Acer Aspire E5 review

Fast and portable, Acer’s updated mid-range laptop isn’t flawless, but it offers strong hardware at a low price.
Fast and portable, Acer’s updated mid-range laptop isn’t flawless, but it offers strong hardware at a low price.
Fast and portable, Acer’s updated mid-range laptop isn’t flawless, but it offers strong hardware at a low price.

Highs

  • Attractive exterior
  • Decent battery life
  • Fast processor
  • Acceptable gaming performance

Lows

  • Ugly display
  • Heavy for its size
  • Slow hard drive

The back-to-school season is approaching, and that means swarms of students will soon be shopping for an affordable laptop. Yes, every college newcomer would love to be decked out with a MacBook Pro, but most will have to buy something more practical – like Acer’s Aspire E5.

Starting at $599 and boasting a 14” 1366×768 display, the Aspire E5 is no superstar, but it does offer a few unexpected features. The Core i5-4210U processor is a slight upgrade over the more typical 4200U, for example, and Nvidia discrete graphics comes standard along with a 500GB hard drive.

This equipment makes for a well-rounded package, but stuffing solid hardware into an inexpensive system often compromises battery life, display quality and other areas. Let’s take a look at the trade-off Acer has made – and judge whether they’re worthwhile.

A familiar face

On first sight we thought Acer might have accidentally sent us a duplicate of the Acer Aspire E1, a laptop we reviewed just a few months ago. The two offer many similar traits including an approachable white exterior, thick plastic chassis and black display trim. Unlike the E1, however, the E5 has a matte display bezel. This small change helps to reduce reflections and fingerprints, as the bezel is one of the most frequently handled areas of any laptop.

Quality is what you’d expect for a system in this price bracket. While plastic is the only material used, it feels durable and is slapped together with tight panel gaps. Some flex can be found, particularly in the keyboard area, but not enough to make the laptop seem flimsy.

Connectivity comes via three USB, only one of which is 3.0, along with HDMI, VGA, Ethernet and a combined headphone/microphone port. A optical drive is included, as well, which contributes to the system’s thickness but adds versatility. WiFi is restricted to 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0 is also part of the package.

Typical keys

Though thick, the Aspire E5 doesn’t use the extra vertical space to provide an excellent typing experience. Instead, a merely passable one is offered. A good amount of key travel is included, but keys bottom out vaguely, which can make mistakes hard to notice by touch alone. Users with large paws will appreciate the roomy layout, however, and there’s plenty of palm space.

Backlighting is not available on the Aspire E5, not even as an option. This makes low-light use difficult. We can’t knock the system too much for its absence, however, as few rivals in this price bracket offer the same.

Acer Aspire E5471G53XG

Mouse navigation is available through a touchpad that’s four inches wide and two inches tall. In most respects using it is an entirely average experience. Sensitivity is modest, multi-touch gestures work well but aren’t perfect, and the integrated mouse buttons feel cheap. We wish the touchpad surface was textured, too, because we found it hard to distinguish from the surrounding plastic when our eyes were glued to the sceen.

A budget display

The Aspire E5’s 1366×768 non-touch display unfortunately looks like a relic from the past. We measured a gamut that spans only 56% of sRGB, poor color accuracy and high black levels. In these critical areas the E5 posts some of the worst scores we’ve recently seen; only the Lenovo IdeaPad Y50 and the old Acer Aspire E1 perform as poorly.

Images and movies often look hazy, as if there’s a film over the screen.

Are there any bright spots? Not really, and that includes brightness – the maximum of 179 lux is adequate in most situations but can’t overcome the glossy display’s reflective properties in a bright room. We also noted poor viewing angles and a general lack of sharpness.

All of these numbers translate to flat, low-contrast image quality. Images and movies often look hazy, as if there’s a film over the screen, and the already inaccurate colors shift wildly when tilting the display just a few degrees.

Audio performance is better. Maximum volume is loud and while music has a tinny quality, it’s generally free of distortion. The speakers perform well with podcasts and video, where the clear mid-range can dominate most rooms. Still, external speakers or headphones should prove an upgrade.

No performance surprises

The Acer Aspire E5’s Core i5-4210U processor features a base clock of 1.7 GHz and a maximum Turbo Boost of 2.7 Ghz. Though technically a “low-voltage” chip, that distinction has less meaning of late, as the majority of Intel’s mobile processors now target low power draw rather than maximum performance. Even so, the i5-4210U makes a strong showing.

Acer Aspire E5-471G-53XG sisoft

As you can see, SiSoft Sandra turned in a score of 40.27, which actually defeats the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 and HP EliteBook 820, a pair of far more expensive laptops. This score also beats almost every ultrabook we’ve ever reviewed. While a quad-core system like Lenovo’s Y50 is quicker, rival dual cores can barely keep up.

7-Zip, a heavily threaded compression benchmark, told a similar story. The E5’s score of 7,224 beats the Inspiron 15 7000’s score of 6,688 and the HP 820’s score of 7,062. Lenovo’s Y50 enhances its lead to 18,790, however, which more than doubles the E5’s number.

While Acer supplies the E5 with a fast processor, the hard drive is a typical 500GB mechanical unit. There’s no solid state cache or other fancy tricks to improve its speed, and the result is a PCMark 8 storage score of just 1,977. The Inspiron 15 7000, which we tested with a hybrid drive, scored 2,991, and systems with a solid state drive often score just south of 5,000.

The slow drive was noticeable in normal use. Clicking the icon for a web browser, for example, results in several seconds of delay as the drive spins up. Though this sluggishness is tolerable, it makes the system feel slower than its impressive processor scores suggest.

Gamers will be happy to know that there’s a hint of capability inside this system. Instead of using Intel HD Graphics, like most competitors, Acer has opted for Nvidia’s GT 820. The chip produced a 3DMark Cloud Gate score of 4,498 and a Fire Strike score 854.

Acer Aspire E5-471G-53XG 3DMark

The Acer Aspire E5 still looks a bit sluggish next to the Inspiron 15 7000’s GT 750 and the Lenovo Y50’s GT 860, but the GT 820 soundly defeats the Intel HD powered HP 820. Gamers can expect a 20% to 50% improvement over Intel Integrated.

Benchmarks don’t tell the whole story, however, so we fired up League of Legends. We managed to hit an average of 96 frames per second at medium detail, with a maximum of 119 and minimum of 78. Increasing detail to very high decreased framerate to an enjoyable 61 FPS, with a maximum of 69 and minimum of 44. These results don’t represent a night-and-day difference between Intel HD and the GT 820, but Nvidia’s chip is certainly an improvement.

Bigger battery, better results

One of the most important changes Acer has made in the transition from the E1 to the E5 is easy to miss; the battery. The outgoing E1 had a tiny four-cell unit that even Acer rated at just four hours and, in our testing, came in six minutes short of that figure. Our Aspire E5 review unit, however, arrived with a six-cell battery rated at seven hours.

The Aspire E5 is as quick as it is affordable.

We tested that claim with the Peacekeeper web browsing benchmark and hit six hours and four minutes, an impressive result for a inexpensive laptop. A lighter load, such as simple document editing, would no doubt add another hour to the result. The E5’s thick chassis and 4.6 pound weight make it a bit difficult to lug around, but you’ll have no problem once you’ve reached your destination.

Our wattmeter caught the E5 consuming up to 10 watts at idle, which good for a mid-range laptop. Both the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 and the HP EliteBook 820 need 12 watts in the same situation. At maximum load, however, power draw can rise to as much as 49 watts. That’s GT 820’s compromise; when fully loaded, it draws far more power than a laptop with Intel HD Graphics. The HP 820, for example, needs no more than 28 watts at full load.

Could be quieter

At idle the Aspire E5 makes barely a sound. The fan, while active, whirr slowly and softly, generating only 34.9 decibels. At full load, however, the racket can increase to a far more noticeable 47dB. That’s almost as much as the Inspiron 15 7000, which hit 48.3dB, and far more than the HP 820’s 42.1dB.

Acer Aspire E5471G53XG

The active fan at least keeps the system cool. Idle temperatures hover around 89 degrees Fahrenheit, which is warm but tolerable, and the maximum external temperature hits 98.4 degrees at full load. These figures are very tolerable, and the load figure only appears during a long gaming session.

Warranty

The Acer Aspire E5 comes with the company’s standard 1-year parts & labor protection. You could have to pay for shipping costs, however, so necessary repairs may not be entirely covered. Also, as usual, the warranty only covers “manufacturer defects,” which means all damage from accidents or misuse will come out of your pocket.

Conclusion

Acer’s Aspire E5 is in many ways similar to its predecessor, the Aspire E1, but it makes a few crucial changes. By far the most important is the switch to a larger battery, which tacks two hours of endurance to the new model. That’s a major leap forward, and you don’t even have to pay for it; the E5, like the E1, is $599.

There are also some flaws, of course. The display is disappointing, the hard drive is slow and the system is heavy for its size. But such problems are par for the course if you’re shopping for an affordable notebook, and Acer at least addresses gaming performance, a typical weakness of budget PCs, with a GT 820 graphics chip.

Minor though they may seem, the changes Acer has made transitioning from the E1 to the E5 boost the notebook’s value. Anyone looking for a well-rounded notebook on a tight budget should consider it, and that goes double if gaming performance is a concern.

Highs

  • Attractive exterior
  • Decent battery life
  • Fast processor
  • Acceptable gaming performance

Lows

  • Ugly display
  • Heavy for its size
  • Slow hard drive
Product Review

Looking for discrete graphics on the cheap? The Acer Swift 3 will do the trick

The Acer Swift 3 is a tweener laptop that’s not quite budget and not quite premium – and it feels and performs accordingly. It manages to hold its own, though, thanks to its discrete GPU.
Product Review

Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 2 launched last year, but already feels old

Released in fall of 2018, the Surface Laptop 2 was competitive at the time but now must deal with new competitors that were announced at CES 2019. How does the popular Surface Laptop 2 hold up six months later?
Computing

The Dell XPS 13 headlines the best laptop deals for May 2019

Whether you need a new laptop for school or work or you're just doing some post-holiday shopping, we have you covered: These are the best laptop deals going right now, from discounted MacBooks to on-the-go gaming PCs.
Computing

The new ThinkPad X1 Extreme has a 4K OLED screen and a Core i9 processor

The ThinkPad X1 Extreme is one powerful laptop, and now Lenovo has announced its second generation. The new version comes with a vibrant 4K OLED display and the latest 9th-gen Core i9 processor.
Computing

Is Threadripper dead? If so, AMD has made a huge mistake

Think Threadripper is dead? Think again. AMD's flagship CPU line might not be on this year's roadmap, but it's not dead and could well bring some amazing new enhancements when it returns.
Social Media

6 easy ways to archive all of your favorite Instagram videos

Saving Instagram videos should be just as easy as taking a screenshot. So, we've put together a list of the best apps and tools that save your favorite Instagram videos onto your phone or computer.
Computing

The Razer Core X Chroma is the best external GPU you can buy

The third entry in Razer's lineup of external graphics card enclosures, the Core X Chroma, brings together the best of its previous options in a single package. With RGB lighting and extra USB ports, is this the best you can buy?
Computing

Cybercrime gang that stole $100M busted in international effort

A major cybercrime gang that used powerful malware to steal an estimated $100 million from bank accounts has been dismantled following an international effort that spanned six countries.
Computing

G-Sync is a game-changer. These are the best monitors with Nvidia's display tech

Looking for a monitor that plays well with Nvidia GPUs? You need G-Sync and we have picked the best G-Sync monitors available. Take a look and find out which monitor works best for your PC upgrade.
Computing

Microsoft is discounting this Surface Laptop 2 by a sweet $300

Microsoft is offering a nearly 14-inch Surface Laptop 2 with 256GB of storage at a $300 discount until May 18, 2019. The laptop comes with a PixelSense display, and Intel Core i5 processor and a 720p HD camera.
Computing

Google recalls Titan Security Key due to hijack risk

Google is offering a free replacement for the Bluetooth Low Energy version of the Titan Security Key. A misconfiguration was discovered in the device, though hackers looking to exploit the vulnerability will find it difficult to do so.
Computing

Whether you want to edit, sign, or append, PDFs, these are the best PDF editors

While there are plenty of PDF editor options online, finding a solution with the tools you need can be tough. Here are the best PDF editors for your editing needs, no matter your budget or operating system.
Computing

Give your PC a new lease on life by upgrading its core components

Older PCs can still be great tools for work and play, they just need a little upgrade now and then. Here are the best upgrades you can make to your PC to make it feel fresh and fast once again.
Computing

The best software for filing your taxes — because you can never be too early

The best tax software offers a variety of services for saving money, completing your taxes at top speed, or getting advice for more complex tax scenarios that you haven't had to deal with before.