Acer Aspire 5050 Review

by Zcd Reads (314,580)

by Andrew Chan

According to Acer’s website the Aspire 5050 is targeted at entertainment enthusiasts who want reliability and performance.  With a display size of 14.1” and weighing about 5.28 lbs, the notebook borders on the thin and light category with price points of budget laptops.  The 5050 model line can be equipped with AMD’s Turion MK-36 or TL-50 processors, 512MB to 2 GB of ram and hard drives ranging from 80-120 GB.  Styling and components are very similar to the Acer Aspire 5102WLMi


Acer Aspire 5050 (view large image)

The Aspire 5050-5827 reviewed here was configured as follows:

  • Processor: AMD Turion64 x2 TL-50 (1.6 GHz, 512 KB L2 cache total, 256 KB on each core)
  • RAM: 1 GB 533 MHz DDR2 RAM (2 x 512 MB)
  • Hard Drive: 80 GB Hitachi 5400 RPM HD
  • Screen: 14.1-inch WXGA Acer CrystalBrite screen
  • Gaphics: ATI Radeon Xpress 1100 integrated graphics (64-256mb shared memory)
  • Optical Drive: Dual layer DVD +/- RW combo
  • OS: Windows Media Center Edition 2005
  • Wireless: Atheros Wireless 802.11 b/g with Signalup high efficiency antennae
  • Battery: 44.6 W 4000 mAh Li-ion battery (6-cell) with a rated 2.5 hrs battery life

Why bought and Alternatives

Currently I am trying to finish my graduate studies.  I wanted a portable machine so I can use it for research and writing while on the couch, in a library, and on the go.  I would probably also watch the occasional movie, burn CDs and play the occasional 2-3 year old PC game.  Having never owned a notebook before, or even using one for an extended period, I can’t compare this notebook to others. I will however be able to make some not so useful comparisons to the old desktop I currently own.

Being a studious person, I attempted to perform research of the various model lines out there.  After all was said and done, the Acer 5050 was the cheapest dual core and 64-bit machine with Vista approved graphics, part of my main future proofing criteria.  I was also encouraged by a thread on NBR about the Aspire 5050-5554.  Since I would typically use an external monitor when at my home desk, the smaller screen size (14.1” display) is acceptable and means less weight and bulk to carry around.

At the time I was comparing the Aspire 5050 to these models.

Where and How Purchased?

The item was purchased at FutureShop for $749.99 (CDN) on December 9, 2006.  The FutureShop list price was actually $799.99, but they had an online promotion that weekend for $50 off if you spent more than $500. This purchase was 5 months ago and the specific SKU configuration I got is no longer available, but the Aspire 5050 is available with new SKUs and higher configurations such as having 2GB RAM, 160 GB hard drive, etc.

Build and Design


Acer Aspire 5050 top view (view large image)

Much like the 5102WLMi, the 5050 features Acer’s folio design with silver plastic and black trim.  With the lid closed the size of the ‘folio’ is just a bit bigger than a typical file folder.  Dimensions are listed as 341(W) x 251 (D) x 35 (H) mm.  I was able to purchase a slim notebook bag and I’m quite pleased with its small footprint.  Unfortunately the silver plastic on top is easily scratched.  But the hinges on the lid feel sturdy. So sturdy in fact, that you need to hold down the base to open the notebook.  There is some flexibility with the LCD, but nothing alarming.


Front view of Acer Aspire 5050 (view large image)


Left side view of Acer Aspire 5050 (view large image)


Right side view of Acer Aspire 5050 (view large image)


Back view of Acer Aspire 5050 (view large image)

Screen and External Display

The LCD screen is a 14.1” widescreen, with a native resolution of 1200×800 (WXGA).  It is equipped with Acer’s CrsytalBrite technology (glossy).  Not having much to compare to, I can say that images look good and the glossiness does make movies more vibrant.  When watching movies, I am able to detect a bit of response lag when compared to my desktop setup.  The horizontal viewing range is good, but I have found myself constantly adjusting the display to find the right vertical viewing angle.  Applying moderate pressure to the LCD’s back produces the typical ripple pattern.

There are approximately sixteen discrete contrast levels and while in a dimly lit room I have found the maximum setting to be too bright.  There is a little bit of light leakage and it was only noticeable in a dark room.


Minor light leakage can be seen on the Aspire 5050 screen (view large image)

I have used the external display quite frequently in conjunction with the LCD.  I have noticed that images on the external display are not as crisp and clean as my desktop output that uses an ATI Radeon 7500 graphics card.

Speakers

The Acer 3Dsonic speakers are mounted on the front of the unit radiating outwards and offer HD audio support.  Reading other reviews, the speakers on notebooks typically lack any sort of bass.  No surprises here as the bass is definitely lacking.  The included driver and software package has an equalizer feature that can turn up the bass a bit, however I have noticed distorted sound quality when the bass is turned up too high.

Processor and Performance

One of the main irritations of this notebook is the start up time required for the unit to become responsive.  However, I suspect that this is caused by the slower HD (5,400RPM) rather than the CPU and the fact I have not removed most of the Acer pre-loaded processes.  In comparison, my desktop computer with a 7200rpm HD and my trusted old Socket A T-Bird boots up in half the time.

Overall performance and responsiveness is good.  I do not notice that it is faster using several applications at once than my ancient desktop when using just one application at a time.  The factory install comes with Acer’s standard partitioning scheme of:

  1. A hidden system partition
  2. C: (Fat32) and
  3. D: (Fat32) drives. 

As someone who formats and installs Operating Systems on a whim, I appreciated the partitioning choice made.  Others don’t though.

So far, the laptop has frozen on me a couple of times displaying a colour bar type pattern.  The exact nature of this issue is unknown, however others have experienced similar symptoms here.  As I mentioned in that thread of discussion, the installation of new display drivers alleviated my problem (mileage may vary).

I won’t be going into detail about gaming as this is not a gaming machine.  It plays Counter Strike:1.6 fine @ 1200×800 (50-70fps) as I enjoy being target fodder for countless thousands.  Compared to my desktop setup graphics card, an AIW Radeon 7500, the Xpress1100 is a king, just don’t ask it to run 3DMark05 (see why below).

Benchmarks

Nothing special here with these benchmarks folks, move along…

SuperPi

Notebook Time
Acer Aspire 5050 (1.6GHz Turion X2) 2 mins 11 s
MSI M677 (1.8 GHz Turion X2) 1m 53s
Fujitsu LifeBook N6420 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo) 1m 02s
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

PCMark05 Results

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Acer Aspire 5050 (1.6GHz Turion X2, ATI Radeon Xpress 1100) 4,411 PCMarks
Fujtisu Siemens Amilo Xi1554 Review (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo, ATI X1900, Windows XP) 5,066 PCMarks
Fujitsu LifeBook N6420 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo, ATI X1600) 4,621 PCMarks
Fujitsu LifeBook N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400) 3,487 PCMarks
Sony Vaio SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400) 3,637 PCMarks
Asus Z84Jp (2.16GHz Core 2 Duo, Nvidia Go 7600) 4,739 PCMarks
Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400) 3,646 PCMarks
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60, Nvidia Go 7800GTX) 5,597 PCMarks

 

Comparison Results for 3Dmark05

Notebook 3D Mark 05 Results
Acer Aspire 5050 (1.6GHz Turion X2, ATI Radeon Xpress 1100) 593 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

 

That’s right, in 3DMark05 the Aspire 5050 got a whopping 593! It was amusing to watch the video go at 1-3 fps!

Everest: Memory read (3078 MB/s), write (1530 MB/s), latency (71.3 ns)

Heat and Noise

After 2 hours of use on AC power, the palm rest on both sides are warm, but not uncomfortable.  The underside near the fan exhaust does get warm to a point where it is annoying on my lap.  Forcing the CPU to maximum speed causes the exhaust fan cycles to high and low, and is a source of noise in a quiet room.  Forcing the CPU to minimum speed greatly reduced the need for the exhaust fan to cycle and the annoyance on my lap.  I have also noticed that changing the ATI PowerPlay settings to optimal battery while on AC power reduces heat and fan noise.

The DVD multi drive is also a source of noise when spinning up and on certain discs.  During the DVD battery test the noise from the drive did not impact the DVD sound playback.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The keyboard is pretty standard for almost all Aspire notebooks.  It has a soft feel with a bit of flex near the middle.  Button arrangement is fine, as I’m still getting used to the placements.  The touchpad is located a bit off center to the left and frequently my palm has interfered with its use.  Other than that it works as intended and I do enjoy the 4-way scroll button at the bottom.


(view large image)

Input and Output Ports

Although most of the connections on the 5050 are pretty standard now, it was still a factor when looking at the budget models.  The 5050-5827 model includes S-video and VGA outputs both on the left.  The VGA output is capable of independent resolutions.  Three USB 2.0 ports are included, two on the back and one on the left.  One PCMCIA slot and a 5-in-1 card reader (SD, MMC, MS, MS Pro, xD) are also included.  Line out (with S/PDIF support), microphone in and line in ports are located on the front.

Wireless

Wireless works fine, and the antenna signal is usually a few bars stronger than my desktop (PCI wireless) in the same location.  The actual model or chipset of the mini-PCI card is an Atheros AR5005G.  The unit is not equipped with Bluetooth or an infrared port.

Battery

The battery is a 6-cell, 44.6 W, 4000mAh unit, rated to last 2.5 hours (150 minutes).  It is a ‘slim-line’ style battery that is flush with the notebook when inserted.  Real life usage has been a bit disappointing, as I have typically only gotten 2 hours out of the battery, even when I have disabled the LAN, Cardbus, modem and forced the CPUs to run at 800Mhz.


(view large image)

The DVD movie test, with most peripherals disabled, CPU @ 800 Mhz and LCD @ 87% (reasonable brightness setting), only yielded 103 minutes (1 hour 43 minutes) before the low battery warning.  Charge time was about 2 hours while the notebook was in use, but longer when off.  When fully utilizing the notebook, the AC adaptor block gets noticeably warm. The AC adaptor block is quite small 107x43x27mm and power is rated at 65 W.

Operating System and Software

The unit came with Windows XP Media Centre 2002, updated to 2005.  Current store models will most likely be updated with Vista Home Premium.  No recovery disks are provided, however upon my first use I was prompted to create the recovery disk(s).  You can also create a backup disc for the applications.

Pre-installed software includes Acer’s ePowering Suite, Cyberlink Power DVD & Power Producer, NTI CD-Maker, and Norton AntiVirus. 

Customer Support

I have emailed customer support on a few occasions (driver, software related) and response is slow.  Other than that, I have only heard of some unpleasant things in the forums about Acer technical support.  Typically a week passed before a response came.  To extend the original warranty by 2-years it was $99 CDN and being a sucker for warranties, I bought it immediately.

This unit was and still is clearly advertised as ’64-bit’ and I completely fell for it.  The support site does not provide 64-bit drivers should you choose to use the ‘64-bit power’ as advertised by Acer.  I am also disappointed that I was not allowed to choose the 64-bit version of Vista for my express upgrade.  I know that suitable 64-bit drivers are out there, and I have to fish for them, but it’s still an irritation.

Conclusion

It is hard to provide clear conclusions having never owned a notebook before.  I can say that you do get what you pay for.  Some of the minor annoyances and observations show a lack of refinement.  I can only assume that attention to the small details would be addressed in higher end models and better technical/driver support from the bigger named retailers (the Inspiron 1501 has 64-bit driver support).  Battery life is poor, so if it is a main concern stay away from this and other older AMD CPU based chipsets as Intel solutions are typically much better.

After using it for several months I still would prefer a non-glossy with standard aspect ratio screen typically found on business class models.  That would have probably broken my price criteria as non-widescreen models are becoming a rarity.  This is clearly a personal preference, however I thought I would mention it to other potential first time buyers looking for a ‘work’ machine.

In the end the Aspire 5050 gets the job done for my purposes without draining my wallet.  I did choose a few specific upgrades which increased the price, but I fully intend on having this unit for more than 3 years (remember my ancient desktop?).  It is smaller and lighter than the conventional 15.4” budget model and I can carry it and a few accessories around in a slim bag or while on the couch.  Once it completely boots up, it is responsive and has more than enough processing power to perform the tasks I normally execute.  It has video outputs and doubles as my TV’s DVD player.  Purchase timing was also a bonus as I now have a choice between XP or Vista.  I am generally satisfied with the results of my purchase.

Pros:

  • Style is visually appealing, doesn’t look cheap (as I’m told)
  • Good price/performance ratio
  • Includes a variety of ports as a budget model
  • Partitioning of hard drive space (personal preference, a con to others)

Cons:

  • Fan constantly cycling on/off, even on battery
  • At times, noisy optical drive
  • Slower hard drive
  • Top cover is easily scratched
  • Lack of ‘extra’ driver support


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