Acer Aspire V11 fanless, touchscreen laptop review

Acer recently introduced a series of affordable, portable Windows notebooks with low-power processors aimed at balancing performance and battery life. The Acer Aspire E 11 line of notebooks feature 11.6 inch displays, Intel Bay Trail processors, and starting prices as low as $250.

glare_03

The company also sells a similar laptop called the Aspire V11. The key difference is that the V series models have touchscreen displays and prices that start at $350.

While none of these machines are speed demons, they’re portable notebooks that weigh around 3 pounds, offer reasonably long battery life, decent performance for basic tasks, and low enough power consumption to support a fanless design: Neither the Acer Aspire E11 or Aspire V11 have vents or fans. That makes them quieter than most laptops.

Acer loaned me an Aspire V11 touchscreen notebook to review recently, and while this isn’t necessarily the best choice for everyone, it’s a solid notebook that could make a great device for use on the go. And unlike cheap portable notebooks of the past, the Aspire V11 might not just be a companion to your desktop or full-powered notebook. This sub-$400 laptop might be the only PC you really need.

Overview

The laptop featured in this review is the top-of-the-line Acer Aspire V11 with a 2.16 GHz Intel Pentium N3530 quad-core processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive. It’s available from the Microsoft Store for $369.

front_01

It has a 1366 x 768 pixel touchscreen display with support for 10-finger touch input. It has 1 USB 3.0 port, 2 USB 2.0 ports, HDMI, Gigabit Ethernet, and a 3220mAh, 48Whr battery.

The Aspire V11 features stereo speakers, 802.11n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, and Windows 8.1 64-bit software. Unlike the Acer Aspire Switch 10, this laptop ships with relatively little bloatware: aside from a user manual, recovery utility, and update tool, there’s not much Acer-specific software loaded on this Windows notebook.

Similar, but cheaper models include:

Some of those models also have smaller batteries, but they all have 7.5 watt Intel processors and fanless cases.

Design

Acer’s been making notebooks with 11.6 inch displays for ages, but this is one of the first models to feature a fanless design. Interestingly it’s still a rather compact system, measuring just about 0.85 inches thick and weighing less than 3.1 pounds.

side_02

Since there’s no fan, there are no vents on the case. In fact, there’s nothing at all on the right side. You’ll find a USB 2.0 port, SD card reader, and headset jack on the left.

The rest of the ports are on the back, which is a little higher than the sides of the laptop. That allows Acer to fit a full-sized Ethernet jack, as well as power, USB, and HDMI ports.

ports_01

The glossy display reflects a bit of glare in direct sunlight — if you have a choice, you might not want to use this laptop while sitting with your back to a bright window — it can make the screen look a bit like a mirror. But that’s true of most touchscreen laptops these days.

dual bezel_02

What’s a bit unusual about this model is that there’s a black border around the viewable area of the touchscreen display and a second, thin plastic bezel around the entire screen.

Since Windows 8.1 relies on touchscreen gestures such as swiping from the edge of the screen, you need a bit of an on-screen bezel on Windows devices with touch panels. But since this model doesn’t have an edge-to-edge glass display, it looks a little odd.

The non-touchscreen Acer E11 models simply have a larger plastic bezel surrounding the display. You get the same amount of viewable screen space either way, but the upshot is that the V11 sort of looks like it has two screen bezels while the E11 has just one.

aspire e11_01

While the 1366 x 768 pixel display might not win any pixel density awards, it offers decent viewing angles and I had no problems watching a video while tilting the screen back and forth and side to side (you know, as one is likely to do while watching a video on a laptop).

keyboard

The keyboard features chiclet or island-style keys which are reasonably well spaced.

While I’m not in love with the way Acer crams the arrow keys, volume, screen brightness, and Page, Home, and End buttons into a tiny space in the lower-right corner on its 11.6 inch laptops. But I was able to type comfortably at my normal typing speed while testing this laptop.

keyboard_02

There’s a bit of flex in the keyboard, and it’s not backlit. But I wouldn’t expect any different from a laptop that sells for under $400.

Below the keyboard is a wide touchpad which supports multitouch gestures including two-finger scrolling and tapping.

touchpad

Flip over the laptop and you’ll find the bottom panel is held in place by 13 screws. Remove then and you can pop off the cover pretty easily to get at the insides.

bottom

Once you’re in there you can remove a few more screws and lift the motherboard a bit to slide out the laptop’s slim 2.5 inch hard drive. It’d be pretty easy to replace the drive with a SSD or other storage.

acer v11 opened_01

You can also easily swap out the wireless card or remove the battery — although it’s pretty clear Acer didn’t really intend for the battery to be user replaceable, or it wouldn’t be protected by more than a dozen screws and hidden away inside the case.

acer v11 opened_03

If you want to upgrade the RAM you’ll have to go a bit further and detach a number of cables holding the motherboard in place, lift it entirely out of the case, and flip it over to access the single memory DDR3 memory slot. It’s doable, but a bit tricky.

lid_02

The lid has a brushed metal look and a small Acer logo.

Performance

Intel’s Bay Trail processors are low-power chips based on the company’s Silvermont technology and Intel HD graphics. That means the Intel Pentium processor powering the Acer Aspire V11 has the same as the Atom chips in Windows and Android tablets like the Acer Aspire Switch 10 Windows tablet and Asus MeMO Pad 8 Android tablet.

angle_01

But the Celeron and Pentium chips in this family use a little more power, run at higher clock speeds, and offer better all-around performance. While Intel Atom chips of yesteryear were clearly low-power processors, you could easily spend hours with the Acer Aspire V11 without realizing it has a chip that’s related to an Atom processor.

video

The laptop never felt sluggish while surfing the web with a dozen or more browser tabs open. I had no problems streaming HD videos from the internet. And it’s reasonably fast at CPU-intensive tasks including transcoding audio and video files.

Sure, a computer with a 7.5 watt Bay Trail CPU isn’t going to be as fast as a model with a Haswell processor — but the difference isn’t as great as you might expect. I ran a series of benchmarks on the laptop and compared the results with other systems including a Dell XPS 11 system with an 11.5 watt Core i5-4210y Haswell processor, the Acer Aspire Switch 10 with an Atom Z3745 Bay Trail CPU and an HP Envy X2 Windows tablet with an older Intel Atom Z2760 Clover Trail chip.

lilbench

The Aspire V11 was more than twice as fast as the Clover Trail-powered system in most tests, significantly faster than the Atom Z3745 model, and not-quite-competitive with the Dell XPS 11… but the Acer laptop sells for a third of the price of the Dell tablet.

handbrake

Note that the Aspire V11 also supports Intel’s QuickSync video encoding, so I was able to transcode the same video test file using a nightly build of Handbrake with QSV H.264 encoding in about 41 seconds.

That said, there are a few things to keep in mind with the Acer Aspire V11 when it comes to sheer performance. First, the notebook has a 5400RPM hard drive instead of a faster solid state drive. This means that some tasks might not run as quickly as they would on a system with an SSD.

acer v11 hdd_02For instance, it takes longer to create a large ZIP file on this laptop than on most of the other systems I’ve tested recently because those other systems have solid state drives. It also takes longer for Windows to boot or resume from sleep or hibernation.

Another thing to keep in mind about the hard drive is that it is the only component of the computer with moving parts (unless you count the keyboard and screen hinge). That means that while you won’t hear any fan noise while the system is running, you may occasionally hear a little whirring or clicking from the hard drive — although I rarely heard any noises at all during the week or so that I spent using this laptop.

acer v11 hdd

Note that you can replace the hard drive with a solid state drive by opening up the case, but you’ll need to clone your disk image if you want to keep your Windows 8.1 setup. Otherwise you’ll need to install an operating system from scratch on your new drive.

In order to keep the notebook from overheating during use, Acer uses a passive heat sink rather than a fan. Most of the time it seems to work pretty well.

During average use, the CPU temperature of the Acer Aspire V11 seems to hover between 56 and 60 degrees Celcius. The bottom of the laptop gets moderately warm during extended use, but it’s not uncomfortable. You might also notice a little warmth in the keyboard, but most of the heat goes out through the bottom of the laptop.

When running my video transcoding tests with the CPU running full blast, the temperature rose to 70 degrees Celcius for a little while before returning to a more comfortable 60 degrees. While both temperatures are well within Intel’s safety guidelines, the warmer the CPU gets the warmer the bottom of the laptop gets.

speccy

I was sitting in a coffee shop with the laptop on a table during these tests, so I had to pick it up to check the bottom — but it was uncomfortably hot to the touch. It might not get quite as hot when resting on an uneven surface with no airflow… like your lap. But it’s worth noting that the bottom of the Acer Aspire V11 can get pretty warm when running resource-intensive tasks.

While the Aspire V11 isn’t exactly a speed demon, and it doesn’t really have the graphics chops for playing bleeding edge games, it has more than enough power for editing documents, surfing the web, watching videos, or playing casual games.

It also gets reasonably good battery life, thanks in part to the same low-power processor that allowed Acer to create a fanless laptop.

run time

Acer promises up to 7 hours of run time, and based on my tests, that seems just about right. You’ll probably run down the battery more quickly if you’re watching a lot of videos or doing other heavy duty tasks. But with the screen brightness set to around 50 or 60 percent, WiFi on, and an awful lot of web surfing, I regularly got around 6 or 7 hours of battery life from this laptop.

ac adapter

That’s not quite all-day battery life, but it might be close enough for many people — and it means you can probably leave the laptop’s charger at home some of the time. That helps make this 3.1 pound laptop truly portable.

Touchscreen notes

A few years ago I was skeptical of the idea of slapping touchscreen displays on laptops. Sure, a touch panel makes sense for a 2-in-1 system that transforms into a tablet, but why would you need a touchscreen on a normal laptop?

Well, most of the time you don’t. But it’s actually a pretty nice feature to have if you’re using the notebook on your lap since you can reach up to the screen and tap the icons, links, or other items you’re looking for. Sometimes this is faster and easier than reaching down to the touchpad, dragging a cursor to the correct spot, and then tapping.

angle_02

If you use an external mouse with this system, you might never need the touchscreen. But laptops with touchscreens don’t cost much more than non-touch models these days and the only down side is that you almost never see touchscreen notebooks with matte displays. But most non-touch laptops on the market have glossy displays too.

Anyway, aside from the strange double-bezel design of the Aspire V11, the touchscreen works pretty much as you’d expect. It support tapping, dragging, and swiping as well as multi-touch gestures. And the hinge is pretty sturdy, allowing you to tap the screen without causing it to wobble too much.

Linux notes (Updated)

An earlier version of this review stated that there was no USB boot option in the bootloader, which was a reasonable assumption since that’s the error message you get when you use the Advanced Startup options in Windows to try to boot from a USB drive.

It turns out you can boot from removable USB device like a CD/DVD drive and that lets you run Ubuntu or other operating systems. But you’ll need to use the Advanced Startup options to enter the UEFI Firmware settings, and do one of two things:

ubuntu

1. You can enable legacy boot mode, make sure to plug your removable storage device into the USB 2.0 port on the left side of the laptop (the USB ports on the back won’t work), and make sure to either adjust the boot order so the laptop checks for a USB drive before booting from the hard drive or enable the F12 boot menu option so that you can hit F12 when the PC is loading and manually choose the device you want to boot from.

Note that when legacy boot mode is enabled, Windows 8.1 doesn’t seem to load. So you may have to re-enabled UEFI boot in order to return to Windows.

2. You can leave UEFI enabled, but make sure to enable support for the F12 boot menu from the UEFI firmware settings. You might also want to disable quick boot so that you’ll know when to hit the F12 button during boot.

Now you can plug in a USB drive to the left-side USB port and choose it from the boot menu after hitting F12 during startup. Note that if you simply use the Windows 8.1 Advanced Startup options to try to boot from a USB drive, you’ll get a message stating that the system “doesn’t have any USB boot option,” so you’ll need to use the F12 boot menu.

no boot option

Once legacy boot was turned on, I was able to boot into an Xubuntu 14.04 liveCD and take Linux for a spin on the notebook. Just about everything seems to work, including WiFi, the webcam,  the keyboard, touchscreen, touchpad, and two-finger scrolling.

xubuntu_02

Some keyboard shortcuts seem to work — I was able to mute the laptop by pressing Fn + F8, for instance. But when I tried to use the shortcuts to adjust screen brightness I saw a pop-up notification suggesting that I was dimming and brightening the display, but it didn’t actually get any brighter or dimmer.

Verdict

If you’re looking for a laptop with a blazing fast CPU, a high-resolution display, an all-metal case, or a backlit keyboard, the Acer Aspire V11 isn’t it. But this little laptop does offer an awful lot for $369.

It’s reasonably fast, gets reasonably good battery life, has a quiet, fanless design, features a touchscreen display, and it’s rather compact.

open

There are cheaper models in this series with slower processors (and smaller batteries), but when a top-of-the-line model costs just $369, I can’t think of many reasons to opt for the lower-priced models (unless you really don’t need a touchscreen, in which case the $330 Aspire E3-111-P8DW model looks like a great deal).

If you’re looking for a truly silent system and one that offers a little more performance, you might want to consider replacing the hard drive with an SSD. But with the prices of solid state storage falling, it’d be easy to do that by spending an extra $100 or less.

  • Penn Taylor

    I hope lack of usb boot doesn’t become a trend.

  • mo

    I had other questions about this notebook until I got to the USB boot issue. Those questions don’t matter now since I don’t think I’ll be buying it.

    About the USB boot problem. You can’t even boot a Windows 8 install or recovery USB/DVD? I assume you already looked at the UEFI settings and made sure to use a 64-bit Linux image.

    • http://www.liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

      Alright — I’m about to update the article. It seemed odd to me as well, so I went digging a bit deeper.

      It turns out that you *can* boot from USB… but not only do you have to enable legacy boot in the UEFI settings, but you have to plug your external drive into the USB 2.0 port on the left side of the device. That’s where I was running into trouble.

      Interestingly, in legacy mode Windows 8 won’t boot… but Ubuntu will.

      • Kross

        Do you have to always switch between uefi and legacy in a dual boot configuration. Uefi for booting Windows 8 and legacy for booting Linux(installed)? Is it just a one time thing for booting Linux installation? Then after installation you can just switch it back again(to uefi) after installing Linux and the dual boot config will work just fine?

      • mo

        That’s great to hear! Thanks! I’m worried about what Kross mentions. I wonder why UEFI booting doesn’t work with UEFI compatible distros. I do know when you install an OS in one mode it normally won’t boot when the system is switched to the other mode. I guess running Windows 8 in a VM is okay although I may need to go through the pain of installing more RAM.

      • http://www.liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

        Updated again: You can boot from USB with UEFI enabled: You just need to go into the UEFI Firmware Settings and enable the F12 boot menu while keeping UEFI/Secure Boot turned on.

        Then you can hit F12 during startup to get the boot menu. Using the Windows Advanced Restart options to try to boot from a DVD won’t work.

  • Jack

    I wonder if the B115 suffers from the same USB boot problem. Did you try all the USB ports? On some other notebooks I had, only one of the ports were bootable.

  • mike

    No USB Boot??!! Insanity!
    Not being able to choose another OS easily is one thing but good luck messing around trying to repair this thing if your Windows install ever wigs out. Not that it would be impossible to do, just a huge PITA. But hey – it’s Windows – what are the chances of ever having issues with it. ;-|
    No USB boot = ‘do not buy’ for me.

  • youngcrv

    Seems like a great little laptop in general. thanks for the review.

  • me

    Did you encounter thermal throttling seeing that the bottom got too hot to touch? Even if the CPU doesn’t hit it’s thermal limits, throttling could occur in order keep other board components cool.

    • mo

      I had a Vaio P some years ago and it was fanless. It would throttle the CPU even though the core temps were around 50°C. The bottom got very hot though so I guess the throttling was to keep the surrounding components from overheating.

      I’m concerned about the throttling issue because I do a lot of multi-threaded (de)compression using Pixz for backup and general moving around of large data. I transcode videos too (under Linux so no Quick Sync).

      • CyberGusa

        Actually, since March of last year Intel released a Media SDK open sourced with a key component of the QuickSync pipeline that would allow the open source community to begin to integrate QuickSync into their applications… progress has been slow but there are projects working on making it happen… So should be just a matter of time…

      • mo

        Yes, I’ve been aware of that since it was announced last year.

      • CyberGusa

        So, have you tried avcenc with vaapi or other method for getting QuickSync for Linux?

      • mo

        If you’re talking about the one from libva then, yes, I’ve tried it in 2011 and again in 2013 (the newest commit). I’ve tried using AMD cards with OpenMAX and gstreamer as well. They’re nice examples for real video encoding developers but not really good for everyday end users.

      • CyberGusa

        2011 is before they started to integrate QuickSync support… So, did you note the improvement?

        It’s only a matter of time before it’s good for everyday end users anyway… but there is a question of performance gains to make it worth it…

      • otis

        Quick Sync existed on Sandy Bridge (2011) which corresponds to the initial commit of avcenc…

      • CyberGusa

        You’re not keeping up with the conversation! We’re talking about QuickSync support in LINUX!!!

        Intel didn’t provide Open Source support until March of last year, not 2011… Understand?

  • TeddyTheBear

    Does the HDMI (1.4 or 2.0?) support 4k output (30 or 60 Hz?)? TIA. T.

  • Willy Wankah

    The design and specs are mostly fine for the price. The heat issue concerns me though. And the lack of AES-NI support in Silvermont, which is highly desirable for anyone ever going on the road (even WIFI wants to tunnel these days).

    Upgradeability is great too, but instead of forcing users to jump through hoops to get Linux installed I’m hoping to see more “tax-free” editions (and I’m not even thinking about discounts here) with any version of Linux pre-installed.

    The OEMs must still be scared of the ageing behemoth. But with fresh long-term support versions of *buntu and Mint out this would be a good time for them to test the waters.

    • maczpiku

      If you are in US, you can send your Acer Windows laptop back to Acer service Center to uninstall Windows and get a refund of $60-70 for Windows if you want to Linuxify it :) Works with Acer only.

  • mo

    Now that Linux can be installed, I’ll keep an eye on this. Maybe wait until people get all the hardware working. Hopefully, it’s just a matter of blacklisting some drivers or editing some configuration files.

    I’m looking at the i3 version of the Acer C720 too since it looks like you can make the SeaBIOS boot by default (at least on earlier models). I need to do some research on it as well. My decision may come down to choosing between being fanless or not though.

  • guy

    Is the wireless dual band?

  • tiker

    Do you have a fast SDXC card? I’d like to see the difference in speed between Windows and Linux. I’ve had issues with Ricoh SDHC/XC card slots being a lot slower in Linux than in Windows (ie. 15 MB/s sequential read in Linux vs 80 MB/s sequential read in Windows). Thanks!

  • Kory Arthur

    As a fan of Acer products I will definitely keeps this in my cross-hair, also am looking forward to the newer Acer Chromebook design. Appreciate the detailed review.

  • FanlessHeat

    No mention how hot the HDD gets when CPU is running at full load, as there is no fan i expect that HDD will get some of that CPU heat too.

  • http://tlundberg.com Tobbe Lundberg

    What’s the performance of this one like compared to the BayTrail Chromebook reviewed here on liliputing a while back?

  • Mobile_Dom

    i wanted one of these anyway, im a huge fan of silent systems, i’ll probably end up buying the highest end non touch version, upgrading it to 8GB of RAM, chuck a 120GB or 256gb SSD in there and put ElementaryOS on there

  • Michael

    Hi Brad,

    Thank you for the thorough review. As a small laptop as opposed to a tablet
    guy I am glad that small, cheap netbook-like computers are still being
    developed. If I were to buy an Acer E11, I would be installing Fedora linux.
    Do you recall, when you had Ubuntu running on the V11, if the touchpad
    supported left, right, and center mouse clicks? A lot of linux software use all
    three. Also, I know that one can’t expect much from such a small machine, but
    what was your impression on the onboard speakers?

    -Michael

    • http://www.liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

      I’m not sure about center click, but left and right clicks both work. You can also use a light tap as a left click or a two-finger tap as a right-click. I suspect if you need a center click you could configure the system to recognize a tap or 2-finger tap as a center click.

  • earthzero

    And this is yet another example of how Chromebooks will have to really improve in functionality to really compete…

  • DEV1L

    I read from other review that model HAS A FAN!! (The E11 version) Yes it is very quiet, BUT NOT silent, I was hoping for heat pipes, the real FANLESS sistem… So what is the real deal?

  • Bluegrapes

    Uggh why do they make it so hard to upgrade these laptops? Why can’t it just come with screw-able doors?

  • PHM

    Brad,

    Any plans by Acer that you know of for a 13.3″ screen model? Also, if you go for even a bigger screen, have you had a chance to check out the new Dell Inspiron 15? Seems in a similar vein. http://www.dell.com/us/p/inspiron-15-3531-laptop/pd?oc=fndoc3001b&model_id=inspiron-15-3531-laptop&dgc=BA&cid=277653&lid=5237896&acd=12309201646360126

  • Tjul

    Does anyone know which wifi card that supports 5ghz (a/b/g/n) I can plug into this one? The manual doesn’t say anything on that and Acer won’t either.

    • Jonas

      I have replaced the wifi card in my v3-111p with an intel 7260 AC mini-pcie card.

      • Ruben

        Sorry if I ask you such a silly question, but what do you get by upgrading the wifi card?

  • John

    hello, could it play 1080p video file smoothly ? Fanless laptop is great design.

  • louis zhang

    Hello,everyone ,breaking news from us: a new store is opened on Aliexpress ,There are so many practical accessories maybe you are interested!! so we released so many bigger discounts, 5$ off the single order exceed 88$, and you can use a coupon 2$ if the total price exceed 100$ at the same time. first coming first getting. it is a cost-efficient shopping absolutely.the store is http://www.aliexpress.com/store/sale-items/1170446.html