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If you’re shopping for a laptop and your budget is around $500, you’re going to do with a compromise or two. There’s no other way around that fact, at least for now.
However, Acer is offering the Aspire 5 (A515-54-51DJ), one of the company’s latest budget offerings. It comes with a 15.6-inch non-touch 1080p display, an 8th Gen Intel Core i5-8265U processor, 8GB of DDR4 RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive.
That right there is an impressive spec sheet, but did Acer cut too many corners to create such a reasonably priced machine?
More: Best Laptops Under 1000
The Aspire 5’s design looks familiar, in fact, it’s the same aesthetic on last year’s Acer Swift 5 models. A simple, attractive silver lid with a chrome interior along the keyboard deck, and a spaced ‘ACER’ logo on the cover. It won’t be winning any beauty contests, but again, you shouldn’t expect a $500 notebook stocked with midrange components to be sleek and made of aluminum.
Of course, a metal construction makes the likes of Apple MacBook Pro and Asus ZenBook 3 feel premium, but plastic makes more sense here. Carrying the Aspire A515-54-51DJ around the offices exudes class, thanks to a tight build that doesn’t squeak like most budget laptops. The Aspire 5 at 5.27 pounds and 5 inches thin is very portable for daily commute to college or work.
Given its relative thickness compared to thin and light laptops, there’s every reason to expect solid connectivity. Fortunately, Acer delivers, with a robust complement of ports that support both the past and the future.
Along the left edge, there’s an RJ-45 Ethernet port, a USB-C 3.1 port, a full-size HDMI port, and two USB-A 3.1 ports with power-off charging. On the right-hand side, there’s a USB 2.0 port and a 3.5mm headphone jack. That’s a decent amount of ports, a lot, than most larger notebooks, but if you spend more, you’re likely to get Thunderbolt 3 support.
The Acer Aspire 5’s keyboard is the common, standard island version with a full-size layout including a 10-key numeric keypad. The keys are laid out in the usual places and are average size, except for the arrow keys that are significantly smaller that the others. Getting used to the keyboard is easy and straightforward.
Unlike its predecessor, the new Aspire gets a backlit keyboard, making it easily visible even in the darkest environments. Again, key travel is enough to avoid bottoming out, quiet, consistent and the switches aren’t mushy. In short, this is a merely competent keyboard that’s only beat by the Lenovo IdeaPad 530s, as well as the budget standout, the Asus ZenBook UX330UA.
The touchpad is responsive and ranks up there with most Windows touchpads, such as the one on the more expensive Dell XPS 15. Even at a budget, the Aspire 5 packs in a touchpad that’s decently large ant supports Microsoft’s Precision Touchpad protocol.
Not long ago, a 1080p 15.6-inch display was a high-end specification and getting one in a budget laptop was nearly impossible. Today, even budget Chromebooks and notebooks are warming towards 1080p, but many are still stuck with 720p displays.
That’s not to say the 1080p panel used here is special, it’s the least we expected, only that it provides a sharper image at a low price. Still, the IPS panel technology used here allows for vibrant colors and wide viewing angles, without getting expensive. It is ideal for media and entertainment, like streaming YouTube videos and your favorite movies.
Acer updated the Aspire 5 with Intel’s 8th-generation Core i5-8265U processor, a quad-core CPU that replaces the efficient Core i5-8250U chip from last year. The 8GB of DDR4 RAM that Acer equipped is impressive at this price point. Note that most budget notebooks come with 4GB, and generally speaking Windows 10 much feels comfortable with 8GB. Also, thermal management is top-notch for a laptop that costs almost half the price of most flagship smartphones.
Most people will find the Aspire 5 to provide perfectly acceptable performance for all but the most demanding processor-based tasks. Unless you’re buying for complex tasks, the Aspire 5 A515-54-51DJ is a reasonable choice in terms of performance. Everyday tasks like browsing the internet, streaming media, editing photos and video will work like a charm.
Considering this new Acer Aspire 5 uses an integrated video card, you won’t be playing modern games here. Latest AAA releases will not render properly, and everything will likely stutter. Even at the lowest settings. It uses an integrated Intel UHD Graphics 620 GPU, that can only handle older games, but not at high settings. If you need a budget gaming laptop, we recommend the Asus TUF FX505DT-EB73, a budget gaming laptop with a 120Hz screen and a dedicated Nvidia GeForce 1650 graphics card.
As it turns out, the Acer Aspire 5’s battery is a better performer as compared to last year’s Acer Aspire 5 (A515-51G-515J) that had an underwhelming battery. The new model promises up to 8 hours 35 minutes on a single, which is perfect for a full day at college or at work. It easily beats the category average of 7.5 hours, making it one of the few options to consider if you stay for long away from a power outlet.
Build quality and productivity performance are what separates the Acer Aspire 5 A515-54-51DJ from some other budget laptop alternatives. The display sets it a bit back, though, with dimness and a lack of contrast that makes using it outdoors less pleasant that it would be otherwise. And battery life does impress too. The few pauses can be overlooked, especially when getting a pretty laptop for a price this low.
Is there a better alternative?
If you’re dedicated to getting a 15.6-inch display, then Acer has a much better option for you. The Aspire E 15 E5-576G-5762 is faster, has a much better display, and lasts for a lot longer on a single charge. It can even game a little, and it’s around the same price. Just be prepared to carry around a larger and heavier notebook, but with a better screen and longer battery life.
Finally, you can skip Windows 10 completely and pick the Asus Chromebook C523NA-DH02. That’s our favorite large-screen Chrome OS machine, and it will give you a premium design and speedy performance.
Should you buy it?
Yes. The Acer Aspire 5 is an inexpensive 15.6-inch laptop with decent performance, with few drawbacks. However, you’re better off going with Acer’s larger and better sibling recommended above.
Acer Aspire 5, 15.6" Full HD IPS Display, 8th Gen Intel Core i5-8265U, 8GB DDR4, 256GB PCIe NVMe SSD, Backlit Keyboard, Fingerprint Reader, Windows 10 Home, A515-54-51DJ
3 used from $394.00