The Acer 5542G is the company's replacement model for it's very popular 5536/5536G series. The new model comes with an improved processor and a whole new Tigris platform. It was after more than a week's wait and phone calls that I got hold of one Acer Aspire 5542G. From the moment I read the specification sheet, I have been very thrilled to get the machine in my hands. The specs boasts about a AMD Turion II 2.2 Ghz, 3GB DDR2 Memory, ATI 4570 Dedicated graphics card with a 512MB DDR3 memory and a quite generous 320GB Hard disk drive for a price tag of less than RS 34000, which is quite a tempting deal.
In this detailed review we will see how these specs meet the real performance needs.
In this section, we will look in detail at the key components that makes up this laptop. I will also try to include as much specifications and details as available from the manufacturer's source.
Acer Aspire 5542G comes with the second generation AMD Turion Processor (AMD Turion II M500) clocked at 2.2Ghz which houses a 1MB L2 Cache. The Turion II M500 is fabricated using the 45nm technology. It belongs to the Caspian generation of processors and supports HyperTransport 3.0 and hardware virtualization.
The Turion is AMDs answer to mobile processors, which provides excellent performance while keeping the power consumption at the minimum. The Turion processors generates less heat compared to AMD's desktop work horses that have a bad reputation in heat emission department. The Turion II being the next version of the decent performer Turion, it sets high expectations in terms of competing with the Core 2 Duos in the market. We will see how it scores in real performance when we benchmark it down the road.
Graphics Card: ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4570 512MB DDR3
One of the main attractions of this laptop is the graphics engine that lies beneath the hood. The Acer 5542G comes with a dedicated ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4570 with 512 MB of DDR3 memory.
For those of you who are not clear about the difference between an integrated and a dedicated graphics solution, I'm adding a few words. An Integrated graphics solution (eg: the Intel's X4500) doesn't come with dedicated video memory; it eats up your system memory for graphics processing and thus the slower path between the system memory and the graphics engine causes the biggest bottle-neck when it comes to performance. Also the integrated graphics processor would be less powerful than a mainstream dedicated one in raw processing power. On the other hand, a dedicated graphics card will usually have a high speed dedicated video memory (eg: DDR3) which is coupled to the graphics processor. This removes the bottle neck and gives the card superior performance. The graphics processor on a dedicated card would usually support high-end effects provided by the latest DirectX and OpenGL APIs which gives the realism and visual-candy in the latest games.
The HD 4570 is a faster clocked version of the Mobility Radeon 4530/4330. It has a 64 Bit memory bus and comes with a 512MB DDR3 VRAM. The 512MB should be adequate for most gaming and graphics needs, unless you play in the craziest resolutions. (As rendering resolution increases, the more memory it needs). The DDR3 memory will meet the needs for the fastest and huge volume texture processing that modern games demand. However the 64 bit bus stands inferior to the 128 bit bus that most mainstream cards offer.
The ATI Mobility Radeon 4570 is based on the RV710 chip and it provides 80 stream processors. The Mobility Radeon also provides the video technology called Avivo HD that provides an on board 7.1 sound chip. The graphics solution also features a 2nd generation Unified Video Decoder that supports full bitstream decoding of H.264/MPEG-4 AVC and VC-1 streams. The 4570 graphics unit is capable of handling all video tasks including HD video decoding.
The Acer 5542G comes with a 15.6" High Definition LED backlit TFT LCD display that provides 220-nit high brightness and Acer's Cinecrystal display technology. The pure widescreen (16:9) display supports a maximum resolution of 1366X768 and provides a 60% color gamut. It has a high-def response time of 8ms.
Memory: There is nothing much to boast about a 3GB DDR2 800Mhz memory that comes with the Acer Aspire 5542G when compared to the current line of laptops many of which sports a 4GB under the hood. The 3GB is sufficient for most of the computing needs which can later be upgraded to 4GB. However the 3GB deal would appear reasonable when we keep the price tag of the Acer 5542G in mind.
Hard Disk Drive: Again there's nothing jaw dropping in this department. But I would say that the 320GB that comes with the Acer 5542G is generous for most of your storage needs.
Processor performance and benchmark:
I was initially reluctant to switch from the Intel's proven workhorse Core 2 Duo to the AMD's Turion family of processors. It is a widely accepted fact that the Intel's processor outperforms the AMD counter part, provided that both runs on the same clock speed; the main culprit being the lower L2 cache in AMDs. But my reluctance to move on to the AMD Turion II was swept away by the performance benchmarks. The AMD Turion II M500 2.2 Ghz outperforms the Intel Core 2 Duo 6670 2.2 Ghz. When AMD Turion II M500 scores a decent score of 1426, the Intel Core2 Duo 6670 managed to get only 1379, though the margin is not huge.
The Turion II M500 also scored higher in the Windows 7 performance rating with a score of 5.7 against the score of 5.5 of the Intel's Core 2 Duo 6600.
The Turion II without doubt has improved it's architecture dramatically compared to the previous generation Turion, which helps it to achieve a higher performance benchmark, while competing head-on with the Intel's counterpart, even though AMD Turion II M500 houses only 1MB L2 cache compared to the 2MB offered by the Intel's variants.
The AMD Turion II M500 is doubtlessly an excellent performer and is commendable for being the first AMD processor model overtaking the Intel Core 2 Duo along the performance lines, both of which are clocked at the same speed. Though the Turion II has only 1MB L2 Cache it brings excellent performance and computing power on a budget. The Turion II M500 processor gives the Acer 5542G with great number crunching efficiency, that was much noticeable when we ran tests involving compressing/extracting, Gaming and Video rendering using 3D graphics tools. The Acer 5542G showed brisk performance during daily computing, and the Windows responsiveness and multi-tasking were significantly quick.
Graphics card performance:
The Acer 5542G with the ATI Mobility Radeon 4570 with 512MB Dedicated DDR3 VRAM is not an exceptional performer in terms of the latest gaming standards. But very few laptops comes with a high end graphics card that meets the high-end gamer's needs and those machines will burn a hole in your wallet for sure. The HD 4570 in the Acer 5542G is a decent graphics card to play a little older game titles in full detail whereas when it comes to the most recent games, you might have to tweak the detail level to a medium to get reasonable frame rates.
The Acer 5542G is an excellent choice for gamer's on a budget as well as 3D Graphics designers and Animators.
I found the Acer 5542G delivering very smooth frame rates on Test Drive Unlimited even at the highest settings, though a video review of the Dell Studio 15 housing the same graphics card showed significantly lower frame rates in YouTube. May be the performance boost is due to the DDR3 Video Memory as well as the better number-crunching done by the AMD Turion II M500. The card fared really well in older titles like Need For Speed Most Wanted, Need For Speed UnderCover, Unreal Tournament 2003, and Crysis Warhead even at the highest detail settings with 1024X768 resolution and FSAA turned on. The Acer 5542G also delivered consistently playable frame rates in Microsoft Flight Simulator which is a quite resource hungry game, due to the presence of huge textures and extensive terrain.
The 220-nit high brightness display of the Acer 5542G, gives excellent display quality with good sharpness and contrast. It also delivers very good and accurate color reproduction (60% gamut). The viewability from sides is not exceptional, but is adequate. The only major disadvantage of the display is that it's high glossy finish attracts glare. Hence it is not suitable while viewing against any direct light source.
The Acer 5542G sports a Dolby certified audio system. The Realtek chip provides 32bit audio decoding and provides SP-DIF and Dolby Digital output. It also supports Dolby Headphone and Dolby Virtual Surround modes. It means you will be in audio bliss, if you connect the Acer 5542G to a nice home theatre or high-end headphones.
The built-in speakers of the Acer 5542G clearly lacks the bass and was a disappointment during our tests. The sound clearly lacks the thump element in it. It doesn't mean that the speakers are worthless. The speakers give you very nice high and medium range frequencies quite well. The audio volume levels were loud enough and will be adequate if you are not in the middle of a very noisy environment.
The Acer 5542G comes with a 6-cell battery pack. It would probably disappoint you, if you are looking for a laptop with 3+ hours battery backup. The lower battery backup can be attributed to the modestly big 15.6" display paired with the dedicated graphics card that can drain out quite a lot of battery power. With the screen brightness at low, I was able to obtain a 2 hours 50 minutes backup with no audio, video or games turned on. At highest performance setting, you can expect roughly two hours of battery backup.
Being an AMD based laptop most of us who have used an AMD based system would have concerns about over-heating. Stay cool. The Acer 5542G handles heat well. When you use it for extended hours for your daily computing needs, it doesn't generate any significant heat. I found the heat near the palm rest regions less compared to some other Intel based competing laptop models. The Acer 5542G has adequate ventilation at the bottom and has a vent at the back, that blows the hot air out. The fan steps into high speed the instant things start getting hot.
It doesn't mean that the Acer 5542G won't generate heat at all. The moment you start playing games, the rosy picture changes. Though the Acer 5542G's body remained just warm, the vent at the rear end was blowing out really hot air, which obviously means heavy heat generation, though it gets displaced well. Though the Acer 5542G gets away with the heat quite well, it would be a good choice to get an efficient laptop cooling pad if you are into serious gaming.
The Acer 5542G comes with a good DVD Writer, Bluetooth, Wireless LAN etc. These devices performs quite well and doesn't seem to have any specific points worth mentioning.
The laptop comes with a nice backpack from Targus with Acer venture logo on it. The backpack has adequate space to carry some extra stuff in it while you are on the move. It's build quality is good and provides adequate cushioning for the laptop compartment.
Acer 5542G is a laptop that brings great value to those on a budget, who need excellent processing and graphics performance. I highly recommend it for all gaming enthusiasts and graphics designers, owing to the excellent performance of the processor and the graphics solution built-in. It's powerful processor can meet most of the extreme computing needs unless your needs target the ultra-high-end like an i7. The Acer 5542G equipped with it's Turion II processor competes really well with the Core2 Duos out there; no need for the 'Will AMD perform equally well?' question anymore. It delivers brutal processing power.
If you are an audiophile who would play music through the laptop's built-in speakers round the clock, Acer 5542G may not be the best suit for you. If that is not a top-priority for you or if you have a nice home theatre/headphone, then the Acer 5542G gives you great joy in the audio department too, through it's Dolby processing and digital outputs. It all depends on your needs.
The battery suits the home computing / gaming / designing needs. It's 2+ hours backup can handle your presentation, on-the-go needs too, though a 3+ hours backup would have been more recommendable.
The laptop model I purchased comes loaded with Linpus linux operating system (command prompt only) and eliminates the Windows dependency, which helps the Acer 5542G keep its price down. You might also get a version with Windows pre-loaded but for a higher price tag.
Excellent graphics for designers and budget gamers
Quite sturdy design
Good Audio processing and digital out
Built-in speakers do not match the good audio processing and lacks bass completely
Glossy screen difficult to work with in direct light
Volume control keys could have been softer to touch
Arrow keys needs refinement
Pricing and final words:
This laptop is available in India in many online shopping websites at a sub RS 35k price tag. I got hold of one for RS 33700/- (approximately 717 USD) through a local dealer. With such reasonable price tag and compelling set of features, I strongly recommend the Acer 5542G.