Editors' note: This review is part of our Spring 2010 retail laptop and desktop roundup, which covers specific fixed configurations of popular systems found in retail stores.
At $329, the Acer Aspire AS5532-5535 is likely the cheapest laptop non-Netbook you'll find. In fact, this 15.6-inch laptop costs less than many Netbooks. And like those systems, it has a single-core CPU and low-end parts that make it best suited for light duty. We like the Aspire AS5532's look, with its big screen and pleasing blue accents, but its performance trails that of dual-core laptops by such monumental margins that we can't recommend it. Further burying the Aspire AS5532 is its woeful battery life, flimsy keyboard, and lackluster audio subsystem.
Spending $500 or so nets you a dual-core laptop such as the Asus K60I-RBBBR05, the Dell Inspiron i1545-4266iBU, or the Toshiba Satellite L505-ES5018. If your budget doesn't stretch that far, consider the single-core Compaq Presario CQ60-615DX. At $349, it costs only $20 more than the Aspire and offers better performance, longer battery life, and bigger audio.
|Processor||1.6GHz AMD Athlon 64 TF-20|
|Memory||3GB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz|
|Hard drive||160GB at 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3200|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium|
|Dimensions (WDH)||14.4 x 10.8 x 1.5 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.6 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.6 / 6.4 pounds|
From its outward appearance, the Acer Aspire AS5542-5535 doesn't immediately reveal its budget status. The lid is a dark, glossy blue, and the keyboard deck is a gun-metal blue. Two wide, sturdy hinges hold the screen firmly in place. The touch pad is roomy and features a wide vertical scroll region along its right edge. The mouse buttons, too, are large and they don't suffer from the dreaded "clackiness" that often plagues low-end laptops.
Upon closer inspection, however, the laptop begins to show a few warts. The keys feel squishy, for lack of a better word. They are light and flimsy and offer too much travel. Acer squeezes in a number pad to the right of the keyboard, but in doing so, it shortens the keys along the left edge of the keyboard, namely the Tab, Caps Lock, and left Shift keys. Also, don't be fooled by the round cutout in the middle of the bezel above the display; it's not a Webcam but apparently a placeholder should this chassis be used for a higher-end laptop. We were also not impressed by the amount of preinstalled bloatware; you find trial offers and shortcuts for Acer Games, eBay, Netflix, and offers to protect your new laptop from both McAfee and Norton. Lastly, the laptop features a most spartan collection of ports and connections.
The laptop weighs 5.6 pounds, which is average for its size. The 15.6-inch display has a 16:9 aspect ratio and a 1,366x768-pixel native resolution. Movies look sharp, with smooth movement and vibrant color. The integrated ATI Radeon HD 3200 graphics are capable of displaying HD video, which in the case of a screen with a 1,366x768-pixel resolution, would top out at 720p files. Detracting from the cinematic experience is the weak audio output of the integrated stereo speakers. Their output at max volume is meager at best. We suggest keeping a pair of headphones handy.
|Acer Aspire AS5532-5535||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Video||VGA||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/ microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 2.0, multiformat memory card reader||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader, eSATA|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
A laptop with more basic collection of ports and connections you will not find. The Acer Aspire AS5532-5535 provides a pair of USB 2.0 ports and a VGA port. You'll also find a multiformat media card reader along the front edge. The majority of laptops, including those that cost only a few hundred dollars more and are still firmly rooted in the budget class, have three or more USB ports, an eSATA port, and an HDMI port. Also missing is an ExpressCard slot. On a positive note, the Aspire AS5532 has Wireless-N Wi-Fi; many budget laptops, including the Compaq Presario CQ60-615DX, skate by with just 802.11b/g.
The Acer Aspire AS5532-5535 also serves up basic specs, with a single-core AMD Athlon 64 QL-62 processor clocked at 1.6GHz. It also features 3GB of RAM (we would have guessed only 2GB), a 160GB hard drive, and integrated ATI Radeon HD 3200 graphics. The amount of memory is mildly surprising--we would have guessed only 2GB, given the price. The hard drive is small, with the similarly priced Compaq Presario CQ60-615dx providing 250GB of storage space. The graphics subsystem is better than a comparable Intel solution; we eked out 25 frames per second with Unreal Tournament 3 at the laptop's native resolution--not ideal but definitely playable.
The picture becomes less rosy when you look at its application performance. Quite simply, its single-core CPU cannot complete with pricier but still low-cost laptops that use dual-core chips. Netbooks typically use single-core CPUs, but by design, they are not meant to be used as a primary computer. Their small screens and tiny keyboards hamper productivity; they're best used as a portable Internet appliance that you can use to browse the Web and bang out quick e-mails on the go.
A 15.6-inch laptop, however, is big enough to serve as your primary or only computer, but not in the case of this Aspire. For starters, it struggles with multitasking. It took nearly five times as long to complete CNET Labs' multitasking test than the Toshiba Satellite L505-ES5018, which uses the low-end but dual-core 2.2GHz Intel Pentium T4400. Even the Compaq Presario CQ60-615dx and its single-core Intel Celeron 900 processor completed the test in nearly half the time as the Acer Aspire. We saw similar results on our Photoshop and iTunes benchmarks.
|Acer Aspire AS5532-5535||Average watts per hour|
|Annual power consumption cost||$4.50|
Battery life, too, was underwhelming. On CNET Labs' demanding video playback battery drain test, it lasted only 2 hours 7 minutes. Given the low-end parts, we expected it to last closer to three hours than two. By comparison, the Compaq Presario CQ60 ran for 2 hours 45 minutes on the same test.