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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  • C'DaleRider - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    With all the complaints about the display in the article.....what'd you expect from Acer? An Apple quality display? Seriously? From the bottom-of-the-barrel PC maker? LOL!
  • jabber - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    Isn't Acer the firm that is telling Microsoft it shouldn't try to get into making tablets and laptops?

    Well Acer, I don't think they could do any worse could they?
  • Dug - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    For the price, yes.
  • ThreeDee912 - Thursday, July 12, 2012 - link

    Eh, a high-end 13" MacBook Air is $100 more, and although you get a slightly slower CPU, you get a significantly better 1440x900 panel, more battery life, backlit keyboard, built-in SD card reader, and faster 1600MHz DDR3 RAM.

    And yeah, looks like the review forgot to mention the keyboard isn't backlit, but other sites seem to mention it.

    Or for $200 less you can get a low-end 13" Air and still get all that, but with less SSD space.

    Only thing you don't get is a built-in HDMI port as Apple's pushing the Mini-DisplayPort/Thunderbolt combo.
  • nickod - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    Would be good if the laptop tests explicitly said if HDMI and display port displays could be used together.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    They can.
  • Penti - Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - link

    I guess the Thunderbolt supports DisplayPort which at least mean it can output higher resolutions then the HDMI's single-link sub 3GHz 1920x1200. It's a big plus if it actually can drive your 27 or 30-inch monitor, if you have one of those and also won't stop you from getting one. I think it's sad to see just HDMI or VGA on laptops today, Displayport is essential. At least for any serious use. Everybody do not like to be sitting there stuck with 1920x1080 TN-screens.
  • seapeople - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    Why did PC makers "decide" that 4-5 hours of battery life is good enough? They keep pumping tech into laptops, making them thinner and thinner and lighter and lighter... and simultaneously dropping the battery size, taking away one of the potential benefits of such a system. It's not like old boxy 15" laptops got 4-5 hours of battery life because they decided that's the perfect amount of battery life to target, they got 4-5 hours of battery life because that's all they could get using full size components and not have the laptop be as thick as a phone book.

    Now, we have thin, low power components, and the opportunity to make something like a 20mm thick laptop with 12+ hour battery life, which is still pretty thin, but instead we get a tapered 15mm SUPER THIN laptop that doesn't improve on battery life.

    I mean, isn't the entire concept of an ultraportable that you can take it places easily, which would thus make battery life of paramount importance? But no, it's as if PC makers are taking random stabs in the dark to get market share, saying "Look at us, we made a laptop thinner than Apple!" rather than actually putting out laptops that are well built and, most importantly, make sense for the market they're targeting.
  • mrdude - Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - link

    Because Ultrabooks aren't about practicality or performance or even weight but about looks. They're made and marketed as an "Ooooh, look at me!" type of gadget instead of something that makes sense.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - link

    The thing is, Ultrabooks make sense for a certain market; they're just not for everyone (or, dare I say it, even most people). If you travel a lot and/or are constantly wandering around your work place and you need to take your computer with you, a 3 pound Ultrabook (formerly ultraportable) is very convenient. Assuming you have it set to go into sleep mode when you close the lid, you typically only need around 6 hours of continuous battery life to last all day at the office, not to mention making it through any continental flights.

    Now if you're on international flights or you want to be able to have your laptop on and doing work for 8-10 hours straight, obviously you need more battery capacity. There are laptops that target that market as well, typically by offering sheet batteries or extended batteries. But while it's possible to build a 3-4 pound laptop that can last 12+ hours on a single charge, such laptops aren't for everyone -- just like the typical Ultrabook. FWIW, I know personally I rarely have need of more than six hours of continuous use battery life.

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