Review

Acer Aspire 5 (A515-44) review: Once again, AMD Ryzen 4000 is a winner, but it cuts corners

It's been around six years since I've used an Acer Aspire, but I used to own an Aspire S7, and boy, did I love it. In fact, I'd say it's pretty widely known as one of the best laptops of the Windows 8 era. So when Acer announced new AMD Ryzen-powered Swift and Aspire laptops and gave me a choice in which one to review, I picked the Aspire 5.

Of course, Aspire means something different now than it did back in 2014. Now, the premium ultrabook brand is Swift, but I've reviewed plenty of Swift laptops. Yes, they're fantastic, but I wanted to take a look at something a bit different. The Aspire 5 is all about value, an idea that I can always get behind as a reviewer.

The Acer Aspire 5 has an AMD Ryzen 7 4700U processor, which is built on a 7nm process and beats anything that Intel is currently offering. Aside from that, it comes with a 15.6-inch FHD display, 8GB RAM, a 512GB SSD, and more, all for around $700.

Specs

CPU AMD Ryzen 7 4700U Octa-Core Mobile Processor 2GHz with Precision Boost up to 4.1GHZ (up to 8MB L3 cache)
Graphics AMD Radeon Graphics supporting Microsoft DirectX 12
Display 15.6-inch ComfyView Widescreen LED-backlit display with IPS technology, Full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution, 16:9 aspect ratio
Body 14.31x9.86x0.71 (363.4x250.5x17.95mm), 3.97lbs (1.8kg)
Memory 8GB DDR4 SDRAM
Storage 512GB NVMe SSD
Connectivity Intel Wireless Wi-Fi 5 802.11ax Dual Band (2.4GHz and 5GHz); 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet LAN; Bluetooth 5.0
Webcam HD webcam with 1280 x 720 resolution
Audio Two built-in stereo speakers with:
  • Acer Purified.Voice technology
  • Compatible with Cortana with Voice
  • Acer TrueHarmony technology
Ports (1) USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-C
(2) USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A
(1) USB 2.0 Type-A
(1) HDMI 2.0
(1) 3.5mm audio
(1) Ethernet RJ-45
(1) DC-in
(1) Kensington Lock slot
Battery 48Wh 3-cell Li-ion battery; Up to 10 hours of battery life
Keyboard and trackpad Keyboard: 100-/101-/104-key FineTip backlit keyboard with international language support, independent numeric keypad; Media keys
TouchPad: Multi-gesture touchpad, supporting two-finger scroll; pinch; gestures to open Cortana, Action Center, multitasking
Material Aluminum
Price $719.99


Day one

One thing that actually comes in the box is a hard drive mounting kit. Yes, you can easily pull off the bottom panel to gain access to the motherboard, as this PC is meant to be expandable.

Design and ports

The Aspire 5 that Acer sent me is in a color called Pure Silver, but you can also get it in Charcoal Black. There's not much about it that stands out, to be honest. This isn't something that's made to be flashy, hence the fact that it only comes in silver and black. For example, the Swift 5 that I reviewed back in March came in a deep blue with gold-colored accents. This is more run of the mill with its silver aluminum chassis.

The lid has a silver Acer logo on top, although it's not stamped. This feels more like something that you could peel off if you wanted to, which is great news for people that like to load up their laptop with stickers.

One thing that the Aspire 5 is loaded up with is ports, particularly on the left side, for some reason. On the left side, you'll find two USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A ports for 5Gbps data transfer speeds (yes, USB 3.2 Gen 1 is just USB 3.1 Gen 1 rebranded, like USB 3.1 Gen 1 is USB 3.0 rebranded). There's also a USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-C port, along with HDMI 2.0, full-size Ethernet with a drop-jaw hinge, and a pin charger port.

Now for the bad news. It's no surprise that the USB Type-C port doesn't support Thunderbolt 3, as that's to be expected on an AMD-powered machine. What I do expect, however, is for it to be able to support charging, and it does not. You have to use the included pin charger, which is a real deal-breaker for this reviewer.

HDMI 2.0 is good, as you can easily output to a 4K screen with it. I'm seeing this on a lot of AMD machines, even when an Intel variant of the same PC has HDMI 1.4b, presumably to try and make up for the lack of Thunderbolt 3. On this PC, it can attempt to make up for the fact that the USB Type-C port doesn't support DisplayPort out. Again, that might be something of a deal-breaker.

On the right side, you'll find the 3.5mm audio jack and a lone USB 2.0 Type-A port. Honestly, I don't know why Acer likes to include USB 2.0 ports, but it's the only company that I know of that still uses them, at least in PCs over $500. I assume it just thinks it's better to have three USB Type-A ports than two. After all, most other PCs have two or less, so you're not actually missing out on anything if you just ignore the USB 2.0 port. Or you can use it for simple peripherals like a mouse, while reserving the other USB ports for something that demands a faster speed.

One thing I really like about Acer's designs is the hinge. It has this angular design that says Aspire on the inside. I just think that it's a nice touch.

Also, as noted above, this PC is meant to be expandable. You can easily load it up with a secondary hard drive by removing the bottom panel and gaining access to the motherboard.

Display and audio

The Acer Aspire 5 includes a 15.6-inch 1920x1080 non-touch display, which is pretty standard. In fact, this type of matte anti-glare display is very common from Acer. Unfortunately, the color accuracy isn't quite on point with this one. I did notice that while working, I'd have trouble distinguishing between different shades of yellow and green.

For general productivity work, this screen is great, and it stays bright enough to work outdoors. Working indoors, I found myself using around 50% brightness, which is perfect. When it comes to PCs, I never want to have to use 100% anything on a regular basis; at that point, there's no way to turn it up if I need to.

The bezels around the screen are average-sized, with relatively small side bezels, and larger ones on the top and bottom. The chin fits a chrome-colored Acer logo, while the big top bezel fits the webcam. There's no IR camera for Windows Hello facial recognition, nor is there a fingerprint sensor, something that I'd expect at this price.

Audio quality is impressive for a machine like this. It's great for some quiet listening to music, streaming movies, and video calling. I say it's better for quiet music because the volume won't fill a room. I listen with the volume at 100%, and as I said, I don't like having to use 100% anything on the regular. So for general listening to music at your desk, it's just fine. The quality is great too. I find these speakers to be quite enjoyable.

Keyboard and trackpad

The keyboard is pretty average in terms of depth, for a consumer laptop at least. Like many larger laptops, it has a numpad on the right, and one thing that I really like is that it isn't a full-size numpad. Like many, I don't use the numpad when it's available to me, so I appreciate it being small.

The keyboard itself is comfortable and accurate to type on, albeit a bit on the noisy side. In fact, the keyboard deck itself doesn't feel very sturdy. I'm not actually sure what it's made out of, since Acer only claims that the top is made out of aluminum. The keyboard deck definitely feels more plasticky.

But other than that, it's a solid keyboard, and I don't think anyone that buys this will have any complaints. I really didn't. The trackpad is solid as well, although it doesn't quite make as much use of the available real estate as it could. It uses Microsoft Precision drivers though, so it's fast, responsive, and it supports the gestures that you're used to.

The trackpad can also include a fingerprint sensor if you opt for it. I'm honestly not sure why Acer places it there. I've seen this with Dynabook laptops, and while it's great for logging in, it's not great for using the trackpad. It gets in the way.

Performance and battery life

The Acer Aspire 5 (A515-44) includes an AMD Ryzen 7 4700U processor, which is an octa-core processor with eight threads and a 15W TDP. AMD's Ryzen 4000 processors are built on a 7nm process, compared to Intel's 10nm Ice Lake and 14nm Comet Lake chips, and frankly, Ryzen 4000 beats Intel's 10th-gen chips in every way I've been able to test.

While the Ryzen 7 is meant to stack up with a Core i7, and a Ryzen 5 is meant to compete with a Core i5, it's my experience that a Ryzen 5 is really more on par with an Intel Core i7. That means that a Ryzen 7 is really the best you can do in this style of laptop.

For benchmarks, I used PCMark 8 and PCMark 10.

Acer Aspire 5 (A515-44)
AMD Ryzen 7 4700U
Lenovo ThinkPad T14s
AMD Ryzen 7 4750U
Lenovo Flex 5 14
AMD Ryzen 5 4500U
Surface Laptop 3 15
AMD Ryzen 7 3780U Surface Edition
Dell XPS 13
Intel Core i7-10710U
Dell XPS 13 2-in-1
Intel Core i7-1065G7
PCMark 8: Home 3,702 4,298 4,135 3,360 3,501 3,899
PCMark 8: Creative 4,228 4,568 4,214 3,687 3,966 4,253
PCMark 8: Work 3,689 3,857 3,693 3,095 3,342 3,797
PCMark 10 4,718 4,963 4,708 3,939 4,314 4,402


Interestingly, the scores from this PC aren't too different from the scores that I got on the Ryzen 5, which has six cores and six threads. I also included the Ryzen 7 4750U on there, and while that's a PRO chip, it's got AMD's version of what Intel calls hyperthreading, so it's eight cores and 16 threads. There are also scores from Microsoft's Surface Laptop 3, which uses last-gen Ryzen 3000 processors, and of course, scores from PCs that have Intel's latest and greatest.

There's also a non-PRO version of the Ryzen 7 that has SMT, and that's the Ryzen 7 4800U. I've got a review on that coming up as well, so stay tuned.

But back the the Ryzen 7 4700U, it's fantastic, and it offers a lot of value to the user. AMD-powered PCs tend to cost less, and with Ryzen 4000 chips being so good, they tend to perform better.

As far as battery life goes, I got a solid six hours of real work from this laptop with the screen at 50% brightness and the power slider at the first notch above battery saver. AMD says you can get up to 10 hours, and I have no doubt about that. It all depends on what you use it for; for example, if you turn the brightness all the way down and stream local video, you might even do better than that. I didn't test it like that because that's not how people actually use their PCs.

Measuring battery life like this is pretty standard for the industry, and I usually find that real-world usage is about half of that. That's why I wouldn't be surprised if you could really milk this thing for 12 hours.

And of course, I do have to point out that this PC ships with a ton of bloatware. On any Acer laptop, you'll find pre-installed apps like Evernote, Firefox, and Norton antivirus, all things that compete with Windows 10 inbox apps. It also comes with Booking.com, Amazon, Dropbox, Acer Collection S, App Explorer, Simple Solitaire, Express VPN, Hearts Deluxe, PowerDirector for Acer, PhotoDirector for Acer, Simple Mhajong, Simple Freecell, Spades, and I'm sure there was more that I missed.

For review purposes, I spend a good half hour uninstalling all of this stuff. You can also just go to Microsoft for a fresh copy of Windows 10 Home that won't have this stuff.

Conclusion

I always enjoy Acer's laptops, as they're good products once you uninstall all of the bloatware, which is really a one-time thing. But there are also some weird compromises here, some that I wouldn't expect from a $700 laptop.

For one thing, there's no Windows Hello, and that includes the lack of a fingerprint sensor. My biggest issue is the bare bones USB Type-C port. Not only does it not support charging, which is a complete deal-breaker for me, but I was also unable to use it to connect a USB Type-C monitor.

Other than that, everything is great. As long as you're OK with using the charger that comes in the box and typing a PIN when you log into your PC, the Aspire 5 is pretty great, and it provides a lot of value. The AMD Ryzen 7 4700U offers top-tier performance, and with a 512GB SSD, you've got plenty of storage. It has a nice and big anti-glare display that you can easily use outdoors, and as an overall package, it's a pretty good deal for $729.

You can find this configuration on Amazon here. There's also a model that has a Ryzen 5 3550H and Nvidia graphics, if you want a bit more power.

As an Amazon Associate, Neowin may earn commission from qualifying purchases.

 

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