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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  • kamm2 - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    If it is on your lap or a soft surface, how many times will the door be up against something preventing it from fully moving before it breaks? Reply
  • jabber - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    I'll happily drop the Thunderbolt/HDMI/USB3 ports, even Bluetooth, if you can use the saving to spend on a better screen. A couple of USB ports and a headphone port and I'm happy.

    Thanks.
    Reply
  • SteveLord - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    I do not get why people whine about screens so much (minus cases where the device itself is overpriced for it., like this one.)

    Ultrabooks are not limited to consumers. And your average user wouldn't notice or know the difference between a 768p and 1080p screen anyway.

    But like I said, they should at least be much cheaper.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    The big issue for me is that on an Ultrabook, you're more likely to travel with it. I know from experience that using laptops on a cramped airplane seat when the person in front of you reclines results in an oblique angle that makes the TN displays look horribly washed out. IPS would fix that, and I'd be fine with a 1280x800, 1440x900, etc. display in a 13.3" Ultrabook if it had wide viewing angles. It's the combination of a crappy resolution with crappy TN panels and low contrast, all exacerbated by a glossy screen that acts like a mirror--that's what people are whining about. Reply
  • Death666Angel - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    I would change the SSD RAID and just get one 256GB SSD. The screen needs to be better. I don't care about Thunderbolt (either desktop or notebook) unless it can be used for external graphics cards with the notebook. Intel WiFi with 450mbps support would be be good. And last but not least, make it a bit bigger and/or heavier and give me a bigger battery. I can't say that I care about lugging about 1.2kg or 1.5kg, but an extra hour or two of uptime would be noticed. Reply
  • vision33r - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    All these PC makers are only trying to maximize their profits by shortchanging key components.

    The screen is 60% of the value of a laptop, specs are 30%.

    There are people buying old Thinkpads with the 16:10 IPS displays that are made 5-6 years ago. Sure they have old Core Duo but specs aren't everything and plenty fast for today's needs besides gaming.
    Reply
  • kmmatney - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    I have an old Dell Inspiron 17" at work from 2007 with a 16:10 screen 1920 x 1200, with a Core 2 Duo (Merom T7200) that is plenty fast enough, especially with an SSD. I'm a programmer, and also am constantly running virtual machines, and I can't really say that a Core 2 Duo has been much of a hindrance.

    I finally ordered a Dell Inspiron 17R Special edition through, with 1080p screen, 8GB RAM, Core i7 IvyBridge, Nvidia GeForce GT 650M 2G, etc.. for $1099. I look forward to it, but will miss my old 16:10 screen - especially those 120 vertical pixels!.
    Reply
  • jackoatmon - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    You would have to be braindead to buy this thing. Just the RAM is a total deal breaker. 4 gigs of RAM si OK, but not for $1400. Reply
  • Penti - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    Stop with that 2 x SSDs, I don't want two bad SSDs in software raid-0. Stop it and use the space for removable SO-DIMM DDR instead. With this price they should have a 1600x900 screen at least, or an IPS panel instead but they can't afford it because they have a second SSD. Reply
  • niva - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    We all wish it had a better display. I'm particularly nuts about displays and will not buy anything less than 1080 right now, but I also prefer the older style 1920x1200 displays which are being phased out of production now big time.

    That being said, with an integrated Intel 4000 HD graphics card in this thing, can it even hope to push older games at 768 resolution? If you plan on gaming with this thing you're probably better with the lower native resolution.

    I for one don't game on laptops, but I know people these days are pretty much not even building/buying desktops, yet insist on playing on their laptops.

    Just giving some thoughts as to why they may have went with this (other than cost savings of course.)
    Reply

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