Acer Aspire S5 Ultrabook
A high-performing Ultrabook with a port cluster and vent that can be opened and closed at the press of a button
- Small and light
- Relatively short battery life
- Power button location
- Screen viewing angles
- Keyboard not backlit
- Dual-SSD model not sold in Australia
Acer's Aspire S5 Ultrabook contains innovation and plenty of speed. The model we looked at was equipped with a Core i7 CPU and two solid state drives in a RAID 0 configuration. It's an ultraportable that's suitable for anyone who wants great overall performance in a small package but it isn't perfect. Its screen could be better, its keyboard isn't backlit and its battery life was a little too short in our tests.
Price$ 1,899.00 (AUD)
The Acer Aspire S5 Ultrabook is a 13.3in model that's something different from the norm. While it's thin, light, and equipped with a fast configuration, it also includes something that's unique: a motorised rear port cluster and vent that Acer calls MagicFlip. The idea is that when you aren't using the ports, the laptop will look streamlined and very thin, and you can simply press the button next to the keyboard to extend the port cluster whenever you like. It's not entirely practical, and the novelty may wear off after a while, but it's definitely an interesting design.
Apart from the motorised port cluster, there is something else that makes the Aspire S5 stand out and that is a high-end configuration. Not only does it have a Core i7 CPU, our test model also came equipped with two 128GB solid state drives that were set up in a RAID array. This allowed the S5 to produce some of the fastest results we've ever seen in our storage tests. Its configuration will let you run office apps with ease, as well allow you to do much more when it comes to multimedia and other taxing tasks.
Note: Unfortunately, the two-drive version isn't for sale here in Australia. The only model that's available here is the single-drive version.
Physically, the Aspire S5 is a solid Ultrabook that's made out of metal and it's very thin. We think it's a great Ultrabook for those of you who need something to carry every day from home and work, and to take on the road, be it overseas or interstate — it weighs only 1.2kg and it ships with a relatively small power adapter but you'll still need to manage the thick power cord. The only things we hate about the design are the terribly shallow power button on the left side of the unit, which is very hard to press, and the headphone jack on the right side, which is angled and doesn't give a sense of security when you plug something in.
Sparse connection options mean that the Aspire S5 is not an Ultrabook for those of you who require ports such as Gigabit Ethernet; the ports on this notebook are limited to HDMI, Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 (two of them). These all reside in the motorised port cluster. You also get a combination headphone and microphone port on the right side and a full-sized SD card slot on the left side. A dual-band wireless module is installed (an Atheros AR5BMD222 module), as well as Bluetooth and a webcam.
In the engine room, the Aspire S5 includes an Intel Core i7-3517U CPU, which runs at 1.9GHz and has two cores plus Hyper-Threading, and it also takes care of the graphics (Intel HD 4000). It's surrounded by 4GB of DDR3 SDRAM and the aforementioned storage RAID array, which is partitioned to provide two drives of 106GB (for the system drive) and 107GB (for your data) of formatted capacity. It's an Ultrabook that felt very zippy during everyday work, and we didn't experience any anguish when it came to launching and switching between many programs and undertaking office, Web and multimedia tasks.
Performance and battery life
This responsive performance was also shown in our tests. In Blender 3D, the Aspire S5 recorded a time of 42sec to render our test load, in iTunes it took 46sec to convert our WAV files to MP3s, while in AutoGordianKnot, it took 55min to convert a DVD file to an Xvid. All of these times are excellent and show that this Ultrabook can be used for more taxing tasks in addition to just run-of-the-mill Web browsing and document creation. However, the base will get quite warm when the CPU needs to do a lot of work, and the system fan will get quite loud. Furthermore, if the ports and vent of the MagicFlip aren't already extended, the motor will kick whenever the temperature gets to a certain point and the vent will extend to make the warm air escape from the chassis a little easier.
The best result that we witnessed during our tests was from the solid state RAID array, which put up simply stunning numbers in CrystalDiskMark: a read rate of 908 megabytes per second (MBps) and a write rate of 670MBps — it's the fastest write rate we've seen to date. In our own file duplication tests, the drive averaged 192MBps. It's the performance of this drive that really made the Ultrabook feel zippy overall and with 213GB of total formatted space available to use, there is plenty of room for large files to be stored directly on the unit for when you travel. Acer has showcased some laptops with very fast solid state drive configurations recently, with the Aspire S7 also putting up excellent numbers in our tests recently. Boot up time for the S5 was 12sec from when we pressed the power button until we were able to control the mouse pointer.
Battery life was so-so in our tests. In our rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video, the S5's 4-cell, 2310 milliamp-hour battery lasted 3hr 2min. This isn't great for an Ultrabook. We were expecting at least 3hr 30min and can only surmise that the extra SSD is the cause of the shorter life, or that the battery is a little smaller than other 13.3in Ultrabooks in order for the MagicFlip's motor to fit in the chassis. It's worth noting that we did not trigger the MagicFlip's motor at all during this test.
A large palm rest and decent-sized keys make the Aspire S5 comfortable to type on for the most part, but its extra-small arrow keys can be inconvenient to use. A large ELAN touchpad allows you to move the cursor across the screen with good accuracy and speed, and it supports multi-finger gestures for scrolling and flicking back and forth — although flicking is with two fingers rather than three fingers, which we are used to performing on Synaptics pads.
The screen has a native resolution of 1366x768 and it's decent, but its glossy finish and somewhat narrow vertical viewing angles mean you will probably have to tilt it a lot in order to get the best view. For an Ultrabook with a premium price tag, this screen should have been better.
One of the neat things about the motorised port cluster and vent is that is gives the Ultrabook book a bit of a slant, which can make it a little more comfortable to type on when it's rested flat on a table. The motor that drives the ports and vent to appear and disappear is strong and you probably won't want to make a habit of opening and closing it regularly in order to conserve your battery life.
As it happens, we did indeed develop a habit of opening and closing the MagicFlip bay, mainly for the novelty. Think of Homer Simpson in the episode "Homer's Triple Bypass" of the Simpsons: bed goes up, bed goes down, bed goes up, bed goes down. That was us with this laptop, continually pressing the button for the MagicFlip feature to make it go up and down. It's worth noting that if there is too much pressure on the laptop for the motor to open the port cluster and vent, then it will detect it and won't do it. Also worth noting: the motor is quite loud and can be startling if it kicks in automatically to open the vent in a quiet room, for example. An on-screen display is also shown when this happens so that you are aware of it.
The version of this laptop that we looked at came with Windows 7, but it does ship with Windows 8 now. It's a great little unit, for sure. We love its size, weight, style, speed (thanks to the Core i7 CPU and RAID array), and even the novelty of the MagicFlip feature (although it did wear off after a while). However, it's an Ultrabook that could use a better screen considering the $1899 price tag, and its keyboard isn't backlit, which is also a drawback for us. The $1899 price tag is also listed as being for the 128GB version. Acer has informed us that the twin-SSD, RAID 0 version is not sold locally.
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