It lacks gaming prowess, but the 15.6-inch Acer Aspire 5471's good looks, impressive performance and long battery life make it a worthwhile budget buy.
Acer has used Intel's low-cost i3 processor to good effect in the Aspire 5741 to create a well specified, mid-sized laptop with a very attractive price tag. Our review model was supplied by Save on Laptops, where you can buy the 5741 for just £447.48.
The laptop is surprisingly portable for a 15-inch model -- it weighs in at a relatively lightweight 2.5kg. It's thin, too, at just 34mm. Despite the budget price tag, Acer has managed to bring a touch of style to the design. For example, although the lid is made of plastic, it's finished with an industrial-style cross-hatch pattern and aluminium paint job. The good looks continue when you flip open the laptop, with a pleasing brushed metal effect on the wrist rest. This is complemented nicely by the glossy finish of the screen surround.
The screen itself is 15.6 inches in size and has a resolution of 1356x768 pixels, which is pretty standard for budget laptops of this size. The display uses LED backlighting and has a shiny finish, so colours look bright and in your face. The laptop's black levels are impressively deep, which is somewhat surprising for a budget display. This deepness makes movies look extremely rich and cinematic. Acer has also integrated a webcam above the screen, which comes in handy for making video calls with applications such as the preloaded Skype software.
The keyboard has flat keys, similar to those of an isolated key design. Rather than looking as if they've been punched out of the chassis, the keys seem to float above it as if they are suspended in air. The keyboard layout is excellent and Acer has even found room to include a numerical keypad on the right-hand side. The only real compromise is the half-sized cursor keys, but this isn't too much of an issue. In saying that, the keys don't feel as solid as you might expect, although they are quite springy and respond well to even light taps.
The trackpad beneath the keyboard has a smooth surface and doesn't feel sticky to the touch, which means your finger slides effortlessly across it. The single rocker button feels very responsive and, since the pad supports multi-touch, you can use the pinch-to-zoom gesture to zoom in and out of the display.
Acer hasn't exactly gone overboard when it comes to ports and connectivity options, but most of the bases are covered here. You basically get three USB ports, along with both VGA and HDMI connectors for hooking the laptop up to an external display. There's also Ethernet and 801.11n Wi-Fi on board. That's where the connectivity ends, though. You don't get the eSata port and ExpressCard slot you'll find on high-end machines and, sadly, none of the USB ports are enabled for sleep-and-charge. It's more impressive on the storage front, with a fairly roomy 320GB hard drive as well as a DVD writer and handy 5-in-1 memory card reader.
To keep the price of the laptop down, Acer has used Intel's cheaper Core i3-330M processor that ticks over at 2.13GHz. This dual-core CPU has been buddied up with 3GB of RAM, so the laptop's 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium has plenty of room to breathe. The i3-330M obviously isn't the fastest processor on the block, but it still managed to put in a decent performance in the PCMark05 benchmark test, racking up a score of 5,142 -- fairly impressive for a machine in this price range.
When it comes to graphics, the laptop relies on an integrated Intel GMA HD graphics chip. Although this is fine for tasks like high-definition video playback, it just doesn't cut it when it comes to gaming. It scored a meek 1,594 in the 3DMark06 benchmark test, so this is not a machine that will appeal to gamers. On a more positive note, the 5741 is surprisingly kind on its battery. It managed to keep running for an hour and 26 minutes in our Battery Eater test, which is rather impressive for a 15-inch model. Under real-world conditions, you're likely to get much longer from the battery, as this test is incredibly processor-intensive.
It's difficult not to like the Acer Aspire 5741 thanks to its combination of good looks, lasting battery life and impressive performance. Its lack of gaming muscle does let the side down a little, but in most other respects this is a fine budget laptop.
Edited by Emma Bayly