Requires subscription to game streaming service for AAA games
Gaming on a Chromebook seemed like an impossibility until now. Pairing the Acer Chromebook 516 GE with a streaming service like Nvidia’s GeForce Now yields some very impressive results. It’s a powerful device with plenty of performance on tap, marking the start of a new era for Chromebooks.
There’s been a recent trend of new Chromebooks aimed at gamers. The timing of this might feel a bit suspect, with Google closing down its Stadia game streaming platform in January 2023, but there are still plenty of other great gaming streaming services available, plus a range of Android apps that can run on Chromebooks.
Acer’s entry is known as the Chromebook 516 GE, with ‘GE’ standing for ‘Gaming Edition’. But can it go toe-to-toe with rivals in this emerging sector? Here’s the full Tech Advisor review of the Acer Chromebook 516 GE.
Design & build
Lightweight for size
Clean and smart livery
Chunky, but relatively light
The 516 GE is built for gaming, so it makes sense that this isn’t one of your small and compact Chromebooks. The aluminium chassis measures 357mm x 250mm x 21mm and weighs in at a respectively light 1.7kg.
All of this space gives room for the 16-inch IPS display, quad speakers, a full-size keyboard (replete with programmable lighting) and large trackpad. There’s also a decent selection of ports, into which you can plug a monitor, game controller, ethernet cable or many other peripherals.
The Iron colour-scheme is cool and avoids the often gaudy designs we’ve seen on dedicated gaming laptops. Two large exhaust ports sit under the display, to help dissipate heat and keep things tolerable when in the midst of busy gaming sessions.
The reasonably lightweight chassis and attractive livery, means when you’re not battling the advancing hordes, the Acer can lead the double life of a standard Chromebook that wouldn’t look out of place in a meeting. The 516 GE feels durable and professional without killing your shoulders when carried in a backpack. Not a bad combination.
Screen & speakers
16-inch IPD panel
Obviously, if you’re serious about gaming then you’re going to need a decent display with fast refresh rates, and on these counts the Chromebook 516 GE delivers. Acer equips the device with a 16-inch LCD IPS WQXGA panel (wow, that’s a lot of letters) that runs at 2560×1600 and features a 120Hz refresh rate.
The pin-sharp display has enough space to render the many moving aspects of a AAA game but also the monthly figures from an Excel spreadsheet when it’s time to do some work. You won’t find many Chromebook displays which can pivot between gaming and work so seamlessly.
Colours are well represented – the display boasts 100% sRGB coverage, so you get highly detailed tones. Also, the 16:10 aspect ratio makes it slighter taller than the 16:9 panels you’d traditionally find on a Chromebook. Scrolling images are smooth too, with the high refresh rate ensuring you don’t miss vital elements when gaming.
Should you wish to take your adventures into the garden or brightly-lit rooms, the 370 nits maximum brightness should be just about enough, but the 516 GE is definitely happier when inside.
One downside is that there’s no touchscreen on this Chromebook. If you like to play Android games, this might be a bit of a problem. But the thinner panel helps keep the weight down, and the main focus here is on game streaming services, for which you’d connect a controller anyway.
Sound comes from four speakers, with grilles positioned either side of the keyboard and on the underside of the device. You can get some decent volume out of them, but the audio isn’t immersive. Compared to the 3D effect on many dedicated speaker systems, they sound quite flat.
There is a 3.5mm headphone jack though, so you can connect external speakers to improve the audio, or pop on some gaming headphones for that immersive experience.
Keyboard & trackpad
The full-sized keyboard on the Chromebook 516 GE is very comfortable to use, although it’s quite soft and does lack a certain amount of tactile response that some gamers may prefer. I didn’t find this a problem, though, and it works well for both and gaming.
One clear gaming-focused laptop is the colourful RGB backlighting, which allows you to select which colour is displayed under the keys.
Acer has also added highlights to the surrounds of the W, A, S and D keys that are often used for movement in games. You can’t set up specific colours for certain keys, but having a non-white keyboard backdrop when gaming in the dark is pretty cool on a Chromebook.
The trackpad is a healthy size and responds quickly to gestures. You’ll probably want to invest in a gaming mouse if you intend to play FPS or real-time strategy games, but for day-to-day activities the trackpad is solid.
Ports, connectivity & webcam
Plenty of ports
Includes ethernet and HDMI
Decent 1080p webcam
Acer has equipped the Chromebook 516 GE with a wealth of ports that can be used to enhance the gaming experience.
On the flanks, you’ll find 2x USB-C 3.2 ports, a 2.5G Gigabit Ethernet port (for wired internet connections while streaming games), a HDMI port (to display on a TV or monitor) and and a USB-A 3.2 port (for general peripherals). The extensive port selection is one of the key strengths of the 516 GE.
The laptop also includes Wi-Fi 6E capabilities and Bluetooth 5.2, so it’s about as up to date as it can be. This should mean the device is well future-proofed.
The built-in webcam goes up to 1080p and does a decent job of keeping the image clean. It’s not the best I’ve seen, but far from the worst. So, if you just want something for a bit of video-conferencing, then it’s up to the job.
Chromebooks can often come with pretty basic specifications, as ChromeOS doesn’t run that many local apps and tends to be focussed on web-based tasks.
Acer doesn’t hold back with the 516 GE, though, as it’s powered by a 12th-gen (Alder Lake) Intel Core i5-1240p processor with 12-cores. This is accompanied by an Intel Iris Xe integrated GPU, 8GB of LPDDR4X RAM and a 256GB SSD. The lack of a discrete GPU might seem like an issue, but the excellent gaming performance suggests otherwise.
Trying out the old Android favourite Asphalt 9: Legends returned a fluent and visually pleasing experience. There was no choppiness and my PS4 controller connected to the Chromebook via Bluetooth to provided fast and accurate responses.
Signing up to Nvidia’s GeForce Now cloud gaming platform gave me access to more complex titles, where again the 516 GE proved a steady and judder-free experience. Google and Acer have teamed up to offer anyone who buys the Chromebook 516 GE a three month free trial of the Ultimate tier, so you’ll be good to go straight away.
It’s really impressive how far this technology has come in a short-time, with AAA PC games rendering perfectly on a Chromebook, thanks to the heavy lifting being done on the server side by Nvidia GeForce Now. Aside from the free-to-play demos, there was also new and classic games you can buy, plus the option to connect your Steam, Ubisoft, GOG and Epic accounts and access your already purchased games (provided they’re also available on GeForce Now).
Obviously, you’ll need a strong internet connection to keep performance levels high, but the ethernet port does mean you don’t have to rely on Wi-Fi. Saying that, I found the wireless speeds to be fast enough to carry some graphically demanding games with ease.
There was the occasional hiccup in terms of buttons on the controller not quite matching up with the commands all the time, but overall the experience was a very positive one. It proves that Chromebook gaming has finally come of age.
To get an idea of how the Chromebook 516 GE compares to other models we’ve tested, I put it through some of our regular benchmarks.
Battery & charging
Solid battery life
No real fast charging
Having great performance is all well and good, but if the battery gives out after a short time then there’s not much gaming going to be happening. Thankfully, this isn’t a problem for the Chromebook 516 GE – battery life isn’t spectacular, but still in line with many Windows gaming laptops.
After an hour of solid gaming with FPS style games on Nvidia’s GeForce Now service, the battery life had dropped by 20%. That means you should be good for around five or six hours of use. Obviously, the fact that the gaming servers are doing so much of the work means that the Chromebook itself can save on energy, which makes it actually rather competitive against more powerful Windows gaming PCs.
In our standard video-loop test where we stream at 1080p with the display set to 200 nits until the machine dies, the Chromebook 516 GE managed an acceptable, if not overly impressive, five hours and ten minutes.
Charging times were also decent, with the device getting back to 21% in 15 minutes and 41% in half an hour. A full recharge was around 90 minutes though, so be sure to plug it in a good while before you head out.
Streaming services like GeForce Now work brilliantly
As this is a Chromebook, the 516 GE runs on ChromeOS, the stripped-down operating system that looks and feels quite a bit like the Chrome browser.
With this in mind, you can’t run Windows or macOS applications, unless they have an Android equivalent. While the addition of Android apps does open things up quite a bit, they are still hit and miss in terms of being able to resize to desktop dimensions.
But, so many services now have web versions which makes it easy to get work done, sync up your progress and generally use a Chromebook like any other laptop. Google’s own software covers much of the ground you’d get from Microsoft Office, with several of the apps working offline and loading up changes when you return to a web connection.
As you can see from the Nvidia GeForce Now service mentioned above, it’s certainly possible these days to use powerful apps on a Chromebook without even having to install them locally.
Price & availability
You can order the Chromebook 516 GE directly from Acer today, with US customers getting only Intel Core i5 model with a 8GB/256GB configuration for $649.99. UK buyers are looking at £849.99 for the same model.
But the latter also have a higher-spec version available to them, with Acer offering an Intel Core i7, 16GB/256GB model for £999.99. There’s no indication at the moment whether this variation will make it to North America.
As gaming Chromebooks are still relatively new, there isn’t much competition for the 516 GE at the moment. Asus has its new Chromebook Vibe CX34 Flip which costs around $869/£849, plus there’s also the Lenovo IdeaPad 5i that usually retails for around $699/£599.
Given the high prices of many dedicated graphics, the Chromebook approach of streaming games rather than playing locally means you can access plenty of AAA titles without spending a fortune.
The Acer Chromebook 516 GE encapsulates this admirably. The display is large, sharp and colourful, the keyboard is comfortable for long periods and has the RGB backlighting, plus performance across all situations is as good as you’ll get on any Chromebook at this price.
But pairing it with a game streaming service like Nvidia GeForce Now takes the gaming experience to the next level. It’s more lightweight than your average 16in gaming laptop, while battery life is good enough to support an extended gaming session.
If you want a Chromebook for general use, there are plenty of more affordable options. But if you want a gaming Chromebook, this is the one to buy right now.