Just because you can't spring for a premium laptop that costs thousands of dollars doesn't mean you should settle for less. Let me introduce you to the Acer Aspire 5: One of the best laptops under $500 that offers strong Intel Core i3 performance, a bright 15.6-inch display and long battery life -- all for an affordable $399. The Aspire 5 does have its flaws, including an underperforming graphics card and slightly questionable build quality. However, if you're looking to buy a laptop on the cheap, the Aspire 5 is one of the best laptops in its price range.
Acer Aspire 5 (Core i3, 2019) price and configuration options
I tested the starting model of the Aspire 5, which runs for $399 and comes outfitted with an Intel Core i3-8145U processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. The midtier model costs $529 and bumps you up to a Core i5-8265U CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD.
If you want to max this baby out, you'll get a Core i7-8565U processor, 12GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and an Nvidia GeForce MX250 with 2GB of VRAM -- all for $849.
Acer Aspire 5 (Core i3, 2019) design
Don't let the price fool you -- the Aspire 5 sports a premium aesthetic, with a silver, aluminum hood. Even the Acer logo stamped at the center has a premium flair -- instead of being a glossy plastic piece embedded in the chassis, the logo is metallic and rises out of the lid. The top of the lid features two line accents on each end, which look a little awkward. What was more alarming, however, was when my co-worker noticed that the lid wasn't aligned with the deck. We called in a replacement but had the same problem.
When I reached out to Acer for comment, a representative told me that "The design is intentional to account for different materials being used on different parts of the system."
The interior is pretty standard: silver deck and black keyboard. There's an Aspire logo on the hinge, which is neat. To top it off, the bezels on the display are surprisingly narrow for a laptop this cheap.
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At 3.8 pounds and 14.3 x 9.9 x 0.7 inches, the Aspire 5 is thinner than its 14-inch competitor, the HP 14 Laptop (DF0023CL), which weighs in at 3.1 pounds and measures 12.8 x 8.9 x 0.8 inches. The Aspire 5's cheaper cousin, the Acer Aspire E 15, comes in at a much larger 5 pounds and 15 x 10.2 x 1.2 inches.
Acer Aspire 5 (Core i3, 2019) ports
The Aspire 5 has a fair amount of ports.
On the left side, there's the power jack, a jaw-dropping RJ45 Ethernet port, an HDMI port, two USB 3.1 ports (one with Poweroff charging) and a USB Type-C port.
Meanwhile, the right side features a Kensington lock slot, one USB 2.0 port and a headphone jack.
Acer Aspire 5 (Core i3, 2019) display
The Aspire 5's 15.6-inch panel is considerably bright, and unlike many budget laptops sports a full 1080p resolution.
In the live-action trailer of Mulan, the titular character was training by a lake, and even though it was dark, I could see the mountain landscape as well as the petals from the tree in the background. The panel was also sharp enough to detail Mulan's pores as her makeup was being done. However, the red threads that kept Mulan's helmet and armor together looked muted.
According to our colorimeter, the Aspire 5's panel covered 65% of the sRGB color gamut, which is below the budget laptop average (78%), but it surpassed the 62% that both the Aspire E 15 and HP 14 Laptop achieved.
At 276 nits, the Aspire 5's display killed it on brightness, toppling the category average (213 nits) as well as the Aspire E 15 (227 nits) and HP 14 Laptop (199 nits).
Acer Aspire 5 (Core i3, 2019) keyboard and touchpad
I felt comfortable plugging away on a typing test on the Aspire 5, which has relatively clicky keys. The machine even has a number pad as well as white backlighting, which is a neat feature for the price.
I managed 70 words per minute on the 10FastFingers.com typing test, which is my current average. The keys are slightly shallow at 1.2 millimeters, which is outside of our preferred 1.5- to 2.0-mm range, but they do require a meaty 78 grams of force to actuate.
The 4.2 x 3-inch touchpad is a good size and offers a decently soft texture, although the buttons are a little shallow. It does have Windows 10 Precision drivers, so gestures like two-finger scrolling and three-finger tabbing worked as intended.
Acer Aspire 5 (Core i3, 2019) audio
The Aspire 5's bottom-firing speakers are mediocre, but they could be worse for the price. I listened to Lund's "Low," which didn't carry that much weight throughout my small room. However, the acoustic guitar that opens the song sounded appropriately melodic, and the vocals were clear and articulate. However, the percusion, especially the bass, sounded a little hollow. And when more than two instruments were playing at once, the sound turned muddy.
You can (kind of) customize the audio via the built-in Realtek Audio Console. You can find Acer's TrueHarmony tuning in the app, which features three presets: Music, Movie and Game. Music sounded the best for what I was listening to, and having TrueHarmony enabled does help the sound a lot on its own, but you still won't be getting premium-level audio.
Acer Aspire 5 (Core i3, 2019) performance
For less than $400, the Aspire 5 packs an Intel Core i3-8145U processor and 4GB of RAM that hurdled through 30 Google Chrome tabs and four 1080p YouTube videos with minimal slowdown while Spotify ran in the background.
On the Geekbench 4.1 overall performance test, the Aspire 5 scored 8,030, climbing over the budget laptop average (5,504) as well as the Core i3-8130U in the Aspire E 15 (7,871) and the HP 14 Laptop (6,901).
The Aspire 5 took 32 minutes and 53 seconds to transcode a 4K video to 1080p on our HandBrake benchmark. That's much slower than the category average (23:05) and slightly behind the Aspire E 15 (31:40).
Acer's 128GB SSD copied 4.97GB of data in 20.5 seconds, translating to 248 megabytes per second, which blazes past the average budget laptop (75 MBps). The Aspire E 15 is weighed down by a much slower 1TB HDD (34 MBps), and even though the HP 14 Laptop has a 128GB SSD, it had a rate of only 85 MBps.
Acer Aspire 5 (Core i3, 2019) graphics
With an Intel UHD 620 GPU, the Aspire 5 scored 59,873 on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited graphics benchmark, which is better than the 37,818 budget laptop average as well as the 39,950 score from the HP 14 Laptop's own Intel UHD 620 GPU. However, with the same GPU, the Aspire E 15 surpassed the Aspire 5 with 63,817.
The Aspire 5 crashed and burned on the Dirt 3 benchmark, averaging a mere 19 frames per second, dropping below the 30-fps minimum for playability as well as the 27-fps category average. The HP 14 Laptop (25 fps) didn't meet our threshold either, while the Aspire E 15 (56 fps) zoomed into first place.
Acer Aspire 5 (Core i3, 2019) battery life
The Aspire 5 not only offers solid performance but also has a long battery life. After it continuously surfed the web over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness, the battery lasted 8 hours and 51 minutes, topping the 7:06 budget laptop average. It even surpassed the Aspire E 15 (8:48) and the HP 14 Laptop (6:12).
Acer Aspire 5 (Core i3, 2019) webcam
The Aspire 5's 720p webcam isn't winning any prizes with the grainy shots it produced. However, it did provide a decent color, displaying the red and yellow in my Spider-Man shirt quite well. Even so, the contrast wasn't good; one of the corners of my room was so dark I couldn't even identify what was there.
Acer Aspire 5 (Core i3, 2019) heat
This machine stays incredibly cool even under pressure. After playing a 15-minute, 1080p video, the underside reached a maximum of 88 degrees Fahrenheit, which is well below our 95-degree comfort threshold. Meanwhile, the center of the keyboard and touchpad hit 86 and 79 degrees, respectively.
Acer Aspire 5 (Core i3, 2019) software and warranty
Acer has slightly trimmed down the apps it stuffs into your machine, but there are still a few to name. The Aspire 5 is packaged with Acer Product Registration (gives you access to discounts), Apps Explorer (a collection of the "best" Windows apps), Acer Care Center (recovery management and utilities), Amazon, Netflix, Booking.com Partner App and Evernote.
Meanwhile, the Windows 10 bloatware includes Bubble Witch 3 Saga, Candy Crush Friends Saga and Nitrado.
The Acer Aspire 5 is the laptop to get if you're on a budget. It features great performance for the price, a display that's brighter than most cheap laptops, and it'll survive longer than your average workday. The only real issues with it are its middling graphics and the fact that the lid may be a little off-center.
If you want to save a little more money, go with the Acer Aspire E 15 ($361). It's bulkier, but it offers more ports and the same good performance but with stronger graphics and better build quality for a cheaper price. You will lose out on an SSD, however.
Overall, the Aspire 5 is an excellent budget laptop.