by Steve Moerman, Canada
The Acer Aspire 5680 is a powerful yet portable notebook, which seems to be targeted as a portable desktop replacement, or a portable gaming machine. It is equipped with one of the more powerful GPUs available in 15.4? notebook computers today, the NVIDA 7600 which to my knowledge is currently bested only by the NVIDIA 7700 found in the Asus G1. Together with a 2GHZ Core 2 Duo processor and 2 GB of DDR2 Ram, this machine makes a great desktop replacement that is still easily portable. So, with these great specs, is this the notebook to be had?
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I work as a paramedic, and my time at work often involves periods of time waiting for 911 calls, so I wanted to purchase a notebook computer to take to my workplace in order to accomplish some of my normal computing there instead of at home. I play some flight simulator; edit photos, and other normal, less demanding tasks like email and online research. I wanted a fairly powerful machine, especially in the graphics department, but one that is still portable. This put me in 15.4? category. I obviously wanted discrete graphics, lots of memory, and a fast processor. After looking at various Dell machines, mostly the 6400, some Toshibas, HP and other various options, I found the Acer 5680 at Staples Business Depot and almost bought it on the spot. By then I was also considering the Asus G1, which has rave reviews from anyone who has one. The Acer was sale priced at $1849, while the G1 is $400 more, and was difficult to find in stock. In the end I went with the Acer since it was readily available, and I could get a 4 year performance guarantee from Staples for an extra $300, ensuring that my investment would be good for at least 4 years. If any problems should surface, a Staples store is always easy to find while the Asus would have to be shipped back to an Asus service center. Some of the features of the Acer also factored into my decision, so lets take a close look at the Acer 5680 and see just what kind of machine it is.
The Acer 5680-6798 as reviewed has the following specifications.
In the Box
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The notebook computer is packaged about as well as any, with the typical plastic sleeves, foam sheets and bricks, packed inside cardboard. The accessories were all secure in their own place inside the cardboard packaging, and everything seemed well protected. Included with the notebook is an A/C adapter by LiteOn, RJ-11 phone cord, warrantee information, a basic user guide and an Acer VoIP phone to chat via IM (I have not installed this software as I am not into instant messaging ? so I cannot comment on this equipment). Recovery DVDs are not normally included, but my specimen had been a demo at the Staples store, so discs had been created by the staff in order to return it to the shipping state. Unfortunately for me, I was unable to get any further discount based on the machines duty as a demo unit.
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Build and Design
The laptop case itself is all plastic, and the chassis seems a bit flimsy. The screen does flex though not unreasonably so, and base seems to flex somewhat if picked up by a corner. This is the biggest question mark hanging over this model, and I wonder if the chassis flex is going to be an issue in the future. I took a walk down the row of notebooks at the local Best Buy and subjected them all to a flexing test and it seems the 5680 was not nearly as stiff as most other machines ? particularly the ultra-stiff (made out of aluminium) Macbook Pro. On the other hand, even though the screen does flex easily, the LCD does not ripple or distort at all when twisted. It is an attractive looking model in classic charcoal and silver, with a glossy piano-black frame around the screen. Port and interface locations on the chassis are some of the best in my opinion ? more on that later. The screen is held closed by two plastic latches, and either of the two release slides on the front will release them both. When open, the screen stays where it is put very well, and does not wobble at all even when the base is shaken ? the hinges are stiff enough to hold the screen still, but not so stiff to make fine adjustment difficult.
Underside of Acer Aspire 5680 (view large image)
Keyboard and Touchpad
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The screen and keyboard are where we interact directly with the laptop, so their quality is important. The keyboard is easy to type on; keys are quiet, with an appropriate amount of resistance. The keyboard does have some flex if pressed hard, but normal typing pressure does not cause any unexpected movement. The only anomaly I can find in the keyboard is that a few keys in the top corners have a different sound ? almost a loose sound, though they are not. The keyboard layout is good, keys are where you would expect them, and my fingers find the correct key without searching ? including the backspace, enter, ctrl etc. It is notable to say that so far in typing this review my fingertips have caught the underside of nearby keys 3 or 4 times ? maybe I have fat fingers.
The touchpad works well, and with some adjustment I?ve found a speed that works well for me. The buttons are a bit hard to push, and do click rather loudly compared to the keyboard ? I preferred the soft touch of the buttons on HP machines to these. In between the left and right buttons is a square scroll button for vertical and horizontal scrolling, which works well, but also clicks loudly. While typing, considerable heat can be felt on the left side of the keyboard, and the left palmrest. It is not hot or unbearable, but it is tough to ignore.
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The screen is a beautiful glossy WXGA Acer CrystalBrite LCD, and though reflective as all glossy screens are, the vibrancy and clarity is excellent. As said before, flexing of the screen frame does not affect the picture or display at all. The brightness has 16 settings, all of which are very useable. It is adjusted automatically by the Acer power profiles, or manually using the function key and the left/right arrows. The dimmest setting does allow more reflection of backlight so position becomes very important, and the brightest setting is almost too bright for me. It does work well however when working under bright lights or outside. My preferred brightness is usually between 6 & 10. I can find no light leakage or uneven backlighting issues, and all pixels seem to be functioning properly. It is an easy screen to use for long periods. For typing, almost any reasonable vertical viewing angle works well, and text can be read easily from well off to either side. Pictures or videos have a much more limited viewing sweet spot. Matte finish screens will give more liberal viewing angle, but the benefit of bright, vibrant colours that jump off the screen is worth it. The only improvement might be to increase the resolution to 1680x1050, as with close viewing the 1200x800 resolution does show the screen door effect somewhat. This is perhaps being overly critical however, in effort to find something to criticize on an excellent screen. Above the display is a 1.3 megapixel swivel camera, which is ok for video conference or low-res photos, but the video is quite choppy. I have no intention of using it, and would have rather it not even be there. If it has to be there, I?d prefer it be built into the frame a bit more stealthily.
The speakers are about what you would expect from a midsize notebook. They do not distort at high volumes, but they do not get all that loud and the sound lacks body. I really think it is unfair to expect great musical performance from notebook speakers ? that is what external speakers or headphones are for. In my opinion, on-board notebook speakers are for playing Windows and notification sounds, and these work just fine for that. Volume is easily adjustable using the dedicated volume buttons over the DVD drive, or by the function key and up/down arrows. If external speakers are to be hooked up, it might have been nice to have the audio jacks on the side of the notebook instead of front and center.
Benchmarking was done with a clean install from the recovery discs, which included a plethora of Acer-ware that often duplicated Windows utilities, and Norton internet security. Windows and Norton were then updated online. In order to get an accurate benchmark of the computer, I ran the benchmarks once in stock configuration, then un-installed the Acer utilities and Norton before running them again. All tests were carried out with the power configuration set to high power for maximum performance, and the unit on A/C power.
The Aspire 5680 takes about 70 ? 80 seconds to boot Vista from a cold start, with a few extra seconds to get through the windows logon screen if multiple users are enabled.
SuperPi Benchmark Results
Super Pi tests the speed of a processor, in our test we force Super Pi to calculate the number Pi to 2 million digits of accuracy:
|Acer Aspire 5680 (Core 2 Duo 2.0GHz)||1m 05s|
|HP dv9000t (1.6Ghz Core 2 Duo, nVidia Go 7600 256MB)||1m 37s|
|MSI M677 (1.8 GHz Turion X2)||1m 53s|
|LG S1 (2.16 GHz Core Duo)||1m 11s|
|Dell Inspiron e1505 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 16s|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 18s|
|Toshiba Satellite M100 (2.00GHz Core Duo)||1m 18s|
|Samsung X60 (1.66GHz Core Duo)||1m 29s|
|Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 53s|
Here is the result from HD Tune, showing some very good access times and transfer rates of the Western Digital HDD. The disk is split into two partitions; the second partition has the system restore information for creating the restore DVDs. (An Acer utility prompts you to create these discs on initial boot up.) This test was in stock configuration?
PCMark05 System Results
PCMark05 measures the overall system performance, here's how the Aspire 5680 stacked up to other laptops:
|Acer Aspire 5680 (Core 2 Duo 2.0GHz, Nvidia Go 7600, Acer Software loaded)||4,506 PCMarks|
|Acer Aspire 5680 (Core 2 Duo 2.0GHz, Nvidia Go 7600, Acer Software Uninstalled)||4,585 PCMarks|
|HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400)||4,234 PCMarks|
|Fujitsu LifeBook A6010 (1.66GHz Core 2 Duo, Intel GMA 950)||2,994 PCMarks|
|Fujitsu N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400)||3,487 PCMarks|
|Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60, Nvidia Go 7800GTX)||5,597 PCMarks|
|Sony Vaio SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400)||3,637 PCMarks|
|Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400, Nvidia Go 7400)||3,646 PCMarks|
The NVIDIA drivers for Vista are not yet certified for this benchmark, so the score may not be entirely accurate; take these results with a grain of salt. I expected a higher score, based on other similar systems. Perhaps it?s the drivers ? hopefully updated Vista drivers will make a difference.
|Notebook||3D Mark 05 Results|
|Acer Aspire 5680 (Core 2 Duo 2.0GHz, Nvidia Go 7600, Acer Software loaded)||2,777 3DMarks|
|Acer Aspire 5680 (Core 2 Duo 2.0GHz, Nvidia Go 7600, Acer Software Uninstalled)||2,781 3DMarks|
|Alienware Aurora M-7700(AMD Dual Core FX-60, ATI X1600 256MB)||7,078 3D Marks|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB)||2,092 3D Marks|
|Asus V6Va (2.13 GHz Pentium M, ATI x700 128 MB)||2,530 3D Marks|
|Fujitsu n6410 (1.66 GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB)||2,273 3DMarks|
|HP Pavilion dv4000 (1.86 GHz Pentium M, ATI X700 128MB)||2,536 3D Marks|
|Dell XPS M1210 (2.16 GHz Core Duo, nVidia Go 7400 256MB)||2,090 3D Marks|
This one I ran only in stock configuration, since it didn?t seem to make much difference on the other benchmarks. Futuremark states that the drivers are not certified either, but 3DMark06 is listed as being Vista compatible and this result seems much more in line with systems of similar specs.
|Notebook||3DMark 06 Results|
|Acer Aspire 5680 (Core 2 Duo 2.0GHz, Nvidia Go 7600)||1,820 3DMarks|
|Dell Precison M90 (2.16GHz Core Duo, nVidia Quadro FX 1500M)||3,926 3DMarks|
|Apple MacBook Pro (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB||1,528 3DMarks|
|Sony Vaio SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400)||794 3DMarks|
|Compal HEL80 (2.0GHz Core Duo, nVidia Go 7600 256MB)||1,654 3DMarks|
|Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60 Nvidia GeForce Go7800GTX)||4,085 3DMarks|
|Dell XPS M1710 (2.16 GHz Core Duo, nVidia 7900 GTX 512MB)||4,744 3D Marks|
Surprisingly, the Acer-ware and Norton did not make that much difference in performance.
I was able to install and play Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 with all settings at maximum, with no lag and very smooth frame rates with excellent playability ? I was very pleased! This was the ?benchmark? that mattered most to me. FSX runs quite well also with the graphics settings at medium.
Vista provides us with a new, easy way to compare systems, and though a bit elementary, it does give a good idea of where the system sits in relation to what software can be run, and how well
Operating System & Software
This is my first experience with Windows Vista, and I must say I like the features. It is pretty clear however, that it would be hopeless to try to run Vista on an out of date computer. The fancy graphics and extras do use a hefty amount of power. The software that Acer includes is automatically installed when Windows finishes, and there is no option to not install it. Oddly enough though, if you uninstall it all, there is a way to go back and install just the parts you actually want. Much of the software is embedded in the Acer Empowering Technology program, and involves security and power management software. These programs mostly duplicate what is available in Windows, and I?ve found them to be mostly redundant. One odd thing about the power management software is that you can only adjust the profile that is currently in use, and you cannot change the profile from the ePower management utility ? it seems a bit clumsy and feature-lacking compared to some other manufacturers. The software package also includes a backup utility and DVD/CD suite by NTI, as well CyberLink PowerProducer for video editing and DVD creation. I have not utilized them much yet, but in some playing around I find them to be intuitive and probably a good place to start in making DVDs.
The most heat on this computer seems to emanate from the left side of the notebook, wafting up between the keys and down onto my left leg. The left palmrest also gets pretty warm. The heat is not so much that I have to take my hand off the machine, but it won?t let you forget about it. If you rest your left fingers on the keypad, they do get pretty warm ? approaching what I would call hot. On my lap it does get rather warm - mostly on the left side and especially at the front. The HDD resides basically under the left palmrest and touchpad, and with an average temperature of 47deg Celsius, the HDD is the warmest area of the notebook. There is a fan intake underneath near the back left that should not be blocked, and a few other passive vents in various locations. The right side remains quite cool; this is where the DVD drive and the battery are. The battery remains cool even while charging. This notebook can be comfortably used on your lap ? which is where it sat as I typed most of this review - but your left leg is going to get warm. A notebook cooler mat may be appropriate for this model when used on your lap, but that is not entirely shocking ? there is a lot of power packed into the mid-size chassis. It does cool more efficiently when sitting on a table or flat surface however, and the heat through the keyboard is not nearly as much of an issue as it became while on my lap.
Most of the time the 5680 makes very little noise, and it can be used in any library without concern. In a very quiet room, when the fan is off, only then can the very soft whir HDD be barely heard. The optical drive makes a noticeable, but not obnoxious amount of noise ? most of the time. Depending on what the notebook is sitting on and which discs are loaded (my FS2004 seemed particularly bad), at high speeds the drive can occasionally induce some vibration in the chassis that could be bothersome. I have identified five or six fan speeds, the highest of which I have only observed when first powering up the notebook, and then only for a few seconds. The rest of the time it cycles on and off as needed, and at what seems to be medium speed. The strangest part is that it seems to switch on and off quite often, even when just sitting on the table with an empty desktop, doing nothing. The frequency of this can be distracting in a quiet setting. It seems to very rarely use the low speed, and unfortunately this is not directly adjustable. As I?ve been typing this, it seems to run at medium for about 30 seconds with 60 seconds off. The fan discharges from two vents on the left rear corner ? one on the side, the other on the back ? and the exhaust is only slightly warm. It seems to come on mostly under graphical loads, and even a bunch of aero glass work by Vista seems to trigger it more frequently. While running flight simulator and while benchmarking it ran continuously at what seemed to be speed 3 or 4, and the exhaust was a bit warmer. SuperPi to 32M digits triggered the most aggressive cooling mode after a few minutes of calculation. (fyi ? it took 27.5min to finish) I spoke with a helpful technician via Acer?s 800 number and he had me use the Acer ePower management to keep the CPU at maximum speed, which supposedly causes the fan to run almost continuously at low speed. However it still shut off after a bit, and then cycled back up to a higher speed again when needed. I?ll have to fiddle around with that control to try and find a happy medium. I tried Speedfan, and it was not able to control the fan.
Input and Output Ports
Front view of Acer Aspire 5680 ports (view large image)
Left side view of Acer Aspire 5680 ports (view large image)
Right side view of Acer Aspire 5680 ports (view large image)
Back view of Acer Aspire 5680 ports (view large image)
The Aspire 5680 comes with all the connectivity a notebook in this class should ? which is pretty much everything. See the specifications section for details. The best part about the connections is their placement. No connections are found on the right side, which for most people is the mouse side of the computer. Unfortunately for left-handers, this means that the right side has most of the connections ? but even here, only the logical ones are found. The DVI and VGA, A/C are where they should be ? on the back. I?d rather the modem connection be on the side instead of the rear, but that is the only connection location I?d prefer changed. Of course this is somewhat subjective and will vary from person to person, check the pictures and details to see just where each port is.
I?m unable to test the Bluetooth or firewire, and the 3G internet connectivity won?t be useful to me. Everything else seems to work as it should, though the wireless network card can sometimes see more connections than it seems to be able to actually reach with its own signal. These are usually very weak neighbourhood signals anyway. As a testament to its practical usability, before I had my own wireless network hooked up the notebook connected to my neighbour?s unsecured network across the street and began downloading updates for Windows. I found I could surf the web quite easily on this connection ? even from my basement. The only drawback with the wireless is the switch on the front ? I wish it was a hard on-off switch instead of a sliding soft-switch. Even when turned off, sometimes profile changes or other computer actions will turn it back on ? I?d prefer to have absolute manual control with the switch. (Toshiba style)
The battery is an 8 cell, 71W Li-ion battery, and I have observed about 3 hours of useful life (down to 10%) with average demand on the system and wireless connected. The Balanced power plan in Vista seems to do a really good job of balancing long life with performance. When charging from empty, the battery charges at a rate of just over 1% per min, reaching 50% in just 42min, and 70% in an hour while using the notebook at the same time. It charged to 90% in 84min, and then the charge rate slows up considerably for the last 10%, taking a reasonable total of 2 hours for a full charge. I was told by the technician when I called the helpline, that the most effective way to save battery power was to turn off the wireless card and though I have not tested this fully, windows estimates well over 3 hours on the balanced plan with the wireless turned off.
Customer Service and Support
The Acer website has an address for emailing questions, and I have sent in a request for information on fan control. However, it is the weekend, and these requests are only answered on weekdays during business hours. Acer does have an 800 number, which I called on a Saturday to get an answer on the fan. I had to wait about 55 min to get a technician, and he was very knowledgeable ? making a few suggestions to optimize battery life and performance. Aside from the wait time, I was pleased.
The Aspire 5680 is a very well equipped notebook at a reasonable price, perhaps at the expense of some build quality. Time will tell if too much sacrifice was made in the durability department, which is why I went for the performance guarantee. For someone looking for a powerful unit that they can still carry around relatively easily, it will fill the need ? though a sturdy notebook case would be smart. It?s more of a desk to desk kind of portability compared to some ultra-portables out there. Most people won?t push this notebook to its full capability unless they intend to game or run demanding 3D design software. For me, it?s a good fit. Would I buy another one? Hard to say ? I wanted to get a notebook fairly quickly, but had I been able to wait and compare side by side with the Asus G1, I probably would go for the G1 based on it?s reviews and specs ? despite it?s tacky green accents.
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