The Acer 5551G Experience

So before we get to the benchmarks, let's take a moment to discuss the Acer experience. We've used quite a few laptops and things actually appear to have changed since the last time we tested an Acer system. Unfortunately, the changes aren't all for the better.

Starting from the top, the initial setup of the 5551G takes a very long time. After creating a user name/password, there's a about a three minute delay. Then Windows logs in, finalizes the setup, and an Acer application launches that proceeds to install 26 applications and utilities. Some of these are useful (power management, touchpad drivers, web camera drivers, etc.), but it appears that Acer installs some drivers multiple times—or they install multiple driver sets rather than customizing according to what hardware is actually present. As an example, I saw two different touchpad installs go by in the list, and at least three WiFi utilities. There are also other applications that aren't nearly so useful, like Windows Live Essentials and Windows Live Mail (yes, two separate installs that need to be updated via Windows Updates when you're finished). Works 2009SE is another questionable application, but if you don't have MS Office and you're not willing to use the free, perhaps it can be of use. What's more, the installer takes almost 30 minutes to complete. Why couldn't all of these applications and drivers be rolled into the original disk image so that the customer doesn't have to wait? The last Acer laptop I recall testing only took about 5 minutes from first-boot to usable, so this is a clear regression.

And let's talk about bloatware for a minute. Once the whole install process is complete, you're greeted by a "clean" system that boots with no fewer than 65 running processes. Desktop icons include Acer Games (Wild Tangent), eBay, McAfee Internet Security, a 60-day trial for Office 2007 (what, no Office 2010 Starter?), Netflix, and Norton Online Backup. Yeah, all of those can go as far as we're concerned, so plan on another hour or so uninstalling unwanted applications. Good times! Our uninstall list also includes Google Toolbar for IE, Norton Online Backup, MyWinLocker Suite, and of course the big one: McAfee Internet Security Suite. Depending on your view of their usefulness, you might also uninstall Acer Backup Manager, Acer eRecovery Management, Acer Games, Acer Registration, Acer Screensaver, Acer Updater, eBay Worldwide, eSobi, Identity Card (Acer), Welcome Center (Acer), and Windows Live Essentials/Sign-In Assistant/Sync/Upload Tool. Since we want a clean system, we removed all of the above. Leaving on the Acer Power utility, we still drop down to a much leaner 45 running processes when we're finished.

So that's the bad news: we have another bloated OEM configuration that takes far too long to get running. From first boot to cleaned up installation, we're looking at about two hours of work. If you have a Windows 7 DVD, you could easily do a clean install, download all the necessary drivers and updates, and be using your new laptop far quicker.

What about the good news? There are a few definite improvements over previous Acer laptops. The chassis ditches much of the glossy plastic and you get an aluminum palm rest, the LCD lid no longer has a curved/bubble design, and the palm rest has near-right-angle corners compared to the more rounded design of the previous generation. We're pleased with all of those changes, though opinions on aesthetics naturally vary.

Unfortunately, we're greeted by the same old keyboard layout with the "floating island" keys—a poor take on chiclet in our view, and we don't even think good chiclet designs are the best. Dustin and Vivek can't stand the keyboard; I'm a little more lenient, but I'd definitely recommend trying it out in person because there are people that will hate the keyboard. Also, and I know this is going to come as a shock, the LCD is a typical 768p glossy display with poor black (gray) levels that result in a mediocre contrast ratio. What's more, once again the only glossy plastic is on the LCD bezel. I suppose there's some nice symmetry in having a glossy panel with a glossy bezel—if you like fingerprints on the bezel at least.

Expansion options are generally limited; oddly enough there looks to be a second spot for a mini-PCIe card in the top-left corner under a small hatch, but there's no actual PCIe connector. The rest of the internals are under a larger cover, providing easy access to the HDD, RAM, and WiFi mini-PCIe adapter.

Overall, I don't generally have a problem using the laptop; the touchpad is fine if unremarkable, and all of the necessary features worked without a hitch. If you're not a fan of previous Acer laptops, it's doubtful you'll be any happier with the 5551G. It's still plastic, there's some keyboard flex, the keys on the keyboard don't have very good action, and the LCD is at best average. The good aspects come in the form of the internal hardware, where you get AMD's dual-core Athlon II P520 coupled to an HD 5650 GPU. Perhaps even more surprising is that even at full tilt, the 5551G runs very quiet and temperatures remain reasonable.

So, we're here today to see what this hardware combination can do for AMD's mobile sector. We complained that the quad-core P920 clocked at 1.6GHz was simply too slow at times, and we wondered if a dual-core P520 wouldn't be a better fit. Lo and behold, that's what we have in the 5551G-4591 and if that's not enough to pique your interest, the price comes in at a svelte $600 at the time of writing. We can complain a lot about build quality being sub-par, or the keyboard being horrible, or tons of bloatware…but when the price is $50 to $150 less than any comparable laptop in terms of graphics performance, we're willing to forgive quite a lot. It would be great if Newegg or someone else can get more of the 5551G-4591 in stock; but even if you can't find this unit, other laptops like the HP dv6z have similar specs (albeit at a higher price). Availability concerns aside, let's look at how the 5650+P520 combo performs.

Acer 5551G: AMD's Budget Gaming Laptop Application Performance: AMD's P520 in Perspective
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  • guilmon14 - Saturday, November 27, 2010 - link

    Gateway NV53A36u has a triple core phenom n830 2.1ghz radeon hd 5650
    and i looked up the prices and it sells for about 600
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, November 27, 2010 - link

    Hmmm... interesting, particularly on sale:

    $550 for tri-core and HD 5650, but who knows for how long?
  • danielt - Saturday, November 27, 2010 - link

    You've been critical of Acer's recent notebooks because you haven't tried any of the timelineX notebooks, what a shame...
    AS4820TG is a gem with incredible performance (better than Envy 14) and very long battery life, which is something hard to find given its price point.
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, November 27, 2010 - link

    No, we've been mostly critical of Acer's laptops for their sub-par build quality, mediocre displays, and horrible keyboards. Looking at the TimelineX, the only area where it's clearly better than other Acer laptops is that there are a few aluminum panels (or at least it looks like aluminum). The keyboard is the same lousy "floating island" design, and I've read enough reviews to know that the build quality is still questionable at best and the keyboard shows plenty of flex. $800 for the 4820TG is still reasonable, given the overall feature set, but unlike Optimus there's a bit issue with AMD switchable graphics: you can't update the AMD drivers unless you get a driver from Acer with both Intel and AMD graphics rolled into one. So in short...

    Intel Core i3/i5 CPU
    Light weight
    Switchable graphics gives...
    -Great battery life
    -Good graphics performance

    Build quality
    Switchable graphics driver updates

    I'd like to see a TimelineX update with Optimus GT 425M (or higher) and a backlit keyboard -- the latter mostly because it would make it impossible to use the floating island keys that feel loose and have terrible travel, and hopefully address the flex issue as well.
  • rocky12345 - Saturday, November 27, 2010 - link

    So what your saying is now days if a company does not use aluminum panels their build quality is sub standard. get real not everyone wants a piece of metal sitting on their desk that will get scratched or dented & look ugly after 6 months. Plastic has been the main building point of laptips for many years & I guess we can thank Apple for making people think we need to use aluminum panels for a laptop to be good.

    As for the keyboards yea Acer keyboards can be soft but that is common among most laptop these days. I fixed mine by lifting it out & putting a thin layer of one sided sticky tape to take up the space & now the keyboard is very solid. If all you have to worry about is the keyboard being a bit soft then count yourself lucky that these keyboards are not like a lot of other companies that actually have the keys falling off a lot fo the time.

    LCD screens again this is common of most LCD's these days they all pretty much suck on a laptop unless you spend bigger bucks for the unit to begin with. We can only blame our selves for companies like acer & others for putting out sub standard screens in laptops to keep costs down. Most people these days think of computers as an appliance & as such do not want to spend much on them I am talking about the every day joe or someones grandma & grandpa. They want something good but do not want to pay much for it so we get laptops with lower quality screens & smaller batteries.

    Speaking of battery life & switchable graphics who actually needs to have 10 hors of battery life these days. Not to many people do & with so many ways to charge up these units these days whether it be the wall plug or a portable car charger most can get by with a laptop that can get 3 or 4 hours only. it is Apple that would lead you to believe that we all need 10 to 15 hours of battery life between charges & it looks like you agree with that somewhat.

    I personally believe that in the near future that companies should release laptops with built in charging features that would allow them to take a charge while in direct sunlight or any kind of room light that would activate the charging system. Maybe I should patent the idea before someone like Apple does & hordes the idea for only themselves. lol

    My point is if you want a high quality laptop you have to pay the price these units are at a low price point & as such are built at a lower build quality. Maybe in the future if you want to see better screens & build quality review each companies high end product lines not these low priced units that the average joe six pack will pick up at Wal-Mart. Most of your readers here not your average computer user it is ok we can handle the sticker price shock most of us know you have to pay to get quality.
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, November 27, 2010 - link

    You don't have to have aluminum or whatever to have better build quality, but certainly it can help. I also don't expect budget laptops to have the build quality of, say, a ThinkPad. Slapping aluminum panels on top of plastic still won't give good build quality, though I do think the end result is a bit nicer looking than straight glossy plastic.

    My point is that you get what you pay for, and when someone says that "you've been critical of Acer's recent notebooks because you haven't tried any of the timelineX notebooks", I want to set the stage. I'd *still* be critical of the TimelineX in areas that warrant criticism. I don't think it's asking too much to get a better keyboard into Acer's laptop -- and I'm not talking about the flex issue; the keys are terrible! Use any chiclet and it should be better, and something like a ThinkPad or a Latitude is worlds better. The TimelineX is decent, but it has plenty of flaws and problems; that's all I said above.
  • danielt - Sunday, November 28, 2010 - link

    OK so you're talking about the apparent build quality and keyboard.
    I'm more interested in performance relative to price factor. In a core i5 setup of 4820TG, its graphics and gaming performances are better than the new Dell XPS and even Envy (with i5), while at the same time cheaper than them.
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, November 28, 2010 - link

    Exactly, which is what I was trying to get at in this review. The 5551G isn't the world's greatest laptop, but priced at $650 or less it's an amazing deal for the performance. I've known quite a few people with Acer, Dell, and HP (and other budget) laptops where they've started to fall apart after a couple years, but then I know others where the laptops lasted several years without problems. It all comes down to how you treat it.

    From the price/performance perspective, the TimelineX also has a really nice feature set. I'd love to see another $50 put towards addressing build quality and the keyboard, but $800 for the 4820TG is a very good price.
  • Samus - Monday, November 29, 2010 - link

    I can't believe it! Acer has a fanboi?
  • DanNeely - Sunday, November 28, 2010 - link

    It doesn't need to be aluminum/magnesium, especially on a budget laptop; simple matte plastic that doesn't turn into a fingerprinty smeary greasy disgusting mess will due.

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