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Acer Aspire V15 Nitro Black Edition (VN7-592G-70EN) Review for Linux Users

The Acer VN7-592G-70EN -- a "Black Edition" -- is an iteration of the ASPIRE V Nitro series of gaming laptops. Although this series of laptops has the same Intel iCore 7 processor and includes a dedicated Nvidia graphics card as do the Acer Predator series of gaming laptops, it differs from the Predators in that the video processor is on the lower end of the Nvidia spectrum and in that the design is more conservative.

One of the standout features of this particular model is its value, offering the high performance iCore7-6700HQ quad core processor, 16GB DDR4 RAM, Nvidia GTX960M graphics with DDR5 video RAM, and a 128 GB SSD in addition to a 1TB mechanical hard drive for around $1000.00, in my case, purchased in September from Microcenter at a price of $999.99 reduced from a Microcenter regular price of $1049.99 (MSRP $1099.99). At the time, laptops in the same segment from ASUS and MSI lacked the SSD, making this the best value, and as it turns out, based on my experience with the laptop I purchased before exchanging it for this Acer -- an MSI -- the one that offers a good experience for use with a Linux distribution as the preferred OS.

Introduction

The Acer Aspire V15 Nitro Black Edition (VN7-592G-70EN) is a member of the ASPIRE V Nitro series of gaming laptops. Although this series of laptops has the same Intel iCore 7 processor, and includes a dedicated Nvidia graphics processor as well as an integrated Intel graphics processor, as does the Acer Predator series of gaming laptops, it differs from the Predators in that the graphics processor is on the lower end of the Nvidia spectrum, and in that the design is more conservative, without the extreme edges and flashy colors.

The standout feature of this particular model is its value, offering the high performance -- for consumer laptops -- iCore7-6700HQ quad core processor, 16GB DDR4 RAM (32GB maximum), Nvidia GeForce GTX960M graphics with DDR5 video RAM, and a 128 GB m.2 SSD, in addition to a 1TB mechanical hard drive, and the very state of the art USB Type C connector with ThunderBolt 3 support for around $1000.00 -- in my case, purchased in September 2016 from Microcenter at a price of $999.99, reduced from a Microcenter regular price of $1049.99 (MSRP $1099.99). At the time, laptops in the same segment from ASUS and MSI lacked the SSD, making this the best value, and as it turns out, based on my experience with the laptop I purchased before exchanging it for this Acer -- an MSI GE62 Apache Pro-004 -- one that offers an excellent experience for use with a Linux distribution as the preferred OS.

This series of laptops is generally marketed as a gaming laptop by various retailers. Acer however doesn't emphasize its gaming ability, maybe because the Predator series is more appealing to serious gamers. It instead emphasizes its power, high end components, and appearance. These partially overlap my requirements for a new laptop, which is important to note for the purposes of this review. Ideally I would go with a laptop specifically designed for use as a mobile workstation, such as the Dell Precision 7000 or one of the new replacements for the discontinued HP EliteBook.

The characteristics that prevent this laptop from being a true workstation class machine are the lack of ECC RAM support, lack of security features such as biometric security and a SmartCard reader, an upgradable processor (some quad-core iCore-7 processors of previous generations were upgradable), and the durability of the case. But for the money, it can be considered a workstation class laptop in many ways that matter.

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Review

The Acer VN7-592G-70EN offers a good balance of high performance, the latest components, a beautiful screen although not of the highest resolution, and a lightweight, stylish case at a good value.

The high performance derives from the Intel iCore7-6700HQ processor with 6MB of cache, 16GB of DDR4 ram, and the Samsung 128GB m.2 NVMe SSD. My subjective basis for judging the performance, besides trusting the specs of the components and performance benchmarks, such as the one shown below, is comparing my experience with this laptop with my experience with my recently retired laptops, the Lenovo-V570 (Intel iCore5-2450M, 6GB DDR3 RAM, mechanical hard drive) and the older HP EliteBook 8450w (Intel iCore7-650M, 4GB DDR3 RAM, mechanical hard drive).

In terms of my needs this laptop seems to be future-proof because in addition to two USB 3.0, one USB 2.0, and one HDMI port, it has the latest standard in connectivity -- a USB 3.1 Type C connector with integrated Thunderbolt 3. Based on what I was told by the Microcenter associate, Thunderbolt 3 is so new there are almost no devices that use the Thunderbolt 3 protocol for data transfer, although the USB 3.1 connector is somewhat common. Not even Apple devices will have this combination of connector and protocol until this year.

The screen, with full-HD resolution, IPS, and a matte finish, is fantastic in my opinion. This may not be apparent in normal work use, but when watching a film it is obvious, displaying one of the most important characteristics valued by cinephiles -- blacks in videos are reproduced as a deep true black.

On top of performance and screen quality, the aesthetic design is appealing. When the lid is open, the most striking feature is the red keyboard backlight, the single aesthetic quality that might signal a gaming laptop. The faux metal bar -- boldly displaying "ASPIRE V NITRO" -- that connects the similarly faux material hinges, wrapping around the edge to the bottom, and incorporating the rear vents, is also a striking feature, as is the long sliver of a red LED at the bottom edge of the silver bar. When the laptop is powered off, the intensity of this LED dramatically decreases until it is fully off.

Unfortunately, there are some characteristics that could be better, the worst of which is the build quality, the problems with which are described below. Others are nuisances such as the -- obviously Apple influenced -- oversimplification in the design. The laptop's case only provides two multi-mode indicator lights, one for power state and another for battery state, with varying colors for different conditions. It sadly does not provide indicators that are almost essential to me -- a caps-lock, a mum-lock, a hard disk activity, or a WiFi status indicator. Also an undesirable simplification is that the power button is incorporated into the keyboard instead of being a piece of hardware separate from the keyboard.

Also, unfortunate is the difficulty in accessing the memory modules, in case an upgrade is required to the 32 GB maximum supported by this model. Replacement of RAM modules requires a complete dissassembly. All other upgradable components, such as the SSD, can be accessed relatively easily by removing the top panel that incorporates the keyboard and disconnecting several connectors.

Performance

As mentioned above, the high performance derives primarily from the most powerful of the current Intel consumer laptop processors -- the iCore7-6700HQ, a quad-core processor with a large cache (6M), high turbo boost speed (3.5 GHz), and fast bus rates (DMI3 8GT/s) . This benchmark comparison shows that this particular processor is the fastest of current common consumer processors. Also contributing to the exceptional performance is the m.2 SSD using the SATA protocol. Boot times are significantly less, and agree with the fabled descriptions of boot time measured in seconds. Also, the time to complete a large system update, which seems to be very disk and processor intensive due to the required extraction of package archives, is much less, also thanks to the SSD -- and the DDR4 RAM and fast bus speeds.

Although not essential for my needs, the USB-C with Thunderbolt 3 connection should offer exceptional data transfer performance for those who have compatible peripherals or a docking station that uses this protocol.

The only area where performance may be lacking are for serious gamers where the Nvidia GeForce GTX-960M with 2 GB of DDR5 RAM may not be adequate. But I was impressed with the significant difference in framerates when using the integrated Intel HD Graphics processor versus the discrete Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M processor, which when were reported by glxgears as 60 frames/secong vs ~2700 frames/second. It may be useful to note that according to a Microcenter employee, Acer makes a spurious claim that this model has 4 GB of video memory because the graphics processor can use up to 2 GB of the main system memory wheras its dedicated memory is only 2GB.

Design

the Manjaro Settings Manager in version 16.08 showing graphics driver properties
The lid and hinge design of the Acer VN7-592G-70EN and Apire V Nitro "Black Edition".
The lid features an array of vertical grooves. The bar connecting the hinges displays "ASPIRE V NITRO" also visible when the lid is open.
the Manjaro Settings Manager in version 16.08<br />
                showing graphics driver properties
The Acer VN7-592G-70EN keyboard and touchpad.
The Acer VN7-592G-70EN has a red keyboard backlight (color not customizable, intensity not adjustable). The touchpad features a graphic indicating that it is a "Black Edition".
the Manjaro Settings Manager in version 16.08 showing graphics driver properties
The Acer VN7-592G-70EN's most extreme aesthetic design feature is the sliver of red LED below the "ASPIRE V NITRO".
the Manjaro Settings Manager in version 16.08 showing graphics driver properties
The bottom of the Acer VN7-592G-70EN.
All surfaces except the faux metal accents, LED, keys, touchpad, and the lid have a soft touch matte finish. It feels very good and looks very good as well. Unfortunately this type of finish wears out quickly and exposes finger and palm smudges.

Build Quality

Unfortunately, there are some misses in the design and manufacturing of this laptop, the most problematic of which is the build quality. Having exchanged this particular model twice until I understandably reached the limit of Microcenter's graciousness, I know the build quality is not consistent among each unit. The first, which I exchanged because I didn't see a Windows recovery partition after improperly shrinking and setting up partitions, and assumed I deleted a partition I shouldn't have. Actually, Acer doesn't set up a recovery partition as most other manufacturers do, but instead uses a shadow volume from which Windows can be restored (so it is especially important to create recovery media for this laptop before doing anything else, if you care about Windows). This was the best of the three, in that the only problem -- not really a problem as I would have kept this one had it not beeen for my own mistakes -- was some excess adhesive protruding from the edge of the manufacturing label.

The second laptop had a very noticeable variation in the flatness of the keyboard -- several parts of the keyboard bulged outward. So I exchanged this one for a third, which unfortunately had another problem, which initially was very annoying. In this one the screen bows towards the user such that the screen bezel puts excessive pressure at one point, causing a distortion in the screen similar to the familiar one that is produced when pressing on an LCD screen. This flaw is only noticeable on the initial splash screen on which the manufacturer logo appear swhen powering on the laptop in dimly lit conditions. I initially thought this issue was correctable by simply adjusting the placement of the screen, so I removed the bezel which was a very simple process of prying it away from the lid to expose the mounting screws. I loosened three of the four screws only to discover that the fourth screw was over-tightened and in my zeal to fix this problem I damaged the Philips crew slots. Fortunately, the problem is only noticeable when first powering on the laptop in dimly lit conditions, and not at all when the operating system has finished loading -- it is not even apparent in a virtual console. After a few months of using this laptop I am not aware of this issue at all.

Another build issue that is somewhat troubling because I don't feel the component in question wont last as long as it should concerns the power adapter. The interface between the cable to the laptop and the adapter box at the stress reliever is too loose. Over an unreasonably short time this seems likely to fail.

A positive note is that the keyboard seems to be somewhat spill resistant. I spilled about 30mL of tea on the keyboard and no component failed -- not even the keyboard backlight.

Linux

Of particular interest to Linux users is that the VN7-592G-70EN works particularly well with the Linux distributions I've installed on it. Some of the common issues that Linux users are confronted with were did not manifest on here. The uncommon wireless card worked without issue, backlight control and persistence were not an issue, not even requiring additional kernel parameters, and all hardware function keys that are activated with the Fn key worked flawlessly. The only think that Linux users will miss are some features that are only accessible through software included in the Windowa installation, such as the dust cleaning feature that works by reversing fan direction.

The suitability of this laptop to Linux is evident when comparing it to the computer I purchased at Microcenter prior to this Acer -- the MSI GE62 Apache Pro-004. Installing Ubuntu 16.04 on the MSI required some additional kernel parameters to avoid video issues including a black screen. Also some of the MSI extras such as the ability to control the keyboard backlight color, the extra keys for gaming, and buttons for controling the dust cleaning function were not supported. The Acer avoids these issues when used with Linux because these features are not available.

Another concern for Linux users is UEFI and whether Secure Boot can be turned off or bypassed. The Acer's Insyde H20 UEFI interface allows Legacy Boot and also allows Secure Boot to be turned off. If Secure Boot is turned off a supervisor password is required for the UEFI interface and firmware boot managers/loaders have to be registered by selecting this option and navigating to the GRUB application written to the EFI system partition when the Linux distribution is installed.

The Security Page of the Insyde H20 UEFI Interface. This page of the interface allows the user installed firmware boot managers to be trusted. This must be done for each GRUB installed with a Linux distribution in order for it to run at boot.
The Security Page of the Insyde H20 UEFI Interface.
This page of the interface allows the user installed firmware boot managers to be trusted. This must be done for each GRUB installed with a Linux distribution in order for it to run at boot. The relevant setting is Select an UEFI file as trusted for executing:

The page of the UEFI interface shown in the above screenshot also apparently allows modification of the Trusted Platform Module settings. So far I have chosen not to alter this setting so I see TPM related errors when booting any distribution on this computer. But judging by the available TPM related options a modification here would solve the issue.

Trusting a GRUB Installed to the EFI System Partition with a Linux Distribution. When selecting <em><samp>Select an UEFI file as trusted for executing:</samp></em> as shown in the previous screen, the user can browse the EFI System Partition to select the GRUB file to trust.
Trusting a GRUB Installed to the EFI System Partition with a Linux Distribution.
When selecting Select an UEFI file as trusted for executing: as shown in the previous screen, the user can browse the EFI System Partition to select the GRUB file to trust.
After selecting the desired GRUB firmware bootloader to trust, the entry to be displayed in the in the enumeration of boot devices in the UEFI interface can be set.
Setting the Boot Device Entry Corresponding to the Trusted GRUB.
After selecting the desired GRUB firmware bootloader to trust, the entry to be displayed in the in the enumeration of boot devices in the UEFI interface can be set.

In my case I chose to keep UEFI booting, but turned Secure Boot off although all of the distributions I use support Secure Boot. The reason for this choice is to avoid the complication of having to sign the Nvidia (for Bumblebee) kernel modules that need to be built to use the hybrid graphics with proprietary Nvidia drivers.

Lastly, an issue Linux users typically have to contend with is properly setting up proprietary graphics processors. Manjaro Linux offers automatic installation and configuration of proprietary Nvidia drivers for use with the Bumblebee graphics processor switching program. Although it requires manual setup, I have found that openSUSE offers the best graphics performance.

the Manjaro Settings Manager in version 16.08 showing graphics driver properties
The Manjaro Settings Manager showing available and installed graphics modules.
Manjaro automatically installs all components required to make as full use as possible in Linux of hybrid Intel/Nvidia graphics. Bumblebee is automatically configured.

Recommendation

The Acer Aspire V15 Nitro Black Edition (VN7-592G-70EN) is an excellent choice for use with a Linux distribution. For users on a budget who don't require the absolute best video performance which might require higher end Nvidia processors, this laptop offers top performance for processor and disk intensive tasks requiring large and fast RAM. It also has the latest high performance components that should be current for years, i.e. USB-C with Thunderbolt 3. The display is excellent although the resolution at 1920x1080 is low by today's high end standards. Of particular interst to Linux users is that all hardware components work well out of the box.

Overall, this is an excellent choice for users who want performance at a good value.