The Acer Aspire V5-171 is a thin and light notebook that proves you don’t have to pay top dollar to get an ultraportable computer that offers decent performance. It has an 11.6 inch, 1366 x 768 pixel display, a 1.7 GHz Intel Core i5-3317u dual core Ivy Bridge processor, 6GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive.
While chip maker Intel is pushing its ultrabook platform pretty hard this year, ultrabooks aren’t the only game in town when it comes to thin and light laptops. In order to qualify as an ultrabook, a notebook needs to meet certain criteria — and the Aspire V5 misses out on two of those.
It doesn’t have a solid state disk for cache or storage, and it measures 1.1 inches at its thickest point, while ultrabooks are typically no thicker than 0.8 inches.
But you’d be forgiven for mistaking the Acer Aspire V5 for an ultrabook. In most respects, it performs just about as well as any ultrabook I’ve tested, and the laptop may not be the thinnest around, but it’s pretty light. The Aspire V5-171 weighs just about 3 pounds.
Acer loaned me a model with 802.11n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, and Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit for the purposes of this review.
The Aspire V5-171 isn’t the first 11.6 inch notebook from Acer. The company is treating it as a follow-up to the Aspire TimelineX 1830T. But I reviewed earlier 11.6 inch Acer notebooks in 2009 and 2010.
While the keyboard and touchpad layout have undergone some changes in the past few years, for the most part the Aspire V5-171 looks a lot like its predecessors.
It’s about the same size, about the same weight, and has some of the characteristics I’ve come to expect from an Acer thin and light notebook.
Above the 11.6 inch, 1366 x 768 pixel display is a 1.3MP webcam. The screen itself has a glossy finish and looks pretty good when viewed from the front. But the viewing angles are pretty horrific.
When you try to look at a picture from the side, the colors look washed out. And when I tilted the screen back, the bright green desktop background started to look black pretty quickly.
What makes that strange, is the fact that the Aspire V5-171 has a hinge that almost lets you tilt the screen back to a 180 degree angle. So you can push the display back further on this notebook than on most other laptops — but unless you’re standing over the notebook and staring straight down at the screen, I’m not sure why you’d want to.
Acer says the laptop weighs 3.05 pounds, but my scale says it’s actually a little lighter, at about 2 pounds, 15.5 ounces. That makes it a little heavier than a typical 10 inch netbook, but lighter than many of the 13 inch and larger ultrabooks I’ve tested recently.
It has a plastic case with the lid and keyboard area painted a metallic gray color. The bottom of the laptop and the screen bezel are black, as are the keys on the keyboard.
The lid has a fake brushed-metal finish to it, which seems a bit tacky. But while the palm rest area is a metallic gray, it doesn’t feel like Acer’s trying to fool anybody into thinking it’s actually made of metal. It’s just a solid sheet of gray which actually looks pretty nice.
The speakers are on the bottom of the laptop, near the front edge. This means they point down at your lap, table, or other surface, and the sound isn’t particularly loud or clear. That’s true of many small-sized laptops, but the speakers on the Acer Aspire V5-171 seemed particularly weak.
Also on the bottom, you’ll find a single large access panel which covers the hard drive and memory. The panel is fastened to the case by a single screw. Once you remove it, you can slide the cover forward to reveal the RAM, hard drive, wireless card, and other internal components.
The user replaceable battery slides into the back of the laptop — which is a little thicker than the front, to accommodate the battery. The front of the laptop is also tapered a little to make the front edge look even thinner than it is.
There’s an unusual latch holding the battery in place. In order to remove the battery, you need to flip over the laptop and stick a pen, paperclip, or other item into a small hole and slide the latch while pulling the battery. You may also be able to do this with a fingertip, but it’s a little trickier to remove the battery on the Aspire V5-171 than it is on most laptops.
You’ll find an SDHC card slot beneath the front left corner of the palm rest.
The left side of the laptop features a Gigabit Ethernet port, VGA and HDMI ports, and a USB 3.0 port.
On the right side there are 2 USB 2.0 ports, a headphone jack, power port, and a lock adapter.
Keyboard and TouchPad
Acer has outfitted the laptop with an island-style keyboard, which means that each key floats in a little space apart from its neighbors. Earlier Acer portable notebooks such as the Aspire One 721 featured larger keys with less space between them.
Both layouts are reasonably comfortable, but I think I prefer the new layout, which makes it easy to detect the edges of the keys with your fingers.
If you press down hard enough toward the center of the keyboard, you’ll notice a little bit of flex — but not as much as I’ve on many other laptops, including some that have much higher price tags. There’s a single molded piece of plastic covering the palm rest and keyboard area, and it seems to be very sturdy.
The keyboard suffers from one perennial problem on Acer 11.6 inch laptops — the arrow keys are ridiculously small. Even if you don’t use arrow keys very often, that’s a problem, because these are also the keys you need to press to adjust the volume or display brightness, or access the PgUp, PgDn, Home, and End functions.
Acer crams these 6 tiny keys into the space below the right shift key. If these were normal-sized keys, you’d only be able to fit 2 of them in that space.
It’s possible to press the correct arrow key without looking down at your fingers — but it’s not easy.
Otherwise, the keyboard is a pleasure to use (if you’re the sort of person that takes pleasure from typing).
Below the keyboard is a touchpad with support for multitouch gestures. There are no touchpad buttons — instead, you can click the lower right corner to right-click, and click nearly anywhere else on the lower half of the touch surface to left-click.
Since the Acer Aspire V5-171 is a little smaller than most notebooks, there’s not room for an enormous touchpad, and the touch surface is substantially wider than it is tall. This gives you more room to move a cursor from side-to-side than up and down, but that’s not a huge problem on a notebook with a widescreen display.
Personally I’d rather have distinct left and right buttons — or at least lines differentiating the left and right click areas. I’m always a little worried that I’ll left-click when I meant to open a context menu or save-as dialog.
But I find myself making fewer click errors on the Aspire V5-171 than on the much-more expensive Toshiba Satellite U845W ultrabook.
While the Acer Aspire V5 isn’t an ultrabook, you’d never know that by looking at the benchmarks I ran on the laptop. Its scores in my aging raft of performance tests and a few third party benchmarks were nearly identical to the scores for the last two ultrabooks I tested, the Toshiba Satellite U845W and Lenovo IdeaPad U310.
That’s not surprising, since all three laptops have the same Intel Core i5-3317U Ivy Bridge processor and Intel HD 4000 graphics. All three laptops scored better than the Asus Zenbook UX31 I tested earlier this year, which is also unsurprising, since that ultrabook had an older Core i5 Sandy Bridge CPU.
The Liliputing benchmarks look at how long it takes to create a large ZIP archive and transcore an audio and video file.
I also ran the 3DMark06 and Street Fighter IV benchmarks to look at graphics performance. While the Acer Aspire V5-171 has integrated Intel graphics rather than a discrete graphics card, it performs reasonably well in these tests.
In terms of day to day performance, when you combine the Ivy Bridge CPU with 6GB of RAM, there’s not much you can’t do with this laptop.
I had no problems surfing the web with a dozen or more tabs open while listening to music. HD video playback is no problem. And while I use Virtualdub to transcode video in my benchmarks (since that’s what I’ve been using to test laptops for the past few years), a newer video transcoding tool like MediaEspresso handles video compression jobs even more quickly.
Technically the Core i5-3317U is a ULV, or Ultra Low Voltage processor which prioritizes low power consumption and long battery life over performance. But it’s the fastest processor you’re likely to find in an 11.6 inch notebook that costs $500 this year. You’ll probably be suitably impressed if you’re upgrading from anything more than a few years old.
The notebook gets a Windows Experience Index of 4.8. It would be much higher if it had a better graphics card. The CPU portion of the score is a healthy 6.9.
There’s one area where the ultrabooks I’ve tested clearly have the edge though. Ultrabooks typically boot Windows 7 in about 30 seconds or less. But takes a good 58 seconds from the time you press the power button on the Acer Aspire V5-171 until you get to a usable desktop.
There’s a good reason for the slow boot speed: the Acer laptop has a 5400 RPM spinning hard drive, while ultrabooks either have a faster solid state disk, or a combination of a hard drive and a solid state cache disk. Acer also loads the laptop with a substantial amount of software, some of which loads at boot. Uninstalling some of these apps might help speed things up a bit.
If you don’t actually shut down your computer very often, instead relying on sleep mode, there’s good news. The Acer Aspire V5-171 resumes from sleep in less than 3 seconds. That’s about as fast as any ultrabook I’ve tested so far.
In order to save power, if the laptop is in sleep mode for more than a few hours, it automatically switches into hibernate mode. This means that instead of saving your current session data in RAM (which requires a constant low level of power to hold data), your data is saved to the hard drive.
This prolongs your battery life, but it also means that if you close the lid on the computer before bed and go to turn it on again the next morning, it’ll probably take 10 to 15 seconds to resume instead of 3. This also happens on ultrabooks that have hard drives.
Battery and Power Supply
Acer ships the Aspire V5-171 with a 4 cell, 2500mAh, 37Whr battery. The company claims that you should be able to get up to 5 hours of run time from the battery.
In my testing, I got closer to 4.5 hours. That’s not exactly all-day computing, but the small battery does help keep the price low and the laptop thin.
Unfortunately Acer has no plans to offer an extended battery option. I’m sure some readers would be happy to pay a little extra for a 6 cell battery that provides 6 to 7 hours of run time, but unless a third party battery maker creates one, it looks like you’re out of luck.
Fortunately since the battery is user replaceable, if you do manage to find an extended battery or just an extra battery, it should be relatively easy to swap batteries on the go.
Most laptops come with bulky power bricks and adapter cables. The Acer Aspire V5 11.6 inch notebook comes with a 1-piece charger.
It’s not quite as small as the charger for a cellphone or other handheld device, but its small size makes it easier to carry around than most laptop power bricks. It also weighs just 6.5 ounces, so it won’t exactly weigh you down.
The one downside to this sort of charger is that it’s a bit tougher to fit on a power strip that’s choc full of plugs from other deices.
The Aspire V5 ships with Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit… and much, much more. Acer loads this laptop up with an awful lot of software including free trials of some apps, full versions of others, and a few apps that Acer designed in-house.
Some of those apps are more useful than others.
One program I really want to like is Acer’s Clear.fi media software. The Clear.fi Media and Photo apps act as alternatives to Windows Media Player and Windows Photo Gallery, letting you organized and access your music, movies and pictures.
But what really makes Clear.fi cool is the way it lets you share media with other devices on your home network just by checking a box. Once that’d done, you can fire up the Clear.fi app on an Android device or another PC and stream music, movies, or photos from your PC.
Unfortunately I couldn’t for the life of me get the Android app to work — which means that the Clear.fi software on the Aspire V5 really just duplicates the functionality of Microsoft’s apps.
There’s also an Acer Backup Manager, which helps you backup files, create a disk image from your hard drive, or transfer files to another computer. Acer is hardly the only company to offer this sort of backup software, but it’s a nice to get this sort of software with a new PC.
I was also pleasantly surprised to see that the computer came with a free version of Cyberlink MediaEspresso 6.5, a video transcoding tool that normally costs $40.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here’s a partial list of other software that comes preloaded on the Aspire V5-171:
- Acer Games – game center with access to dozens of casual games
- Adobe Flash Player and Adobe AIR
- Bing Bar – browser toolbar for Internet Explorer
- Evernote – note taking app with online sync
- Fooz Kids – kid-friendly user interface with tools that let parents lock kids out of some apps
- McAfee Internet Security trial
- Microsoft Office 2010 Starter
- newsXpresso – rather hideous app for reading the latest headlines
- NOOK for PC – eBook reader
- Norton Online Backup trial
- Windows Live Essentials 2011
While I suppose Office 2010 Starter is nice to have, I could live without most of the other software. Fortunately, it’s easy to uninstall any of the apps you don’t need.
The laptop ships with Windows 7, but it should be able to handle Windows 8 just as well. Since it has a 1366 x 768 pixel display, you should have no problem running Windows 8 full-screen apps. But the laptop doesn’t have a touchscreen, so you won’t get to take advantage of the new tablet-friendly features in Microsoft’s upcoming operating system.
If you’re interested in upgrading to Windows 8, you may be able to take advantage of a Microsoft promotion that lets new PC buyers upgrade for just $14.99.
The Acer Aspire V5 proves that there’s room in 2012 for ultraportable laptops that aren’t technically ultrabooks. Priced between $500 and $550, Acer’s new laptop is a few hundred dollars cheaper than most comparable ultrabooks, but it’s just as light and portable, if not quite as thin.
Honestly, I’ve never understood why Intel sets limits on how thick a laptop can be to wear the ultrabook label, but there’s no limit on weight, which is much more important.
Anyway, the Acer Aspire V5-171 doesn’t boot as quickly as an ultrabook, and unfortunately it doesn’t have quite as much battery life as I’ve come to expect from an ultrabook. But it has a user replaceable battery, which almost makes up for that deficit.
The laptop also lacks some of the premium features you’ll find in some pricier notebooks such as a high resolution display or backlight keyboard.
But, slow boot speed aside, the Acer Aspire V5-171 performs just about as well in most tests as an ultrabook that costs twice as much money. Acer’s new laptop is just cheaper.