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Acer Aspire TimelineX 5820T review: Acer Aspire TimelineX 5820T

Acer is looking to shake up the status quo with its latest additions to the Timeline range, and the 5820T is a perfect example. It shares many of the qualities of both a thin-and-light laptop and a high-performance desktop-replacement machine, with a slim chassis, good battery life and switchable graphics

Luke Westaway Senior editor
Luke Westaway is a senior editor at CNET and writer/ presenter of Adventures in Tech, a thrilling gadget show produced in our London office. Luke's focus is on keeping you in the loop with a mix of video, features, expert opinion and analysis.
Luke Westaway
4 min read

Acer is looking to shake up the status quo with its latest additions to the Timeline range, and the 5820T is a perfect example -- it shares many of the qualities of both a thin-and-light laptop and a high-performance desktop-replacement machine.


Acer Aspire TimelineX 5820T

The Good

Switchable graphics; lightweight; good battery life.

The Bad

Uncomfortable trackpad; unimpressive screen; expensive.

The Bottom Line

The 5820T's switchable graphics mean it's quite versatile, thanks to its Core i5 CPU and decently powered discrete GPU, but unfortunately it's let down by an underwhelming screen and an annoying trackpad, some missed design opportunities and a high price-tag

Acer claims you'll get over 7 hours of battery life, and yet the 5820T sports a meaty Intel Core i5 processor and 4GB of RAM. Can this laptop really have its cake and eat it? Or would your £900 be better spent on something with less of a split personality?

Getting down to business
The 5820T isn't all that much to look at -- a black brushed-steel effect on the laptop's cover is appreciated, though once you open it up you might feel rather underwhelmed. A businesslike, grey aesthetic betrays the interesting hardware lurking below the surface.

The whole package is surprisingly light and slim. Weighing in at 2.4kg and only 2.8cm thick, the 5820T is easily slender enough to chuck in your backpack. The screen is a 15.6-inch, 1,366x768-pixel resolution affair, and while we've seen far brighter screens, this one does have an impressively wide viewing angle, which means squeezing a few friends round to watch a movie is a definite possibility.

The keyboard has such large gaps it quickly becomes dirty

The built-in speakers sit above the keyboard, and while they're quite tinny, we didn't detect any buzzing or distortion during our testing. Ideal for YouTube, but you'll want to plug in some more powerful speakers if you're watching anything more involving.

Switch it up
The 5820T features switchable graphics, a feature which aims to alter a laptop's performance by choosing between two graphics processing units (GPUs). In this case, you can switch between an integrated Intel GPU, which consumes very little power and will extend the machine's battery life, or an ATI Radeon HD 5650 chip that will significantly boost your laptop's performance, but will only work when the 5820T is plugged into the mains.

The quickest way to switch between GPUs is to right-click the Windows 7 desktop and select the option to configure the switchable graphics. This is useless if you've already opened up a game -- we'd have much preferred a button on the laptop's dashboard dedicated to graphics switching.

The battery-saving mode certainly works a treat. We found the battery lasted around 7 hours with light use, so expect this machine to handle long train journeys without fizzling out before you've left the station. Bear in mind, however, that anything more than simple document editing will start to chew through the battery at a much greater pace. When we maxed out the CPU using Battery Eater, we found the 5820T managed 2 hours 2 minutes before giving up the ghost.

The discrete graphics will let you run games, and while you shouldn't expect the kind of performance you'd see in a desktop gaming rig or even a dedicated gaming laptop, coupled with the 5820T's hearty 4GB of RAM it's enough to get by -- we clocked FarCry 2 (a recent, graphically intensive game) at a consistent 15 frames per second with the graphics settings on ultra-high.

The 5820T's screen looked a little underwhelming during gaming, however. We thought the contrast seemed a little low. Unless you're prepared to plug in a monitor, you may well find your favourite games look a little drained.

We have a few design gripes. Firstly the isolated keyboard, while comfortable enough, has huge gaps underneath each key, which means any dust, crumbs or other detritus is guaranteed to fall through the gaps and get stuck. Secondly, we would have liked to see some hardware media keys somewhere on the laptop -- beneath the 5820T's unassuming exterior beats the heart of a powerful media laptop, and unfortunately the presence of that impressive internal hardware isn't reflected in the design.

HDMI, Ethernet and one of four USB ports make the 5820T well connected

The trackpad is very sensitive, but not particularly smooth, which often led to juddery cursor movement. Furthermore, the actual mouse buttons were very resistant -- after a day of solid use our thumbs were feeling decidedly sore from having to press so hard to click. On the other hand, the trackpad does support multitouch, and we found this made browsing the Web very easy indeed.

Port in a storm
In terms of ports, the 5820T is pretty jam-packed for a machine of its size. Around the edges you'll find four USB ports, VGA and HDMI out -- hooking this laptop up to an HDTV will be a simple affair -- plus an Ethernet port, a DVD rewriter, 3.5mm headphones and microphone sockets. On the front you'll find an SD card slot, and sitting just above the screen is a 2-megapixel webcam.

Thanks to those switchable graphics, the 5820T performs well as a light, portable, power-saving device and also does a decent job of turning its hand to more intensive computing tasks.

Unfortunately, this impressive range of tricks isn't reflected in the design -- no media keys, a rather dim screen and a frustrating trackpad mean that even if the 5820T is capable of some impressive computing feats, you might not enjoy actually using it.

It's perfectly functional, but for £900 you might want to look for something with a little more flair, such as the thinner Asus UL50v, which offers longer battery-life. Perhaps the bombastic Alienware M11x would suit? It's an 11-inch netbook with some truly stonking hardware for a real blend of portability and power.

The 5820T will be available very soon, according to Acer, who provided us with the price.

Edited by Nick Hide