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It won’t win any speed records, but the Acer Aspire 5 A515-54-30BQ makes for a compelling bargain-priced laptop all the same. This $400 model of the Aspire 5 packs a roomy full-HD display and a solid dual-core Intel CPU into a slim chassis that weighs less than four pounds. Its smooth day-to-day performance and long battery life should keep productivity-minded users happy. You’ll have to settle for some compromises, however, including a cramped 128GB solid-state drive and just 4MB of RAM.
Price and specifications
Acer offers at least 22 configurations in its budget Aspire 5 line, ranging from $350 for a dual-core AMD Ryzen 3 3200U-powered model with a bare-bones 4GB of RAM and a 128GB solid-state drive, all the way to $850 for a far beefier quad-core Core i7-8565 model with a healthy 12GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, and dedicated Nvidia GeForce MX250 graphics. Most Aspire 5 versions boast a 15.6-inch display (although I spotted at least one 14-inch model), with a mix of 1080p and 720p resolutions.
This $400 model that we’re reviewing comes with a dual-core Intel Core i3-8145U CPU, a Whiskey Lake processor that offers a slightly higher boost speed while trimming the base clock speed of its predecessor, the Core i3-8130U (Kaby Lake Refresh) CPU from 2017. Minor differences aside, both of these low-power, dual-core processors deliver solid performance for mainstream computing tasks like web browsing and working with Office documents, although they’ll have a tough time keeping pace with CPU-intensive tasks like video editing. If you’re looking for a laptop that can help you cut together your 4K video masterpiece, consider a system with at least a quad-core processor.
Also inside this budget Aspire 5 is 4GB of DDR4 RAM, which is…not great, but not terribly unusual for such an inexpensive laptop. Just be aware that the Acer may start to chug if you’ve got too many programs or browser tabs running at once.
Similarly constrained is the mere 128GB of storage in the laptop’s solid-state drive, which leaves you a scant 90GB of free space once Windows and other various pre-installed apps are accounted for. You might be able to make that work if you rely on Dropbox, Google Drive, or other cloud-based storage services, but know that the Aspire’s 128GB SSD will fill up quickly if you install too many programs or try to transfer your playlists and photo albums.
Back on the plus side is the Aspire’s roomy 15.6-inch display with Full HD (1920×1080) resolution. Its integrated Intel UHD Graphics 620 can handle some casual gaming, although not much beyond Microsoft Mahjong.
If you’re looking for a laptop with a little more storage and power, consider the quad-core, Core i5-enabled version of the Aspire 5 with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, which we’ve reviewed here.
Generally speaking, the laptops in Acer’s Aspire 5 line feel thinner and lighter than they really are, and this Core i3 model of the Aspire 5 follows in the same footsteps. At just 0.7-inch thick and a shade under four pounds, the Aspire 5 manages to feel reasonably light, particularly given its substantial 14.3-by-9.9-inch footprint.
The laptop’s slim aluminum lid and tapered shell gives it a stylish look that belies its budget price tag. Opening the lid reveals the 15.6-inch display with thin left and right bezels, a sleek Aspire logo along the laptop hinge, and a silver-colored chassis offset by the black keyboard. If the mood strikes you, you can bend the lid all the way back and a little beyond 180 degrees, which means you can lay the Aspire completely flat with the lid open.
On the bottom of the Aspire 5 sits a pair of small speaker grilles near the front, along with a larger cooling vent near the back. The entire bottom panel of the Aspire could potentially be removed by unscrewing 11 Phillips-head screws, while an included spare hard drive bracket seems to hint that the laptop is user-upgradable. Unfortunately, while you could go ahead and crack open the Aspire’s chassis yourself, a message printed on the bag that holds the HDD bracket warns that doing so could void the warranty.
The roomy 15.6-inch display is a bright spot, quite literally. Measuring 267.5 nits (or candelas) according to our readings, the Aspire’s display manages to slightly exceed our 250-nit minimum brightness standard. Of course, we’ve seen far brighter screens (as in 300 nits and higher) in pricier laptops, but anything above 250 nits isn’t bad for a budget model like this. Puzzlingly, the Core i5-equipped model of the Aspire that we reviewed has a far dimmer display (just above 200 nits) despite costing $200 more.
We’re also fans of the display’s 1920×1080 resolution, which is ideal for a screen this size. The IPS (in-plane switching) panel offers impressive viewing angles, making it easy to share the display with a neighbor.
Keyboard, trackpad, speakers and extras
The Core i3-powered model of the Aspire 5 offers a roomy backlit keyboard, complete with a narrow 10-key numeric keypad. The keys themselves felt good to type on, serving up a solid bump and satisfying rebound on each keystroke. On the other hand, travel (a measure of how far the key travels on each stroke) felt a little shallow compared to other productivity-minded laptops I’ve tested.
The Acer Aspire 5’s roomy trackpad felt smooth and responsive during my testing, and it did a pretty good job at rejecting incidental inputs from my palms while I was typing (and indeed, its palm rejection was better than on the pricier Core i5 model). The trackpad on this lower-end model of the Aspire lacks an integrated fingerprint reader, however.
The stereo speakers on the Aspire 5 sound decent for those on a budget laptop, with a respectable amount of detail and a dash (albeit a small one) of bass. Given that we expect next to nothing when it comes to speaker quality on sub-$1,000 mainstream laptops, the Aspire’s speakers aren’t bad, although they can’t hold a candle to external speakers.
The Aspire’s selection of ports is pretty solid for a budget system, although there’s at least one surprising omission.
Starting on the left side, you get a Gigabit ethernet port for wired networking (something you don’t often see in a laptop this slim), along with a full HDMI port, two USB 3.0 Type-A ports, and a single USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C port, handy for connecting the latest USB-C equipped external storage devices (which you’ll probably need, given the Aspire’s cramped 128GB solid-state drive) and peripherals.
On the right, we’ve got a USB 2.0 Type-A port, plus a combo audio jack.
What’s missing? A built-in memory card reader, which means you won’t be able to access memory cards from your digital camera or your Android phone without a USB adapter.
We pitted this Core i3-enabled version of the Aspire 5 against a series of other productivity-focused laptops in roughly the same price range, including a trio of older Acers, a higher-end Lenovo IdeaPad with a quad-core Intel Core i5 processor, and the newer Aspire 5 (the one we recently reviewed) that also packs in a Core i5 CPU.
While most of the laptops in our performance charts benefit from quad-core Core i5 processors, this particular Aspire and its dual-core Core i3 chip manage to notch solid scores for the types of applications that most of us perform every day: web browsing, dealing with Office, some video chatting, and maybe a round of chess or Simple Solitaire. While the Aspire’s results slightly lag those of other Core i3-enabled systems in our comparison, its performance still impressed us given its budget price and slim profile.
PCMark 8 Work 2.0 Conventional
A test designed to mimic such mainstream applications as web browsing, document editing, spreadsheet tinkering, and video chatting, PCMark 8 measures how smoothly a laptop can perform the kind of day-to-day desktop chores that the Aspire 5 was clearly designed for. Generally speaking, a PCMark 8 score of 2,500 or higher means a given laptop should be able to run Office and other everyday programs with ease.
The PCMark 8 results for the Core i3 version of the Aspire 5 fall in the bottom third of our comparison chart, but the laptop still cleared the 2,500 mark without breaking a sweat. While the Core i5 model of the Aspire managed to top our chart with a somewhat higher score, that doesn’t mean the Core i5’s everyday performance is dramatically better than that of the Core i3. In my hands-on testing, running Office on the Core i3 and Core i5 models felt equally smooth.
For our next test, we use the free HandBrake utility to convert a 40GB MKV video file into a format suitable for Android tablets, a CPU-intensive task that tends to reward laptops with the most processor cores.
Given that the Core i3 processor in this version of the Aspire 5 is a dual-core chip versus the quad-core Core i5 CPUs that power most of the other laptops in our chart, we’d expect the Acer to fall somewhere in the back of the pack, and that’s exactly what happened here. The Aspire 5 even fell behind an older Core i3-powered Acer E 15 with a slightly older Core i3-8130 CPU, but the E 15 is considerably thicker and heavier than the Aspire 5, which makes it much easier to cool.
Keep in mind, however, that our HandBrake test measures the kind of performance that most mainstream users will rarely use. Now, if you need to edit 4K video files or crunch the numbers in a large database, then yes, spending a few hundred more for a quad-core (or better) laptop may well be worth it. But if you’re only planning on using the Aspire 5 for web browsing, Office, and maybe listening to a little Spotify, a dual-core laptop like this Core i3-equipped Aspire 5 would be adequate—and more affordable.
Another processor-intensive test, Cinebench measures how a laptop handles rendering a 3D image in real time. We run a couple different versions of Cinebench: one that measures how well a laptop performs using all its processor threads (and again, this mode favors CPUs with the most cores), and another that measures single-thread performance.
Once again, we see the Aspire 5 and its dual-core Core i3 processor lag behind its quad-core competitors in the all-threads Cinebench test, as well as behind the thicker, heavier Core i3-powered Acer E 15. However, its single-thread Cinebench result is right in the mix with all the other laptops in our chart, and that’s all that matters when it comes to the day-to-day tasks you’d most likely perform on the Aspire 5.
3DMark Sky Diver
No one ever said the Core i3 version of the Aspire 5 is a gaming machine, as the graphics-focused 3DMark Sky Diver test makes abundantly clear. Like most of the laptops in our comparison chart, the Aspire 5 features Intel’s integrated UHD Graphics 620 core, which does the job when it comes to basic desktop graphics and light Minesweeper-style gaming. For anything more graphically intensive, you’ll need to step up to a system with a dedicated graphics card.
While the Aspire 5 comes in last in our roundup, the quad-core i5 laptops in our comparison chart don’t do a heck of a lot better, namely because they’re also saddled with integrated graphics. Leaps and bounds ahead of the rest is the Core i5-equipped Acer E 15, the sole laptop in our chart with discrete graphics—in this case, the entry-level GeForce MX150 card from Nvidia.
We measure battery life in a laptop by looping a 4K video using the stock Movies and TV app for Windows, with the laptop’s brightness set to about 250 nits (or about the 95 percent mark for the Aspire 5) and volume set to 50 percent, headphones on.
The Aspire and its 49 watt-hour battery ended up lasting about 9 hours and 45 minutes in our test, a result that’s bested in our chart only by the far pricier Asus ZenBook 13 and the Lenovo IdeaPad. The Acer E 15 gets a leg up thanks to its 62-watt-hour battery. We’re basically talking close to all-day battery life here, which means you can leave the AC adapter at home.
The Core i3-powered version of the Acer Aspire 5 offers middling speed, and we wish it had more storage, but this still manages to find the sweet spot between size, power, and price. For $400, you get a slim and relatively light chassis, smooth performance for everyday applications, a roomy 1080p display, and plenty of battery life. That adds up to a pretty good value.
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. You can follow Ben on Twitter.