Introducing the Acer Aspire V5-171

With all of the coverage we've done of ultrabooks in recent months, it's easy to forget that the big vendors are still out there plugging away with more basic, fundamental designs. Intel has expanded the definition of "ultrabook" enough that most consumer-grade systems being made available still fall into those categories, but ultraportables still bear a pretty substantial premium. At the same time, tablets coupled with the persistently dire performance of Atom have turned netbooks into a virtual flash in the pan.

There's a gap in the market that vendors like Acer, HP, and ASUS are quietly serving, though. It's clear from the way netbooks took off that consumers are interested in a small, inexpensive, portable notebook with just enough performance, and that's something you're not getting with ultrabooks. As you're going to see today, there's a lot to be gained if you're willing to sacrifice a little bit of Z-height. We have the Acer Aspire V5-171 on hand today. Acer is asking just $550 for an 11.6" notebook featuring an Ivy Bridge i5 ULV chip and 6GB of RAM, so what's the catch?

As it turns out, there's a little more to today's review than the introduction let on. I was personally looking for a portable notebook to replace my aging Lenovo ThinkPad X100e, something that was still about three pounds but wasn't going to choke if I asked it to play something light like Quake Wars or Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013. Something that could play back the 1080p AVCHD from my video camera when I'm out doing videography, and in a perfect world, something that had Quick Sync.

Last generation, Acer had a promising little notebook with a similar shell to the Aspire V5-171 that featured a Sandy Bridge Pentium ULV processor for a little over $400, and that struck me as being a pretty incredible deal for a market that's been forced to deal with overpriced Brazos-based notebooks. Brazos may have a decent GPU on paper, but it's horribly limited by its CPU performance. As it turns out, Acer refreshed that line into the V5-171.

Acer Aspire V5-171 Notebook
Processor Intel Core i5-3317U
(2x1.7GHz + HTT, 2.6GHz Turbo, 22nm, 3MB L3, 17W)
Chipset Intel HM77
Memory 4GB Nanya DDR3-1333 + 2GB Nanya DDR3-1333
Graphics Intel HD 4000 Graphics
(350-1050MHz, 16 EUs)
Display 11.6" LED Glossy 16:9 1366x768
AU Optronics B116XW03 V2
Hard Drive(s) Seagate Momentus Thin 500GB 5400-RPM SATA 3Gbps HDD (7mm)
Optical Drive -
Networking Broadcom NetLink Gigabit Ethernet
Qualcomm Atheros AR5BWB222 802.11b/g/n
Bluetooth 4.0
Audio Realtek ALC269 HD Audio
Stereo speakers
Combo mic/headphone jack
Battery 4-Cell, 37Wh
Front Side SD/MS Flash reader
Right Side Mic/headphone jack
2x USB 2.0
AC jack
Kensington lock
Left Side Ethernet port
D-SUB
Exhaust vent
HDMI
USB 3.0
Back Side Battery
Operating System Windows 8 64-bit
Dimensions 11.22" x 7.95" x 0.82-1.09"
285mm x 202mm x 20.95-27.35mm
Weight ~3.05 lbs (1.38kg)
Extras 720p HD webcam
Flash reader (SD/Mini SD, MS/Duo/Pro/Pro Duo)
USB 3.0
Warranty 1-year standard warranty
Pricing $549 MSRP (on Amazon for $499)

What jumped out at me with the Aspire V5-171 is that it's actually a pretty robust machine for the money, and would be considered so even if it were a larger notebook. There are three models in this line readily available in retail; the one we have on hand is the middle model and probably the best deal depending on your perspective. Ours comes with an Intel Core i5-3317U low voltage processor based on Intel's Ivy Bridge architecture, sporting a nominal 1.7GHz clock speed and able to turbo up to 2.6GHz on a single core. It also benefits from Intel's HD 4000 IGP and QuickSync, and I'll talk about just how useful that actually winds up being later on.

Attached to the i5-3317U's memory controller is a fairly generous 6GB of DDR3-1333 split into a 2GB DIMM and a 4GB DIMM, and handling storage duties is one of the first places you can really see costs get cut: a pokey 500GB, 5400-RPM mechanical hard disk. Acer opts for a 7mm model to keep the Z-height down, but this is still essentially the weak link. You could argue that the display is also poor, and you'd be correct, but again, this is a budget notebook and the low resolution is more forgivable on an 11.6" panel.

Pleasantly, though, Acer shores up connectivity options well. The V5-171 features 802.11b/g/n courtesy of Qualcomm Atheros, Bluetooth 4.0, a gigabit ethernet port, two USB 2.0 ports, a USB 3.0 port, HDMI, and VGA, all alongside an SD card reader.

As I mentioned before, there are two models flanking our V5-171-6422 in the market. You can get this notebook at about $100 cheaper if you bump down to a Sandy Bridge i3 and 4GB of RAM. For users that aren't going to need any CPU horsepower and aren't planning on using the IGP much, if at all, the i3 model is certainly a great deal. Losing 2GB of RAM isn't that bad, but I think the Ivy Bridge i5's turbo, increased IPC, and vastly superior IGP are worth the $100 difference.

The other flanking model is impossible to recommend, though. Fully $200 more expensive than our review unit, the V5-171-9661 only gets an upgrade to 8GB of DDR3 and an i7-3517U. $200 for 2GB of DDR3, an extra 200MHz on the CPU, and 100MHz on the IGP is a much harder sell than the generational jump you get from going from the Sandy Bridge i3 in the junior model to the Ivy Bridge i5 in our model.

In and Around the Acer Aspire V5-171
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  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, November 22, 2012 - link

    Well, me, for one.

    You make it sound like the battery lasts a whole fifteen minutes and the display borders on illegible. Neither of these is the case.

    Four hours of useful running time isn't dire; my X100e ran for less during CES this year and still never ran down completely.

    And yeah, the glossy display kind of sucks, but it still works and gets the job done.

    In exchange, you have a system with a tremendous amount of performance on tap in a very portable form factor, with great thermals and noise and a low price. It's also far more responsive and enjoyable to use than an Atom netbook, and its IGP doesn't have the teething issues Atom's does.

    Note also that this is NOT an ultrabook. It's simply an ultraportable, and for me at least, it's pretty ideal.
    Reply
  • Calin - Thursday, November 22, 2012 - link

    I think the money might buy you dual channel DDR (or interleaved or whatever it's called). If this is the case, there is quite a bit of extra graphic performance to be had, I think. Anyway, $200 is probably overpriced even so Reply
  • MrSpadge - Thursday, November 22, 2012 - link

    The tested version already has dual channel (there are no 6 GB modules..), And most of the price increase is due to the CPU and is directly forwarded to Intel. Reply
  • Anonymous Blowhard - Thursday, November 22, 2012 - link

    So glad that Acer decided to make this easily serviceable. Two DIMM slots, both on the bottom, and an easy-to-access HDD for a quick 7mm SSD upgrade? Love it.

    Battery life is a bit of a shame and the display is the usual budget crock, but like you said w.r.t Brazos laptops, if the price is right, you're willing to overlook some of these faults.
    Reply
  • Matti - Thursday, November 22, 2012 - link

    It's a joke to compare E-350 with i5 3317U (or E1200). Brazos are for Atom to compare with. Why not to include A6 4455M for comparsion, actually the tdp 17 W is just the same. It would be interesting to look at low voltage Trinity to perform against Intel ULV. Reply
  • Roland00Address - Thursday, November 22, 2012 - link

    An a6-4455m is a 2 core (1 module) trinity part with 17w tdp, Its base clock is 2.1 ghz and it can turbo to 2.6 ghz. Compare this to an a10-4600m (the best laptop trinity)
    An a10-4600m is a 4 core (2 module) trinity part with a 35w tdp. Its base clock is 2.3 ghz and it can turbo up to 3.2 ghz. Thus the a10 has double the cores, as well as a 9% faster base clock, and a 23% faster turbo clock.

    Well the i5-3317u (17w) is faster than the a10-4600m (35w) in both single and multithreaded tasks (the a10-4600m is faster in gpu). See the anandtech mobile bench.
    http://www.anandtech.com/bench/Product/727?vs=600

    In Cinebench R11.5 (Single-Threaded Benchmark) the i5-3317u scores 1.08 vs the a10-4600m 0.70 fps which makes the i5-3317u 54% faster in single threaded.
    In Cinebench R11.5 (Multithreaded Benchmark) the i5-3517 scores 2.41 pts vs the a10-4600m 2.05 pts which makes the i5-3317u 17% faster in multithread.

    There is no way a dual core a6 with lower clock speed can keep up with an i5 ivy when the quad core a10 is having problems.

    --------

    Now in graphics the a10 is faster than the i5 ulv ivybridge. But the a6-4455m has a lot less shader power. The a6 has 256 shaders instead of 384 (a10), in other words 66% of the shaders . In addition the a6-4455m has lower clocks 327 mhz instead of 496 mhz (a10), only 66% of the clock speed. Thus if the game is shader limited instead of memory, rop, or cpu limited the worse case scenario for the a6 ulv is that it will perform 43% as well as the a10. (In many games the a6 will perform a lot closer than the 43% since memory, rop, and cpu power does play a factor.)

    --------

    There are very few computers using the a6-4455m. AMD pretty much only got design wins with a couple hp 15.6" sleekbooks and a samsung 13.3" sleekbook. These a6 sleekbooks computers are all priced at 500 or greater. The i5 in this v5 on the other hand occupies a similar price range yet is in a smaller computer.

    AMD just can't seem to gain any traction with the smaller size laptops.
    Reply
  • MrSpadge - Thursday, November 22, 2012 - link

    I like this form factor and the benefits a little more z-height brings over Ultrabooks. Personally I'd want higher quality (and would pay more for this), but may recommend this one to others. Reply
  • jeffkro - Thursday, November 22, 2012 - link

    The best replacement for the netbook is the new chromebook laptops, nice light OS on light hardware. This thing is just a cheaper ultrabook. Reply
  • Death666Angel - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    I have the Travelmate 8172 with a Core i3 330UM (Arrandale ULV chips). I was considering buying the 1810 back in the day, but didn't like the glossy all over the place. The battery life with this unit is not as good (Arrandale ULV chips aren't that great at using less energy). But it still lasts me between 4 and 7 hours, depending on what I do with it. Build quality is great apart from one key that always fell off (which I could fix in 30 seconds with some pliers). This unit sounds like a great deal, it has a better chip, more RAM and is cheaper (I paid 650€ for my Travelmate). The downsides are the smaller battery and glossy display. If I had any reason to upgrade (I don't right now, hardly use the notebook these days), I would probably buy it or at least something similar. I don't like the Ultrabooks much, too much emphasise on style/size/weight and not enough on serviceability, price, usefulness. Still, I think Acer has come quite a way since they started out as the ultra-cheap vendor. :) Reply
  • Ignatius - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    I notice the HDD it comes with is only SATA II. Does anyone know if this Acer supports SATA III? It would seem kind of a waste to put an SSD in it to only get half the performance. Reply

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