The New Laptop - What I Actually Bought, And Why

Last week, I wrote a piece with recommendations for buying a new laptop for photo and video work, and at the end of the posting, I recommended two particular computers: the Asus Zenbook Pro UX501VW-DS71T at just shy of $1,500, and the Toshiba Satellite S55T-C5166 at just shy of $900. Both of these machines are still excellent choices. But I didn't buy either model.

My choice instead was to go with another Acer. My previous machine was a 17.3" Acer Aspire 7740, and for nearly six years, it's served me quite well. The one serious problem I had with it was taken care of quickly and efficiently by Acer, and otherwise, it's been pretty much flawless. For these reasons, I'm pretty comfortable with Acer.

I also looked closely at my needs, to determine if there were any places I could "cut back" a little to shave the price down a little bit. Here's what I ultimately chose.

Acer Aspire E Model E5-575G-76YK

So, what, exactly, did I have to "give up" to shave between $200 and $800 off the price tag? In all honesty, not a lot that will affect the things I want to do.

First, the processor. This machine includes an Intel i7 6500U at 2.5GHz. That's the 2-core version of the processor instead of the quad-core. If you'll remember, for photo and video work, a lot of the heavy lifting is, or will be, handled by the graphics processor, not the main processor. And dual cores are generally plenty for the rest of the work to be done.

Second, the display. The Aspire E5 I bought has a 15.6", matte-surface, 1920x1080 "Full HD", non-touch display. This display has advantages as well as disadvantages. The disadvantages are lower resolution and no touch display, assuming these are really going to be considered disadvantages. As I mentioned before, Full HD graphics are just fine for photo editing and lite video editing, especially on a 15.6" display. The matte display reduces glare and is less prone to showing fingerprints. While many matte displays also tend to look "dull" or "flat", Acer have employed new screen technology to make the images really bright and punchy.

The display is quite pleasing, though it does suffer a little more off-axis shifting than I'd hoped it would. Certainly, it's not bad enough to worry about, especially when running on AC. I have the backlight cut back a lot on battery, so the effect is much more pronounced when I'm not plugged in.

Finally, while not particularly heavy at just around 5lbs, this is not one of those super-slim machines. In fact, at it's thickest point, it's about 1.25" thick. In this day and age, that's a little chunky. Frankly, I can live with that.

So, now that I've told you what I "gave up" to cut back the price, here's what I gained.

While the supplied SSD is only 256GB, it's the newer M.2 form factor. That leaves space within the machine for an empty 2.5" drive bay, into which I've installed the half-terabyte SSD I originally put into the old machine. That will give me an excellent configuration of a very fast 256GB drive for the operating system and software, and a larger SSD for data storage.

This model of the Aspire E 5 comes with 8GB of DDR4 SDRAMM in a single SODIMM module. There's an additional SODIMM slot available, allowing easy memory expansion. Unlike many laptops, memory can be expanded to 32GB! That's quite impressive for any laptop.

Even with space taken up by two SSD drives and two SODIMM slots, there's still room inside for a full-size DVD-writer and a 6-cell battery.

The machine is bristling with ports, too. Scattered around the sides are an HDMI graphics port, a VGA port, a USB 2 port, 2 USB 3 ports, a USB-C port, an RJ-45 10/100/1000 ethernet port, and a 3.5mm combination headphone/microphone connector. Under the front edge, as on my current Acer, is a SD card reader.

Wireless connectivity is robust, too, with 801.11 ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.1 included. Finally, there's a 720P webcam camera and a built-in microphone.

So far, I've talked about everything except the graphics processor. This is another gain over the previous machines, too. Instead of the 9xxM series processors of the other computers, the Aspire E 5 features an NVidia 940MX with 2GB of DDR5 VRAM. In all of the applications I'm interested in, the MX GPU will not only outperform the older M-series, it can also do better than the GTX 940 GPU.

System specs:

  • Intel Core i7 6500U Processor 2.5GHz
  • Microsoft Windows 10 Home 64-bit
  • 8GB DDR4 RAM (Expandable to 32GB)
  • 256GB M.2 SSD Drive
  • Available 2.5" SATA Drive Bay
  • DVD Writer
  • NVIDIA GeFORCE 940MX discrete graphics with 2GB DDR5 VRAM
  • and Intel HD 520 integrated graphics
  • SD Memory Card Reader
  • 802.11ac Wireless Networking
  • Bluetooth 4
  • 15.6" Full HD Matte Display
  • USB 2, 3, and C Ports
  • HDMI Port
  • "VGA" Port
  • RJ-45 Ethernet Port

As mentioend, I've added a 480GB SSD Drive from PNY (the one I had put in the older Acer Aspire 7740). Additionally, I've installed an additional 8GB RAM.

So far, I've been generally quite impressed with this machine. To say it's fast is an understatement. Loading Word, from "click" to the "choose template" screen takes about 3 seconds. On1 Photo 10.5.1 rendering is nearly immediate, although I've developed an odd problem with Fuji X-E2 RAW files from my most recent shoot at Gettysburg (they didn't open correctly in On1 on the old system, either). Even Lightroom, which can be tortuously slow zips right along, and actually appears to be using the GPU. My chosen software for video work, the free version of DaVinci Resolve seems to be pretty responsive. I'm not familiar enough with the software yet to be a really good judge, but it's cut together some downloaded HD videos, and played them back from the timeline with no skips or dropped frames, even when rendering basic effects. I've not installed any audio editing software, but I'm fairly certain there will be no problems with that at all.

The keyboard feel is very good, even with the short-throw keys. I can type as fast as I ever do, with no problem. The keys are back-lit, and I'm not sure yet whether that's a big deal or not. Most of the time, so far, I've found it distracting and turned the light off. The touch pad is generally quite responsive to both single- and multi-touch controls, yet is still pretty good a rejecting false touches, but can be fooled on occasion. Although the "button" presses are a little spongy, using the pad is really quite predictable.

In general operation, I've yet to hear the thing make any noise at all. I'm not even sure if there is a fan in it.

Windows 10 is Windows 10. It's fine, and I was able to set up all the networking, peripherals, and all three of the wireless printers in the house with no problem. The only problem I'm having with Windows is my own doing, I think. One thing to bear in mind with Windows 10 is that IPv6 needs to be left on in the network settings if you want to set up any kind of peer-to-peer sharing or use Home Groups. Both of these functions require IPv6 to be enabled to function in Windows 10.

Acer Aspire E DVD drive, viewed from the bottom.

When I put the second SSD in, I basically just grabbed it out of the old machine and stuffed it into the new one. It mounts fine, but because it was still set up as the boot device, there are lots of permissions problems. I've got most of them cured, but I still can't seem to get ownership of everything so I can remove stuff that doesn't need to be there anymore, even though I've authenticated the machine with the same user credentials I've used with the old system (synced from my Office account). No real worries. I'll get it under control eventually. The reality is that I do generally like Windows 10, much better than Windows 7. Microsoft have moved a lot of things around, and it's taking me time to find things "under the hood."

If I have any complaints at all with Aspire E laptop, it's that the DVD drive feels a little delicate, and that there's a little more plastic than I'd like in certain places.