The Acer 5551G Experience

So before we get to the benchmarks, let's take a moment to discuss the Acer experience. We've used quite a few laptops and things actually appear to have changed since the last time we tested an Acer system. Unfortunately, the changes aren't all for the better.

Starting from the top, the initial setup of the 5551G takes a very long time. After creating a user name/password, there's a about a three minute delay. Then Windows logs in, finalizes the setup, and an Acer application launches that proceeds to install 26 applications and utilities. Some of these are useful (power management, touchpad drivers, web camera drivers, etc.), but it appears that Acer installs some drivers multiple times—or they install multiple driver sets rather than customizing according to what hardware is actually present. As an example, I saw two different touchpad installs go by in the list, and at least three WiFi utilities. There are also other applications that aren't nearly so useful, like Windows Live Essentials and Windows Live Mail (yes, two separate installs that need to be updated via Windows Updates when you're finished). Works 2009SE is another questionable application, but if you don't have MS Office and you're not willing to use the free OpenOffice.org, perhaps it can be of use. What's more, the installer takes almost 30 minutes to complete. Why couldn't all of these applications and drivers be rolled into the original disk image so that the customer doesn't have to wait? The last Acer laptop I recall testing only took about 5 minutes from first-boot to usable, so this is a clear regression.

And let's talk about bloatware for a minute. Once the whole install process is complete, you're greeted by a "clean" system that boots with no fewer than 65 running processes. Desktop icons include Acer Games (Wild Tangent), eBay, McAfee Internet Security, a 60-day trial for Office 2007 (what, no Office 2010 Starter?), Netflix, and Norton Online Backup. Yeah, all of those can go as far as we're concerned, so plan on another hour or so uninstalling unwanted applications. Good times! Our uninstall list also includes Google Toolbar for IE, Norton Online Backup, MyWinLocker Suite, and of course the big one: McAfee Internet Security Suite. Depending on your view of their usefulness, you might also uninstall Acer Backup Manager, Acer eRecovery Management, Acer Games, Acer Registration, Acer Screensaver, Acer Updater, eBay Worldwide, eSobi, Identity Card (Acer), Welcome Center (Acer), and Windows Live Essentials/Sign-In Assistant/Sync/Upload Tool. Since we want a clean system, we removed all of the above. Leaving on the Acer Power utility, we still drop down to a much leaner 45 running processes when we're finished.

So that's the bad news: we have another bloated OEM configuration that takes far too long to get running. From first boot to cleaned up installation, we're looking at about two hours of work. If you have a Windows 7 DVD, you could easily do a clean install, download all the necessary drivers and updates, and be using your new laptop far quicker.

What about the good news? There are a few definite improvements over previous Acer laptops. The chassis ditches much of the glossy plastic and you get an aluminum palm rest, the LCD lid no longer has a curved/bubble design, and the palm rest has near-right-angle corners compared to the more rounded design of the previous generation. We're pleased with all of those changes, though opinions on aesthetics naturally vary.

Unfortunately, we're greeted by the same old keyboard layout with the "floating island" keys—a poor take on chiclet in our view, and we don't even think good chiclet designs are the best. Dustin and Vivek can't stand the keyboard; I'm a little more lenient, but I'd definitely recommend trying it out in person because there are people that will hate the keyboard. Also, and I know this is going to come as a shock, the LCD is a typical 768p glossy display with poor black (gray) levels that result in a mediocre contrast ratio. What's more, once again the only glossy plastic is on the LCD bezel. I suppose there's some nice symmetry in having a glossy panel with a glossy bezel—if you like fingerprints on the bezel at least.

Expansion options are generally limited; oddly enough there looks to be a second spot for a mini-PCIe card in the top-left corner under a small hatch, but there's no actual PCIe connector. The rest of the internals are under a larger cover, providing easy access to the HDD, RAM, and WiFi mini-PCIe adapter.

Overall, I don't generally have a problem using the laptop; the touchpad is fine if unremarkable, and all of the necessary features worked without a hitch. If you're not a fan of previous Acer laptops, it's doubtful you'll be any happier with the 5551G. It's still plastic, there's some keyboard flex, the keys on the keyboard don't have very good action, and the LCD is at best average. The good aspects come in the form of the internal hardware, where you get AMD's dual-core Athlon II P520 coupled to an HD 5650 GPU. Perhaps even more surprising is that even at full tilt, the 5551G runs very quiet and temperatures remain reasonable.

So, we're here today to see what this hardware combination can do for AMD's mobile sector. We complained that the quad-core P920 clocked at 1.6GHz was simply too slow at times, and we wondered if a dual-core P520 wouldn't be a better fit. Lo and behold, that's what we have in the 5551G-4591 and if that's not enough to pique your interest, the price comes in at a svelte $600 at the time of writing. We can complain a lot about build quality being sub-par, or the keyboard being horrible, or tons of bloatware…but when the price is $50 to $150 less than any comparable laptop in terms of graphics performance, we're willing to forgive quite a lot. It would be great if Newegg or someone else can get more of the 5551G-4591 in stock; but even if you can't find this unit, other laptops like the HP dv6z have similar specs (albeit at a higher price). Availability concerns aside, let's look at how the 5650+P520 combo performs.

Acer 5551G: AMD's Budget Gaming Laptop Application Performance: AMD's P520 in Perspective
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  • TekDemon - Monday, December 6, 2010 - link

    Acer notebooks are very obviously built to a price-point...they're the only company I know that'll actually ship laptops with only one speaker to save that extra dollar. I know that doesn't apply to the Timeline but there's still plenty of penny-pinching in the build.
    And it does matter since in reliability studies they don't fare all that hot compared to companies that put more effort into good build quality.
    Reply
  • MadMan007 - Saturday, November 27, 2010 - link

    I think it's interesting that much of the article, when talking about the laptop overall, goes on about pricepriceprice but then you want a better LCD too, and even quantify it to the opint that the pricepriceprice advantage would be washed out by a better LCD. Not that AT has as much pull as lame mainstream places like CNet, PCWorld etc but maybe if you started making it clear that better screens at a higher price is a good thing, rather than going back and forth between 'great price' and 'bad screen,' manufacturers might take note. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, November 27, 2010 - link

    I didn't think I really said much about the LCD in this review. I mention it as being average in the intro, and I have our standard LCD test page where I show how it's no better than other budget laptop LCDs, There's definitely a place for good LCDs, but honestly putting a high quality LCD into an AMD-based laptop like this is pretty pointless. If you're willing to pay $100 more for a quality LCD, you'd probably want better build quality, better battery life, and a faster CPU as well -- all of which you can find in something like the Dell XPS 15.

    When we're looking at what is essentially a pure budget build, I'm okay with the mediocre LCDs; I don't like them, but I don't expect them to increase the cost by 15 to 25% just for the display. Basically, budget notebooks costing under $650 with standard LCDs is acceptable.

    I think you're referring to the quote at the beginning, where I reference the Toshiba A660D conclusion. Keep in mind that the A665D/A660D originally cost over $800 (it's now $680 for the A665D-S6059 at Newegg), and at a price of $800 I expect a lot more. I suppose I could edit the quote, but I didn't want to do that. Hope that clarifies things a bit. :)
    Reply
  • Stuka87 - Saturday, November 27, 2010 - link

    The Hardware Monitor graphic is missing from page 6.

    Instead I just see: [HWMonitor]
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, November 27, 2010 - link

    Fixed, thanks. I put that in as a placeholder (we add the text into the content engine and then add images) and missed replacing it. Oops. Reply
  • silverblue - Saturday, November 27, 2010 - link

    Acer's best AMD model seems to be the 5553 which, despite not really being a step up, does offer switchable graphics. That in itself may gift it better battery life with that anaemic 48Wh battery.

    In any case, the CPU in the 5551 is a few months old now; it would be good if you could find a laptop with a Phenom II P650 (runs at 2.8GHz and sports a 25W TDP), though it's a new model so I doubt it's readily available.
    Reply
  • KingstonU - Saturday, November 27, 2010 - link

    Great job on the review, you guys cover and discuss all the aspects that I want to know about when shopping for this kind of laptop. I recently bought the TimeLineX which is almost this exact laptop but with Core 2010 CPU and a much bigger battery for $850 CA. Cures almost all of the problems with the model in the review. Very happy with my purchase and look forward to more laptops like this in the future. Reply
  • aylafan - Sunday, November 28, 2010 - link

    While I do agree about the love/hate relationship with the keyboard and poor LCD screen. Overall, I still think the Acer's Aspire 5551G is better buy than the 5740G I owned before. Maybe, not in the processor department, but pretty much in everything else.

    I've played around with a similar Acer laptop model at Wal-mart and the build quality feels much better than the plastic gemstone design of the 5740G. The 5740G has poor battery life, it had an annoying beep each time I unplugged the power adapter, it weighed more than other laptops in its class, the Western Digital hard drive kept freezing so I had to install quietHDD, the touchpad buttons were stiff to push down, etc. There were just too many annoying things with the 5740G. All these flaws pretty much killed my expectations of the laptop.

    Now, the TimelineX 4820TG is on a whole different level. I've had no problems with it and the build quality feels more sturdier than the 5740G that I owned before. It's given me around 6 hours of battery life. it's extremely thin, weighs only 4.65 lbs, has a Core i processor, it looks professional, it has switchable graphics, etc. and best thing is that it's only around $800. Here is my review. http://forum.notebookreview.com/acer/499204-acer-a...

    While, you may argue that the TimelineX is just a better version of the Acer laptop you just reviewed. Every little improvement changes the whole experience.
    Reply
  • Akaz1976 - Sunday, November 28, 2010 - link

    Would love to see a Acer 3820TG-7360 (i3/HD5650/4GB/$700) review . Recently i have had good experience with acer sub-notebooks.

    Acer seems to be the only one targeting decent variety in optical drive-less (sub 4lbs) notebooks. I have an 1820tz which is awesome for what it does (essentially a netbook size/batterylife but basic laptop type power). Its great for wife/kids even work related travel. And for the price it only needs to last half as long as a 'business' laptop (to cost same amount annually).

    The 3820 ( provides excellent portability and performance. Apparently (i have not received mine yet) it delivers 8hrs of battery life and <4lbs for travel (i can carry it at a conference for full day without having to have a powerbar or wreck my shoulder) yet i can play BFBC2 at medium in my hotel room in the evening.

    Akaz

    PS. I think laptop makers need to really evaluate the role of optical drive in modern always connected/Saas/USB key world. Even as a gamer i rarely need optical drive (bless steam). For work i have never need optical drive as everything is installed at the start (even then many software are downloaded rather CD installed). All it does is add cost and weight.
    Reply
  • Dug - Sunday, November 28, 2010 - link

    I just bought a timelineX 4820TG for under $790 and my only complaint would be the speakers. But at 4.5lbs and getting over 6hrs batter life, I can forgive this. The keyboard is not bad at all.
    I'm not sure why anyone would by this over the 4820TG. Plus I can overclock the video card without any problem and without any obnoxious noisy fans.

    Reply

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