Acer is aiming for the budget-conscious crowd with the Aspire V3-551-8458. For $499, this 15.6-inch notebook features an AMD processor with dedicated graphics, which means you should be able to run Windows 8 smoothly and play mainstream games. This laptop also includes 6GB of RAM, a 750GB hard drive and USB 3.0 support. Not bad at all for a system this affordable.
The V3 is a large, glossy, gray box with rounded corners to take the edge off. The plastic lid is highly susceptible to smudges and fingerprints. However, the shine helps an otherwise drab notebook stand out. The lid's only embellishment is a chrome Acer logo placed prominently in the center.
The notebook's interior is a little more interesting. The deck is divided between a silver matte-gray deck and the palm rest, which carries over the same glossy, gray plastic from the lid. A large speaker grille occupies the top of the deck. The power button sits to the left of the speaker, enhanced by blue, LED lighting.
Weighing 5.4 pounds, the 15 x 9.96 x 0.99-1.3-inch Aspire V3 isn't the lightest 15-inch notebook around, but it's easy to transport this clamshell from room to room. The HP Pavilion g6z weighs 5.2 pounds and measures 1.48 x 9.6 x 1.4 inches, while the Dell Inspiron 15R weighs a heftier 6 pounds and measures 14.9 x 9.9 x 1.2-1.3 inches. If you can make do without a DVD drive, the HP Pavilion Sleekbook 15z is just 4.6 pounds and .83 inches thick.
The Aspire V3's 15.6-inch, 1366 x 768p display is brighter than most in the sub-$500 notebook category. The panel registered 172 lux on our light meter, which beats the HP Sleekbook 15z (142 lux) and HP Pavilion g6z (159 lux). The IdeaPad S400's 171 lux is on a par with this Acer.
During the HD trailer of "Oz: The Great and Powerful," we saw billowy white clouds against a pale blue sky, with hints of yellow and pink peeking throughout. Details were sharp enough that we could see the delicate fissures in the porcelain girl's face and the shimmering rainbow reflection of her airborne bubble.
Although screen reflections can be an issue, the V3's display offers generous viewing angles and can comfortably accommodate up to three people.
Despite the addition of Dolby Home Theater v4 software, audio on the V3 was grating and tinny. The speakers filled our small test room on full volume, but Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" sounded hollow. The instrumental was extremely muddy and Kurt Cobain's already garbled delivery was rendered nearly unintelligible.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The V3's island-style keyboard spans the length of the notebook, including a number pad. Overall, the flat keys delivered springy feedback, though we wish the left Tab and Caps Lock keys were a little larger.
The 3.6 x 1.9-inch Synaptics touchpad gave us plenty of silky plastic on which to glide our fingers. Desktop and document navigation was smooth, with no inadvertent cursor jumping. Multi-touch gestures, such as two-finger rotate and three-finger flick, were equally fluid. We also had an easy time performing Windows 8 gestures, such as calling up the Charms menu and Recent Apps bar.
The pair of discrete mouse buttons were mushy and lacked travel, resulting in more deliberate presses than we'd like.
After watching 15 minutes of "Cabin in the Sky" on Netflix at full screen, the Aspire V3's touchpad measured 87 degrees Fahrenheit. The space between the G and H keys was a shade cooler at 86 degrees. The notebook's underside was surprisingly cool at 77 degrees, well below our 95-degree comfort threshold.
The V3's 0.3-megapixel webcam is one of the better ones we've seen in the budget category. We captured images and video in 720p using Acer's Crystal Eye software, observing accurate color and a nice level of detail under both natural and fluorescent light settings. There was a noticeable amount of graininess, but not enough to mar the images.
The right side of the V3 holds a pair of USB 2.0 ports, a DVD burner and a secure lock-slot. On the left side, you'll find a USB 3.0 port, HDMI, VGA, Gigabit Ethernet and jacks for headphones, microphones and an AC adapter. A five-in-one memory card reader sits on the notebook's front left lip.
Like most budget notebooks, the Acer Aspire V3-551-8458 can handle light productivity tasks, Web surfing and social networking. The laptop's 1.9-GHz AMD quad-core A8-5400M APU with 6GB of RAM and a 750GB 5,400-rpm hard drive streamed "The Prophecy" while running a system scan with tabs open in Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Internet Explorer.
The V3 notched 1,788 on PCMark 7, which was enough to top the HP Pavilion Sleekbook 15z-b00's score of 1,469 (1.7-GHz AMD quad-core A8-4555M) and the ASUS Q200's 1,567 (1.4-GHz Intel Core i3-2365M CPU). The HP Pavilion g6z (2.7-GHz AMD A6-440M) notched a comparable 1,731 on the same test. However, the Lenovo IdeaPad S400's 1.8-GHz Intel Core i3-3217U CPU outperformed the competition with 2,161.
We booted Windows 8 on the V3 in 24 seconds. That's not bad, but other value-priced notebooks we've recently tested started the OS in 18 to 23 seconds.
The Acer notebook duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 3 minutes and 17 seconds, for a 25.8 MBps transfer rate. That wasn't enough to match the 40.5 MBps category average, but this showing bested the IdeaPad S400, Sleekbook 15z and Q200, which delivered 25.1, 22.9 and 21.4 MBps, respectively. Only the Pavilion g6z (33.9 MBps) scored higher.
On the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro test, the Aspire V3 took 10 minutes and 9 seconds to match 20,000 names to their corresponding addresses. The Sleekbook 15z completed the same task in 10:12, while the Q200 finished in 11:29. The S400 and Pavlion g6z both crossed the finish line sooner, however, with respective times of 8:55 and 7:35.
Thanks to its AMD Radeon HD 7640G Graphics with 512MB of VRAM, the Acer Aspire V3-551-8458 can handle playing high-def video and games like "World of Warcraft" on lower settings.
On 3DMark11, the V3 notched 982. The Lenovo IdeaPad S400's Intel HD 4000 Graphics only managed 551. The HP Pavilion Sleekbook 15z-b000's AMD HD 7500G GPU didn't fare much better, with 468. The Pavilion g6z scored a slightly higher 642.
During the "World of Warcraft" test, the V3 delivered an impressive frame rate of 46 fps on Good at 1366 x 768. That score beats all other budget notebooks we've tested recently, including the IdeaPad S400 (30 fps), Sleekbook 15z (23.5 fps) and Pavilion g6z (21.6 fps).
When we switched to maximum settings, the V3 returned 24.9 fps, which is a tad short of both the 35 fps category average and our 30 fps playability threshold.
The Aspire V3-551 can even play "Batman: Arkham City" on low settings. The notebook mustered 30 fps on low, which means it's playable. Just keep in mind that Direct X 11 support was turned off. On high, we saw 10 fps.
Don't expect much endurance out of this 15-inch laptop. During the Laptop Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi), the Acer Aspire V3-551-8458 lasted 4 hours and 24 minutes. That's 1 hour and 16 minutes short of the mainstream average. However, the IdeaPad S400 was a full hour behind at 3:24, while the Sleekbook 15z lasted 4:19. The HP Pavilion g6z was in the same ballpark as this Acer, at 4:27.
Software and Warranty
Acer has taken the kitchen sink approach with the Aspire V3, loading it up with a large cache of multimedia apps. Aside from the company's own Acer Explorer and SocialJogger programs, the Aspire also comes with 7digital, Evernote, Kindle, Amazon, Hulu Plus, eBay, Encyclopedia Britannica, Netflix, ChaCha, iCookbook, TuneIn, StumbleUpon, Skitch, Skype, Social Jogger, Spotify, newsXpresso and Wild Tangent Games.
Acer's perennial multimedia aggregators Clear.fi Photo and Clear.fi Media are also included and come in handy for keeping track of all your images, video and music. Acer Cloud Docs has also been added for Word documents. All your files are instantly stored in Acer's Cloud service, where they can be shared with other devices including smartphones and tablets.
The Acer Aspire V3- 551-8459 comes with a 1-year International Travelers Limited Warranty. See how Acer fared in our Tech Support Showdown and Best & Worst Brand Reports.
Our $499 review unit features a 1.9-GHz AMD quad-core A8-5400M APU with 6GB of RAM, a 750GB 5,400-rpm hard drive and AMD Radeon HD 7640G graphics with 512MB of VRAM. The $479 base model has a 2.7-GHz AMD A6-4400M processor, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive and an AMD Radeon HD 7520G chip.
For $499, the Acer Aspire V3-551-8458 offers Windows 8 notebook shoppers who are on a budget a vivid display and surprisingly strong graphics performance, plus a comfortable keyboard. The touchpad buttons are on the mushy side, and the speakers don't wow, but overall the V3 is one of the better laptops you'll find for less than $500.
If you're looking for something more portable, the 14-inch Lenovo IdeaPad S400 offers faster processing performance in a sleeker chassis for $455. But if you're looking for a budget multimedia machine with a bigger screen and DVD drive, the Aspire V3-551 is a very good choice.