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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  • mrdude - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    No I didn't. I read them.

    The keyboard is lackluster and provides little feedback. It's shallow. It's shallow because to keep it thin you've got to cut corners, or in this case shave off the tactile nature of the keyboard. The new one is better but still lacks feedback.

    The battery life too isn't great. Unless you're under constant load you'll generally have better battery life with a newer full and thicker laptop than an ultrabook, whether Asus Zenbook (prime or not), or Sony or Lenovo or Toshiba. It doesn't matter. The ULV only matters as far as heat output goes and plays a far smaller factor in battery drainage in real life usage.

    It's also loud, just like every other ultrabook.

    The display, while awesome, sucks because you don't get good OS and application support. A 1080p IPS display sounds amazing on a 13.3" ultrabook until you actually get to play with it and realize it's the worst decision you've made in your entire life. At 13.3", a 768p resolution is actually quite good and had Acer provided an IPS display with great contrast, black levels and color gamut equal to the zenbook prime then I'd prefer the Acer. Scaling DPI in Windows is absolutely horrible.

    Finally there's the price. For $1000 you're getting headaches from the poor DPI scaling and something that's thinner than a Portege but also has half the power and costs more.
  • mrdude - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    I forgot to mention the heat issues. The new Zens suffer from the same heat problems the old ones do. They throttle like mad while under extended load.

    I'm not saying it isn't an incredible package; it is. It still suffers from poor OS resolution/dpi management, heat, battery life and practicality that a laptop .5lbs heavier can provide with proper and equivalent (minus the CPU) hardware.

    As far as I see it, it's a glorified netbook with double the performance and double the problems at 4x the price. Intel needs to either make them much cheaper or start giving people a reason to spend upwards of $1000+ because, forgive me, I'm not seeing the appeal.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    Your comment about us "overlooking throttling" may be a bit too strong. I know I check for issues, though most of the time it's more of looking at throttling when performance seems lower than it should be. How would you like us to check for throttling, other than playing games? Do you want us to run a stress test for a solid day? We test for an hour in most cases, running a CPU + GPU load that should reveal any issues.

    Anyway, there's a difference between throttling down to 1.2GHz on the CPU, and "throttling" down to the base clock speed (e.g. no Turbo Boost active), and it's not clear which case you're talking about. Personally, I'm only concerned when it's the former; if a laptop simply can't hit maximum Turbo Boost under a sustained load, that's working as intended (though we tend to note when performance drops off because of lower average clock speeds).
  • mrdude - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    Maybe overlook was a bit strong, but it's not mentioned at all. Throttling on ultrabooks is incredibly common and it's generally to the base clocks (like you noted). While this may not seem so bad to you, think about why you're paying for an i5 rather than an i3? Or what happens if you've only got an i3?

    I saw the comparison between the HD4000 in the ULV and the i7 and the real time GPU clock speeds spell out exactly what I'm referring to.

    There's obvious stuttering going on there and that's on top of an HD4000 that still has gaps to make up as far as response speed when gaming (take a look at the techreport review of Trinity to see what I mean).

    If you're not going to be pushing the chips and don't need the ULV for gaming or what-have-you, then why use an expensive ULV in the first place?

    There are a lot of issues I see with the ultrabook platform. I like that Intel is pushing manufacturers to get up off their butts and challenge themselves but considering the problems with the heat, the wonky performance, the high prices and that there are already notebooks out there that are within spitting distance of ultrabook size (and some are even lighter...), I'm not seeing the point.

    If I'm going to pay a high price for something I'd like to receive a full-fledged product and not something that has obvious drawbacks.

    It's like Asus did with the 1080p IPS display on the Zenbook. It sounds great until you actually use it and realize that there are quite a few problems with it when put into practice (the OS can't scale everything).
  • Impulses - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    It really depends on what you're doing and what programs you're working with... Anything that allows you to easily zoom in/out or shrink/enlarge text isnt gonna be an issue save for the occasional dialog box.. I welcome 1920x1080 @ 13" with open arms, only thing better would be x1200. Win7 scales better than older OS and Win8 will handle it even better.
  • mrdude - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    It's still not handled completely at the OS level meaning your scaling will vary in actual usage depending on the application you're working with. This issue isn't bad on Macs because Apple controls everything with a Stalin-like iron fist (especially the hardware), but on Windows it's going to be exponentially worse.

    Personally speaking, I'd prefer a 1440x900 or 1366x768 IPS display on a 13.3" form factor at native resolutions without worrying about scaling and zooming than I would the extra real estate that I can't use properly. It's also why I find a 768p display excusable at the sub-14" form factor. 14" 1600x900/1440x900 and 1080p at 15.6" provide enough real estate without the obvious scaling drawbacks.

    I find that people latch on to the pixel count and neglect the other important variables in picking out a good display. I'd much rather have a great 1366x768 15.6" matte IPS panel than a 1080p glossy TN panel at 13.3". Pixels aren't everything
  • IntelUser2000 - Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - link

    I feel Turbo Mode isn't explained throughly enough in many sites. This was shown in detail with Itanium "Montecito"'s power management named Foxton.

    Before it was disabled in the final product version, Foxton used a sophisticated analog power management unit to watch over the chips thermals, and power consumption.

    Foxton allowed Turbo, and the gains were heavily application dependent. Essentially, you get the maximum gain in SpecInt and Database type of applications, where the CPU isn't fully loaded and using the power hungry FPU. Opposite is true for SpecFP type of appilcations, where you'd see barely any increase in clocks over Base.

    Sandy Bridge/Ivy Bridge's ULV acts very similarly to Foxton. ULV chips basically lower power usage by changing the guaranteed base clocks to Turbo clocks.

    That means Turbo Mode in ULV chips is just as much about responsiveness boost(opening applications, editing photos, web browsing, and any "bursty" scenarios) as it is sustained performance boost.

    Turbo Mode does work in high end scenarios like when you push CPU and GPU in games(otherwise performance would be half of what it is now), but you won't get full benefit.

    Key is again "responsiveness".
  • IntelUser2000 - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    I can't say much about other things, but I think lot of people will disagree about the display.

    I guess future manufacturers can offer 1366x768 IPS display with good color reproduction in the future, for people like you.
  • Shadowmaster625 - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    Having motorized doors is a level a stupidity beyond even apple.

    But the real question is, what is up with the PCMark 7 Computation score?? UX21A has the same cpu but scores nearly double. Why?
  • mrdude - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    RAID 0 SSDs in the Acer.

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