Introducing the Acer Aspire S5

First generation technology is seldom perfect, and the fruit of Intel's ultrabook initiative was no exception. While vendors came out in force with some fairly impressive pieces of hardware, these first shots at the form factor all came away lacking in some way. Be it thermal performance, general performance, build quality, or display quality, no matter where you looked you were forced to make some kind of compromise. Intel's Sandy Bridge architecture wasn't horribly suited to the tasks, either, but it was also clear that at least another generation of processors would be more ideal to the increased thermal constraints of the platform.

We're now into our second generation of ultrabooks. Vendors have had the opportunity to begin working the kinks out of their initial designs (as well as experimenting with some new ones), and Intel's 22nm Ivy Bridge is much better suited to the form factor. Today we have on hand one of the more premium examples of the second generation of ultrabooks, Acer's Aspire S5. At just 15mm thick, Acer claims it's the thinnest ultrabook yet, but it still comes fairly feature rich and includes Intel's Thunderbolt technology. At $1,399 the S5 doesn't come cheaply, though.

The words "premium" and "Acer" admittedly don't often come together, but the Aspire S5 is an aggressive piece of hardware and has the potential to shake up the higher end of the ultrabook market while Intel relies on price cuts to push the lower end.

Acer Aspire S5 Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-3517U
(2x1.9GHz + HTT, Turbo to 3.0GHz, 22nm, 4MB L3, 17W)
Chipset Intel HM77
Memory 2x2GB DDR3-1333 (Maximum 4GB) soldered to motherboard
Graphics Intel HD 4000 Graphics
(16 EUs, up to 1.15GHz)
Display 13.3" LED Glossy 16:9 768p
AU Optronics B133XTN01.2
Hard Drive(s) 2x Lite-On 128GB SSD SATA 6Gbps in RAID 0
Optical Drive -
Networking Atheros AR5BMD222 802.11a/b/g/n
Bluetooth 4.0+HS
Audio Realtek ALC269 HD audio
Stereo speakers
Headphone/mic combo jack
Battery 3-Cell, 35Wh
Front Side -
Right Side Headphone/mic combo jack
Left Side Power button
SD/MMC card reader
Back Side AC adaptor
Exhaust vent
Motorized drop down door for port cluster
2x USB 3.0
1x Thunderbolt
1x HDMI
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit SP1
Dimensions 12.77" x 8.95" x 0.44"-0.59"
324.4mm x 227.3mm x 11.2mm/15mm
Weight 2.65 lbs
1.2kg
Extras Webcam
USB 3.0
Thunderbolt
Card reader
Motorized drop down door
Warranty 1-year limited international
Pricing $1,399

Looking strictly at the specifications, the $1,399 Acer is asking for the Aspire S5 can seem like a bitter pill to swallow. The Ivy Bridge Intel Core i7-3517U processor runs at a nominal 1.9GHz clock speed and is able to punch up to 2.8GHz on two cores or 3GHz on a single core, so at least from a CPU performance perspective the S5 should be a pretty capable machine. Likewise, while I remain skeptical about the idea of configuring a pair of SSDs in RAID 0 as opposed to just using one larger SSD, Acer nonetheless offers a healthy 256GB of SSD capacity and the system is definitely snappy in regular use. Even connectivity is excellent with wireless support for both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, Bluetooth 4.0, dual USB 3.0 ports instead of USB 2.0 (courtesy of the newer HM77 chipset), and most impressively, Intel's Thunderbolt.

The big problem is with the S5's display. The dismal 768p screen kills the whole enterprise. We're very much getting to a point with notebooks where vendors are starting to seriously look at quality, high resolution displays, and a screen like this on a $1,399 ultrabook when ASUS is willing to offer a 1080p IPS display in the Zenbook Prime for just $1,099 is inexcusable. At that point you have to ask yourself how much the savings in weight and inclusion of a Thunderbolt port are worth.

In and Around the Acer Aspire S5
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  • Death666Angel - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    Perspective counts for much with this product. I think AT did well on the nuanced article and conclusion.
    Speed, thermals, noise, storage, keyboard, weight, battery capacity are all very well done with this notebook, above average for others of it's kind. Why should they call it overpriced piece of junk if there are people out there looking for these criteria in an ultrabook and not the display.
    You and I may not be such people, they they do exist and thus these products warrant a thorough investigation of their good and bad traits. And reading this review, the bad traits are made as clear as the good.
    Reply
  • kmmatney - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    Seriously...

    You can get a refurbished MacBook Air for $929 with a much better 1440 x 900 display with full warrenty. It will be slower, but still probably fast enough with the same size SSD. Hell, you can buy a brand-new MacAir for cheaper. I don't know what Acer is thinking...it's got a great processor, but the price is still too high.
    Reply
  • santeana - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    Exactly. $1400 and it's about as upgradable as a friggin tablet. FAIL. Besides, aren't ultrabooks supposed to be below $1000 as part of their criteria for being an ultrabook? How are they supposed to achieve that if intel keeps charging so much for their cpu's? lol Reply
  • Jaybus - Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - link

    Nothing in this format is very upgradeable, and that includes the new MB Pro. There just isn't any space left inside to put anything. And that is exactly why they have Thunderbolt interfaces. Reply
  • xype - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    …is that you get annoyed about it every time you use a laptop if it sucks. If there’s 2 instead of 3 USB ports, or USB 2.0 instead of USB 3.0 or an optical drive missing or even less RAM or HDD or lower-end CPU that’s all stuff that might bother you now and then at worst, more often than not actually never.

    But a bad display is what you look at all the time. That the manufacturers cut corners on that of all things is a complete mystery to me. It’s one of the things that can literally sell a laptop sitting poppep up on the shelves next to the competition, but nooo, put in a shitty display and then wonder why people hate your laptop.
    Reply
  • randinspace - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    It feels like a lot of reviews on Anandtech are summed up with "this is almost a great product." I'm not disagreeing with that sentiment, particularly with regards to Ultrabooks, but as a consumer it's frustrating that there are so few companies out there who are either pushing the envelope or doing so successfully.

    I mean, I would love to give Acer credit for having the "foresight" to include Thunderbolt since it could theoretically mitigate a lot of the weaknesses inherent to the notebook platform in general and Ultrabooks in particular, but in reality (it's probably the result of an extremely shortsighted deal they cut with Intel) there simply aren't any TB products out there yet which are compelling to me. More to the point the end result (an expensive notebook with dubious performance hooked up to an even more ridiculously expensive and dubiously effective external GPU + display solution) wouldn't make any more sense than other, slightly more traditional Acer laptops (like a better configured Aspire V3). *sigh

    All that said I think the greatest potential for thunderbolt lies not in the consumer or even "enthusiast" space (mostly because enthusiasts have other recourse), but in highly specific and quite frankly impractical enterprise applications. Then again the days of "damn the costs we just need to get it done like THIS" probably ended 10 years ago...

    BTW, nice review Dustin. Sorry I didn't really have anything on topic to say about it XD
    Reply
  • IntelUser2000 - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    I don't think the problem with Thunderbolt has to do with Intel. There's still technical hurdles to be something more widespread.

    Costs are still prohibitive, because it requires using chips with not an insignificant die size(30 to 50mm2+ depending on versions).

    10Gbit/s is high for other I/Os, but still very low compared to PCI Express. You need 8 times the bandwidth to be of minimal loss: http://www.techpowerup.com/reviews/Intel/Ivy_Bridg...

    In regards to Ultrabooks being almost there: I think they are getting there, but it would take some more time. Focus on PC manufacturers have been about lowering costs for most of the last decade.

    Acer specific: It's quite obvious that they have 3 classes of the Ultrabook Aspire S series. The S3 is the low end, S5 the mid, and upcoming S7 the high end. It's easy to see the S5 is a big improvement over the S3, and the S7 is another step up from the S5.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    Yeah, it *looks* (no promises until we see it!) like the S7 will use a touch-enabled IPS display. I'll keep my fingers crossed on that. As for the S3, as far as I can tell it's the same chassis as the original Aspire S3 Sandy Bridge Ultrabook, only now there's a model with the i7-3517U processor. Note that as far as I can tell, even with the Ivy Bridge CPU and HM77 chipset, there's still no USB 3.0 support. Ouch. Reply
  • IntelUser2000 - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    I question Acer's decision on the Aspire S5. Like the MagicFlip port and the dual SSD setup. My biggest issue is the dual SSD setup.

    A single, high performance SSD would have been cheaper, with no negatives a RAID 0 setup brings.

    RAID 0 negatives
    -Two drives = more space
    -Two controllers = higher cost and more power used
    -Increased boot time for device recognition

    It looks like the S7 has every reason to be popular against competition, not sure about the S5.
    Reply
  • Pappnaas - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    Honestly, if paying 1300 $ for a Laptop I won't put up with a 30$ display.

    As long as the display stays at 768p there's nothing premium about any Laptop bigger than 11.6".
    Reply

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