Acer Aspire 5 review: Intel's Ice Lake CPUs come to the budget Aspire line

The latest of Acer’s budget-minded Aspire 5 laptops is here, now with Ice Lake on board.

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General performance

We put this new Acer Aspire 5 model through its paces with our usual suite of benchmarks, covering both single- and multi-core applications as well as graphical performance and battery life. For the most part, we liked what we saw, with the Ice Lake-powered Aspire delivering solid numbers when it comes to daily PC tasks and even CPU-intensive activities such as video encoding. Its battery life scores, however, fell a tad short.

PCMark 8 Work 2.0 Conventional

Our first benchmark simulates such everyday computing chores as word processing, spreadsheet work, online shipping and video chat—in other words, the types of tasks that budget laptops like the Acer Aspire 5 are made for. A PCMark 8 score of 2,000 or more generally points to smooth Office performance, and anything above 3,000 is just icing on the cake.

acer aspire 5 a515 55 56vk pcmark 8 Ben Patterson/IDG

The Acer Aspire 5 sits in the middle of our PCMark 8 chart, but remember that any score over 3,000 is pretty dang good.

Looking at our chart, our Aspire 5 and its 10th-gen Ice Lake CPU lands smack-dab in the middle, besting a quad-core, Core i7-packed HP Envy but falling slightly below the score of last year’s Aspire 5 and its Whiskey Lake processor.

The tiny gap between this year’s Aspire 5 and last year’s isn’t anything to get excited about. Every laptop in our chart notched an excellent PCMark 8 score, including the Lenovo Yoga C640 and 2019’s Ryzen 3-powered Aspire 5, both of which have dual-core processors.

HandBrake

Next up comes a somewhat tougher test than PCMark 8. Our HandBrake benchmark puts a laptop's CPU through its paces as it encodes a 40GB MVK video file into a format suitable for Android tablets. It’s a processor-intensive, multi-core task that frequently takes more than an hour to complete. It's an ideal test for seeing how a laptop handles a crushing, heat-generating CPU load over a lengthy period.

acer aspire 5 a515 55 56vk handbrake Ben Patterson/IDG

With its mid-range Ice Lake CPU, the Acer Aspire 5 manages a solid but not awe-inspiring HandBrake score.

Again, the 2020 Aspire 5 emerges in the middle of the pack, but this time it’s well ahead of its Aspire 5 forbear, while the dual-core Lenovo Yoga and Ryzen 3-powered Aspire 5 trail (as expected) well behind. We consider any HandBrake score south of 4,500 (remember, lower numbers are better) to be pretty solid for a mid-range, quad-core Intel laptop, which makes the 4,415 result for the budget-priced Aspire 5 look fairly impressive, even rivaling that of the far more expensive HP Envy 13 and its higher-end Core i7 Ice Lake processor.

Cinebench

While HandBrake typically takes an hour or more to complete, Cinebench, a test that involves rendering a 3D image in real time, is generally over in just a few minutes, making it a sprint to HandBrake’s marathon. For Cinebench, laptops with the fastest boost clock tend to have the advantage, in addition to those with the most cores.

acer aspire 5 a515 55 56vk cinebench Ben Patterson/IDG

As with HandBrake, the Acer Aspire 5's Cinebench performance isn't bad give its price, but it falls behind pricier laptops with more powerful Ice Lake CPUs.

Yep, we’re more or less talking a repeat of the HandBrake chart, with the 2020 Aspire 5 again sitting in the middle, ahead of the older Aspire 5’s (both in terms of its all- and single-threaded results) as well as the dual-core Yoga C640, and behind three somewhat more powerful laptops that cost about twice as much. All in all, the new Aspire 5 turns in a respectable performance for its price range.

3DMark Sky Diver 1.0

With its integrated Intel UHD graphics core, the latest Acer Aspire 5 isn’t much of a gaming machine, but we’re still curious about its graphical performance—after all, even if it can’t run Crysis, it should still be able to handle some light photo and video editing, or maybe even a little Minecraft. For a real gaming laptop, you’d need a dedicated graphics card, although Intel’s integrated Iris Plus core has been giving entry-level GPUs a run for their money.

acer aspire 5 a515 55 56vk 3dmark sky diver Ben Patterson/IDG

The Acer Aspire 5 notches a surprisingly good 3DMark Sky Diver score considering its mainstream Intel UHD integrated graphics core.

Surprisingly, the 2020 Aspire 5 pops to second place in the 3DMark Sky Diver benchmark, beating out laptops that cost hundreds more. Granted, the differential between the Aspire and most of the other systems in our chart isn’t gigantic, but the gap between it and, say, the far pricier LG Gram is well beyond the margin of error. Meanwhile, the HP Envy 13 and its supercharged Iris Plus integrated GPU sits comfortable at the top of the chart.

Battery life

To test the battery life of a given laptop, we loop a 4K video using the stock Windows Movies & TV app, with the display cranked up to about 250 nits if possible (for the Aspire 5, we dialed up the screen brightness all the way) and the volume set to 50 percent, headphones on.

acer aspire 5 a515 55 56vk battery life Ben Patterson/IDG

The Acer Aspire 5's battery life is on the mediocre side, but luckily its half-pound AC cord won't weight you down.

All three of the Aspire 5 laptops in our roundup have 48 watt-hour batteries, smaller than the other laptops in our chart, so it’s understandable that the trio of Acers sit in the bottom half of our chart. Still, it’s tough to spin the 2020 Aspire 5’s battery drain result as anything but mediocre, with last year’s Aspire 5 (albeit with a less demanding Whiskey Lake CPU) squeezing nearly a full 100 minutes more out of essentially the same battery.

In real-world conditions, I found that I could work on the Aspire 5 for most of the morning on battery power, but by around lunchtime I needed to plug in the AC adapter. The good news is that the Aspire’s power cord and integrated power brick only weigh about half a pound.

Bottom line

We’ve been consistently impressed by Acer’s budget-minded Aspire 5 line, and this new configuration with an Intel Ice Lake CPU doesn't disappoint. While it’s a tad heavy (same as other Aspire 5 laptops we've tried) and its battery life isn’t the greatest, this new Aspire 5 can crank through everyday computing tasks without skipping a beat, and it holds its own when it comes to video processing, database crunching, and other heavy CPU loads. Yes, you’ll need to keep the AC adapter handy, but given the $550 price tag, we’re not complaining too much.

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At a Glance
  • The latest version of the Acer Aspire 5 graduates to Intel’s Ice Lake CPU and packs in enough power to tackle daily computing tasks with ease.

    Pros

    • Sleek-looking shell
    • Solid single- and multi-core performance
    • Impressive array of ports
    • Wi-Fi 6 support

    Cons

    • Mediocre battery life
    • Weighs 3.75 pounds, and feels like it
    • No memory card reader
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