Acer Aspire 5 (A515-43-R19L) review: A budget AMD Ryzen 3 workhorse with middling battery life
Other Aspire 5 models in the same price range manage to wring more life out of their batteries.
By Ben Patterson
PCWorldSep 25, 2019 3:00 am PDT
Image: Ben Patterson/IDG
At a Glance
Bargain price tag
Solid productivity performance
Slim and relatively light design
Middling battery life
Cramped solid-state drive
No USB-C ports
There’s a lot to like about this inexpensive Ryzen 3-powered Acer Aspire 5, including its slim and light chassis and its solid performance when it comes to mainstream computing tasks, but the middling battery life on this particular Aspire model is tough to overlook.
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If this particular model of the Acer Aspire 5 looks familiar, it’s probably because it’s been sitting atop Amazon’s laptop bestseller list for months. It’s easy to understand why. With a list price of $350 but usually selling for closer to $310, this AMD Ryzen 3-powered Aspire 5 packs some enticing features for the price, including a Full-HD 15.6-inch display, a slim-and-trim chassis, and solid performance when it comes to day-to-day computing tasks.
That said, a Windows 10 laptop this inexpensive has its compromises. In this case, we’re talking a scant 4GB of RAM and a cramped 128GB solid-state drive, while battery life falls significantly short compared to similar Aspire 5 models that don’t cost much more. Indeed, if you stretch your budget just a tad, you can get an Aspire 5 (such as the Core i3-powered Aspire 5) that’ll last considerably longer without a power adapter.
Price and configuration
Acer offers nearly two dozen configurations in its budget Aspire 5 line, ranging from $350 (list price, as opposed to Amazon’s sale price) for the somewhat bare-bones AMD model we’re reviewing here all the way to $850 for a considerably 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.
Cracking open the hood of this particular model, we find:
CPU: Dual-core AMD Ryzen 3 3200U
RAM: 4GB DDR4 RAM
GPU: Integrated Radeon Vega 3
Display: 15.6-inch 1920 x 1090 IPS “ComfyView”
Storage: 128GB SSD
We’ll cover the Aspire’s real-world performance in a moment, but on paper, we’ve got the makings of a fairly basic laptop that should do the job when it comes to general computing duties such as Office tasks and web browsing.
The dual-core Ryzen 3 CPU is roughly equivalent to an 8th-generation Intel Core i3 chip, which ranks as a solid dual-core workhorse. The 4GB of RAM means you’ll likely see some performance hiccups if you run too many programs at once. The integrated graphics core will allow for Minesweeper and some light photo editing, but nothing more taxing than that. And while a solid-state drive always helps to speed up performance compared to a traditional spinning hard drive, the skimpy 128GB capacity (which falls to about 100GB once you take Windows 10 and other pre-installed apps into account) will fill up quickly unless you rely on cloud storage.
On the plus side, it’s refreshing to see a full-on 1080p display on a laptop in this price range, not to mention one that uses an IPS (in-plane switching) panel for relatively wide viewing angles. It’s not unusual to see manufactures saddle budget laptops such as this with cheaper (if faster) 720p TN (twisted nematic) displays, which make for fuzzier viewing and faded or even inverse colors if you’re looking at the screen from the sides, top, or bottom.
Budget laptops are notorious for being boxy and bulky, but Acer has done a nice job of making its Aspire 5 line look slim and sleek. This particular AMD model is no exception. Measuring 14.3 x 9.7 x 0.7 inches, the Aspire feels lighter than its actual weight of 3 pounds, 13 ounces (or 4 pounds, 5 ounces if you include the AC adapter). The aluminum lid gives the Aspire a premium look. You can actually rotate the lid back a little beyond 180 degrees, meaning you can lay the laptop completely flat with the lid open.
The Aspire’s 15.6-inch display boasts impressively slim left and right bezels, while the black keyboard is nicely offset by the laptop’s silver chassis. The hinge on this particular Aspire is less prominent than it is on some other configurations we’ve seen, with the Aspire logo stamped along the top edge of the inside chassis rather than on the hinge itself. Both designs look good, if you ask me.
The 15.6-inch full-HD display looks pretty similar to the screens we’ve seen on other Aspire 5 models, and that’s a good thing. The screen is reasonably bright for a budget laptop, measuring about 260 nits (or candelas) according to our readings. Sure, we’ve seen laptops with displays in the 300-and-up range, but they’ll generally cost you (many) hundreds more.
We also liked the viewing angles on this IPS display, which look pretty good up until you move your head to about the 45-degree mark—even then, the screen dims only slightly. Indeed, sharing the Aspire’s screen with a neighbor shouldn’t present much of an issue. Meanwhile, Acer’s anti-glare “ComfyView” design did a good job of warding off distracting reflections.
Keyboard, trackpad, and speakers
The backlit keyboard on this Aspire configuration is pretty much the same as on other models we’ve tested. The keys themselves have a solid, responsive bump with a springy rebound, although travel (or how far the key moves on each keystroke) is a little shallower than I’d like. You also get a dedicated numeric keypad with a somewhat narrow design, which makes the keys look a bit squished.
As with the keyboard, the trackpad on this laptop is standard issue for Acer’s Aspire 5 line: a bit on the large side, which (in my case, anyway) meant that my palms were often brushing it while I typed. Luckily, the trackpad did a pretty good job of rejecting any false inputs.
There’s not much to say about the Aspire 5’s speakers, beyond the fact that they’re not great. Of course, you can’t expect much from laptop speakers, particularly on a budget model. On the plus side, the Aspire’s speakers can get nice and loud, and they’re perfectly fine for listening to the audio on (for example) YouTube videos. But these thin, bass-free speakers can’t hold a candle to external speakers or a decent pair of headphones.
Another feature you can’t expect on a laptop that’s this inexpensive is any type of biometric security. Some slightly pricier models (closer to the $500 range) boast fingerprint readers embedded in their trackpads, but there’s no such item on this $350 version.
The port selection on this budget Aspire 5 model is fair. On the left side, you get a single USB 3.0 Type-A port, a USB 2.0 port, HDMI, ethernet, and a combo audio jack, along with a barrel-shaped power port.
On the right, there’s only one more USB 2.0 port, plus a laptop security slot.
Missing from the port party is a USB-C port, which we’ve seen on other Aspire 5 models and would have been handy for connecting newer external storage devices and other peripherals. We also wouldn’t have minded a memory card slot.
We’ve compared this dual-core Ryzen 3-powered Aspire 5 to a series of similar 8th-generation Intel Core i3 and i5 laptops, some of which retails for hundreds more than this particular model. Now, let’s just cut to the chase: The Aspire 5 we’re reviewing generally sits at or near the bottom of each of our performance charts.
Keep in mind, however, that this particular Acer laptop happens to be among the least expensive systems that we’ve ever tested, so there’s a value proposition to consider. Also, while the Aspire’s performance on our charts may look bad, that doesn’t mean that it can’t do a good—heck, better than good—job at handling everyday computing tasks like editing Office documents, surfing the web, and editing a photo or two. Indeed, during my time writing this review on the Aspire 5 itself, I never experienced any performance slowdowns that impeded my productivity.
So when considering our performance results, I’d suggest taking them in the context of seeing the inherent trade-offs in a laptop this inexpensive, rather than wagging a finger at (for example) the Aspire’s sluggish video encoding performance (which shouldn’t come as a surprise given its dual-core CPU).
The Aspire 5’s iffy performance in our battery life test is another story, as you’ll soon see.
PCMark 8 Work 2.0 Conventional
First up, the PCMark 8 benchmark simulates such daily computing tasks as online shopping, tinkering with spreadsheets, light video chat, and other common chores. A PCMark 8 score above 2,000 means you shouldn’t see any speed bumps while, say, plugging away in a Word document, while anything about 3,000 should yield buttery productivity performance.
So yes, the Ryzen 3 Aspire sits next to last in our PCMark 8 chart, just ahead of a similar dual-core Intel Core i3 systems, check out its score: a hair above 3,000, which means it should sail through the day-to-day computing tasks that this budget laptop was clearly made for.
Would a PCMark 8 score closer to 3,500 make you 16 percent more productive than a score of 3,000? Probably not, and chances are you wouldn’t even notice the difference. That said, you’d certainly feel the couple hundred extra bucks you’d spend to snag that higher PCMark 8 result.
Taking things up a notch, our HandBrake test involves using the free HandBrake utility to encode a 40GB video files into a format suitable for Android tablets. It’s a CPU-intensive task that rewards laptops with the most processor cores, while dual-core systems like our Aspire 5 system tend to lag behind.
In any event, it shouldn’t come as a shock to see the Aspire in (again) second to last place, although it did manage a significantly better Handbrake score than the dual-core Core i3-powered Aspire 5 model that we mentioned earlier. The laptops on the chart that managed HandBrake scores of less than 6,000 (lower numbers are better) are all powered by quad-core CPUs, and they’ve all got higher price tags, too.
So, should you be worried about the Aspire’s not-so-stellar HandBrake score? Well, that depends on whether you’re, say, a content creator who’s planning on processing large video files on a regular basis. If you are, then yes, you should consider a pricier system with a quad-core or better CPU (such as this Core i5-powered Aspire 5 model). Only planning on web surfing and dealing with Office? If that’s the case, the Aspire’s iffy HandBrake showing isn’t worth getting in a tizzy over.
Similar in difficulty to our HandBrake benchmark, Cinebench tests how quickly a given laptop can render a 3D image in real time. Once again, we’re talking a processor-intensive torture test that tends to heat up CPUs and spin up cooling fans.
As with HandBrake, Cinebench favors processors with the most cores and threads, so it’s not surprising to see the AMD-powered Aspire 5 in its familiar next-to-last spot, again slightly outpacing the Core i3-powered Aspire 5 model, with all the quad-core systems in the lead.
Now, the Aspire’s last-place single-thread performance does give us a moment of pause, because it puts dual- and quad-core laptops on an even playing field and speaks to the efficiency of a system’s individual CPU threads. Then again, we’d be more concerned if the Aspire 5’s single-thread Cinebench showing were part of a trend. The laptop’s solid PCMark 8 score as well as our peppy real-world experience say otherwise.
3DMark Sky Diver 1.0
You can’t expect much in the way of gaming performance from a laptop with an integrated graphics core, but we put the Aspire 5 and its integrated Radeon Vega 3 graphics to the test anyway.
Yet again, the Aspire 5 sits next to last, just ahead of the Core i3 Aspire with its integrated Intel UHD Graphics 620 core.
All the laptops in our chart with integrated graphics are essentially in the same boat. Meanwhile, the Acer E 15 laptop that tops our list has a major leg up thanks to its dedicated Nvidia GeForce MX150 graphics card, which goes to show the boost that dedicated graphics can give you (for an added cost, of course).
Here’s the Aspire’s one performance result that’s a genuine disappointment. In this test, we check how long it takes to drain a laptop’s battery by looping a 4K video using the stock Windows Movies & TV app. During the test, we make sure the screen brightness is at about 250 nits (which, in the case of this particular laptop, meant dialing the brightness to 97 percent) and turning the volume up to 50 percent with headphones plugged in.
The 402-minute (or 6.7-hour) result for this Ryzen 3-powered Aspire 5 sounds pretty solid on its own, but it pales compared to the 585- and 542-minute scores for the Core i5 and Core i3 Aspire 5 models that we’ve previously reviewed. To make a direct comparison, the Core i3 Aspire 5 lasted about two hours and 20 minutes longer than the Ryzen 3 Aspire, surprising given that both laptops have roughly the same 49 watt-hour battery.
Granted, you could still expect the Ryzen 3 Aspire’s battery to last you a good chunk of the day, but the Core i3 model (which has a list price of just $50 more) will get you considerably closer to the coveted “all-day battery” mark.
There’s a lot to like about this inexpensive Ryzen 3-powered Acer Aspire 5, including its slim and light chassis, and its solid performance when it comes to mainstream computing tasks. However, the middling battery life on this particular Aspire model is tough to overlook. If you have a $310 budget and you can’t spend a penny more, you could do a lot worse than this productivity-minded workhorse. However, we recommend spending an extra $40 for the (as of this writing) $350 Core i3 version of the Aspire 5, which comes saddled with the same 4GB of RAM and 128GB SSD but boasts significantly better battery life.