Acer Extensa 5220-2516 User Review

by Reads (45,351)

by Perry Longinotti 

Every year as back to school season approaches Best Buy teases consumers into their stores with loss leader notebooks. Usually they sell out pretty fast. It probably isn’t the typical PC users that buy them, but rather tweakers who are looking for a decent kit to experiment with. What kind of experiments? Linux distributions and other hacked OSes.

 

I thought it would be cool to pick one up when my monthly Best Buy Credit Card statement arrived with a ‘$50 off any notebook’ coupon attached. This years Best Buy attention grabber is priced at $399 CDN ($349 after coupon).

What does $350 get you these days?

  • Celeron M550 2GHz CPU
  • Intel Santa Rosa chipset with GMA X3100
  • 1GB of DDR2 RAM at 667MHz
  • 120GB Hitachi 5400 RPM HDD
  • Pioneer DL DVD Multi recorder
  • 802.11g and Gigabyte Ethernet
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 6-cell 4000 mAh battery

Not a bad specification at all. Just a short time ago these components would have been fit for a premium rig.


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Out of the Box

Acer ships the 5220 in a nondescript box. Inside you will find the battery, AC adapter, a large printed manual and no recovery discs. Make sure you burn a recovery set as soon as you start up.


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Speaking of start-up, this particular Acer would not start. It would not even post. Suspecting an unseated Sodimm, I popped off the access cover. It turned out that one of the two 512 MB sticks was actually faulty. Not a great way to start my experience with the 5220.


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While I had the notebook open, I noticed that the CPU is in fact socketed. The 5220’s Socket P will accept any one of a multitude of CPUs (Merom and Penryn based). Unlike some recent budget notebooks based on Intel’s Santa Rosa platform, the 5220 only has one miniPCI slot.
Once the RAM situation was sorted out I booted with 512MB. Vista first boot rendered the notebook unusable for about the first hour. With 1024MB of RAM installed the first boot experience on a subsequent install was much better.


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Performance

Starting with the CPU; the Celeron M 550 is based on Intel’s Merom architecture (standard-voltage, 65 nm). Merom is the previous generation of Intel’s Core microarchitecture. It supports: MMX, SSE, SSE2, SSE3, SSSE3, Intel 64 (Intel’s x86-64 implementation), XD bit (an NX bit implementation). With 2 GHz clock speed and 1024 KB of level 2 cache performance it is inline with the Pentium M 760 CPU of yesteryear except the Celeron has the added benefit of SSE3, SSSE3 and Intel 64. Not too shabby.

The Extensa 5220 is not going to win any speed contests. It does however run the Operating System and office applications just fine. Here are the results of some common benchmarks that should illustrate the relative performance. Keep in mind that these benchmarks are multi-threaded and really favor dual core (or greater) CPUs.

wPrime is a program that forces the processor to do recursive mathematical calculations, the advantage of this program is that it is multi-threaded and can use both processor cores at once, thereby giving more accurate benchmarking measurements than Super Pi.

 

Notebook / CPU

wPrime 32M time

Acer Extensa 5220-2516

85.818s

Dell Inspiron 1525 (Core 2 Duo T7250 @ 2.0GHz)

43.569s

Dell XPS M1530 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz)

37.485s

Portable One SXS37 (Core 2 Duo T7250 @ 2.0GHz)

41.908s

Sony VAIO NR (Core 2 Duo T5250 @ 1.5GHz)

58.233s

Toshiba Tecra A9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz)

38.343s

Toshiba Tecra M9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz)

37.299s

HP Compaq 6910p (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz)

40.965s

Sony VAIO TZ (Core 2 Duo U7600 @ 1.20GHz)

76.240s

Zepto 6024W (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz)

42.385s

Lenovo T61 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz)

37.705s

Alienware M5750 (Core 2 Duo T7600 @ 2.33GHz)

38.327s

Hewlett Packard DV6000z (Turion X2 TL-60 @ 2.0GHz)

38.720s

Samsung Q70 (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2.0GHz)

42.218s

Acer Travelmate 8204WLMi (Core Duo T2500 @ 2.0GHz)

42.947s

Samsung X60plus (Core 2 Duo T7200 @ 2.0GHz)

44.922s

Zepto Znote 6224W (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2.0GHz)

45.788s

Samsung Q35 (Core 2 Duo T5600 @ 1.83GHz)

46.274s

Samsung R20 (Core Duo T2250 @ 1.73GHz)

47.563s

 

3DMark06 comparison results for graphics performance:

 

Notebook

3DMark06 Score

Acer Extensa 5220-2516

337 3DMarks

Dell Inspiron 1525 (2.0GHz Intel T7250, Intel X3100)

545 3DMarks

Sony VAIO NR (1.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5250, Intel X3100)

504 3DMarks

Dell XPS M1530 (2.20GHz Intel T7500, Nvidia 8600M GT 256MB)

4,332 3DMarks

Dell Inspiron 1520 (2.0GHz Intel T7300, NVIDIA 8600M GT)

2,905 3DMarks

Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB)

1,408 3DMarks

Samsung Q70 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7300 and nVidia 8400M G GPU)

1,069 3DMarks

Asus F3sv-A1 (Core 2 Duo T7300 2.0GHz, Nvidia 8600M GS 256MB)

2,344 3DMarks

Alienware Area 51 m5550 (2.33GHz Core 2 Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7600 256MB

2,183 3DMarks

Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Xi 1526 (1.66GHz Core Duo, nVidia 7600Go 256 MB)

2,144 3DMarks

Samsung X60plus (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7200, ATI X1700 256MB)

1,831 3DMarks

Asus A6J (1.83GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB)

1,819 3DMarks

HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400)

827 3DMarks


PCMark05 measures overall notebook performance:

 

Notebook

PCMark05 Score

Acer Extensa 5220-2516

2182 PCMarks

Dell Inspiron 1525 (2.0GHz Intel T7250, Intel X3100)

4,149 PCMarks

Dell XPS M1530 (2.20GHz Intel T7500, Nvidia 8600M GT 256MB)

5,412 PCMarks

Dell Inspiron 1520 (2.0GHz Intel T7300, NVIDIA 8600M GT)

4,616 PCMarks

Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS)

4,591 PCMarks

Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100)

4,153 PCMarks

Lenovo 3000 V200 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100)

3,987 PCMarks

Lenovo T60 Widescreen (2.0GHz Intel T7200, ATI X1400 128MB)

4,189 PCMarks

HP dv6000t (2.16GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400)

4,234 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

As grim as the benchmarks look, it has to be pointed out that it does not feel as slow as the test results suggest. Lack of system memory is a greater concern than the CPU.

Looking at memory and storage, 1024 MB of ram is the bare minimum for a modern OS. My brief experience with 512MB in Vista drove this point home. The 120GB HDD is quiet and does not generate much heat. DASP (Disk Anti-Shock Protection) is featured in this drive to lower the risk of data loss. A Pioneer optical drive was a pleasant surprise on a budget notebook like the 5220. You get dual layer and support for just about every non-HD optical format out there.


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Keyboard and Touchpad

Acer’s slightly curved keyboard is flex free and quiet. Keys have a stiff dampened feel. The quality is not far from Lenovo and Dell’s best. Acer gave the 5220 a small touch pad. It does not quite fit the dimensions of the notebook but works fine. The Apple approach to touch pad design whereby a sizable pad matches the aspect ratio of the screen makes a lot of sense.


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Wireless Performance

Wireless performance is terrific. The 5520 can see lots of networks and holds a signal well, but this is true of almost every notebook these days. Good WiFi performance is a minimum expectation. I don’t know that Acer’s SignalUp antenna is anything more than a marketing label at this point. The Broadcom BCM4312 WiFi chip presents a challenge when installing an OS. A clean Vista install did not recognize the chip, and Acer did not have a driver posted on their site. Further, both Ubuntu and Fedora failed to recognize the card.

Battery Life

Battery life is low. At approximately 2 hours one wonders where all the juice is going, this is after all a single core CPU with enhanced speed step. The remaining components are not power eaters. Taking a closer look at the battery reveals a possible culprit; the 6-cell battery is only rated 4000 mAh. This is about 20% less than a typical 6-cell battery. So, Acer has equipped the 5220 with a battery consisting of 6 very small cells.

Heat is a non-issue. The Acer 5220 generates very little heat when plugged in and almost nothing when on battery. Considering the heat given off by some of the dual core notebooks I have reviewed lately, this is a real treat. Fan noise is reasonable and is only noticeable on the ‘high performance’ power profile.

Poor battery life is not the 5220’s only portability issue, it could benefit from a weight loss program. At 6.4 lbs, you’ll develop burly shoulders in no time if you lug this around a lot. Thankfully the AC Adapter is tiny. The dimension are 14.2" (360.0mm) wide x 10.5" (267.0mm) depth x 1.7" (43.0mm) thick.


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You can tell where the weight went as you test the chassis for flex – this notebook feels sturdy. The boring gray plastic is thick and flex free for the most part. Chrome accents around the touch pad and above the keyboard help the 5220 to look a bit less cheap.
Expansion cards are supported. Both and Cardbus and Expresscard 54 slot grace the 5220. A flash card reader is included that supports SD, MMC, MemoryStick and xD.


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VGA and S-Video output allows you to connect to an external screen or projector. A total of four USB 2.0 and one Firewire port round out the 5220’s port selection.

Fun and Games

Software out of the box is standard PC fare. Vista, NTI CD burning suite, anti virus trial and Acer ePowering utilities are worth keeping, Yahoo toolbar isn’t. There is nothing exciting about the software bundle and it works reasonably well if that is what you like. Make sure you use Acers backup utility to create a factory refresh disc set so that you can start having fun.

Ubuntu 8.0.4 LiveCD did not support the 5220’s wireless card, but everything else worked out of the box. Fedora 9 LiveCD and a full install both ran well too, but it required a bit more tweaking after the first boot. Like Ubuntu, there is no support for the BCM4310 WiFi card. Judging by the number of forum posts on Linux message boards the Broadcom BCM4311 seems to give a lot of people problems. The fonts also looked a bit strange in Fedora, slightly truncated.

Casual games, and retro titles that do not require the latest GPUs run fine on the 5220. This would be a great machine to relive or experience for the first time awesome games like Baldur’s Gate, Planescape Torment and Fallout. New hack for these titles allow them to run at full resolution – Planescape with 1280×800 pixels is breath taking.

 

Conclusion

With a poor battery life and hefty weight, at normal business value PC price of $600 I would advise most people to avoid the Acer Extensa 5220. But with a price of $399 (less with coupons) it is hard not to appreciate the value on offer here.

This is a solid workhorse notebook. It is built on a well-support platform that is compatible with lots of operating systems. It has the ports a business user needs and technologies like DASP to keep data safe.

It handles Vista well-enough, but Linux and other OSes work really well with the stock hardware and hint at just how much bloat is in Microsoft’s latest OS. You really need 2GB or more to enjoy Vista. There is mention in the Acer documentation of an XP downgrade, that might be an option for some people.

For shoppers seeking a basic computer or hacking/tweaking platform this Acer will be a good choice. The Extensa 5220 is priced similar to a Pentium-M based used/refurbished business class notebooks you can find on eBay (IBM T4x, Lattitudes, Tecras), but it is new and comes with a lot of extra features (newer processor technology, better optical, warranty).

My Verdict: Buy


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