Aspire 1551 11.6 Inch Notebook
With the holiday season upon us, many of you are pouring over the hot deal ads looking for a good price on a new notebook. A few of those deals will include Acer notebooks, which have never been featured at Legit Reviews until today. The notebook we are looking at is the Acer Aspire 1551. At first glance you could easily mistake this little power house for a netbook. Fear not the lack of CPU power though as the Aspire features a powerful AMD Turion II Neo Dual-Core Mobile Processor. The other important part in most computing today is the graphics processor, and Acer has endowed the Aspire 1551 with an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4225. This grapics chip is powerful enough to do some light gaming on when you aren't chatting up friends, working on a document, or checking up on Facebook news feeds.
Did we mention that Acer Aspire 1551 is small? At just 11.6" wide, about 1" tall, and weighing just over 3 pounds it is definitely encroaching on the netbook space. You might also be surprised to know it has a full-size keyboard.
There are three models in the Aspire 1551 series, the AS1551-4650, AS1551-4755 and the AS1551-5448. Pricing ranges from $389-$500. The differences are simple enough, AS1551-4650 comes with a 1.3GHz AMD Turion II Neo Dual Core Mobile K325 and 2GB of memory, while the AS1551-4755 has the same CPU with 3GB of RAM. The AS1551-5448 is the particular model we're reviewing here, and as you might have guessed is the top of the line for the Aspire 1551 series. The AS1551-5448 features an AMD Turion II Neo Dual Core Mobile K625 CPU operating at 1.5GHz and can be purchased for $499. Below you'll find the full list of technical specifications.
- AMD Turion II Neo Dual-Core Mobile Processor K625 (2MB L2 cache, 1.50GHz)
- 4GB DDR3 SDRAM
- 320GB SATA hard drive, 5400RPM
- 5-in-1 card reader for optional MultiMediaCard, SD, Memory Stick, Memory Stick PRO or xD
- CineCrystal HD 11.6" (1366 x 768) high-brightness (200-nit) TFT display with LED backlighting
- ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4225 with 384MB dedicated memory
- Integrated Acer webcam, 640 x 480 resolution and Acer Video Conference Manager software supporting 640 x 480 resolution
- VGA and HDMI with HDCP support ports
- High-definition audio support
- 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
- 84-key full-size keyboard, embedded numeric keypad, hotkey controls, international language support, Multi-gesture touchpad supporting two-finger scroll, pinch, rotate, flip
- 11.2" (285.0mm) W x 8.0" (204.0mm) D x 1.0" – 1.1” (25.7mm – 28.0mm) H
- 3.1 lb. (1.4kg) with six-cell, 4400mAh battery
- One-year and labor limited warranty with concurrent International Traveler’s Warranty
The Acer AS1551-5448 Laptop
The screen is called a "CineCrystal HD" and is a 11.6" TFT display. It has a native resolution of 1366x768 with LED backlighting. It's powered by an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4225 with 384MB of dedicated memory. At the top of the bezel is a web camera with a resolution of 640x480.
As we stated on page one, the keyboard is full-size but is obviously lacking the side number pad. The keys are well spaced and are completely flat, so it can be easy to mistake one for another. There are no backlights for the keyboard and no outboard illumination so in the dark you'll have to rely on the screen's brightness to help you find any key you're not familiar with.
The track pad area blends right in with the rest of the bottom of the keyboard space, the surface is the same fine grained feel both on the track pad and the non useable area. We were not particularly fond of this as most notebooks feature a track pad that can easily be defined by the smooth surface. It's very hard to tell where you are on the pad and it's not very smooth. Only by running off the edges do you get any input that you've gone astray. The buttons were also not of our liking, requiring more input than we felt needed and at times meant that it moved the notebook slightly when we used the notebook on our lap. Perhaps with some more time in use they will soften. To it's credit, the multi-gesture touchpad supports two-finger scroll, pinch, rotate, flip.
On the top of the Aspire 1551 you see a great looking finish and the Acer logo, it also has a very nice feel.
The bottom of the Aspire 1551 is all business, with many vent slots to help keep the underside of this mini powerhouse cool. What you can't really see behind the vent slots is that there are dust covers inside to help keep the mainboard and fan clean. The warm part of the Aspire 1551 is on the right side of this photo, where you may just be able to make out the fan behind the lower right vent holes. The fan is never very loud and does a good job of keeping the system from burning your legs.
On the right side of the Aspire 1551 we see the memory card reader, the audio out jack/SPDIF, and the microphone jack. There are also two USB ports, a Kensington lock slot, and the RJ45 NIC adapter for Gigabit LAN.
On the left side we have the VGA out connector, the AC adapter plug, and HDMI out, the primary exhaust vent, and a third USB port.
The battery is a 6-cell 4400mAh lithium ion which Acer rates at up to 5 hours. At only 3.1 lbs total for the notebook, almost half of the weight is in the battery.
What you might have overlooked is that the Aspire 1551 does not have a CD/DVD ROM drive. If you need to install software from a disc you'll need to either get an external USB drive, or copy it to another storage medium on another computer and then transfer it over. To get the size so small, you have to make certain sacrifices and the DVD ROM is one of the largest pieces of a computer these days.
Now that we've had a look at the hardware, let's take a look at how it all performs.
Acer Aspire 1551 Test Setup
Our Acer Aspire AS1551-5448 came preloaded with Windows Home Premium 64-bit. We allowed the system to run Windows update and also updated to the latest 10.11 Catalyst Mobility drivers.
The K625 dual core CPU runs at a top speed of 1.5GHz. In the CPUz screenshot above you can see the aggressive throttling down to just 800MHz to lower power consumption.
The 4GB of memory in our Acer Aspire AS1551-5448 runs at 800MHz with 6-6-6-15 timings. As you can see, the memory is based on Samsung IC's which are rated at 1333MHz. As far as memory upgrades go, there are none. The system supports up to 2x2GB of DDR3, which is what is already in the system.
The ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4225 comes equipped with 384MB of DDR2 (336MB shown). With the notebook plugged in Power play was set to maximum performance, which is why we see the clocks running at full speed.
And finally we have the Windows 7 Performance Index. The Aero performance of Windows 7 is the lowest subscore here, giving the system a 4.2 rating.
x264 HD Encoding, Sandra 2011, & wPrime
Simply put, it is a reproducible measure of how fast your machine can encode a short HD-quality video clip into a high quality x264 video file. It's nice because everyone running it will use the same video clip and software. The video encoder (x264.exe) reports a fairly accurate internal benchmark (in frames per second) for each pass of the video encode and it also uses multi-core processors very efficiently. All these factors make this an ideal benchmark to compare different processors and systems to each other.
We have some other notebooks here for comparison. The Acer AS1551-5448 is right in the middle and putting up some double the numbers of the Atom netbooks, which are comparable in size. One thing we found interesting was that the AMD Turion II X2 K625 was ahead of the upcoming Zacate E-350 CPU.
SiSoft Sandra 2011a
A year ago, SiSoftware released Sandra 2010 with full support for Windows 7; in the 18 months since the launch of Windows 7, more than ever before we have seen the line blur between PC and entertainment hubs. Two months ago we released a Blu-Ray benchmark, now we have added a brand-new Media Transcoding benchmark using the new Media Foundation of Windows 7. We have also added yet another benchmark (GPGPU Cryptography) which allows direct comparison of CPU performance (using crypto instruction sets) and GPGPU performance.
This is a "new" benchmark since Sandra 2011a was recently released, so we have no other data to compare it to. At a bit less than 6GB/s we should see this turning out to be on the low end of the results but in line with other products in this space.
wPrime is a leading multithreaded benchmark for x86 processors that tests your processor performance by calculating square roots with a recursive call of Newton's method for estimating functions, with f(x)=x2-k, where k is the number we're sqrting, until Sgn(f(x)/f'(x)) does not equal that of the previous iteration, starting with an estimation of k/2. It then uses an iterative calling of the estimation method a set amount of times to increase the accuracy of the results. It then confirms that n(k)2=k to ensure the calculation was correct. It repeats this for all numbers from 1 to the requested maximum.
Again we see great results from the AMD Turion II X2 K625 processor. At 55.69 seconds it's the fourth fastest processor in our test and ahead of Zacate E-350 again.
3DMark Vantage & PCMark Vantage
3DMark Vantage is the industry standard benchmark for PC gaming performance developed by Futuremark, the same people who developed PCMark Vantage. 3DMark Vantage takes advantage of DirectX 10 as it was designed for Windows Vista and also works in Windows 7. It includes two graphics tests, two CPU tests and a few other feature tests along with support for the latest hardware.
Performance in 3DMark Vantage mirrors what we saw in Left 4 Dead 2, gaming performance is passable at best for this 11 inch ultra mobile notebook.
Many people already know what PCMark Vantage is and what it does, but for those who do not know, PCMark Vantage is a benchmarking suite designed for Windows Vista and Windows 7. It measures your computers performance in areas such as, editing and viewing photos, gaming, video, music, security, productivity and communication. It also offers easy execution for casual users and detailed testing for enthusiasts and professionals alike.
PCMark Vantage allows the user to compare their system to other similar systems to find bottlenecks in their system whether it's a laptop, desktop or workstation.
In PCMark Vantage we have some other systems to compare to. Overall the little Aspire 1551-5448 has respectable performance for such a small system. The rest of the test systems are considerably larger, or have an SSD which tilt the standings a bit.
Starcraft II & Left 4 Dead 2
StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is a military science fiction real-time strategy video game developed by Blizzard Entertainment for Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X. A sequel to the award-winning 1998 video game StarCraft, the game was released worldwide on July 27, 2010. It is split into three installments: the base game with the subtitle Wings of Liberty, and two upcoming expansion packs, Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void. StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty has had a successful launch, selling three million copies worldwide in less than a month.
We tested Starcraft II at two resolutions. The first is at the notebook's native resolution, the second is by connecting a 1920x1080 monitor to the notebook and making that the only display device.
Testing at the native resolution of 1366x768 with low settings nets playable performance on Starcraft II. If you're on the go and have some down time to get some gaming in, this is certainly a good way to pass the time.
Left 4 Dead 2
The Sequel to Valve Corporation's award-winning Left 4 Dead, Left 4 Dead 2 involves the aftermath of an apocalyptic pandemic. There has been an outbreak of a pathogen that causes infected humans to behave like zombies. The four survivors have to fight their way through the hordes of infected, using safehouses along the way to rest and recover in order to reach extraction points. This takes place in the southern United States, featuring Savannah, GA and New Orleans, LA.
We tested Left 4 Dead 2 at two resolutions. The first is at the notebook's native resolution the second is by connecting a 1920x1080 monitor to the notebook and making that the only display device.
Performance in Left 4 Dead 2 was below what we consider to be playable until we dropped to 1024x768. Running at a 4:3 aspect ratio with a widescreen isn't ideal as it adds black bars to the sides, but it was enough to make Left 4 Dead 2 playable.
Battery Life & Power Consumption
One of the most important factors when purchasing a notebook is what kind of battery life you can expect from it. Manufacturers can make some pretty outrageous claims so we've set up our test to simulate a couple of situations that you may encounter.
Idle battery life is measured by enabling Windows 7 "Power Saver" power plan. Dim display is set for 3 minutes, turn off display is set to 15 minutes, and sleep is disabled entirely. Brightness is set 10marks from the minimum.
For our web surfing battery test the "Balanced plan." Dim is set to 5 minutes, turn off display is set to never, as well as sleep being disabled. We loaded up our active Facebook account, Digg, and ThomsonReuters news home page in Firefox, installed "ReloadEvery" and set each page to update every 30 seconds.
Battery life is pretty good here, coming in at over 6.5 hours when idle, and 4.5 hours of web surfing.
We are often curious as to what kind of power is used when a notebook is plugged in so we decided to break out our Kill-a-Watt and see what readings we could get for some usage scenarios. We have Idle, Idle while the battery is being charged, load, load while being charged, and charging only which is the notebook turned off but the battery being charged.
These tests were completed on "High Performance" power plan settings, which turns the screen brightness to the max. For our idle test we waited for 5 minutes after Windows has gone idle, we took a measurement from the Kill-a-Watt. For our load test we loaded up x264 benchmark and recorded the constant power draw during the first pass of the benchmark.
Considering that this is a decently powerful dual core CPU and graphics powerful enough to do a bit of gaming on, the power use is not bad at all.
Acer Aspire 1551 Conclusion
The Acer Aspire AS1551-5448 has a bit of an identity crisis. It's nearly as small as a netbook but has double the performance with a small price premium. It's much smaller than most "normal" ultra portable notebooks but performance is not quite up to that level and has a slightly lower cost. It looks to be what some might consider the perfect compromise. For many business users the netbook has an appealing size but the performance leaves a lot to be desired. With double the performance, still attractive battery life, and a very slightly larger footprint, the Aspire AS1551-5448 seems to be going after those that are turned off by the performance of a netbook but value its size.
So is it the perfect compromise? I would have to say it's pretty darn close. Netbooks are plagued with slow system drives, slower CPU's, low amounts of memory, and long loading times for even the simplest of applications. You can also forget about gaming. On our Aspire 1551-5448 loading up Word and Excel were snappy enough. The AMD Turion II K625 CPU proved to be quite capable of handling anything you could reasonably expect a notebook to run. The addition of a quality SSD could really put the little Aspire over the top. At $499 it's a stretch for someone strictly on a netbook budget so adding an SSD would complicate that argument.
My only nitpick is that the multi-gesture track pad does not have a "smooth" surface. Otherwise I was impressed by the quality and sturdiness of the Acer AS1551-5448. Some may not care for the glossy screen and bezel around it but I tend to like them. Wi-Fi performance was great (better than my Samsung Epic 4G). The keyboard layout is well thought out and has an excellent feel.
Gaming performance on the integrated AMD Radeon HD 4225 works well enough in a pinch, good enough to play Starcraft II but we would suggest staying away from first person shooters. As someone who does a lot of work on a laptop while stuck in hotel rooms and trade show floors, I would say that with a quality, value sized SSD, the Acer Aspire AS1551-5448 would be tough to beat for use on the go.
Legit Bottom Line: The Acer Aspire 1551 notebook gives you the portability of a netbook with performance closer to a larger notebook. If you're looking for a small device to actually do some work on the Aspire 1551 could be your new best friend.