Acer 5551G: AMD's Budget Gaming Laptop

A couple months ago, we looked at AMD's quad-core P920 processor and HD 5650 GPU combination (with HD 4250 switchable graphics) courtesy of the Toshiba A660D/A665D. The combination wasn't without promise, but we walked away with a few concerns. First, we didn't think the Toshiba notebook was the best-built system on the block, with its glossy textured plastic. Then there's the issue with the CPU: the Phenom II P920 may be a quad-core processor, but the slow 1.6GHz maximum clock speed can be a serious bottleneck. And while we like the idea of switchable graphics, Toshiba garners two more marks against their offering: first, they don't participate in AMD's mobile driver program (you can get around this by downloading the drivers on a different laptop from a vendor that does participate, interestingly enough); second, they take the Radeon HD 5650 and clock it at 450MHz instead of 550MHz. Combine all of the above with a minimum price of $800 and we walked away without a clear winner. Here's our wish list from the conclusion of the A660D review:

Frankly, it just doesn't seem like anyone has yet come up with an ideal AMD-based laptop—not that they can't, but more like they won't. So to help, here's what we want. First, give us more than a 48Wh battery—look at ASUS' U-series laptops with 84Wh batteries for inspiration here. Second, keep the CPU clock speed above 2.0GHz, because when Intel's i3-330M beats a quad-core 1.6GHz part in virtually every benchmark you know there's a problem. Third, give us a decent GPU (5650 or faster), but don't force us into 16" and larger notebooks; P520, 5650, and a 63Wh battery (at least) should all fit in a 14" chassis. Bonus points for the first laptop to provide all of the above and not use a cheap LCD (and we'd even pay an extra $50-$100 for such a display). Considering the competition on the Intel side of the fence, realistically all of this needs to fit into a budget of under $800, since an extra $100 brings Core i5 parts into direct competition.

Besides the above, we also had to question whether P920 made sense with the 5650—a higher clocked dual-core processor seemed like a better overall gaming solution, given the dearth of games that truly benefit from having more than two cores. Not long after that review, AMD contacted us and asked if we'd like to look at the Acer 5551G-4591, a laptop that at least meets several of the above wish list bullet points. Now, we haven't been particularly kind in our comments on some of the Acer/Gateway laptops of late, but that doesn't mean they can't fill a niche. We still think the keyboard is one of the least desirable options for a notebook (which is putting it kindly), and they're not likely to ever win an industrial design competition, but one thing Acer tends to do better than anyone else is to pack some decent performance options into very affordable offerings. So just what does the 5551G-4591 bring to bear? Here's the spec rundown.

Acer Aspire 5551G-4591 Specifications
Processor AMD Turion II P520 (2x2.3GHz, 45nm, 2x1MB L2, 25W)
Chipset AMD RS880M + SB850
Memory 2x2GB DDR3-1066 (Max 2x4GB)
Graphics AMD Radeon Mobility HD 5650 1GB DDR3
(400 Shaders, 550MHz core clock, 1540MHz effective memory clock)
Display 15.6" LED Glossy 16:9 768p (1366x768)
AU Optronics B156XW02-V2 Panel
Hard Drive(s) 500GB 5400RPM (Seagate Momentus 5400.6 ST9500325AS)
Optical Drive DVD+/-RW Drive (Matshita DVD-RAM UK890AS)
Networking Gigabit Ethernet (Broadcom BCM57780)
Wireless 802.11n (Atheros AR928X, 300Mb capable)
Audio Realtek ALC272 HD Audio
Stereo speakers, headphone and microphone jacks
Battery 6-Cell, 10.8V, 4400mAh, 48Wh battery
Front Side Flash reader
Left Side Headphone and microphone jacks
1 x USB 2.0
HDMI
Ethernet jack
VGA
Exhaust vent
AC plug
Right Side 2 x USB 2.0
Optical drive
Kensington lock
Back Side None
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 15.0" x 10.0" x 1.0"-1.3" (WxDxH)
Weight 5.7 lbs
Extras 1.3MP Webcam
103-Key Keyboard with dedicated 10-key
Flash reader (MMC, SD/Mini SD, MS/Duo/Pro/Pro Duo, xD)
Warranty 1-year standard warranty
Pricing Estimated price of $649
[Possibly discontinued]

Let's get the have-nots out of the way first: no switchable graphics; a small 48Wh battery; no USB3.0, FireWire, or ExpressCard; no high quality LCD. There aren't any surprises in that list, but the haves are a bit more compelling: a 2.3GHz Turion II P520 processor, a 550MHz HD 5650, a modified design that isn't quite as bad as the last-gen Aspire "bulbous cover", and a price starting at just $630 online. We can throw sticks and stones at the keyboard and chassis all day, but the fact is many users aren't nearly as demanding as we are. If you want a great keyboard experience, we would look elsewhere, but if you're willing to live with the "floating island" keyboard—or perhaps you even like it?—then a price that's only slightly more than the better netbooks and the cheapest ultraportables will help you get your game on.

Before we move on to the actual user experience with the 5551G, let's make sure we set expectations appropriately low. The Toshiba A660D managed battery life of nearly four hours, but it included switchable graphics. With the same size battery but discrete-only graphics, the 5551G will be hard pressed to break the three-hour mark in our best-case scenario. It's a shame Acer doesn't toss in something like the 84Wh ASUS U-series battery, because the difference between three hours and five hours could easily mean leaving the power adapter behind while you head out to a day of classes. Also, the LCD is another 768p model, and like so many others it utterly fails to impress. It will show you content as well as the speakers will play music (which is to say, not that well). But again, the price lets us excuse quite a few complaints…if only we could still buy it!

In typical Acer fashion, a notebook that is less than two months old is no longer available online at the time of writing. Perhaps the price was too good, or maybe Acer is counting on unsuspecting users buying the 5551G-4280 thinking it's the same as the 5551G-4591. Well, it's not, because the 4591 comes with a 5650 while the 4280 drops to a 5470, and the standard 5551 (no G) only uses integrated HD 4250 graphics. Arrrgh! But all is not lost, as the 5551G-4591 might still be found on store shelves at Costco, Walmart, Best Buy, Sears, Office Depot, or Office Max—try giving your local store a call. Or you can look at alternatives from other companies; the only Athlon II dual-core + 5650 we know of right now is the HP Pavilion dv6z (which will start at $700 with the 5650).

The Acer 5551G Experience
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  • TekDemon - Monday, December 06, 2010 - link

    Acer notebooks are very obviously built to a price-point...they're the only company I know that'll actually ship laptops with only one speaker to save that extra dollar. I know that doesn't apply to the Timeline but there's still plenty of penny-pinching in the build.
    And it does matter since in reliability studies they don't fare all that hot compared to companies that put more effort into good build quality.
    Reply
  • MadMan007 - Saturday, November 27, 2010 - link

    I think it's interesting that much of the article, when talking about the laptop overall, goes on about pricepriceprice but then you want a better LCD too, and even quantify it to the opint that the pricepriceprice advantage would be washed out by a better LCD. Not that AT has as much pull as lame mainstream places like CNet, PCWorld etc but maybe if you started making it clear that better screens at a higher price is a good thing, rather than going back and forth between 'great price' and 'bad screen,' manufacturers might take note. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, November 27, 2010 - link

    I didn't think I really said much about the LCD in this review. I mention it as being average in the intro, and I have our standard LCD test page where I show how it's no better than other budget laptop LCDs, There's definitely a place for good LCDs, but honestly putting a high quality LCD into an AMD-based laptop like this is pretty pointless. If you're willing to pay $100 more for a quality LCD, you'd probably want better build quality, better battery life, and a faster CPU as well -- all of which you can find in something like the Dell XPS 15.

    When we're looking at what is essentially a pure budget build, I'm okay with the mediocre LCDs; I don't like them, but I don't expect them to increase the cost by 15 to 25% just for the display. Basically, budget notebooks costing under $650 with standard LCDs is acceptable.

    I think you're referring to the quote at the beginning, where I reference the Toshiba A660D conclusion. Keep in mind that the A665D/A660D originally cost over $800 (it's now $680 for the A665D-S6059 at Newegg), and at a price of $800 I expect a lot more. I suppose I could edit the quote, but I didn't want to do that. Hope that clarifies things a bit. :)
    Reply
  • Stuka87 - Saturday, November 27, 2010 - link

    The Hardware Monitor graphic is missing from page 6.

    Instead I just see: [HWMonitor]
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, November 27, 2010 - link

    Fixed, thanks. I put that in as a placeholder (we add the text into the content engine and then add images) and missed replacing it. Oops. Reply
  • silverblue - Saturday, November 27, 2010 - link

    Acer's best AMD model seems to be the 5553 which, despite not really being a step up, does offer switchable graphics. That in itself may gift it better battery life with that anaemic 48Wh battery.

    In any case, the CPU in the 5551 is a few months old now; it would be good if you could find a laptop with a Phenom II P650 (runs at 2.8GHz and sports a 25W TDP), though it's a new model so I doubt it's readily available.
    Reply
  • KingstonU - Saturday, November 27, 2010 - link

    Great job on the review, you guys cover and discuss all the aspects that I want to know about when shopping for this kind of laptop. I recently bought the TimeLineX which is almost this exact laptop but with Core 2010 CPU and a much bigger battery for $850 CA. Cures almost all of the problems with the model in the review. Very happy with my purchase and look forward to more laptops like this in the future. Reply
  • aylafan - Sunday, November 28, 2010 - link

    While I do agree about the love/hate relationship with the keyboard and poor LCD screen. Overall, I still think the Acer's Aspire 5551G is better buy than the 5740G I owned before. Maybe, not in the processor department, but pretty much in everything else.

    I've played around with a similar Acer laptop model at Wal-mart and the build quality feels much better than the plastic gemstone design of the 5740G. The 5740G has poor battery life, it had an annoying beep each time I unplugged the power adapter, it weighed more than other laptops in its class, the Western Digital hard drive kept freezing so I had to install quietHDD, the touchpad buttons were stiff to push down, etc. There were just too many annoying things with the 5740G. All these flaws pretty much killed my expectations of the laptop.

    Now, the TimelineX 4820TG is on a whole different level. I've had no problems with it and the build quality feels more sturdier than the 5740G that I owned before. It's given me around 6 hours of battery life. it's extremely thin, weighs only 4.65 lbs, has a Core i processor, it looks professional, it has switchable graphics, etc. and best thing is that it's only around $800. Here is my review. http://forum.notebookreview.com/acer/499204-acer-a...

    While, you may argue that the TimelineX is just a better version of the Acer laptop you just reviewed. Every little improvement changes the whole experience.
    Reply
  • Akaz1976 - Sunday, November 28, 2010 - link

    Would love to see a Acer 3820TG-7360 (i3/HD5650/4GB/$700) review . Recently i have had good experience with acer sub-notebooks.

    Acer seems to be the only one targeting decent variety in optical drive-less (sub 4lbs) notebooks. I have an 1820tz which is awesome for what it does (essentially a netbook size/batterylife but basic laptop type power). Its great for wife/kids even work related travel. And for the price it only needs to last half as long as a 'business' laptop (to cost same amount annually).

    The 3820 ( provides excellent portability and performance. Apparently (i have not received mine yet) it delivers 8hrs of battery life and <4lbs for travel (i can carry it at a conference for full day without having to have a powerbar or wreck my shoulder) yet i can play BFBC2 at medium in my hotel room in the evening.

    Akaz

    PS. I think laptop makers need to really evaluate the role of optical drive in modern always connected/Saas/USB key world. Even as a gamer i rarely need optical drive (bless steam). For work i have never need optical drive as everything is installed at the start (even then many software are downloaded rather CD installed). All it does is add cost and weight.
    Reply
  • Dug - Sunday, November 28, 2010 - link

    I just bought a timelineX 4820TG for under $790 and my only complaint would be the speakers. But at 4.5lbs and getting over 6hrs batter life, I can forgive this. The keyboard is not bad at all.
    I'm not sure why anyone would by this over the 4820TG. Plus I can overclock the video card without any problem and without any obnoxious noisy fans.

    Reply

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