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
1x HDMI
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
1.2kg
Extras Webcam
USB 3.0
Thunderbolt
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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  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - link

    Progress for Acer. Build quality compared to older Aspire laptops is certainly improved, and the keyboard is substantially better. Acer is heading in the right direction, but they definitely have areas of concern we still want addressed -- particularly in a high-end device like the S5. It will be interesting to see the S7 when that comes out, though. Reply
  • Mumrik - Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - link

    What is so "premium" about max. 4gb RAM and a 768P TN display? Reply
  • Focher - Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - link

    Exactly why would I get this over a MacBook Air? Yeah, that's what I thought. Next. Reply
  • ciabatta - Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - link

    You compare the Aspire S5 somewhat favorably to the Zenbook Prime in a few points, including the conclusion. I just looked back at your review of the UX21A and found you guys gushing about it being the perfect ultrabook. I would not have expected you to conclude with "well, this may be the best ultrabook to buy, maybe," and instead something along the lines of "don't buy this, the Zenbook Prime is superior." Am I missing something? Reply
  • Penti - Thursday, July 12, 2012 - link

    Why would they recommend a product over another based on that argument? All things has it's upsides and downsides. They seldom say don't buy this and instead try to let you form an opinion of your own. Obviously a panel is important, but as far as I know they haven't reviewed the Prime UX31A or UX32VD yet at Anandtech, 1920x1080 IPS fits better at 13.3-inch then it does 11.6-inch. Because Windows DPI-scaling isn't that much useful. You would probably want both DPI-scaling and some zooming in the browser if you don't like everything to be really small. Neither will anything ever be perfect. The Acer S5 hardware and chassi looks fairly decent if you can live with the display and 4GB ram. Although pricey and not really worth it for the Thunderbolt. Reply
  • Rockmandash12 - Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - link

    1,400 laptop, and a 5 year old laptop has a sharper display. That's sad, and horrible. What is acer thinking with all these crap displays? This is the reason why acer will always be known as a cheap computer company. Reply
  • flgrx - Thursday, July 12, 2012 - link

    A few AMD trinity notebooks./sleekbook reviews pls. I feel Intel notebooks are doing fine and see no real advantages from ultrabooks per se. AMD sleekbooks are slightly cheaper and we also see Intel Ultabooks have compromised on quality in some areas like screen.

    Why not review a top, a mid, a low end AMD trinity notebook/ultrathin/sleekbook and let us readers see how they fare against the Intel ones, in the added context of price?
    Reply
  • hakime - Thursday, July 12, 2012 - link

    It's always amusing to see the people at Anandtech not reporting correctly the facts when it comes to PC-Mac comparisons. I guess this is due to the biased nature towards PCs of this site.

    So you claim this

    "It's important to keep in mind that what Acer has done here is essentially produce an ultrabook that is both lighter and thinner than a 13-inch MacBook Air."

    The problem with this claim is that it's flat wrong in one part of it and not well balanced in the second part. From your own table, the Acer Aspire S5 is 11.2mm to 15mm thick. Ok, but if I look at the numbers for the MacBook Air, I see that it's 3 to 17 mm thick. So anyone reasonable enough would conclude that the thickest part of the Aspire is slightly thinner than the thickest part of the MacBook air but on the other hand, the thinnest part of the MacBook Air is significantly thinner than the the thinnest part of the Aspire. Which means that just claiming the Aspire is thinner than the MacBook air is just not honest.

    Now when it comes to the weight, indeed the Aspire weights 1.2 kg and the MacBook Air weights 1.35 kg. That means that the Aspire is 150 g lighter than the Air. 150 g is not much given that the Air is immensely better built with better material than the cheap plastic based Aspire. 150 g more is a very small price to pay for a way better build quality. Don't you think so? Don't you think that comparing two computers should be done fairly instead of just throwing out some baseless statements?

    Also about this one

    "dual USB 3.0 ports instead of USB 2.0 (courtesy of the newer HM77 chipset), and most impressively, Intel's Thunderbolt."

    Well, Thunderbolt is not only an Intel thing since it was co-developed with Apple. Thunderbolt uses the mini display port connection technology developed by Apple. Facts Anandtech, facts....
    Reply
  • Panlion - Thursday, July 12, 2012 - link

    I don't understand why so many people are complaining about ultrabooks. Since ASUS UX31E came out, we've been deploying them in our company instead of Lenovo T420. They are cheaper, lighter, better screen, better battery life and a joy for everyone that we've deploy to. Now with the UX31A, we've gotten even better response from our users with the improved IPS screen and keyboard. Honestly, for most users 4GB of memory is more than enough and the 6-8 hr of battery life of Zenbook is way better than what we got from the Thinkpads. I for one, loved ASUS ultrabook and I can say that all my users who have use these laptop loves it. Reply
  • Zodryn - Saturday, July 14, 2012 - link

    So somehow .58" is thinner than the new Series 9? The 13" Series 9 is only .51"...What is Acer on about?

    And btw, when is the 11" Zenbook Prime coming out?? Also unrelated: I have a 13" Prime, but can only choose 13W in the configurable TDP options. Anyone know why that is? Anand had pics of 13W and 16W options for the ux21a, but I can't get 16W on my ux31a...
    Reply

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