There’s no doubt that the Windows PC ecosystem is incredibly strong at the high-end. A host of machines are available at price points starting at $1000, but not everybody wants or needs to spend so much for a PC. All-metal chassis, daylong battery life, and stunning 4K UHD displays are nice, but the fact is that these machines are well outside of many peoples’ budgets. Our Acer Aspire 5 review brings things back down to earth and looks at whether more affordable laptops can provide decent quality.
Just a few years ago, budget laptops were made of creaky plastic and suffered from underwhelming performance thanks to low-end processors, RAM, and storage. Things have improved considerably since, and today PC manufacturers are delivering high-quality options for $700 or less.
The Aspire 5 review unit that Acer provided is a case in point, offering up a 15.6-inch non-touch 1080p display, seventh-generation Intel Core i5-7200U processor, discrete Nvidia MX150 GPU, 8GB of DDR4 RAM, and a 256GB SATA solid-state drive (SSD) for $600. Lesser configurations go for as little as $400.
The question is, did Acer cut too many corners to bring in such a reasonably priced machine?
An unassuming design that prefers plastic
When you’re paying $600 for a 15.6-inch notebook, you probably shouldn’t expect an ultra-thin all-metal chassis – and you’re not getting that with the Acer Aspire 5. Instead, the machine sports a moderately thin chassis, at 0.85 inches thick, that’s constructed almost entirely of plastic, with the metal keyboard deck being the sole exception.
While metal always feels more premium, the use of plastic makes sense here. Carrying the Aspire 5 around the house or office inspires confidence, thanks to a tight build that doesn’t exhibit the creaks and moans that once accompanied affordable laptops. You won’t be left feeling you spent too little cash.
As further testament to the Aspire 5’s build quality, the hinge was smooth, the display stayed in place during use, and there was minimal keyboard flex. The only real concern with the laptop’s build quality was with the lid, which warped too easily with light pressure. We suggest you don’t sit anything heavy on top of it.
In style, the Aspire 5 won’t be winning any beauty contests. It’s an attractive black color with the silver plastic Acer logo, a slight chrome along the edge of the keyboard deck, and the silver hinge cover offering the only splashes of color. It’s an unassuming laptop, but again, you likely shouldn’t expect a $600 laptop stocked with midrange components to stand out in the budget crowd.
All the connectivity you expect and deserve
Given the Acer Aspire 5’s relative thickness compared to thin and light laptops, you have plenty of good reason to expect solid connectivity. Fortunately, Acer delivers, with a solid complement of ports that support both the past and the future.
Along the left-hand side you’ll find an RJ-45 Ethernet port, a USB 3.1 Type-C Gen1 port supporting up to 5Gb/s, a full-size HDMI port, a USB 3.0 Type-A port that supports power-off charging, and an SD card reader. On the right-hand side, there are two USB 2.0 Type-A ports to go along with the dedicated charging port and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
The keyboard and touchpad neither add nor detract
The Acer Aspire 5’s keyboard is a standard island version with a full-size layout including a 10-key numeric keypad. All the keys are in the usual places and are of average size, except for the arrow keys, which are significantly smaller than most. Nevertheless, getting up and typing on the laptop’s keyboard is a fast and straightforward affair. Note that the keyboard isn’t backlit, but the white-on-black lettering is visible in all but darkest environments.
You won’t find the Aspire 5’s keyboard or touchpad holding you back from getting your work done.
In terms of typing feel, the key mechanisms are nothing special. They’re not so soft or unresponsive that they deserve to be labeled as “mushy,” nor are they particularly snappy or precise. Key travel is sufficient to avoid bottoming out, and the keys are quiet and relatively consistent.
The touchpad is better than you’d think, and it indicates just how far Windows PC touchpads have come. Where MacBooks used to be heads and shoulders above many Windows laptops, that’s just no longer the case. Even the Acer Aspire 5, at its budget price, packs in a touchpad that’s decently large, plenty responsive enough, and supports Microsoft’s Precision Touchpad protocol. Gestures are smooth, and all those recognized by Windows 10 will work here.
There’s no touch display or pen input support with the Acer Aspire 5. In that respect, it’s very old-school. Still, you won’t find its keyboard or touchpad holding you back.
No other way to put it — the display is just bad
A few short years ago, a 1080p 15.6-inch display was a high-end specification, and finding one in a budget laptop was a virtual impossibility. Today it’s not hard to obtain, but most machines at this price point are still running with 720p displays. The 1080p panel in this Acer is a huge step up over that, providing a sharper image at a low price. However, it does have its flaws.
Hooking up our colorimeter and running our standard suite of tests left us decidedly underwhelmed. The panel that Asus put into our review Aspire 5 is severely lacking in a few key areas. First, color support is limited at 41 percent of the AdobeRGB color gamut, and 55 percent of sRGB.
Looking at some other relatively budget laptops in our comparison group, that’s a poor result, but not remarkable. The similarly priced 13.3-inch Asus Zenbook UX330UA is the standout here. Note that the Aspire 5’s color accuracy was second worst at 7.36 (1.0 or less is preferable) with only Dell’s Inspiron 15 7000 budget gaming system achieving a lower score.
Next, contrast came in at an astonishingly low 70:1 at full brightness, compared to 940:1 with the Asus Zenbook UX330UA and 530:1 with Acer’s Swift 3. Only the Inspiron 15 7000 came close. Gamma was also poor at 2.5, meaning that the display will tend toward being way too dark. Finally, the screen was also extremely dim at just 181 nits, which is too low for comfortable use in any bright environment even given the matte display.
In practice, the display didn’t look quite as bad as these numbers indicate, but that’s damning with faint praise. Video tended to be too dark, blacks were crushed, and colors were muted. To top it all off, viewing angles were poor, with the display becoming washed out at anything other than close to dead center.
The display is clearly an area where Acer cut a major corner to bring the machine in at a low price, and it detracts from the laptop’s attractiveness for anyone who wants to view photos or watch video on the large screen. At least it’s 1080p.
Sound quality is good enough for sharing
The Acer Aspire 5 has two downward firing speakers located toward the front of the chassis, and they put out sufficiently loud and clear sound for sharing YouTube videos with a small group of friends. Bass was lacking, and the high end was a bit too prominent, resulting in music that was lacking in any warmth. We’d rate audio as sufficient but not at all exceptional.
Solid performance for the price
Acer managed to include a seventh-generation Core i5-7200U processor in the Aspire 5, promising decent productivity performance. The 8GB of DDR4 RAM included is also a plus, and good to see at this price point.
Unsurprisingly, the Aspire 5 performed reasonably well in our benchmarks. In Geekbench 4, the machine scored 3,645 in the single-core test, and 7,090 in the multi-core test. That’s right in line with the comparison systems utilizing dual-core Core i5-7200U processors. The Dell Inspiron 15 7000 scored much higher in the multi-core test thanks to its Core i5-7300HQ quad-core processor.
On our more aggressive Handbrake test, which provides an idea of real-word performance by converting a 420GB .MP4 video to x.265, the Aspire 5 again scored right in line with most similarly equipped laptops by completing the test in 1,076 seconds. The Asus Zenbook UX330UA fell down a little here, taking 1,445 seconds, while the Inspiron 15 7000 again excelled at 460 seconds.
The Aspire 5’s number are great at this price point. Thermal management was also good when we pushed the processor, with fans that never seemed louder than just audible during our processor benchmarks. Most people would find the Aspire 5 to provide perfectly acceptable performance for all but the most demanding processor-based tasks, and unless that’s your main priority, this is a reasonable budget choice.
An SSD is nice to have, even if it’s only SATA
Many budget laptops get by with a mechanical hard disk drive (HDD) serving up the long-term storage – although that’s starting to change. Seeing an SSD of any kind at this price point is welcome, and Acer obliged by offering up a 256GB Hynix SATA model. That doesn’t promise the best storage performance compared to much-faster PCIe NVMe SSDs — check out why PCIe NVME drives are preferable — but solid performance should be obtainable.
As it turns out, the Aspire 5 performed right in line with our expectations. Its scores of 473 megabytes per second in the CrystalDiskMark read test, and 244 MB/s in the write test, which is what we’ve come to expect from some SATA SSDs. It’s slower by a fair margin than our comparison machines using PCIe SSDs, certainly, but even the ultra-expensive Microsoft Surface Laptop garnered similar scores at almost twice the price in its least expensive model.
In practice, the Acer Aspire 5 boots quickly enough and it opens applications without delay. Saving data is equally fast, meaning that storage won’t be a real bottleneck for most uses. It’s not as fast in terms of storage speeds as the fastest laptops you can buy today, but for most people, the Aspire 5 should be fast enough. Note that it’s also easier to upgrade storage than with some systems, providing welcome flexibility.
A little bit of game, thanks to Nvidia’s latest entry-level mobile GPU
Acer includes an Nvidia’s discrete mobile GPU, the MX150, in the Aspire 5, as a nod to casual gaming. As a replacement for the GTX 940M series of mobile GPUs that you’ll find in many systems today, the MX150 is intended to provide marginally better gaming performance than integrated graphics, and to help boost productivity tasks, like editing video.
Our benchmark tests confirmed that, for the most part, the MX150 does indeed come in as significantly faster than the 940MX. For example, the Acer Inspire 5 scored 3,165 in the 3DMark Fire Strike test, compared to the HP Spectre x360 15’s 1,939 scored. The Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti in the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 was twice again as fast as the MX150. As expected, the laptops using Intel’s HD 520 integrated graphics were the slowest.
When we ran the Acer Aspire 5 through our usual round of real-life games, the results were mixed. For example, the machine balked at running Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, throwing up an error that we couldn’t diagnose and resolve.
The Acer Aspire 5, with the Nvidia MX150, can get its game on.
In Civilization VI, the laptop’s MX150 maintained an average of 29 frames per second (FPS) in 1080p with medium settings, and 23 FPS with ultra settings. That compared to the 940MX-equipped HP Spectre x360 15 at 34 FPS and 17 FPS respectively. The budget gaming Dell Inspiron 15 1700, with its much stronger GTX 1050 Ti, was significantly faster at 43 FPS and 38 FPS. Unsurprisingly, the Intel HD 620 machine was unplayable at 14 FPS with medium settings.
In Battlefield 1, the Acer Aspire 5 pulled ahead as expected, managing 34 FPS at 1080p with medium settings, and 21 FPS with ultra settings. That beat out the HP Spectre x360 15 at 24 FPS and 17 FPS, and came in well behind the Dell Inspiron 15 1700, which managed a strong 52 FPS and 44 FPS.
Finally, we rounded out our testing with For Honor, where the Acer Aspire was playable, hitting 31 FPS at 1080P with medium setting, but only managed 21 FPS in extreme settings. We haven’t tested For Honor with as many laptops, but for comparison the GTX 1050 Ti-equipped Origin EON15-S scored 71 FPS at medium settings, and 48 FPS at extreme settings. Note that the Aspire 5’s scores make it fine for casual single-player gaming, but you’ll get kicked out of online play if you maintain less than 30 FPS, and the machine barely crossed that barrier in our tests.
The Acer Aspire 5, with the Nvidia MX150, can get its game on, if you’re willing to limit resolution to 1080p, and run at medium settings. That’s superior to machines using Nvidia’s older 940MX, but doesn’t place it in the realm of serious gaming machines. The MX150 also put out a fair bit of heat while gaming, and the Aspire 5’s fans grew loud at times.
A bit chunky, with marginal battery life
The Acer Aspire 5 isn’t the lightest 15.6-inch laptop around at 4.85 pounds, and 0.85 inches thick. It’s not the heaviest or thickest, either. You will notice it in your backpack, but it’s a reasonably portable machine for its price and screen size.
Its 47.5 watt-hour battery, however, isn’t the largest we’ve seen in laptops of similar size. Given its large display with 1080p resolution, and its relatively fast components, we didn’t go into our battery benchmarks with particularly high hopes.
As it turns out, the Acer Aspire 5 provides decent if not outstanding battery life, lasting for three hours and two minutes in our most grueling Basemark test, which runs through a loop of CPU-intensive web pages. That beats out its Acer Swift 3 sibling, and falls in second place compared to the more expensive Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 2.
Performance in our video looping test, which plays a local video until a machine runs out of power, was similar. The Acer Aspire 5 ran for eight hours and 52 minutes, a good but not great score that exceeded only the gaming-focused Dell Inspiron 15 7000’s longevity. The Asus Zenbook UX330UA was the standout here, lasting for an impressive 13 hours and three minutes.
Finally, in our iMacro test that runs a laptop though a series of popular web pages, the Acer Aspire lasted for five hours and 44 minutes. That’s an average score, with the Acer Swift 3 lasting for six hours and 14 minutes, and the Zenbook UX330UA again impressing with a strong 10 hours and 25 minutes.
The Acer Aspire 5 isn’t a terrible performer in this important category, but it’s also not likely to last you a full day’s work away from a charger.
Acer provides that industry standard one-year hardware warranty for the Aspire 5.
Like many budget machines, the Acer Aspire 5 is packed full of extraneous software. Norton Internet Security Trial, Amazon Kindle, Priceline, Dashlane, and a host of Acer and third-party software are all pre-loaded, making this one of the more bogged down systems we’ve tried out lately. In addition, the keyboard deck is festooned with a few stickers that detract from the machine’s otherwise clean lines.Our Take
Build quality, lightweight gaming performance, and productivity chops are what separate the Acer Aspire 5 from some other budget laptop alternatives. The display sets it back, though, with a dimness and lack of contrast that makes using it far less pleasant than it would be otherwise.
Is there a better alternative?
If you’re dedicated to getting a 15.6-inch display, then the Aspire 5’s 1080p resolution is a real positive. Most 15.6-inch machines in this price range, such as the Dell Inspiron with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD for $574, are equipped with HD (1,366 x 768) displays. The HP Pavilion 15 with 8GB of RAM and a 1TB HDD comes in at $587 with an HD display, meaning the Aspire is only a few dollars more, but includes a faster SSD and 1080p.
The Dell Inspiron 15 7000 is a gaming system that’s a couple of hundred dollars more expensive, but offers some upgraded gaming performance. And then you could really step up in price and look at the Lenovo Yoga 720 15 with GTX 1050, Intel Core i7-7700HQ quad-core processor, and much better display, for an additional $350.
If you’re willing to step down in size, then the Acer Aspire 5 gets some competition. That comes from smaller 14-inch and 13.3-inch laptops in the same general price range. The Acer Swift 3 and Asus Zenbook UX330UA are machines that are within a hundred dollars or so of the Aspire 5 but offer better — albeit smaller – displays, and a metal chassis. They’re also stuck with Intel HD integrated graphics and won’t play modern games at reasonable settings nearly as well as the Aspire 5.
How long will it last?
With a seventh-generation Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM, the Acer Aspire 5 should perform well enough to last for at least few years. The ability to easily upgrade RAM and storage is another long-term advantage that could pay dividends down the road. Finally, including a USB Type-C connection is a nod to the future as well.
Should you buy it?
Yes, if you’re strapped for cash and want a large display. The Acer Aspire 5 is an inexpensive 15.6-inch laptop with decent performance and some gaming chops. We have reservations about this laptop, such as the display, which didn’t perform well in our tests. Yet expectations must be managed when considering a laptop around $600. The Aspire 5 has important features, like a fast dual-core processor and a solid state drive, and offers them at a better price than its competitors.