high-resolution screens with fast refresh rates, anti-ghosting keyboards, powerful processors and a few software tweaks to better work with cloud gaming services like GeForce NOW.
All these laptops are set to be released by the end of October, but I got a chance to check out a pre-production version of Acer’s Chromebook 516 GE. Over the last week, I’ve played some games with it as well as put it through my daily work routine. I’ll need to test the final version before giving it a proper review, but the Chromebook 516 GE has a lot going for it, whether you play games or not.
Acer will offer a few configurations of this laptop, but the one I tried is up for pre-order at Best Buy. It features a 12th-generation Intel Core i5-1240P processor, 8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage and a 16-inch, 2,560×1,600 display with a 120Hz refresh rate. The 516 GE is larger and heavier than a lot of Chromebooks, but 3.75 pounds is pretty reasonable for a 16-inch laptop.
As an all-purpose machine, there’s a lot to like about the 516 GE, assuming you’re OK with a computer that isn’t super portable. The screen is simply great to work on – with an effective 1,600 x 1,000 resolution by default, there’s plenty of vertical space, and I was easily able to have large windows (like a Google Doc and Slack) next to each other without feeling cramped. Its brightness rating of 350 nits isn’t going to blow you away, but it felt like plenty to me, and colors were nicely saturated without being exaggerated. And while the 120Hz refresh rate doesn’t change the basic experience of using a Chromebook, things like scrolling through YouTube or resizing windows did feel smooth and fluid.
The keyboard and trackpad are also great. The keyboard is large and spacious, and the keys have plenty of travel. It’s equally suited to a long writing session or playing games. And the computer’s large deck means the trackpad is also one of the bigger ones I’ve used on a Chromebook; it’s smooth and responsive. In a nod to its gaming heritage, the keyboard has an RGB LED backlight and an outline around the WASD keys, but these are about the only flourishes that make this computer feel like a “gaming laptop.”
The real question with this laptop, though, is whether it truly offers a better cloud gaming experience than other options (including other Chromebooks). I’m not ready to pass judgment on that yet, but both NVIDIA’s GeForce Now and Xbox Cloud Gaming worked without any issues here. I just plugged in my Xbox Controller and got to business. On GeForce Now, which I connected to my Steam account, I spent some time playing Portal and Shadow of the Tomb Raider, while I tried out favorites like Forza Horizon 5 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge via my Game Pass subscription.
There’s no doubt that this display elevates the experience, both simply because of its sheer size and its resolution. I haven’t tried any games that played at 120Hz yet, but everything I did play looked excellent – assuming my connection stayed solid. The 516 GE has a WiFI 6E chip inside, but as I don’t have a 6E router yet, that didn’t do me any good. And even when I was in the same room as my router, with a strong signal, the quality of my game streams varied significantly. Overall, GeForce Now feels much more reliable than Xbox Cloud Gaming. When playing Xbox games, the picture glitched out in significant, game-disrupting fashion pretty frequently. GeForce Now, on the other hand, I would experience the occasional burst of dropped frames, but the visuals rarely started tearing and distorting like they did on Xbox Cloud Gaming.
Neither were nearly as good as playing a locally installed game, and the overall experience isn’t all that different from what I’ve experienced doing cloud gaming on my MacBook Pro or other laptops. Acer can make a great laptop, but there’s only so much they can do about iffy streaming quality. And my internet connection isn’t exactly slow – I got about 170 Mbps down in a speed test I took when I was done playing.
For $650, Acer’s Chromebook 516 GE seems like a solid value – the combination of a powerful hardware, a great screen and keyboard and solid build quality make it a compelling device. Chromebooks with an i5 processor usually cost at least this much if not more, and the 516 GE has a fair number of features that make it unique. Whether this helps Google’s initiative to convince people Chromebooks are worth gaming on is another story altogether, but at the very least, Acer’s latest will likely be worth a look once it is available.