We’ve reviewed a couple of different laptops built on Intel’s Tiger Lake Core hardware in the last weeks, but most of those were high-tier products with matching price-tags.
This article is, however, about a budget Tiger Lake laptop from Acer, the Aspire 5 late-2020 series. Acer offers this in either 14-inch (code name A514-54) or 15-inch (A515-56) variants, identical in most ways, aside from the differences in size. We’ve spent time with the former 14-inch variant, and gathered all our thoughts and impressions down below.
It’s important to mention that our test model is the most affordable configuration available for the Aspire 5, with an Intel Tiger Lake Core i3-1115G4 processor, 8 GB of RAM, 128 GB of SSD storage, and an IPS FHD matte screen, the one available here for roughly 600 EUR. The same configuration goes for around 500 EUR in the 15-inch Aspire 5 A515-56 chassis.
Keep in mind that the i3 models don’t get Intel’s Xe graphics, but you can upgrade to the i5 and i7 configurations for improved graphics performance.
Specs as reviewed – Acer Aspire 5 A514-54
||Acer Aspire 5 A514-54
||14 inch, 1920 x 1080 px, 16:9 aspect ratio, IPS, matte, non-touch, AU Optronics B140HAN06.B panel
||Intel Tiger Lake Core i3-1115G4 2C/4T (up to Core i7-1165G7, 4C/8T)
||Intel Iris UHD graphics (up to Iris Xe and optional MX350/MX450 on A515-56G models)
||8 GB LPDDR4x 2626 MHz (4GB soldered, 1x DIMM – dual-channel)
||1x M.2 PCIe x4 SSD (128 GB Samsung PM981 MZVLQ128HBHQ-00000), 2.5″ bay
||Wireless 6 (Intel AX201), Bluetooth 5.0, Gigabit Ethernet
||2x USB-A 3.2 gen1, 1x USB-A 2.0, 1x USB-C 3.2 gen1 (data only), HDMI, LAN, 3.5 mm jack, Lock
||48 Wh, 45W barrel-plug charger
||363 mm or 14.29” (w) x 238 mm or 9.37” (d) x 17.9 mm or 0.7” (h)
||from 3.17 lbs (1.44 kg)+ .47 lbs (.22 kg) charger, EU version
||optional white backlit keyboard and finger-sensor, HD webcam, stereo bottom speakers
Acer offers the Aspire 5 in a multitude of configurations, with various amounts of memory and storage, three types of Tiger Lake processors (i3-1115G4, i5-1135G7 or i7-1165G7) and G4/G7 Intel graphics. They all get the same IPS matte screen, IO, and battery, so most of this article applies to any of the configurations you might be interested in.
Design and construction
The Aspire 5 is Acer’s entry-level laptop lineup at this point, so it comes to no surprise that it doesn’t feel or look as nicely as their higher-tier options.
Metal is only used for the upper lid, while the interior and underbelly are made out of smooth plastic, and the screen’s bezels from a rougher, textured black plastic. The build quality isn’t bad, though, with limited amounts of flex in the lid or the keyboard deck, and no funny noises when picking this up or when resting your hands on the arm-rest.
Acer did well with the choice of colors as well, going for a smudges-friendly silver interior and a contrasty black keyboard. The lid shows fingerprints on this darker color variant, but there are also variants with a light-silver, blue or brown exterior to choose from if you’re looking for a care-free design.
These aside, I should also mention that this Aspire 5 is slightly larger, thicker and heavier than other 14-inch available these days. For comparison, I’ve added it next to the Acer Swift 5 in one of the pictures below, just keep in mind that the Swift 5 is twice more expensive.
Ergonomically, the Aspire 5 offers blunted edges and corners, grippy rubber feet, and a screen that can be easily picked up and adjusted with a single hand.
The laptop raises on rubber feet placed at the bottom part of the screen for improved air ventilation underneath and a slightly inclined typing position, much like most of the other current ultrabook designs. This does result in a limited screen angle, which only goes back to about 140 degrees, as well as the hot-air being expelled into the screen’s lower bezel. The hefty chin soaks up most of the heat on this design, but the panel still averages temperatures in the 40-45 degrees Celsius around the exhaust with demanding loads, as you’ll see in a further section.
Finally, the IO is lined on the sides, towards the back, with most of the connectors on the left edge. You’ll find USB-A and USB-C slots here, full-size HDMI and LAN, status LEDs, a headphone jack, and the DC-plug, but no card-reader. The USB-C port is data only, though, so it doesn’t support charging or video output. There are also no biometrics on our model, but some variants include a finger-sensor into the clickpad.
Keyboard and trackpad
Speaking of, inputs aren’t amazing on this series, but they get the job done.
The keyboard is a basic Acer 14-inch layout with a chiclet design and the power-button incorporated in the top-right corner. It doesn’t get any extra function keys at the right, as we’ve seen on many other recent 14-inch devices.
It’s a fair typer in this implementation, somewhat mushy and shallow, but fine for casual use. As a heads-up, our test unit only gets the non-backlit keyboard variant, but most retail versions will ship with backlit keys, especially once you go with the i5/7 configurations. Based on my past experience with this keyboard that Acer have been offering on their Aspire 5 and Swift 3 for many years now, the backlit keyboard also delivers firmer typing feedback, so is overall an upgrade definitely worth getting over this basic non-backlit variant.
As a side note, looks like some 14-inch Aspire 5 models might ship with a silver-keyboard, and you should be aware of the contrast issues on silver keys with white illumination if that’s the only choice in your region. If given the option, definitely go with the black keys. Furthermore, the 15-inch Aspire 5 A515-56 ships with a full-size black keyboard that also includes a NumPad section.
You’re not getting CapsLock on NumLock LED indicators on any variants, and the illumination is only activated with the press of a key on those backlit versions, and not by gently swiping your fingers over the clickpad.
For mouse, Acer went with a mid-sized plastic surface here, slightly positioned to the left side of the chassis. This gets Precision drivers and it’s smooth to the touch and a reliable and accurate performer with daily use. It also feels firm and doesn’t rattle with taps, and implements fine physical clicks. Definitely not bad for this class.
As for biometrics, there aren’t any on this model, but most of the retail models seem to get a finger-sensor included into the clickpad’s top-left corner.
Our Aspire 5 test model gets a 14-inch IPS FHD matte panel, which is the upgraded option offered with this series, as Acer also ships this with a mediocre HD screen on the lowest-tier configurations.
Even this IPS FHD panel isn’t much by today’s standards, but it is what most other options offer in the 500-700 EUR price-segment. We’re looking at finet viewing angles, contrast, and maximum brightness, but limited color coverage at under 60% sRGB.
Here’s what we got in our tests, with an X-Rite i1 Display Pro sensor:
- Panel HardwareID: AU Optronics AUOA48F (B140HAN06.B);
- Coverage: 57.1% sRGB, 39.6% AdobeRGB, 40.7% DCI-P3;
- Measured gamma: 2.39;
- Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 297.06 cd/m2 on power;
- Min brightness in the middle of the screen: 23.42 cd/m2 on power;
- Contrast at max brightness: 1060:1;
- White point: 7500 K;
- Black on max brightness: 0.28 cd/m2;
- PWM: No.
Calibration is also required to address the skewed Gamma and White point levels. Once calibrated, the maximum measured brightness drops to around 270 nits, but the panel ends-up within acceptable illumination and DeltaE variation levels. Nonetheless, with 60% sRGB coverage, this is merely fine for daily use as long as you’re not already used to a higher-tier panel, in which case this would be hardly acceptable.
Hardware and performance
Our test model is an entry-level configuration of the Acer Aspire 5 A514-54, with an Intel Tiger Lake Core i3-1115G4 processor and Intel UHD graphics, 8 GB of DDR4 2666 MHz memory, and a 128 GB Samsung SSD.
Before we proceed, keep in mind that our review unit is a pre-production model sent over by Acer and tested with the software available as of late-November 2020. Based on our findings, though, I’d expect the retail models to perform similarly.
Spec-wise, this Aspire 5 series is based on the Intel Tiger Lake hardware, the same implemented by a multitude of other ultrabooks of this generation. Our model came with the Intel Core i3-1115G4 2C/4T processor, the least powerful of this generation. It’s fine for everyday use and light multitasking, but upgrading to at least the i5-1135G7 is definitely worth considering here, given that a 4C/8T processor and you’re also getting upgrade Iris Xe graphics with that one. Instead, the i3 only includes previous-gen Intel UHD graphics with 48 Execution Units and a significant decrease in performance.
These aside, our configuration also gets 8 GB of DDR4 2666 MHz of RAM, in dual-channel, and a Samsung PCIe x4 SSD. Upgrades are possible if you remove the back panel, hold in place by a couple of visible Philips screws.
The CPU and 4 GB of RAM are soldered on the motherboard and non-upgradable, but the laptop also offers a memory DIMM, and upgradeable storage, with an M.2 SSD slot and a 2.5″ bay for a matching HDD/SSD, with the required connector already included. Upgradeable memory and a 2.5″ bay are hardly available on other modern 14-inch laptops, and for some of your could be a reason to consider this Aspire 5 over other options.
As far as the software goes, there’s no dedicated control application on this Aspire 5, so you can only toggle between the Windows power modes, but without noticeable effect on the CPU’s performance and power allocation on our sample. That might differ with the final software updates, but it’s also in line with our findings on the Tiger lake Swift models recently tested.
And while we’re here, I do have to add that Acer still bundles their laptops with a significant amount of bloatware that you’ll have to get rid of.
Now, the Aspire 5 is mostly made for everyday use, especially in this Core i3 variant. It handles basic applications such as browsing, video streaming, or text-editing just fine, while running quietly and cooly. It’s not a great multitasker though, and it’s never completely silent, as the fan remains active all-the-time, but it’s barely audible at sub 33 dB at head-level with basic use.
Onto more demanding tests, the Cinebench loop test runs Cinebench R15 for 15+ loops, with 2-3 sec delay between each run, to test for performance in taxing longer-term scenarios.
The i3-1115G4 in this unit performs fine for what it is on the Best Performance Windows power mode, stabilizing at around 24-25W TDP, frequencies of 4 GHz, and high temperatures of around 90-92 degrees Celsius. Acer allows the CPU to run at higher power and thermals, with a positive impact on the performance. However, this is only a 2C/4T processor, so definitely not a match for the other options out there.
The laptop stabilizes at around 15W of power on battery, with a matching drop in scores and more comfortable temperatures of around 70-72 degrees Celsius.
To put these results in perspective, here’s how a couple of other AMD and Intel ultraportable notebooks score in this same test.
As mentioned already, Tiger Lake i5 and i7 outmatch this i3 variant by a fair margin, and there’s absolutely no comparison with the AMD Ryzen U variants in this sort of multicore CPU loads.
We verified our findings by tunning the longer and more challenging Cinebench R20 test, which results in similar results, while in the gruesome Prime 95 test the CPU stabilizes at around 22-24 W after a while, with temperatures of 90+ degrees C. Thermals become a limiting factor with this sort of longer CPU-heavy loads, which is not a surprise, given this Aspire 5 is an entry-level ultrabook with a basic thermal module.
We also ran our combined CPU+GPU stress tests on this notebook, on the same Best Performance profile. 3DMark stress runs the same test for 20 times in a loop and looks for performance variation and degradation over time, and this unit passed it easily, which suggests that the performance remains consistent with longer combined loads.
Next, here are some benchmark results. We ran the entire suite of tests and benchmarks on the standard Performance profile. Here’s what we got.
- 3DMark 13 – Fire Strike: 1846 (Graphics – 1992, Physics – 7489, Combined – 689);
- 3DMark 13 – Night Raid: 8496 (Graphics – 9751, CPU – 4914);
- 3DMark 13 – Time Spy: 831 (Graphics – 740, CPU – 2789);
- 3DMark 13 – Wild Life: 4620;
- AIDA64 Memory test: -;
- Uniengine Superposition – 1080p Medium: 1159;
- Uniengine Superposition – 1080p Extreme: 377;
- Handbrake 1.3.1 (4K to 1080p encode): 16.82 average fps;
- PassMark 10: Rating: 2522 (CPU mark: 6600, 3D Graphics Mark: 1978, Disk Mark: 3431);
- PCMark 10: 3899 (Essentials – 8817, Productivity – 6114 , Digital Content Creation – 2986);
- GeekBench 4.4.2 64-bit: Single-Core: 5806, Multi-core: 11457;
- GeekBench 5.0.1 64-bit: Single-Core: 1342, Multi-core: 2776;
- CineBench R15 (best run): CPU 508 cb, CPU Single Core 195 cb;
- CineBench R20 (best run): CPU 1236 cb, CPU Single Core 507 cb;
- CineBench R23 (best run): CPU (Multi Core): 3192 pts, CPU (Single Core): 1361 pts;
- x264 HD Benchmark 4.0 32-bit: Pass 1 – 163.07 fps, Pass 2 – 30.97 fps;
- x265 HD Benchmark 64-bit: 106.28 s.
We also ran some Workstation related loads, on the Performance profile:
- Blender 2.90 – BMW Car scene- CPU Compute: 12m 49s (Auto);
- Blender 2.90 – Classroom scene – CPU Compute: 36m 0s (Auto);
- Luxmark 3.1 – Luxball HDR – OpenCL CPUs + GPUs score: CPU not properly recognized;
As mentioned already, this Core i3-1115G4 configuration is definitely not a performer. It’s meant for casual use, and not for demanding loads, workloads or games.
In comparison, the Core i5-1135G7 tested in a fairly similar Acer Swift 3 14-inch chassis scores 50-70% higher in multi-core CPU tests, 2-5% higher in single-core CPU tests, and more than twice more capable in GPU tests. That’s why I strongly encourage you to consider the i5 configuration if you care about any of these workloads, and only go with the i3 if you’re on a very limited budget and only plan to use your laptop lightly.
We also ran a couple of DX11, DX12, and Vulkan titles on the Best Performance profile and Low/Lowest graphics settings, tu further show how this fares against Tiger Lake i5/i7 alternatives. Here’s what we got:
||Aspire 5 – Intel i3 1115G4 17W
||Swift 3 14 – Intel 1135G7 28W
||Swift 3 13 – Intel 1165G7 17W
||UX425 – Intel 1165G7 19W
||UX425 – Intel 1065G7
||UM425 – AMD R7 + Vega 7
|Bioshock Infinite (DX 11, Low Preset)
||38 fps (18 fps – 1% low)
||88 fps (52 fps – 1% low)
||76 fps (45 fps – 1% low)
||70 fps (40 fps – 1% low)
||40 fps (22 fps – 1% low)
||66 fps (50 fps – 1% low)
|Dota 2 (DX 11, Best Looking Preset)
||30 fps (23 fps – 1% low)
||73 fps (44 fps – 1% low)
||71 fps (46 fps – 1% low)
||56 fps (44 fps – 1% low)
||34 fps (20 fps – 1% low)
||39 fps (28 fps – 1% low)
|Far Cry 5 (DX 11, Low Preset, no AA)
||14 fps (10 fps – 1% low)
||31 fps (19 fps – 1% low)
||32 fps (19 fps – 1% low)
||26 fps (18 fps – 1% low)
||12 fps (10 fps – 1% low)
||21 fps (17 fps – 1% low)
|Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (DX 11, Lowest Preset)
||32 fps (24 fps – 1% low)
||77 fps (58 fps – 1% low)
||60 fps (43 fps – 1% low)
||65 fps (47 fps – 1% low)
||32 fps (22 fps – 1% low)
||45 fps (36 fps – 1% low)
|NFS: Most Wanted (DX 11, Lowest Preset)
||48 fps (38 fps – 1% low)
||60 fps (53 fps – 1% low)
||60 fps (53 fps – 1% low)
||60 fps (46 fps – 1% low)
||42 fps (25 fps – 1% low)
||56 fps (34 fps – 1% low)
|Rise of the Tomb Raider (DX 12, Lowest Preset, no AA)
||19 fps (11 fps – 1% low)
||46 fps (31 fps – 1% low)
||36 fps (5 fps – 1% low)
||29 fps (14 fps – 1% low)
||16 fps (3 fps – 1% low)
||28 fps (22 fps – 1% low)
|Shadow of Tomb Raider (Vulkan, Lowest Preset, no AA)
||19 fps (10 fps – 1% low)
||41 fps (23 fps – 1% low)
||37 fps (21 fps – 1% low)
||28 fps (16 fps – 1% low)
||17 fps (12 fps – 1% low)
||27 fps (16 fps – 1% low)
|Strange Brigade (Vulkan, Low Preset)
||24 fps (19 fps – 1% low)
||56 fps (48 fps – 1% low)
||50 fps (40 fps – 1% low)
||44 fps (280fps – 1% low)
||21 fps (7 fps – 1% low)
||37 fps (32 fps – 1% low)
- The Witcher 3, Dota 2, NFS – recorded with MSI Afterburner in game mode;
- Bioshock, Far Cry 5, Middle Earth, Strange Brigade, Tomb Raider games – recorded with the included Benchmark utilities;
I’ve added a couple of other configurations for comparison, most of them other Tiger Lake models we’ve tested so far.
As suggested by the benchmarks results above, this Core i3 Aspire 5 configuration can barely handle older/casual titles and is not suitable for newer games. The logs show that the hardware stabilizes at around 17W of power and fair temperatures in most tested titles, with the exception of FarCry 5, in which case the CPU runs at higher clocks, higher power, and higher temperatures.
Based on these findings, expect the i5/i7 configurations of this Aspire 5 to perform similarly to the Acer Swift 3 13-inch model previously tested, returning 60+ fps in casual or older games, and around 30 fps in the more recent titles.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers, and others
Acer went with a basic thermal design on this 14-inch Aspire 5 model, with a single fan and a thick, but fairly-short heatpipe. There’s no room for a dGPU on this implementation, even if some A514-54 listings suggest an MX450 as an option.
Air is sucked in from the bottom through the open back, straight over the heatpipe and into the fan, and then blown out through the exhaust between the hinges, just under the display. As a result, the screen’s chin reaches temperatures in the mid-50s with most games, and higher on FacCry, and the panel hits temperatures between low to high-40s.
This screen’s chin is by far the hottest exterior element on this Aspire 5, both with casual use and with demanding games, as illustrated by the thermal readings down below. Keep in mind that we recorded the thermal performance in Dota2 on this sample, which limits the CPU at roughly 17W TDP, but also in FarCry 5, in which case the CPU runs at 28W and results in higher exterior temperatures and increased noise levels. However, FarCry 5 proved to be an exception in our tests, and most other games ran at 16-17W of power.
As for the noise levels, the fan is always active on this laptop, even with light use or when it sits idly, but you will hardly hear it even in a quiet room with light use and battery. It ramps up to about 33-35 dB with multitasking while the laptop is plugged in, and 36-39 dB with games. That’s quieter than the average 2020 14-inch laptop, and I’d expect the i5/i7 models to behave fairly similarly.
*Daily Use – streaming Netflix in EDGE for 30 minutes, Better Battery Mode, fans at 29-35 dB
*Gaming – playing Dota 2 for 30 minutes, Best Performance Mode, fans at 36-37 dB
*Gaming – playing Far Cry 5 for 30 minutes, Best Performance Mode, fans at 38-39 dB
For connectivity, there’s latest-gen WiFi 6 with an Intel AX201 module on this laptop, as well as Bluetooth 5 and Gigabit Lan. We tested our sample on wifi and it performed well with our setup, and the signal and performance remained strong at 30-feet, with obstacles in between.
Audio isn’t amazing here, but that’s surely no surprise. Two small speakers fire through cuts on the underbelly, and they get averagely loud at about 75 dB at head-level in our tests. However, the sound is tinny and weird at high levels, but it’s actually alright for this class once you turn it down to about 60%, with no distortions and almost no vibrations pushed into the chassis. So while not impressive, this Aspire 5 should do fine for video/music streaming.
Finally, there’s an HD camera at the top of this laptop’s screen, flanked by 2 microphones. These are fine for occasional calls, but the camera quality is pixelated and washed out.
There’s a 48 Wh battery inside this Acer Aspire 5, which is fine for an entry-level ultraportable these days, yet smaller than some of the competition offers.
Here’s what we got in terms of runtimes on our review unit, with the screen’s brightness set at around 120 nits (~60 brightness).
- 7.2 W (~6-7 h of use) – text editing in Google Drive, Better Battery Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 6.2 W (~7+ h of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Edge, Better Battery Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 5.5 W (~8+ h of use) – Netflix fullscreen in Chrome, Better Battery Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 10 W (~4-5 h of use) – browsing in Edge, Better Performance Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON.
This configuration comes with a 45W charger that plugs-in via a classic barrel plug. It’s a two-piece design with a small brick and long cables, and a full charge takes about 2 hours. However, unlike with the Swift 3 models, USB-C charging is not possible here.
Price and availability
This late-2020 Aspire 5 series is available in most regions at the time of this article.
The i3 configuration with 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB SSD goes for around 600 EUR over here for the 14-inch A514-54 model, or closer to 500 EUR for the 15-inch A515-56 variant.
However, I’d recommend going with the i5-1135G7 configuration with 8 GB of RAM and 512 GB of storage. The 14-inch model is available for about 650 USD in the US /700 EUR in Europe, while the 15-inch variant goes for around 600 USD/650 EUR. Core i7 variants are also available, slightly faster performers with roughly 10% improved graphics, but for a significant premium.
Pricing and availability vary between regions, though, so you should follow this link for updated info at the time you’re reading the article.
Much as I expected, the Aspire 5 series proves to be competitive within its budget-oriented segment.
Intel’s Tiger Lake hardware delivers snappy everyday performance and good enough graphics-prowess for occasional gaming in this mid-tier implementation, as long as you’re going with one of the Iris Xe configurations. At the same time, AMD Ryzen alternatives still outmatch it by a fair-amount in CPU-heavy tasks and workloads, where the 4Core Tiger Lake processor cannot compete, so if that’s what you’re after, perhaps the Ryzen-built Acer Swift 3 or the Lenovo IdeaPad 5 would better fit your requirements. They also outmatch the Aspire 5 in terms of some features and design elements, so those two would be my main picks in the budget segment if available and competitively priced in your region.
If not, the Aspire 5 is also an option to consider, just make sure you understand what you’re getting here and especially understand and accept the quirks mentioned throughout this article.
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