The budget end of the laptop market has often meant poor performance, shoddy build quality and disgusting design. The Acer Aspire 5749 has none of that, instead offering relatively good performance with an interesting look.
It's available now for the very reasonable price of £400 from Save on Laptops among other places.
The laptop world may be being flooded by super-thin ultrabooks, but they're not to everyone's taste. With price tags upwards of a grand, they're not going to dominate the market quite yet.
At 32mm thick, the 5749 is certainly no ultrabook as defined by Intel's criteria. Its 2.39kg weight doesn't make it the lightest machine to carry around either. But its 380mm-wide chassis isn't so huge that it won't slide into a stylish shoulder bag without too much fuss.
It's considerably slimmer and easier to hulk about than MSI's GT680 gaming rig, but you probably wouldn't want to carry it everywhere with you. We reckon it's best suited to a trip to the library every now and then, but spending most of its time anchored to your desk amongst the discarded coffee cups and old sweet wrappers.
It's not a bad-looking machine either. The budget end of the laptop market is typically full of boring expanses of plain black or grey plastic, but the 5749 has been given a rough criss-cross effect. It looks like that aluminium flooring you sometimes find in factories. The lid is still just one plain colour, but the texture adds an extra element of interest that just about saves it from being boring.
The pattern extends to the wrist rest around the keyboard. The black strip that houses the speakers and the unusual metal power button all add to a rather cool industrial look. If floral prints and bright colours are more your style then the 5749 won't do much for you. But if you find yourself dreaming of men hitting hot iron with big hammers, it'll be right up your street.
Although the chassis is made of plastic, it doesn't have the typical flimsy feel we often find on budget models. The lid seemed reassuringly firm and resistant to our poking and prodding, as did the wrist rest. The keyboard offered minimal flex too, which is often a problem in weaker laptops.
The keyboard itself uses isolated keys, but rather than being set into the tray -- as you'd see on laptops like the MacBook Pro -- they float above the surface. These types of keys can feel quite wobbly and awkward but Acer has managed to firm them up, which makes for a comfortable typing experience. It does however mean that there's a gap underneath every key that's just crying out to be filled with biscuit crumbs, so make sure you don't eat over it.
The trackpad is a decent enough size for most scrolling tasks, but if you find yourself sending your cursor darting wildly around web pages and long documents you'll probably want to slot in an USB mouse. The buttons beneath are fused together into one long rocker button. It looks pretty good but requires you to press on the outer areas in order for it to register a click.
It has a matte texture that makes sliding your finger around extremely easy and it supports multi-touch gestures for two-fingered scrolling.
Around the edges of the machine you'll find a VGA port, an HDMI connection, an Ethernet slot, three USB 2.0 ports and a DVD drive. Notably absent are both USB 3.0 ports and a Blu-ray drive. On a machine in this price range, that's not in the least bit surprising and we can't hold it against the 5749.
It offers a 15.6-inch display with a 1,366x768-pixel resolution. That's a pretty low spec for a screen of this size so it's clearly one of the areas that Acer has cut back on in order to keep the price as low as possible. It certainly hasn't got the 1,600x900-pixel skills of the 13-inch Asus UX31 Zenbook, but that thing does cost a cool grand.
It's a bright display though and handles colours better than many screens we've seen at this price. It's not going to replace your home cinema system, but it will satisfy the YouTube lover and will happily show off the jokes in The Big Bang Theory -- even if you don't understand them.
Under the hood of the 5749 is an Intel Core i3-2330M processor running at 2.20GHz, along with 4GB of RAM. Those aren't 'blow you socks off' specs, but they're good for the price, so we were keen to see just what this thing could handle.
We fired up the PCMark05 benchmark test and were given a score of 6,536. That's an admirable total but it doesn't beat the rival budget Asus K53E, which achieved over 7,000 on the same test. The K53E is available for around £440, so in terms of performance versus price, it's probably got the edge over the 5749.
A similar performance was given when we fired up the Geekbench test and received a score of 5,710. We found that general performance was swift and the 4GB of RAM helped it to keep going smoothly, even when we launched numerous browser windows and played high-definition video.
The 5749 will easily cope with office tasks such as word processing and web browsing and will efficiently turn its hand to high-definition video as well. The screen won't be able to fully take advantage of HD, but you can always output it to a bigger TV using the HDMI port. If you're into your photography and are hoping to do some intense image and video editing, you'll find the 5749 struggles.
It's worth noting that it doesn't come with a dedicated graphics card if you're a gaming enthusiast, but it does use Intel's 3000 HD graphics. We ran the 3DMark06 benchmark test and were given a score of 3,140. If you're hoping to play Crysis 2 with the settings on max then you're definitely going to be disappointed. It will handle some older titles though, so long as you dial the settings back. The graphics power will lend a hand in playing back video too.
While the 5749 isn't the most portable machine available, it's still small enough not to cause problems when carrying it around. If you're going to do that, you'll no doubt want the battery to last longer than a few minutes away from a plug.
We unleashed our battery benchmark test on it and it managed to keep going for 1 hour and 26 minutes before giving up. The test is hugely demanding and involves running the processor at a constant 100 per cent, so you'll be able to get a much better time with cautious use. It won't survive a whole working day away from the socket, but it will let you bang out a few emails in a coffee shop.
The Acer Aspire 5749 may not offer the most powerful processor we've ever used, but it's got enough juice to tackle most everyday tasks. Couple that with a decent screen, interesting design and a very affordable price tag and the 5749 becomes an excellent choice if you're in need of a laptop on a budget.