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Another winner in a long line of budget-priced workhorses, 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. This new Aspire 5 model does come saddled with a few compromises, including a cramped storage drive and so-so battery life, but its solid multi-core performance and impressive array of ports make up for those shortcomings, particularly once you consider its affordable price (currently $550 on Amazon).
Last year, we saw versions of the Aspire 5 in various dual- and quad-core configurations of Intel’s Core Whiskey Lake CPUs and AMD Ryzen 3000 series chips. Now, in the second half of 2020, the Aspire 5 is moving to 10th-generation Intel processors and AMD Ryzen Series 4000 CPUs, with configurations ranging from quad-core (Intel) all the way to octo-core (AMD). Sticker prices for the Aspire 5 line remain decidedly wallet-friendly, ranging from $400 from a dual-core Intel Core i3-1005G1 model to $850 for a quad-core i7-10510U system with discrete Nvidia GeForce MX250 graphics.
Here are the details for our $550 configuration (A515-55-56VK) of the Acer Aspire 5:
CPU: Intel Core i5-1035G1 (Ice Lake) quad-core CPU
Memory: 8GB DDR4
Graphics: Integrated Intel UHD
Storage: 256GB SSD
Display: 15.6-inch FHD (1920×1080) IPS non-touch
Connectivity: One SuperSpeed 5Gbps USB Type-C port, two SuperSpeed 5Gbps USB Type-A ports, one USB 2.0 port, HDMI, ethernet, combo audio jack
Networking: Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax), gigabit ethernet, Bluetooth 5.0
Biometrics: Fingerprint reader
Battery capacity: 48WHr
Dimensions: 14.3 x 9.9 x 0.71 inches
Weight: 3.75 pounds (measured), 4.25 lbs (with power brick)
There’s a lot to like here given the price tag, but let’s start with the weak points. For starters (and just like all of its siblings), the thin and sleek-looking Aspire 5 is relatively bulky—it does have a 15.6-inch screen, after all. It’ll feel heavy in a knapsack. The 48Whr battery is a tad smallish for a laptop this size, and while the 8GB of RAM is adequate in terms of multitasking performance, 16GB would have been better.
On the plus side, the Aspire’s mid-range Ice Lake CPU should cruise through everyday computing tasks and even pack in some solid horsepower for multi-core duties like video processing (we’ll detail the system’s real-world performance in a bit). This particular CPU sits in the middle of Intel’s Ice Lake line, so don’t expect the blistering performance we’ve seen from pricier laptops with more powerful Ice Lake CPUs. Also, keep in mind that the Aspire’s Ice Lake processor has Intel’s mainstream UHD graphics core, not the turbo-charged Iris Plus GPU in higher-end Ice Lake chips.
Besides the Aspire’s 10th-gen processor, you also get a generous helping of connectivity options, including a USB-C port for speedy external storage, three legacy USB Type-A ports (two of which boats SuperSpeed 5Gbps throughput), and an ethernet port for wired internet. The only thing we missed was a media card reader. What really caught my eye, though, was the Aspire’s support for cutting-edge Wi-Fi 6 routers, a pleasant surprise for this price range.
The Acer Aspire 5’s overall design hasn’t changed since last year, and that’s a good thing. With its 15.6-inch display, the Aspire 5 demands a relatively large chassis. Unlike the incredibly light but far pricier LG Gram, the laptop feels just as heavy as it looks. Still, the Aspire 5’s tapered shell and its sleek, sandblasted aluminum lid give the system a premium feel that belies its budget price tag.
The Aspire 5 comes in two colors: charcoal black and pure silver. Our review model had a pure silver shell, which extends all the way to the keyboard, the palm rest, and the handsome display hinge with the etched-in “Aspire” logo. Besides its aesthetics, the Aspire 5 also comes with a removable bottom panel in case you want to upgrade its 256GB storage drive—and yes, brackets are included.
The Acer Aspire 5’s full-HD display looks, as expected, sharp and vivid, although as with other laptops in this budget-minded series, the Aspire’s screen is a little dimmer (in the 259-269-nit range, according to Acer) than those on pricier systems. That’s not to say you’ll be squinting when viewing the Aspire 5’s display indoors; on the contrary, the screen was comfortably bright when I was using it indoors. In direct sunlight, however, the Aspire’s anti-glare display can be tricky to see, even with the brightness cranked all the way up.
Thanks to its IPS (in-plane switching) panel, the Aspire 5’s screen boasts very good off-angle viewing, with screen brightness dimming just a tad when viewed from the sides, above or below.
It’s worth noting that the Aspire 5’s display is not touch-enabled, which isn’t too surprising given the Aspire’s budget price, as well as the fact that it’s a standard laptop rather than a 2-in-1.
Keyboard, trackpad, speakers, and webcam
As with the other models that I’ve tested from this particular series, the Acer Aspire 5’s backlit keyboard made for pleasurable typing. The keys themselves offered plenty of travel and a springy, satisfying rebound. While there are no dedicated media playback keys, you do get a dedicated (albeit somewhat squished) 10-key numeric keypad, along with dedicated hotkeys for airplane mode, sleep mode (right next to the Escape key, so careful), and a display on/off toggle. The power button in the top-right corner of the keyboard only turns off the laptop after it’s long-pressed, and even then there’s a confirmation pop-up to ensure you don’t shut down the laptop accidentally.
The Aspire 5’s responsive touchpad did a solid job during my testing. The cursor did skitter around a bit when I brushed my palm against the bottom-right corner of the trackpad, but not so much on the bottom-left corner. I only recall one or two instances when the cursor jumped unexpectedly while I was typing.
With the help of Acer’s TrueHarmony Gen 2 audio technology, the Aspire 5’s down-firing stereo drivers sound pretty decent as far as laptop speakers go. Cranking “Live and Let Die” by Paul McCartney and Wings, the Aspire’s speakers delivered relatively full, rich audio, with crisp high-end detail, a solid mid-range and even a dash of bass. Of course, “relative” is the key word here; if you really want to sit down and enjoy streaming music on the Aspire 5, you’ll be better off with headphones or a pair of external speakers.
The Aspire 5’s 720p webcam is adequate for video calls, but not much more. During multiple Zoom calls, the Aspire’s webcam captured smooth but blotchy, washed-out looking video images, which is characteristic for a budget laptop. That’s fine for everyday video calls, but if you’re presenting to the CEO, you’ll want to connect a higher-quality webcam.
The Acer Aspire 5 delivers a robust selection of ports for a budget laptop, with one notable exception.
On the left, you get that SuperSpeed 5Gbps USB Type-C port we mentioned earlier, along with a pair of SuperSpeed 5Gbps Type-A ports, a full HDMI port, a drop-jaw RJ45 gigabit ethernet port, and a barrel-shaped power port.
On the right side sits a USB 2.0 port and a combo audio jack, along with a laptop security slot.
As I said before, it’s a treat to see a budget laptop with not only a SuperSpeed USB-C port for the latest high-speed storage devices (SuperSpeed 10Gbps would have been even better, but that’s asking a bit much from a $550 laptop), but also two SuperSpeed USB Type-A ports, and a USB 2.0 port (good for a mouse or a printer). The wired ethernet port is a nice bonus too.
So, what’s missing? A memory card reader, which would’ve come in handy for quick access to, say, the microSD card in an Android phone.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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Ben has been writing about technology and consumer electronics for more than 20 years. A PCWorld contributor since 2014, Ben joined TechHive in 2019, where he covers smart speakers, soundbars, and other smart and home-theater devices.