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.

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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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  • Lunyone - Saturday, April 03, 2010 - link

    Do you have a suggestion for a similar laptop (similar specs) at the $750 price point? I have an ACER laptop that my wife uses religiously everyday for the last 18 months or so and it hasn't had any issues. I know ACER probably sells a lot of laptops, especially since a lot of them are cheaply priced. I'm not saying that they have the best build quality, but the experience with them at this point has been a plensant one (from my personal experience).

    I'm right in this price category (~$750) and would be buying a laptop with a good/decent dedicated GPU. The laptops that are in this price range usually only have the integrated GPU and suck when it comes to playing some decent games. I see ACER hitting the right price and performance here. If Asus/Dell/HP/Gateway had similar specs and performance than I'd consider those, but from what I've seen so far, they don't have a similar product. I currently have a Dell e1505 w/ATI x1400 GPU w/2 gb's of RAM on Windows XP. This system still plays games well (not with all of the eye candy), but is in dire need of replacement. I bought this laptop for ~$900 4 years ago and have loved it's performance and durability. I've only had to replace the battery (about 6 months ago).

    Anyone have any suggestions for a $750 laptop with decent dedicated GPU's?? I would like to have better resolution than 1366 x 768, but that seems to standard on a 15.6" LCD these days.
    Reply
  • NYHoustonman - Sunday, April 04, 2010 - link

    This:
    http://www.gateway.com/systems/product/529668641.p...

    Looks like it'll be similar when it becomes available.

    I stopped by my local OfficeMax today to check out the build quality/keyboard on the Acer 5740 series (different model), and it actually wasn't that bad. Granted my current laptop is 12 years old... But I couldn't see calling it horrendous or anything. I had been planning on ordering one of these, but they're out of stock everywhere but Newegg (sales tax kills anything big that I buy there...). I'd go with the Envy 15 deal, but again, the sales tax - brings it just past what I want to spend. Although, if it had an internal optical drive, I'd probably be more willing to take the jump.

    Has anyone found these in stock anywhere? Google searches aren't showing much of anything.
    Reply
  • mtoma - Tuesday, April 06, 2010 - link

    I have a suggestion: look at the laptop offerings of Toshiba and Asus, they are a little more expensive, but they have what I call a Really Bang for the Buck. With those laptop brands, I had no problem (not that these are perfect, but...). A more safe bet would be on the Dell and Lenovo laptops, but I cannot comment the price on those).
    My suggestion (to the customer) is to be more cunning and to look beyond the paper specifications of a particular laptop; the customer should find out wich is more reliabile. Here, some respected IT sites could help, taking in consideration some national/regional statistics regarding the return rate of the products. And I mean the return rate to the manufacturer (HP, Lenovo, Asus, etc.).
    My reasoning is that the customer does not buy just a paper, he buys a product, so are really not that important those specifications and the price.
    I also heard some people saying that they are very happy their Acer laptops, but I believe that the are the lucky ones, they do not represent the majority of the owners. Just because you see a laptop with a good keyboard, doesn't mean that he is well built. Like I said before, the motherboard fails on the Acer machines, and sometimes the touchpad (not some peripherical device).
    If Anandtech could take with a grain of salt that magical price/performance index, and add some reliability statistics (from a Federal Agency of some kind), I think it would be a premiere on the IT journalism. I am perfectly aware that no IT site could do some reliability statistics of their own, but, I think it could use some market research, some national (at least north-american) statistic.
    Don't you think you should not buy just a invoice, just of a nice paper with some pretty figures?
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, April 08, 2010 - link

    See, I personally wouldn't recommend Toshiba systems, as every one I have had personal experience with has run hot ( a friend's even burned his desk). But everyone has different experiences. The problem with testing reliability is that by the time a reviewer has used a system long enough to have a guess at the reliability it is old news and might not be available anymore. So the only way to try and guess is through anecdotal evidence about the company like what you said. Incidentally, my sister had a Acer laptop with mostly similar components to what I have in my Thinkpad that cost less than half the money, and it was falling apart within 18 months while my Thinkpad is still going. Then again I know my sister is extremely hard on electronics, so I have no idea what that laptop went through. Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Sunday, April 04, 2010 - link

    The problem is that it's nearly impossible to review reliability. These are more or less cutting edge systems, there's just no way to tell if they're going to last. Assumptions can be made if they run hot, but otherwise...assuming a lack of failure, this laptop is a stellar deal for gamers on a budget and in my experience it didn't run terribly toasty. Reply
  • DILLIGAFF - Sunday, April 04, 2010 - link

    awesome review and i agree this is awesome value for the budget gamer

    what i don;t understand is why wasn't switchable graphics included? that would have shot the laptop up the battery tests rankings and acer would have a champ on their hands. Do they at least offer a Bios software switch to alternate between the graphics? kind of crazy if you ask me.

    Can you comment on this please for this laptop specifically and something more general about ati 5 series please? Is the lack of switchable graphics a limitation of the hardware implementation in this specific model, or do you think this maybe made available at a later point with a bios/driver/hax update ?

    reason i ask is 3820/4820 timelinex are on the horizon with same graphics and cpu, in a thinner.smaller package but claim 8 hours battery life . I was gona get one, expecting non-reboot, manual switchable graphics, but you got me all worried :)
    Reply
  • Neosamurai - Sunday, April 04, 2010 - link

    The above article focuses on the 6979 version of the laptop I just purchased
    http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/searchtool...

    I think I got a better deal, considering that I paid $799 from tigerdirect.com and got the i5-520M it looks like they are all sold out now though, so if you missed this sale, than you missed out big haha.

    The difference between the 6395 and the 6979, are thus: The 6979 has 180GB more hdd space (still on a slow but energy efficient 5400rpm drive) and it uses the i5-430M instead of the i5-520M found on the 6395. As a person intending to do some fun gaming on this laptop. I immediately purchased a kingston 128GB SSD ($249 Newegg) to slap in, in place of the 320GB hdd. The kingston bundle comes with an external usb powered case to put your old hdd in by the way, and includes software to clone your old hdd onto your external. My other purchase I have been pondering is to switch the memory from DDR3-1066 to DDR3-1333 which the mother board will support. However, I decided I will wait for the price point to drop on 2x 4GB sticks. As $400 is still outrageous in my opinnion for 8GB of ram that is non ecc and not intended for a server.

    I like this laptop alot mainly for the fact that its NOT CLUTTERED! The layout is aesthetically pleasing. I dont know about you, but Im tired of having 8zillion hot keys that I never touch on my laptop, and a million glowing lights that wont turn off when Im trying to sleep in a dark room.

    Just my opinnion though. Looks like you can't find either of these bad boys anymore. Such a great price point too.
    Reply
  • notposting - Sunday, April 04, 2010 - link

    This is one of their bread and butter chassis, I'm typing on one right now. The keyboard does get better but it certainly takes awhile to get used to. The power/standby and ac lights in the front are nice as you can see them when the case is closed. VGA and HDMI output is very nice and somewhat makes up for the Expresscard omission (and I have yet to ever use firewire personally). The screen isn't great, but it works well enough, nice enough colors.

    Of course mine is just a AMD QL-64 with HD3200 graphics, though considering what I got with it (3GB DDR2, 320GB HD, HDMI, VGA, Gb LAN, modem, b/g/n wifi, full keyboard with numeric keypad) and I only paid $388 shipped from Newegg it's a great deal.

    Though with the still questionable Acer quality I bought a $50 3yr extended warranty.
    Reply
  • jabber - Monday, April 05, 2010 - link

    Seems so many came late to gaming due to age or just plain forgot the great days when technology reached a landmark and allowed us to go from an average 20fps in Quake to 25fps.

    A lot of us had a great time playing well under 30fps many years ago.

    Kids today...spoilt rotten with technology.
    Reply
  • pjladyfox - Monday, April 05, 2010 - link

    Dell/Alienware need to quickly get up off of their butts and put out more CPU upgrade options for the M11x. If they could do this to further capitalize on the G335's power it would make it a highly competitive notebook especially if they could still keep it within the same $800 price range.

    Notebook vendors really need to focus more on the CPU/GPU to LCD resolution than they do currently. I mean, of course people are going to gripe when they can't run games at the native resolution and they have for quite some time. So why do they keep pairing up a wimpy GPU to a LCD that has a resolution higher than it can support?

    It really can't be THAT hard to do can it?
    Reply

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