AMD and Intel Mobile Rematch: Gateway NV5933u vs. Acer 5542by Jarred Walton on June 18, 2010 1:14 AM EST
Acer Aspire 5542 Overview
If the Aspire 5542 seems familiar, the chassis is the same as the Aspire 5740G we reviewed a couple months back. The internals and features are quite different, though, so let's run down the list of detailed specs on the 5542.
|Acer Aspire 5542 Specifications
AMD Athlon II M300
(2x2.0GHz, 45nm, 2x512KB L2, 35W)
|AMD RS880M + SB710
|2x2GB DDR2-800 (Max 2x4GB)
ATI Radeon HD 4200
(40 Stream Processors, 500MHz Core/shared memory)
|15.6" LED Glossy 16:9 768p (1366x768)
|500GB 5400RPM (Western Digital Blue WD5000BEVT-22ZAT0)
|8x DVD±RW (Optiarc AD-7580S)
Gigabit Ethernet (Broadcom BCM5784M)
802.11b/g/n (Atheros AR928X)
2 stereo speakers with headphone, mic, and line-out
|6-Cell, 10.8V, 4400mAh, 47.5Wh battery
|Flash Reader MMC/MS Pro/SD/xD
Headphone, mic, line-out
2 x USB 2.0
2 x USB 2.0
|Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Flash reader (MMC/MS/MS Pro/SD)
|15.1" x 9.8" x 1.0-1.5" (WxDxH)
|6.2 lbs (with 6-cell battery)
|1-year basic warranty
$499 from Amazon
Note: 320GB HDD on that model
Like most entry-level notebooks, the Aspire 5542 skips out on some of the amenities. All the usual ports are present and accounted for, but there's no ExpressCard, FireWire, eSATA, DVI, DisplayPort, or Bluetooth. That last is a bit interesting, since there's a Bluetooth enable/disable Fn key combination, but all it does it display a "Bluetooth disabled" icon. It does come with four USB ports, and the target market likely won't notice or miss the other features.
The styling is standard Acer Aspire, with a glossy blue exterior that looks quite nice if you can keep it free of fingerprints. Inside things are a bit more tame, with matte gray plastic on the palm rest and black on the keyboard and top panel. The touchpad is centered below the space bar, and there's a full number keypad on the right. We're also pleased with the keyboard layout, as the 10-key doesn't skimp on the arrangement of keys and you still get Home, End, PgUp, and PgDn keys. Perhaps not so pleasing is the feel of the keyboard. Dustin disliked it enough in his review of the 5740G that he recommended trying one in person before taking the plunge. I'm not quite as negative on the keyboard, if only because the layout suits me, but it's certainly not as nice to type on as a ThinkPad or good chiclet design. The keys are flat and closely spaced, and even if the keys are actually full size we'd prefer slightly smaller with larger gaps between the keys. You can certainly use it, though, and for the price we're not expecting a rigid keyboard with no flex and LED backlighting.
The LCD is standard fare as well, with viewing angles typical of TN panels. It's glossy and reflective, as is the bezel, with a native 1366x768 resolution. Contrast is relatively poor, but maximum brightness is decent. The HD 4200 integrated graphics are easily able to handle video decoding tasks, including full screen 1080p Flash video (with Flash 10.1), H.264 decoding, and 1080p HDMI output. What it can't handle in the majority of titles is gaming at native res; 800x600 is usually playable at minimum detail, but it looks lousy at best. Mainstream gaming like Sims 3 and Spore is much better, but the GPU will still struggle with anything beyond low/medium detail.
Like most inexpensive laptops, you get what you pay for. Performance is much faster than any Atom-based netbook, but that's hardly impressive. Windows 7 runs fine, typical applications and multimedia tasks aren't an issue, and usability is good. If you want a laptop for under $500 that will handle typical home and office tasks, the Aspire 5542—and other similarly equipped AMD-based laptops—work well. What they won't give you is impressive battery life or class leading performance. The new Aspire 5551 ships with Athlon II P320 and HD 4250 and should do a bit better, for $50 more. The 10% increase in price should bring a similar boost to CPU, GPU, and battery life, and the basic design is otherwise the same. If you're looking to save money, though, which is the primary reason to get this sort of notebook, we'd recommend trying to find something with the Athlon II M300 on sale for closer to $400. One example, particularly if you like the design of the Intel system from Gateway that we're looking at next, is the NV5378u is currently on sale for $430 right now.