Acer Aspire 5740G-6979: Good Performance at a Reasonable Price, but Poor Audio Quality
At a Glance
Acer Aspire 5740G-6979 Notebook
This $750 Acer laptop offers very good performance, but substandard audio and a lack of Bluetooth may limit its appeal.
New laptops based on Intel's Core i5 CPUs are rolling in like a swarm of summer grasshoppers. The Acer Aspire 5740G-6979 all-purpose laptop falls squarely in the conservative middle of these units, stuffing a next-generation Core i5-430M processor and ATI Radeon Mobility 5650 graphics hardware into a bulky, last-generation laptop chassis.
Though the case is an attractive cobalt blue, the unit screams "average" when you factor in its 1.5-inch thickness and 6.2-pound weight. It's a tight fit in my LowePro FastPack 250 backpack--the power brick needed to go into a separate compartment.
The system's performance is pretty standard for a laptop in this class, as this portable earned WorldBench 6 scores that were slightly better than average. The gaming results, however, seemed quite good for a $750 notebook, even in modern games: It achieved frame rates over 30 frames per second in Far Cry 2 with optimal settings in DirectX 10 mode, while the more-demanding STALKER: Call of Pripyat needed to be set at moderate settings to hit over 30 fps (but that included enabling DX11 tessellation).
The display resolution is a middling 1366 by 768 pixels. While it is bright and saturated, the 60 percent color gamut means that you wouldn't want to do a lot of heavy video or photo editing. DVD upscaling looked good, especially after we enabled the additional 'Theater' preset in the ATI Catalyst Control Panel. The 1080p files we viewed in Windows Media Player also looked good, even though the resolution was scaled down. The real drawback of the LCD screen, however, was the vertical viewing angle; even a slight vertical tilt resulted in a muddy, posterized mess of an image.
While the display mostly impressed us (within its limits), audio playback was awful. The soundstage was muddy, with the stereo image vague at best. The overall tonal quality was too bright, midrange was lost in the mix, and bass was utterly lacking. My advice: Use good in-ear or full-size headphones for listening to music.
The Aspire 5740G-6979 is a mixed bag when it comes to input/output ports, too. It delivers four USB 2.0 ports, but none are of the combo USB/eSATA variety. The system offers no USB 3.0 support either. The laptop does conveniently place two USB ports on either side, though. The five-in-one flash card reader is mounted in the front of the chassis. Two display outputs (HDMI and VGA), plus analog audio ports and a gigabit ethernet jack, reside on the left side.
Connectivity is average. In addition to the previously mentioned gigabit ethernet jack, an Atheros 802.11n chip is included for fast Wi-Fi connections. However, the unit lacks Bluetooth, a strange omission in today's smartphone world. Also missing is any option for embedded wireless broadband.
Bundled software is limited to trialware (Microsoft Office, Norton online backup, McAfee Internet Security), plus Microsoft Works, NTI backup, and some Acer-supplied utilities for Webcam and interface management. Also included are Acer Arcade (actually a media-playback app) and NTI Media Maker for editing. Printed documentation is limited to a quick-reference guide; the online PDF manuals are generic.
The touchpad seemed a little laggy, but it was also too sensitive to perceived pressure, changing modes when we thought we were just moving the pointer. A convenient physical button adjacent to the touchpad lets you easily disable it if you've attached a mouse. The keyboard offers a very good feel, along with a discrete numeric keypad--something that spreadsheet jockeys will love. The keyboard layout is also quite good for touch typists; if we have a complaint, it's about the half-size directional keys, which seem out of place on an otherwise nearly full-size keyboard.
Overall, the Acer Aspire 5740G-6979 offers great performance and a very good price. The $750 price tag makes up a bit for the bulky chassis and miserable audio quality. The inclusion of a DirectX 11-class discrete graphics chip is another plus, providing good gaming performance and video playback. If you're in the market for an affordable laptop with the latest features, and you don't mind the deficient audio playback and the lack of Bluetooth support, this "average" machine may be just right.