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
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
Extras Webcam
USB 3.0
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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  • magreen - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    agree 100%.

    anyone for going back to the Atari 2600's 160x192 5:6 resolution for the next premium laptop?
  • seapeople - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    The next step for Asus is to cut out the USB 3.0 and include USB 1.1 instead and subsequently cut the laptop price from $1400 to $1397.
  • Mumrik - Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - link

    You mean Acer I hope...
  • frakkel - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    Completely agree that the screen is an important factor. But as far as I have understood Anandtech first calibrate the screens before comparing to each other. How many ordinary people does this?

    To have a 200 dollar screen that is not calibrated is in my opinion the same deal braker as havíng a 50 dollar screen which is also not calibrated.

    As long as you have to do the calibration by your self it simple does nok make that much of a difference if the manucture put in a 200 or a 50 dollar screen. The color accuracy of a non calibrated 200 dollar screen is still terrible. And since most people dont do the calibration I understand why Acer put in thís mediocre screen.
  • Impulses - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    Color accuracy is the worst of their problems... ASUS' UX31 is cheaper and has a higher res 1080p display that gives you a larger work space. Not only that, its an IPS display with superb viewing angles that dont wash the display out when viewed off center, and like when the guy in the plane seat in front of you decides to recline all the way and your own seat is busted.
  • Impulses - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    The least of their problems rather...
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    Not to mention the contrast. Your brain will basically interpolate so that even if the color accuracy is off, it's "okay" for most people (look at all the tablets that are >10 dE and have no way to calibrate, and some are 50+ dE). For laptops, I think the relative cheapness of the display is easy to determine by looking at where it falls in the following list. (Note that matte vs. glossy is essentially a separate issue; you can have bad matte screens just as easily as bad glossy screens, though I continue to prefer matte over glossy.)

    Low contrast, low resolution (DPI)
    Low contrast, higher resolution (DPI)
    High contrast, lower DPI
    High contrast, higher DPI
    High contrast, higher DPI, better color gamut
    High contrast, higher DPI, better color gamut, non-TN

    Generally speaking, there really aren't any non-TN displays with good characteristics that are still low-resolution, which is good as the last thing we need is 1366x768 IPS displays shoved into 13.3" and larger laptops.
  • Steveymoo - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    I mean, seriously? They're so damned expensive for what they are!!

    They're under-performing, 99% of them have terrible screens, and the only practical use I can think of for them, is general office productivity, and internet browsing... Sure they do that pretty well, but why would a company pay over the odds for what is essentially a collection of cheap components, in an expensive (albeit slim,) package.
  • mrdude - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    It seems that every time I read an ultrabook review I see the same things being uttered: crappy display, not-so-great battery life, too expensive and way way too hot. The form factor is far too thin given the heat output of the processors at 17W TDP and that's not going to change as Haswell will have the same TDP. The components themselves cost more due to the nature of the design and the margins for ultrabook makers is actually below 7%! No wonder the displays are so damn crappy. Even given that super inflated price tag, Acer is almost certainly penny-pinching to barely break even.

    Why in the world would I want one? Why in the world is Intel pushing these? You can grab a Toshiba Portege with an equally crappy display and have none of the heat issues, better battery life, swappable components, much better performance and all this at the same weight as an ultrabook. The TimelineU M5 seems like a much better format considering the size but even for that thick a laptop (compared to this), Acer had to use a ULV i5 rather than a regular 35W chip and even that laptop suffers from heat and throttling issues (an important point that gets overlooked in every Anandtech review... Can you guys please start checking for throttling during gaming and heavy CPU/GPU work?)

    Something needs to change. Either Intel needs to loosen the requirements or tighten them even further. As I see ultrabooks today, they're stuck in some sort of halfway super-portable laptop that just doesn't make sense given the drawbacks and the just-as-portable-but-not-crappy alternatives.
  • Impulses - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    So you skipped both Zenbook articles?

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