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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  • Shadowmaster625 - Tuesday, June 22, 2010 - link

    Athlon II P320 15" notebook on newegg for $400. No rebates. The deal expired quickly, but there will be more. I think it is a safe bet that AMD 25W dual core notebooks are going to be easily found all summer long for $400, and probably $300 by the time back-to-school starts. And I predict that next you will compare a P320 to a i330 that still costs twice as much.
  • Roland00 - Tuesday, June 22, 2010 - link

    While the p320 is a better battery life processor. Newegg also has the lenovo g555 (same laptop as the fry's ad) for $379.99 with free shipping (and no tax in most states).

    Only 3gb of memory and 160gb harddrive, but still $379.99
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, June 22, 2010 - link

    Next up is a Toshiba with Phenom II P920 quad-core (25W) with switchable HD 5650 graphics. I'm not sure it's the best option out there for AMD, but it's what AMD is sending me. It will at least be interesting to see how performance compares against i5-430M with the same GPU, and I'm told that the HD 4200 mode with the P920 will actually deliver better battery life than the M600/M300 stuff. We shall see.

    Personally, I would *love* to get one of the $400 P320 laptops for testing, but that's not happening yet unless I go and buy one. And we might just do that....
  • Shadowmaster625 - Thursday, June 24, 2010 - link

    Wow a 1.6GHz quad core with 512k cache? I can already see that thing getting walloped by a SU7300 in everything except video encoding. (And who would do that on a notebook?)

    Has it occured to you that Intel makes backroom deals with companies to get them to send reviewers only these oddball AMD notebook configurations specifically to make AMD look bad? Despite losing a billion dollars by engaging in these tactics, I am sure that Intel regards it as merely a cost of doing business. No doubt they've made $10 billion through these shady tactics.
  • Roland00 - Thursday, June 24, 2010 - link

    512k cache per core. 2mb total cache. AMD processors have each individual core possessing their own l2 cache. The new Core I series is the same way from intel. The old Intel Core2Duos and Core2Quads shared their l2 cache between 2 of the cores.

    Regardless 25w for 4 cores is extremely good energy wise per core. That is 6.5w per a 1.6 ghz single core or pretty much atom territory. Sadly the p520 (2.3 ghz dual core, 1 mb l2 cache per core, 2 mb l2 cache total) is going to be faster in most things, for not enough things are coded for quad cores yet.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, June 24, 2010 - link

    Actually, AMD sent this laptop after buying it from the manufacturer, so unless Toshiba somehow convinced AMD to send the A665, I doubt Intel had anything to do with the choice. It's doing okay on battery life (226 minutes idle with a 48Wh battery). Unfortunately, the notebook just died this morning (after less than 24 hours) while I was trying to watch the World Cup online (Flash video).

    I don't know if the laptop was just banged around in shipping, or if the GPU had a glitch, or what, but I do know that it is dead. It locked, I force restarted, and now the fans turn on and nothing ever shows up on the LCD. Weird. But a replacement is on the way, so the review should still come in the next 10 days or so.
  • Hrel - Thursday, June 24, 2010 - link

    If someone could do a review on the laptop that I currently suspect is the best "bang for your buck" out there. It's made by compal, and available on who's machines you've reviewed before. If you'd like it configured like I did, which I think is the best bang for buck, do this: Go to the website. mouse over 15.6" Laptops and click on the $999 Xplorer X6-8500. It has a 1080p screen. (I'm not sure why the people who run this site do this, but even though the other configurations use the same chassis when personalized they come out to cost more than this one; annoying since it makes me configure all 3 or 4 machines built on the same base chassis to figure out which one is cheapest/best for me.) Then I configured it with the Core i7-620M CPU. (to get it over 1K so I can take advantage of the 5% off.) 4GB 0DDR3-1333, hopefully 7-7-7-21, probably not, but hopefully. ATI MR HD5650 1GB GDDR3 320GB 7200rpm HDD (I did this cause I'm gonna take that HDD out and use the Seagate Momentus XT 500GB, thanks for that review!!) Everything else on that page I left untouched. The only thing I did on page 2 was switch to Intel wifi with bluetooth; Though I'm curious if the MSI option is equal/better; 17 bucks isn't nothing. It has HDMI out and a fingerprint reader. This page says 3 USB ports, the specs sheet says 4USB ports; not sure which is true. (I do wish they were USB 3.0 ports, but I was hoping you guys would test some stuff and tell me if that even matters for use with an external hard drive, mechanical disk 7200rpm. Transferring large files like movies and games mostly.) On page 3 I select "none, format only" for the OS. And select "LCD perfect assurance" cause even 1 dead pixel is unacceptable to me. This brings the total to $1008.90 after 5% off, or $992.75 if you get the MSI network card. So yeah, I really hope you guys can get a hold of one of these for review; as a loner or given as a review unit or maybe someone will just buy one and review it cause it's really tempting me right now... like a lot! If you're review is good I'm gonna start saving up and hopefully be able to buy it around Christmas. Thanks guys! A loyal reader. - Brian
  • shady28 - Sunday, June 27, 2010 - link

    I went looking for a p920 review (quad core Phenom II for laptops) and all I'm seeing is a comparison of Intel's latest i3/i5 vs 2 year old Turion Ultra CPUs. I have a laptop I bought almost 2 years ago that is a Turion Ultra / 2.2Ghz with ATI 3200 video that is just as good as the AMD system in this comparison.

    These quad core Phenoms are showing up for $700 at Wal-Mart with ATI 4250 GPUs. Wouldn't that be a more interesting comparison???

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