Computers / Hands-on Review

This Acer Aspire S5 Ultrabook™ Brings the Thunder(bolt)


When someone says that they’re going to buy an ultra-slim, ultraportable notebook computer with a Thunderbolt port, people might automatically think of a notebook computer made by a company with a different name. Well, that notion is no longer valid now that Acer has introduced its Aspire S5-391-9880-US 13.3" Ultrabook™ Computer.

Ultra-Slim, Ultraportable

Living up to the Ultrabook name, the Aspire S5 is only 0.59" thin, making it the world’s thinnest notebook at the time of this writing. It also weighs just 2.65 pounds, so holding the Aspire S5 in your hands is far from strenuous. When placed in a backpack, it adds almost no bulk, thanks to its svelte chassis.

Since the Aspire S5 is so thin and lightweight, you would probably expect it to feel a bit delicate. Surprisingly, it's remarkably solid. The body of the Aspire S5 is made of magnesium alloy, which is a welcome change from that cheap plastic feel you get from other Ultrabooks and netbooks.

Overall, the Aspire S5 has a simple design, yet it maintains a sleek look. The outside of the lid is clean with only an understated Acer logo located in the middle. Turn it over and the bottom is also clutter free, with two integrated stereo speakers located at either side of this Ultrabook.

Do the MagicFlip

There is also the MagicFlip I/O launcher built into the bottom. At a press of a button, the motorized door drops down to reveal an HDMI port, two USB 3.0 ports and for the first time ever on a PC computer, an Intel-certified Thunderbolt port. The button for the MagicFlip I/O launcher is near the top right corner of the keyboard. One press and your ports are revealed. Press it again and the MagicFlip launcher closes and keeps your ports free from dust, lint and other unwanted materials. The MagicFlip I/O launcher button works even when the Aspire S5 is shut down, but none of the ports are operational until you turn the Ultrabook on.

Sleek Design

With all the ports located in the back and hidden by the MagicFlip, the Aspire S5 stays super slim and the sides clean and simple. The right side features a Kensington lock slot, a battery indicator light and a 3.5mm headphone/microphone combo jack. The left side features the power button and a Secure Digital (SD) and MultiMediaCard (MMC) combo digital media card reader.

Open up the lid to reveal the chiclet-style keyboard. Comfortably spaced, the keys feel solid and responsive. Also, the magnesium alloy build prevents the keyboard from flexing when you type, an issue that plagues other notebooks made of plastic. The keys also don’t make too much noise when pressed, allowing for a quieter typing experience. The arrow keys are a bit small, but the addition of Home and End keys make up for it. The palm rests make typing comfortable and stay cool while you’re using the computer.

The touchpad doesn’t have any physical buttons, but that’s okay since the entire pad is clickable. Clicking on the bottom left corner of the touchpad replicates a left mouse click or simply tapping anywhere on the touchpad (without clicking it). Pressing down on the bottom right corner of the touchpad represents a right mouse click. In practice, it works pretty well and is quite responsive.

If you would rather have a mouse, the Aspire S5 comes with a wireless Bluetooth mouse. During the initial setup, Acer will guide you through the steps of connecting your Bluetooth mouse. The compact mouse works well with the Aspire S5 and is small enough that you can bring it with you when you’re on the go.

Optimal Performance

This Acer Ultrabook is powered by a 3rd generation Intel Core i7-3517U central processing unit (CPU). Its dual cores can reach a speed of 1.9 GHz. It can also be over-clocked up to 3.0 GHz, thanks to Intel Turbo Boost 2.0 technology. The CPU features Intel Hyper-Threading technology, which allows each core to produce 2 virtual cores, resulting in a total of 4 virtual cores. This, coupled with a dedicated 4MB L3 cache and 4GB of onboard DDR3 RAM, allows you to multitask smoothly and seamlessly.

Integrated into the CPU is the Intel HD Graphics 4000. With the ability to dedicate 128MB of system memory for visual use, Intel HD Graphics 4000 plays high-definition video smoothly. And, while not designed specifically for gaming, this Acer Ultrabook can nonetheless run many games with its Microsoft DirectX 11 support. You can also access the Intel Graphics and Media Control Panel to customize your graphical settings. You’ll be able to select which display (if connected to an external screen) you want to use, calibrate color, scale images, enhance pictures, maximize battery life and even determine the quality of 3D visuals. There are also a number of hot keys you can use for even quicker access to the Intel Graphics and Media Control Panel.

While most laptop speakers are plagued with tinny audio and lackluster volume, the built-in Acer 3DSonic stereo speakers on this Aspire S5 are surprisingly different. While they cannot match the performance of an expensive home theater system, they are quite sufficient for watching a movie or listening to music. The speakers are powered by Dolby Home Theater v4 for good sound quality. Dolby Home Theater v4 offers three default profiles as well as a plethora of customizable options. The sound profiles are Movie, Music and Game. These profiles optimize the sound automatically for your respective media. You’ll also have access to the Audio Optimizer, Audio Regulator, Volume Leveler, Volume Maximizer, Intelligent EQ, Dialogue Enhancer, and Surround Virtualizer in order to fine-tune your listening experience.

There is an Acer Green Instant-On feature that allows the Aspire S5 to resume from sleep in less than 1.5 seconds, and from deep sleep mode in just 6 seconds. This is due to the 256GB solid-state drive in the Aspire S5. While the capacity may not be as high as more conventional mechanical hard drives, the solid-state drive runs faster and has no moving parts, allowing it to last longer than traditional hard drives.

One thing an Ultrabook must do is connect to the Internet wirelessly. The Aspire S5 does this quite well with 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi. It also has Acer Always Connect, which remembers all the Wi-Fi spots you’ve been to and automatically connects to them as soon as they’re in range. This is useful for when you need to access the Internet quickly without being delayed with unnecessary hassles.

Port Authority

Finally, PC users can embrace the blazing speed of Thunderbolt. The Aspire S5 features an Intel-certified Thunderbolt port, which transfers data at 10 Gbps. Approximately 20 times faster than USB 2.0 and 12 times faster than FireWire 800, you’ll be able to move enormous photo albums and videos without long wait times.

While the addition of Thunderbolt is welcomed, the Aspire S5 also has two USB 3.0 ports so you don’t have to neglect your already existing USB-compliant hard drives. While not quite as fast as Thunderbolt, it is definitely much more universal, especially since USB 3.0 is backwards compatible with USB 2.0 devices as well.

Photo and Video Users Rejoice

Photo and video users will appreciate the glossy CineCrystal 13.3" display on this Aspire S5 Ultrabook. The screen is backlit with LED lamps, which brighten faster, use less power and provide better picture quality than their CCFL counterparts. The display has a 16:9 aspect ratio and a 1366 x 768 native resolution. The visuals are handled automatically by integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000.

While the 1366 x 768 native resolution is lower than we expected for the price range, it works well with the 13.3" screen, particularly the size of the text. Letters come off clean and crisp, making it easier to read documents and e-books without straining your eyes.

The Aspire S5 Ultrabook comes with AcerCloud. AcerCloud is your own personal cloud, which lets you share your music, photos, videos and documents on your Aspire S5 with all your other mobile devices. AcerCloud allows you to designate your Aspire S5 Ultrabook as the “Cloud PC.” After you’ve done that, you’ll be able to share all your music, documents, photos and videos to all your Android mobile devices. If your Ultrabook is in sleep mode, AcerCloud can wake it up for you.

The included Acer Photo application allows you to quickly organize and view all the photos located on your Aspire S5 Ultrabook. The application also manages all the photos taken from your Android devices or imported from your digital camera. You can also create photo albums and access them on your Android smartphone or tablet. There is also a PicStream, which allows AcerCloud to automatically push a copy of all photos taken with your Android smartphone or tablet to all connected devices. You can also find all your photos in the aforementioned Acer Photo application on your Aspire S5 Ultrabook.

The Acer Media application helps you simplify your music and video library. You can create a playlist on your Aspire S5 and access that same playlist on your Android smartphone or tablet. High-definition videos play smoothly and seamlessly in crystal-clear quality on the Aspire S5’s display, especially 720p content.

AcerCloud also automatically keeps a copy of all edited documents in the cloud for you. That way, you’ll be able to browse through all important files, whether it’s through the Aspire S5 or your Android mobile device. AcerCloud keeps your content library safe using robust security to ensure that only you can access your data. AcerCloud encrypts all content that is pushed over the Internet for added protection.

The Perfect Balance

Acer has found the perfect balance between mobility and performance with the Aspire S5 Ultrabook. With an Ivy Bridge Intel Core i7 processor, a 256GB solid state drive, an Intel-certified Thunderbolt port and more, the Acer Aspire S5 Ultrabook provides high performance while its svelte design makes it ultraportable. If you are in the market for an Ultrabook, you should definitely consider the Aspire S5-391-9880-US 13.3" Ultrabook Computer.

*Intel, the Intel logo, Intel Core, and Ultrabook are trademarks of Intel Corporation in the U.S and/or other countries.



1.9 GHz Intel i7-3517U Dual-Core Ivy Bridge
Cache L3: 4MB
System Bus 5GT/s
Memory Slots: Onboard
Installed: 4GB
Capacity: 4GB
Graphics Card Type: Integrated - Installed: Intel HD Graphics 4000 with up to 128MB Shared
Display Widescreen
Size 13.3"
Backlight LED
Aspect Ratio 16:9
Finish Glossy
Native Resolution 1366 x 768
Hard Drive Installed: 256GB SSD
Optical Drive None
Ports 2x USB 3.0 (A)
1x Thunderbolt (Intel Certified)
Display 1x HDMI
Audio Integrated Acer 3DSonic Stereo Speakers
Integrated Digital Microphone
1x 1/8" (3.5mm) Headphone/Microphone Combo Jack
2-in-1 Media Card Slot SD, MMC
Network None
Modem None
Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n
Bluetooth Bluetooth 4.0
Mobile Broadband None
GPS None
Webcam Yes, 1.3MP (1280 x 1024)
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
Security Kensington Lock Slot
Keyboard Type: Standard Notebook Keyboard, Features: Chiclet Style (Volume Up/Down Media Keys)
Pointing Device TouchPad with Flip, Multi-Touch Control, Pinch, Rotate, Two-Finger Scrolling
Battery 3-Cell Lithium-Polymer Providing up to 6.5 Hours per Charge (2310mAh)
Power Requirements Not Specified By Manufacturer
Dimensions 12.77 x 0.59 x 8.95" / 32.44 x 1.50 x 22.73 cm
Weight 2.65 lb / 1.20 kg

Discussion 2

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Looks interesting--kudos to Acer! However, I would note two caveats. First, the ports are on the back edge. That's less convenient than on the sides and can make putting the ultrabook closed in a stand more problematic. It may not be much of a problem, but should be noted. The fact that they're covered by a door is another area of concern. Port doors have been notorious sources of problems on other laptops. For example, could the door come open in a bag or while carrying the S5?

Second, the screen resolution (1366x768) is the same as the smaller 11.6" MacBook Air and thus should be compared to THAT Mac, NOT to the same-size 13.3" MacBook Air, which has a 1440x900 display--23.5% more screen real estate. The 11.6" MacBook Air is smaller, lighter and, depending upon the configuration, could be cheaper. (The Acer has a 256 GB SSD; a similarly-priced and specced MacBook Air has 128 GB.)

I couldn't find any mention in the article here nor in the B&H listing as to the maximum size external display the Acer Aspire S5 can drive. The MacBook Airs can drive up to 2560x1600. I would expect that the Aspire S5 could do about the same, as it has the same Intel integrated graphics as the MacBook Airs. This can be useful for those who want to use only one computer and don't have a lot of peripherals.

Apple has a Thunderbolt-to-Ethernet converter and should have a Thunderbolt-to-FireWire 800 converter this fall. These MIGHT work on the Aspire S5, though it would probably depend upon the drivers in the OS, as well as the hardware. That could be a useful thing for the experts at B&H to figure out.

Is the keyboard backlit?