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
Processor AMD Athlon II M300
(2x2.0GHz, 45nm, 2x512KB L2, 35W)
Chipset AMD RS880M + SB710
Memory 2x2GB DDR2-800 (Max 2x4GB)
Graphics ATI Radeon HD 4200
(40 Stream Processors, 500MHz Core/shared memory)
Display 15.6" LED Glossy 16:9 768p (1366x768)
Hard Drive(s) 500GB 5400RPM (Western Digital Blue WD5000BEVT-22ZAT0)
Optical Drive 8x DVD±RW (Optiarc AD-7580S)
Networking Gigabit Ethernet (Broadcom BCM5784M)
802.11b/g/n (Atheros AR928X)
Audio HD Audio
2 stereo speakers with headphone, mic, and line-out
Battery 6-Cell, 10.8V, 4400mAh, 47.5Wh battery
Front Side Flash Reader MMC/MS Pro/SD/xD
Left Side Headphone, mic, line-out
2 x USB 2.0
AC Jack
Right Side 2 x USB 2.0
56K modem
Kensington Lock
Back Side Cooling Exhaust
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Extras 2MP Webcam
Flash reader (MMC/MS/MS Pro/SD)
Dimensions 15.1" x 9.8" x 1.0-1.5" (WxDxH)
Weight 6.2 lbs (with 6-cell battery)
Warranty 1-year basic warranty
Pricing $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.

AMD and Intel Mobile Rematch: Gateway NV5933u vs. Acer 5542 Gateway NV5933u Overview
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  • silverblue - Friday, June 18, 2010 - link

    ...PLEASE stop using the 4200 unless you're going to offer an automatically switchable and far superior discrete option. Would it be outlandish to use the Mobility 5470 at the very least instead of throwing out the same 500-700MHz 40SP solutions?
  • JarredWalton - Friday, June 18, 2010 - link

    We should be seeing the Toshiba Satellite A665D-S6059 soon, which combines the HD 4250 with a discrete HD 5650 and provides switching functionality. It also has the Phenom II P920 quad-core (only 1.6GHz though). I'm certainly interested in seeing how it works, and hopefully GPU driver updates won't be a problem... except it looks like Toshiba is opting out of AMD's Mobile Driver program. Ugh.
  • ferro_i - Friday, June 18, 2010 - link

    AMD processor, the previous platform. (Tigris platform 2009, DDR2).
    İntel Mobile i3-i5 series should be compared with platform AMD Danube (2010).
  • JarredWalton - Friday, June 18, 2010 - link

    I think it's fair in that we're comparing laptops that have both been around for four months. But you're right, Danube is the real comparison now and we're working to get some appropriate laptops. I inadvertently lumped all the new AMD laptops under the Nile header, but that's the ultraportable version of Danube; we should have both in the next couple of weeks.
  • veri745 - Sunday, June 20, 2010 - link

    Agreed. We already know the DDR2 AMD platforms have crappy battery life. I'd really like to see the Danube and Nile platforms reviewed.
  • fabarati - Friday, June 18, 2010 - link

    Good thing to note: Core i5s and i7s have a higher clocked IGP, 766 vs 677 in the i3s. Performance probably won't go up a lot, but maybe a fps or two.

    By the way, are you guys gonna review the Dell Vostro 3500?
  • JarredWalton - Friday, June 18, 2010 - link

    We can ask for the Vostro 3500... no idea if we'll get one. As for the GPU clock, that's a good point. Is there a good utility to show your current clock? I have no idea if the NV5933u every scaled up to 667 or not; GPUZ and CPUZ don't report the IGP frequency on Intel.
  • KaarlisK - Sunday, June 20, 2010 - link

    Not always, it won't
    Since the IGP has to Turbo up to get to either 677 or 766, and the i5s and i7s have higher CPU frequencies, there is sometimes less power/heat headroom for the GPU to actually clock up.
  • mojtabaalemi - Friday, June 18, 2010 - link

    could you please add 1005p in your battery life test .
    and by the way was 1005pe with 3150 igp capable of 720p x264 video ?
  • JarredWalton - Friday, June 18, 2010 - link

    We never had the 1005p for testing (or any other 3-cell netbook), so I'm not sure what it does for battery life other than it would be lower. :-) Relative battery life should be about the same, though, so at 23Wh it should last roughly half as long as the 1001p.

    The 1005pe (and any other Pine Trail netbook as well as the older N270/N280) is capable of 720p x264 if you use the CoreAVC codec; anything else and you drop frames in my experience. Higher bitrate 720p would also cause problems, and you get tearing (no VSYNC) with CoreAVC in my experience. As far as Internet video (Flash... not sure about the HTML5 stuff yet), Atom fails utterly unless you get ION/NG-ION.

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