The Acer Aspire 5 might not be a gaming laptop or a super-sim Ultrabook, but that doesn’t mean you should look the other way at this more affordable machine. Our Acer Aspire 5 review will explain why.
Acer Aspire 5 Review – Components
The new chip may rely on the existing Kaby Lake architecture, but it offers a surprisingly large step forward. That’s because Intel has taken a new approach to clock speed and improved the number of cores – all while not increasing power consumption.
The Acer machine uses the Core i5-8250U. Its stock speed of 1.6GHz is lower than equivalent chips from last year. However, it can use Turbo Boost to hit a monster top speed of 3.4GHz across all of its cores. That maximum speed is higher than the Turbo peak of its predecessor.
The improved speed isn’t the only area where the refreshed Kaby Lake chips have been boosted. The Core i5-8250U has four native cores with Hyper-Threading – twice as many as last year’s Core i5s. That’s also an improvement over last year’s Core i7 parts, which had two cores with Hyper-Threading.
So the new parts have more cores, more speed – and, crucially, more control over that pace. The new chips also have more cache than older CPUs. Impressively, the i5-8250U still has a peak power draw of 15W, which is no higher than older parts.
That power draw bodes well for battery life, and the improved specifications of the silicon inside mean that the Acer should hammer through work tasks. That’s great for Office applications, web browsing and even tougher, data-based software.
The Core i5 chip is the star component, but the rest of the Aspire’s specification is more modest. There’s no discrete graphics chip in the UK, so Brits will have to rely on Intel’s integrated core. In the US you get an Nvidia GeForce MX150, which is a little more powerful. That rules out most games and means that you’ll only be able to handle low-end work tasks – a bit of photo editing, but not much more than that. There’s also no Intel vPro.
You get 8GB of memory, which is enough for work, and we’re pleased it’s dual-channel. There’s a 256GB SSD, too. Connectivity extends to Gigabit Ethernet, dual-band 802.11ac wireless and Bluetooth.
The Aspire 5 is not expensive, so don’t expect ground-breaking design. The lid is finished with a layer of plastic with an underwhelming slatted design. Only the area around the keyboard is coated with a slim layer of metal. There’s a bit of chrome-effect metal around the trackpad, too, but that’s it.
The Aspire 5 won’t turn heads, but it does have reasonable dimensions. It weighs 2.1kg, which isn’t bad at all for a 15.6in affordable laptop, and its body is 22mm thick – only around half a centimetre more than the slimmest laptops on the market.
It’s easy enough to carry this machine around as a daily driver. That said, we’d use a case or a sleeve, because the budget doesn’t extend to brilliant build quality. The screen flexes a little, and the plastic underside is too flimsy.
The port selection is also a little underwhelming. The Acer only has one USB 3 port alongside its Type-C connector, and it relies elsewhere on older, slower USB 2 ports. There’s a card reader, but only one audio jack and no fingerprint reader.
At least there is some internal access. Two small panels on the rear can be removed to grant access to one of the memory sticks and a spare 2.5in bay.
Acer Aspire 5 Review – Ergonomics
The only potential problem is the power button, which is installed in the top-right corner of the keyboard.
The keyboard itself is fine. The chiclet buttons don’t have much travel and they’re extremely light – so much so that they almost don’t feel like they’re moving at all. The deft touch is paired with an impressive lack of noise, and the buttons are consistent too.
In fact, the delicate buttons on the Acer aren’t a million miles away from the latest MacBook machines.
The light, soft and quiet typing action bodes well for work, as it’s easy to type for hours without any signs of fatigue. The trackpad is just as good, with light and fast buttons that are easy and comfortable to use.
Acer Aspire 5 Review – Performance
The new Kaby Lake processor is a revelation. Its single-core Geekbench result of 4,106 is better than a lot of other chips, including the full-power Core i5-7300HQ and even the desktop range’s Core i5-7400.
When stacked up against last year’s Core i7-7500U – a processor from the low-power range, but a step up in designation – it was just as quick.
There are clearly no issues with the i5-8250U’s single-threaded speed, which bodes well for web browsing and most office tasks.
It’s no slouch in multi-threaded tests, either. Its 12,935 Geekbench result easily beats that i7-7500U, and it’s not far short of the pace we expected from the i7-7700HQ, which is the chip of choice for powerful gaming and workstation laptops.
The Acer scored 547cb in the more complex Cinebench test. That’s a long way ahead of last year’s low-power chips and still on pace with Intel’s mid-range desktop Core i5 parts.
The stellar performance was paired with near-silent fan operation in almost all scenarios and a fine peak CPU temperature of 83°C. At 100% load across all four cores the processor throttled its speed to 2.3GHz.
Battery life is good, too. In the PC Mark 8 test the Acer lasted for 4hrs and 57mins with the screen at full brightness. With some careful power management and while running low intensity tasks the Aspire should just make it through a full day away from the mains.
Those results are excellent, but the rest of the Aspire’s performance is more ordinary. It couldn’t hack any sort of gaming benchmark: we only got Shadow of Mordor through the 30fps barrier at 720p and the game’s lowest settings. The Aspire’s SSD returned middling pace of 533MB/s and 502MB/s in read and write tests – fine, but far slower than NVMe drives.
The 15.6in panel uses IPS technology and has a conventional 1,920 x 1,080 resolution. It’s got a matte finish, which bodes well for working under office lights.
The resolution and size are fine for work, but the Acer’s budget clearly hasn’t stretched to a high-quality panel. The brightness level of 231cd/m2 is poor: fine for the office, but it’ll struggle outdoors, or when there’s some extra sunlight.
The black level of 0.72cd/m2 is similarly underwhelming, and the contrast ratio of 321:1 is very bad. It won’t be ruinous for web browsing and office applications, but that lack of contrast and poor black level puts a halt to any work where colour sensitivity is key.
The Acer’s colour accuracy and temperature levels are better, but that’s a moot point when the contrast is so poor. It won’t render many colours, either, thanks to a disappointing 52.6% sRGB coverage level.
The refreshed Kaby Lake chip is a stunning bit of work by Intel: it consumes no more power than its predecessor while delivering performance that’s far better than those older chips. It’s fast enough to keep up with last year’s Core i7 parts, too. That means it’ll scythe through most common work tasks.
It has decent battery life and ergonomics, too, and it’s not too thick or heavy.
However, this machine does have its limits. The screen is poor and the rest of the specification is underwhelming. Build quality is only middling too. It’s also missing a few business features.
If you don’t mind missing out on those extras, those, this is an excellent workhorse for a reasonable price. It won’t break the bank, it’s fast in applications, and it’s solid elsewhere.
The Acer Aspire 5 costs £679 in the UK and $588 in the US. Do you like the idea of Intel’s Kaby Lake refresh? Join the discussion on our Facebook and Twitter pages. And, if you need some more inspiration, check out our guide to our favourite laptops!
- Impressive Core i5 performance
- Good keyboard and trackpad
- Relatively slim and light
- Poor screen quality
- No discrete GPU in the UK
- Build quality a little underwhelming
CPU: 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-8250U
Memory: 8GB 2,400MHz DDR4
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 620
Screen: 15.6in 1,920 x 1,080 IPS
Dimensions: 386 x 263 x 22mm
Connectivity: Gigabit Ethernet, dual-band 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.1
Hard disk: 256GB Micron 1100 SSD
Warranty: 2yr RTB