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Acer V5-171 review: Acer V5-171

Have you ever dreamed of an 11-inch laptop that crammed all the power of a MacBook Air into something that cost half the price? The Acer Aspire V5-171's your answer...sort of.

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Scott Stein
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Scott Stein

Editor at Large

I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets.

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So, here's the situation: I walk up to you at a coffee shop and put an 11-inch laptop on the table. It's compact. It looks like a Netbook. I tell you it has a Core i5 processor, a 500GB hard drive, 6GB of RAM. Then I tell you it's $550. You're interested, right? At that price, why wouldn't you be? (Acer also says the Aspire V5 will initially be available for $500 through a limited-time Facebook promotion.)

Acer Aspire V5-171-6867
7.7

Acer V5-171

The Good

An excellent set of specs and features in the <b>Acer Aspire V5-171-6867</b> include a Core i5 processor, 6GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive, HDMI, USB 3.0, and even Bluetooth, all for a surprisingly low price, and stuffed into a very small Netbook-like body.

The Bad

It has a cramped-feeling keyboard and touch pad, weak battery life, and poor speakers, plus an uninspired, thick design.

The Bottom Line

The Acer Aspire V5-171-6867 crams the horsepower of a full-fledged budget ultrabook into an 11-inch ultraportable, for several hundred dollars less than most equivalent products. It's a great budget laptop to consider, but sacrifices have been made to shrink down that much computer into a tiny package.

The Acer Aspire V5-171-6867 is a "Wait until I tell you the price" laptop. I call it that because, until that price floats past your ears, the V5 is just another unattractive little plastic gadget, a laptop that seems at first to be lost in a time warp from the days of Netbooks and before iPads. Our expectations for what a portable gadget can look like have changed, the bar has been raised -- but, pure performance and price are areas where a computer like the Acer can still shine.

Remember the Acer Aspire Timeline X 1830T? This is the successor to that 11-inch laptop, an ultraportable that compared extremely favorably at the time to Apple's 11-inch MacBook Air. This new Aspire V5 has the same appeal; after all, it shares the specs of full-blown 13-inch ultrabook. The hard-drive space matches what you'd see on a regular mainstream computer. Yes, there's an Ethernet jack; yes, there are HDMI and USB 3.0 ports. You're getting a no-compromise machine under the hood, at more than $100 (maybe $200) less than any equivalent ultrabook costs. Compared with the 11-inch MacBook Air at $999, the Acer Aspire V5-171-6867 literally costs half as much.

Sarah Tew/CNET

There are drawbacks, of course. The keyboard feels cramped because of a narrow palm rest; the touch pad is small; the larger 500GB hard drive isn't a fast solid-state drive (although, compared with the puny 64GB of space on the entry-level MacBook Air, you're getting a king's ransom of space), and the internal speakers are terrible. The biggest letdown might be battery life: the Aspire V5-171-6867 lasted only 3 hours and 49 minutes in our video playback test, while the Timeline X 1830T I reviewed two years ago -- the V5's predecessor in spirit -- ran for more than an hour longer.

However, if you want a power ultraportable that gives you all the performance you're looking for from a mainstream laptop at a fraction of the size and price, the Acer Aspire V5 is unbeatable. You just have to live with a lot of hand cramping and maybe some squinting. Many people might simply prefer to either go with an iPad or a larger ultrabook instead.

Price as reviewed $550
Processor 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U
Memory 6GB, 1,600MHz DDR3
Hard drive 500GB 5,400rpm
Chipset Intel HM77
Graphics Intel HD 4000
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
Dimensions (WD) 11.2x8 inches
Height 1.1 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 11.6 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 2.98 pounds / 3.38 pounds
Category Ultraportable

Sarah Tew/CNET

There aren't many Windows PC makers exploring 11-inch ultrabook-quality ultraportables at the moment, for whatever reason. This isn't the first time that Acer's delved into 11-inch laptops: the Acer Aspire One was a similarly sized device with a Netbook-level AMD processor, and a near-equivalent to the Acer Aspire V5 from a couple of years ago, again, is the Timeline X 1830T, a laptop I prized at the time for its performance.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The metallic gray plastic body recalls 11-inch AMD-powered budget machines and Netbooks more than sleeker, better-designed ultrabooks. Standard matte-black plastic underneath, a grille vent on the left side of the base, and a slightly bulging rear where the removable four-cell battery is attached all feel like design throwbacks. This laptop won't turn many heads; in fact, it looks like a machine that got fished up from 2009.

Sarah Tew/CNET

This Acer Aspire V5 is thick for an ultraportable, 1.1 inches at its thickest spot. You notice the difference when you hold it in your hand. Its weight, at 3 pounds, matches what you'd find in a 13-inch ultrabook more than a supersmall 11-inch ultraportable. That said, this Acer slides neatly into even a small bag, although the tiny bit of added bulk and weight can be felt when carrying it around for a while. Even the included AC charger is small, a little three-pronged wall wart.

Sarah Tew/CNET

There's no technical problem with this Acer's raised chiclet keyboard: wide keys, good key travel, and properly proportioned keys are all what I'd look for, plus the edge-to-edge keyboard makes the most of the Acer's narrow dimensions. (It's not backlit, though, which is frustrating.) My problem came from the keyboard's positioning, which affects the available wrist-rest space and touch-pad size. Instead of the MacBook Air approach, which pushes the keyboard right up to the display to offer as much touch-pad and wrist-rest space as possible, this Acer's keyboard floats in the middle (probably because of the large hinge/battery taking up space in the rear), making for a cramped front end. This happened in previous 11-inch Acers, and the result is largely the same: typing feels less comfortable, and access to the clickpad becomes more difficult.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The multitouch Synaptics clickpad is actually quite good for such a small, budget laptop, and it's an improvement on previous Acer ultraportables. I just found it hard to pull off two-finger gestures because of the limited surface area. This laptop screams to be connected to a Bluetooth mouse or even an external keyboard for desktop use.

If you went ahead and did that, this Acer could be intriguing option as a home computer: add a monitor and tuck the Acer away in a corner, and you have a solid home machine for a reasonable price. The price of the Aspire V5-171-6867 is close to those of budget desktops. It's not nearly as versatile, but it's smaller. Still, what it would really be useful for is travel. Just be forewarned that the keyboard feels cramped because of the palm rest.

One small detail that helps in narrow spaces is that this Acer's screen can be bent back nearly 180 degrees, which can be helpful when lap-typing in a tiny space, such as a bus seat. The 11-inch glossy display has a 1,366x768-pixel resolution, standard for screens up to 13 inches (and even bigger than that). Text and video look readable and nothing feels crowded. This screen doesn't offer good viewing angles, though -- looking off-axis turns the screen into a mushy, glare-filled affair. The screen quality is good enough for everyday portable use, and videos looked fine as well.

The speakers are another story: they're terrible. Stereo speakers located on the Aspire's underbelly push out weak, tinny sound, almost as if there were an AM radio installed there. Maximum volume is extremely soft, even in a quiet room. An iPad speaker sounds better. Wear headphones.

An included 1.3-megapixel camera offers a good Web-chat-ready experience, especially for this system's size.

This is as good a place as any to discuss preinstalled trialware: Acer includes it without shame, and pop-ups will frustrate you. In a budget Windows laptop, this generally comes with the territory.

Acer Aspire V5-171-6867 Average for category [ultraportable]
Video VGA, HDMI VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone combo jack Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 1 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, SD card reader 2 USB 2.0, 1 USB 3.0, SD card reader
Networking Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
Optical drive None None

Sarah Tew/CNET

Considering the size and price, this Acer offers an astonishing number of ports and connections: VGA, HDMI, Ethernet, one USB 3.0 port, two USB 2.0 ports, an SD card slot, and Bluetooth. It makes a mockery of any larger laptops that lack one or more of these features. There's no optical drive, of course.

The V5 product line comprises a variety of other 14- and 15-inch laptops, but the V5-171 is the only 11-inch ultraportable. The $550 price (lowered to $500 via a current promotion) is an excellent value for the components. Two years ago, the 11-inch Acer Timeline X cost $899 with a Core i7 processor; this Aspire V5 has a third-gen Intel Core i5-3317U CPU, 6GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive. The value of this new Acer can't be overestimated. Your only question, really, is whether you'd rather spend a few hundred more for a budget 13-inch ultrabook, just for comfort and screen-size considerations. Or, you could get a full-fledged laptop that, though larger and heavier, might not cost much more.

That 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 processor is the very same one seen in larger 13- and 14-inch ultrabooks. Performance, by our benchmarks, was equivalent. Recent larger laptops that had this CPU include the Toshiba Satellite U845, the Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A, and the 13-inch Samsung Series 9. The Acer Aspire V5-171-6867 ran a tiny bit slower on average, which may be in part because of the hard drive, which lacks an SSD cache. Still, this Acer Aspire smokes 11-inch ultraportables like the Sony Vaio SVE11113FXW, which has a far inferior AMD E2-1800 processor. The Aspire can handle multitasking and single-tasking with ease, and you could always plug in a monitor and keyboard and make this a full-fledged all-day computer.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics perform as expected, with Street Fighter IV running at 25.1 frames per second at 1,366x768 pixels. This Acer could play your average game with graphics settings adjusted downward, which is what Intel's newer integrated graphics are meant for.

Some performance qualities aren't so ideal: bootup time and waking up from sleep were more sluggish than on the average ultrabook. A cold boot took a laborious 50 seconds. This Acer also didn't automatically wake up from sleep when I opened the lid -- I had to hit a button first -- but it returned to action quickly after that. The side vent pumps out very warm air after Netflix streaming for a while, and areas of the keyboard got warm, too.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Average watts (load test)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Acer Aspire V5-171-6867
27.91 

Now, let's talk battery life. This Acer only eked out 3 hours and 49 minutes of video playback, and that just isn't good. Most modern ultrabooks last at least 5 hours, and the 11-inch MacBook Air lasted 5 hours and 17 minutes. Even the older Acer Timeline X 1830T lasted over an hour longer. In an age of long-battery-life iPads, tablets, and Netbooks, settling for shorter battery life on the go just isn't necessary.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Acer offers a standard one-year warranty with the Acer Aspire V5 171-6867. Acer's Web site has software and help documentation and is easy to use once you know your product's specific product configuration and serial number.

Conclusion
It's hard not to appreciate a tiny laptop with the guts of a full-fledged ultrabook for only $500. The Acer Aspire V5-171-6867 is a true value pick for an ultraportable, but cramped dimensions and a weak battery life prevent this otherwise fully loaded laptop from being a true killer product. If you want the most computer in the smallest chassis for the least amount of money, however, this is an excellent consideration. I just can't help but wonder about the future of ultraportable products like these in the face of a wave of Windows 8 tablets and hybrid devices to come, many of which might be preferable.

Find out more about how we test Windows laptops.

System configurations:

Acer Aspire V5-171-6867
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 128MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 500GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 128GB Adata XM11 SSD

Sony Vaio E11113FXW
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.7GHz AMD E2-1800 APU; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 384MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 7340; 500GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Apple MacBook Air 11.6-inch (Summer 2012)
OS X 10.7.4 Lion; 1.7GHz Intel Core i5; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 384MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000; 64GB Apple SSD

Origin EON11-S
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 2.1GHz Intel Core i7-3612XM; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 650M + 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; HDD #1: 750GB Seagate 7,200rpm

Acer Aspire V5-171-6867
7.7

Acer V5-171

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 9Performance 9Battery 6Support 7