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In recent years, Acer has been doing an admirable job of condensing respectable hardware into affordable machines. Each successive generation, Acer has usually had one or two solid notebooks that were able to squeeze a decent gaming GPU into a reasonable price tag, and with the Aspire 5740-6979, that trend continues. Today we're able to take a look at a machine that features Intel's still relatively young Core i5 paired with – and this is the particularly compelling part – AMD's new mobile DirectX 11-class hardware.

Click to enlarge

Acer offers a wide variety of machines – all direct to retail – in their Aspire 5740 lineup, but the 6979 is one of only two models available off of Newegg. The other model, the 6395, trades up the processor to a 2.4 GHz model and raises the price from the 6979's $799 to $849 while reducing hard drive capacity by 180GB. Note that Buy.com and Provantage both list a price of $749, though it's out of stock at Buy.com and shows as a "special order" (i.e. ships from the manufacturer) for Provantage. If you're not in a rush, you could potentially save $50, but Newegg is otherwise a safe bet. Frankly, the 6979 we received for review should be the more attractive of the two: the modest bump in clock speed on the CPU isn't worth an extra $50 on the price tag and a loss of hard drive capacity.

Acer Aspire 5740G-6979 Specifications
Processor Intel Core i5 430M
(2x2.26GHz, 32nm, 3MB L3, Turbo to 2.53GHz, 35W)
Chipset Intel HM55
Memory 2x2GB DDR3-1066 (Max 2x4GB)
Graphics ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5650 1GB GDDR3
(400 SPs, 550/1.5GHz Core/RAM clocks)
Display 15.6" LED Glossy 16:9 768p (1366x768)
Hard Drive(s) 500GB 5400RPM HDD
Optical Drive 8x DVDR SuperMulti
Networking Gigabit Ethernet
Atheros AR5B93 802.11n
V.92 56K Modem
Audio HD Audio (2 stereo speakers with line-in, mic and headphone jacks)
Capable of 5.1 digital output
Battery 6-Cell, 12V, 46Wh battery
"Up to 3 Hours"
Front Side Memory Card Reader (SD/MMC)
Left Side AC Power Connection
Ethernet
HDMI
VGA
2 x USB 2.0
Line-in Jack
Mic Jack
Headphone Jack
Right Side 2x USB 2.0
Optical Drive (DVDRW)
Modem Jack
Kensington Lock
Back Side Exhaust vent
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 15.1" x 9.9" x 1.03-1.5" (WxDxH)
Weight 6.16 lbs (with 6-cell battery)
Extras Webcam
103-Key keyboard with 10-key
Flash reader (MMC/MS/MSPro/SD)
Warranty 1-year basic warranty
Pricing $748 Online
$799 from NewEgg

Digging in, we find that Acer's Aspire 5740-6979 is remarkably powerful for a notebook in its price range. The Intel Core i5 430M may be the slowest in Intel's mobile i5 lineup, but at 2.26 GHz (with a Turbo Boost speed of 2.53 GHz) and based on Intel's efficient Nehalem architecture it's still an extremely potent chip. Like the rest of the mobile Core i5's, it comes equipped with 3MB of L3 cache. Filling out the other side of the unit's double whammy is the AMD Mobility Radeon HD 5650 with a full 1GB of GDDR3 video memory. This should be the really interesting part: while the 5650 is the slowest of AMD's DirectX 11-class mobile GPUs before we get into the 80-shader 5400 series, it's still a robust part sporting higher specifications than last generation's Mobility Radeon HD 4670, a powerful mobile graphics processor in its own right. At a core clock of 550 MHz and running its GDDR3 at an effective 1.5 GHz on a 128-bit bus, the 5650 packed into the Aspire is basically a desktop Radeon HD 5570 running at reduced clocks. Despite the reduction, though, it still packs 400 shader processors, 20 TMUs, and 8 ROPs, which should be ample for the Aspire's 768p screen.

Unfortunately that performance comes at a cost, and that cost is battery life. The Aspire offers no way to switch to the integrated graphics built into the Core i5 430M, and while this feature would've added cost and complexity to the build of the Aspire 5740, it also highlights a feature NVIDIA has that AMD doesn't. NVIDIA's Optimus switchable-graphics technology makes a very convincing case for choosing a notebook with NVIDIA graphics, because while a notebook with a modern, Optimus-ready GeForce can easily switch back to integrated graphics and completely shut down the dedicated GPU to save power, AMD's Mobility Radeons are forced to rely on their own power-saving measures to preserve battery life. The 5000 series Radeons may be very efficient chips, but the best mode for conserving power is always going to be “off.”

The rest of the Aspire 5740 is less exciting but still healthy and modern. Acer packs the unit with 4GB of DDR3-1066 memory in two DIMMs (upgradeable to 8GB if you're willing to sacrifice the existing two sticks to the Gods of Online Auction Houses), a meaty 500GB hard drive running at 5400 RPM, and a DVD+/-RW drive. Networking options are short only Bluetooth (kind of a shame, really): Acer includes an Atheros 802.11n wireless networking adapter, a gigabit Ethernet port, and even a 56K modem (some people still fax out resumes.) To top it all off, there's a 1.3-megapixel webcam integrated into the screen bezel, right where you'd expect it.

If the hardware included in the Aspire 5740 is awesome for the price, the build of the machine is going to be where Acer cut corners. It's solid, sure, but the style is bulbous and bulky, and the plastic feels cheap. Connectivity is bog standard, and just as with the Dell Inspiron 15 review, we're disappointed with the lack of FireWire and eSATA connectivity. While the Radeon in the Aspire suggests what purpose the unit is meant to serve, it's a shame not to have included connectivity for media enthusiasts. Four USB 2.0 ports are all well and good for quantity, but you're still going to be backing up a 500GB hard drive at about 30MB/sec tops. And again, unfortunately like Dell, Acer omitted the ExpressCard port, thus preventing the user from expanding the unit's connectivity.

Acer Aspire AS5740G-6979 Overview
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  • chicagotechjunkie - Friday, April 02, 2010 - link

    ...as a proud new owner of a HP Envy 15 I've really gotta speak up here in terms of what you can get for just a shade more cash.

    Right now you can get a i5-430 15.6" 1920x1080 (!) 4GB RAM 320GB 7200RPM HDD w/ ATI 5830 for 949.99. (coupon code NBMY33241knocks $450 off the list price)

    We're talking full HD resolution, faster HDD and one of the best mobile graphics chips for under a grand. Not to mention the 1" thin body that makes it oh so sexy ;)

    Alternately you could swap out the HD screen for the faster i5-520 or 540 and keep it in the same ballpark price.

    I've been very happy with how well the 5830 overclocks as well. From a base 500/800 to 550/1100 totally stable and cool with no voltage bump of any kind. Managed just shy of 10k in 3dmark06 with the overclocked settings.

    I know it's the next step up in price, and admittedly it was more than I was initially going to spend on a new laptop, but now that I have it, I'm so SO glad I did.
    Reply
  • mfenn - Saturday, April 03, 2010 - link

    Yuck, who wants 1920x1080 on a 15" screen? That resolution is barely tolerable at 17"! IM(NS)HO, the perfect resolution for 15" is 1440x900. Reply
  • austonia - Sunday, April 04, 2010 - link

    you know Windows can scale the dpi right? probably want to set at 125-150% in this case, then you get the same look as a 720p screen with extra sharpness. the full 1080p resolution is useful in apps that have a lot of controls and need a lot of space to display those controls. video editors come to mind. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, April 05, 2010 - link

    As someone that uses a 30" LCD with a 120dpi setting, I can attest to the fact that using anything other than the default 96dpi has some oddities with some applications, and you'd be better off not having to change it. Most of the time, it works well enough that I can live with it, but sometimes I'll have programs where the text scales to a larger font with 120dpi and it wraps to the next line... except it's not visible because the rest of the application didn't scale at all. Anyway, for 15.6" I'd certainly say 1600x900 is very usable, and even 1080p is fine though a bit small at times. It is unfortunate that so many laptops use 1366x768 panels, whether they're 11.6", 13.3", 14.0", 15.6", or 16.0" LCDs. Reply
  • chicagotechjunkie - Monday, April 05, 2010 - link

    Well, I did mention you could swap out the HD screen for a better component, if that wasn't your cup of tea.

    I personally enjoy the higher resolution, and yes the text is smaller, but as was pointed out, dpi settings can help with a lot of it if it bothers you, and honestly I use the default settings, and don't experience any eye strain after extended use.

    The whole point was that you could get a much better gaming machine than the one reviewed for not all that much more cash. That was the point I was trying to make.
    Reply
  • ap90033 - Friday, April 02, 2010 - link

    Does this guy game at all? 19FPS? Seriously? If this thing cant average 50 or so its not worth trying. (keep in mind that averaging 50fps means under some heavy areas in game it will drop to 30 or so)
    For people looking for a REAL GAMER LAPTOP for a DECENT Price look at the ASUS G60 or G72 at best buy for $999 they play Dirt 2 at around 50FPS most settings maxed...
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, April 03, 2010 - link

    Just because it runs at sub-30 FPS with maxed out settings hardly makes it unfit for gaming. It's ludicrous to suggest that all games need to be run at even high quality. Having played plenty of games on the 5740G before sending it on to Dustin, I fully agree that it can play games better than the vast majority of laptops, and certainly better than any other $750 laptop. Can you find faster laptops for gaming? Of course you can, but they cost quite a bit more. Barring crazy sales (i.e. the Envy 15 for under $1000), this is a laptop that competes against laptops that typically cost $250 more.

    Case in point, the G72 at Best Buy costs $1000, has half the battery life, and weighs almost 3 pounds more. Yes, the GTX 260M is about 40% faster on average, but then with a 1600x900 LCD (37% more pixels) you're going to need the extra performance, and you still won't max out everything. I wouldn't say either laptop is clearly superior, but the 5740G at 1366x768 is going to offer similar performance to the GTX 260M at 1600x900.
    Reply
  • tuskers - Tuesday, April 06, 2010 - link

    The Envy isn't so much a "crazy sale" as much as what that machine typically costs these days. HP regularly offers coupons on their machines that discount the Envy into the ~$1000 price range. If you didn't know that, you don't know the market. Reply
  • ap90033 - Tuesday, April 06, 2010 - link

    Bull, I bought the 16 inch Asus from Best Buy. Has the GTX260 which is 40%+ faster (That is a huge diff....) Plays Dirt 2 maxed and looks awesome, Plays COD6 maxed (I did turn down AA a notch) looks awesome etc etc. Paid $250 more for TONS more performance. They sold out of this but now have
    http://www.bestbuy.com/site/Asus+-+Laptop+with+Int... which looks pretty decent. 16 inch Geforce GTS 360 1 gig and Core i5 for $999. Of course if you are like me and wait a bit, there will be a better one to come out and the prices will drop. My laptop dropped to $799 which was an AMAZING PRICE for a 40% faster gaming laptop (by the way it has built in overclocking that works great!) Plus I got a free game with my Reward Points :)
    Asus makes a very nice laptop to boot...
    Reply
  • synaesthetic - Monday, April 19, 2010 - link

    I'm a gamer and I flat refuse buy any of the Asus gaming laptops. They're just too ugly, too gaudy and they absolutely do not look professional. I can't afford to own one computer for gaming and one for work, so I have to consider these things. The blinking lights and glowing ROG logo isn't exactly professional, you know.

    I'll settle for weaker GPU performance in the Gateway NV5925u (identical to this Acer, only prettier and not blue) for something I can use in class or at work without people looking at me like I'm crazy.

    ... why can't someone put gaming guts in a Thinkpad chassis? =(
    Reply

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