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.

Credit: Ben Patterson/IDG

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).

Configuration

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 (1920x1080) IPS non-touch
  • Webcam: 720p
  • 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.

Design

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.

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

They're big and a little heavy, but Acer's Aspire 5 laptops look pretty sleek.

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.

Display

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.

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

The Aspire 5's 15.6-inch IPS display boasts solid viewing angles, but it's not touch sensitive.

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.

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

We're fans of the Aspire 5's comfy keyboard, although the dedicated numeric keypad is a bit squished.

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.

Ports

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.

acer aspire 5 a515 55 56vk left side Ben Patterson/IDG

The Acer Aspire 5 offers plenty of ports, including SuperSpeed USB Type-C and Type-A connectors, an HDMI port, and a full HDMI port.

On the right side sits a USB 2.0 port and a combo audio jack, along with a laptop security slot.

acer aspire 5 a515 55 56vk right side Ben Patterson/IDG

The right side of the Aspire 5 has a single USB 2.0 port, a combo audio jack, and a laptop security slot. No memory card slot, though.

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.

Click here to read about the Acer Aspire 5's real-world performance

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Ben Patterson

PC World (US online)
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