We've been impressed by many of the laptops in Acer's Aspire range, which is now so massive that it covers pretty much every sector of the market like a big, smothering blanket. Here we take a look at the Aspire 5551. It's available with a range of components, but we're looking at the high-end model that features a triple-core AMD processor. It's available for around £550.
More walkway than catwalk
The 5551 sports an industrial-looking silver pattern on the lid. Its texture is reminiscent of the metal walkways you'll see in nuclear submarines and the depths of the Battlestar Galactica.
The interior is pretty business-like. There's a brushed-aluminium-style finish on the wrist rest, and a strip of glossy black plastic surrounds the chassis. Around the edges, you'll find VGA and HDMI outputs, an Ethernet jack, 3.5mm sockets for headphones and a mic, three USB ports, a multi-format card reader and a DVD rewritable drive.
The 5551 weighs in at 2.6kg, which is somewhat on the hefty side. Measuring 34mm at its thickest point, it's not the skinniest laptop to ever grace our office either.
But the trackpad is smooth and, while it could have been larger, it's not so cramped as to cause us to hurl the laptop out of the window in a fit of rage. The keyboard is comfortable and springy, and sensibly laid out too, apart from a few tiny arrow keys. It's pretty much perfect for sitting in Starbucks and tapping out that screenplay you've been working on.
This machine runs Windows 7 Home Premium and offers a 320GB hard drive, which is plenty of storage space. The ethereal, translucent beauty of the Windows interface looks spiffy on the 5551's 15.6-inch display. Boasting a maximum resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, the screen is pleasingly bright and renders vivid colours.
Three cores and the truth
We found the 5551 did a pretty reasonable job when it came to everyday computing tasks. Its 2.1GHz, triple-core AMD Phenom II N830 CPU kept everything chugging along at a fair old clip, and racked up a very healthy score of 5,084 in the PCMark05 benchmarking test. With 4GB of DDR3 RAM backing up the CPU, this laptop proved pretty swift during multitasking duties, and most of our 1080p test video played back smoothly.
We were less impressed with this machine's graphics performance, though. It racked up a lowly score of 1,828 in 3DMark06. That score indicates the 5551 would be out of its depth with any kind of gaming, or anything that chucks plenty of polygons around.
The 5551's battery life is pretty rubbish too. In Battery Eater's punishing Classic test, this laptop held out for a paltry 1 hour and 12 minutes. It'll last longer with less intensive use, but that figure is still pretty pants.
The Acer Aspire 5551 isn't exactly the sexiest machine we've ever clapped eyes on. With its chunky chassis and rubbish battery life, it's not exactly built for portability either. It does, however, offer decent performance for a laptop that costs under £600.
If you need a machine that's more mobile, you may want to look in the direction of the HP Pavilion dm3-1105ea, for example.
Edited by Charles Kloet