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Acer Aspire 5 (A515-43-R19L) review: A budget AMD Ryzen 3 workhorse with middling battery life

If this particular model of the Acer Aspire 5 looks familiar, it’s probably because it’s been sitting atop Amazon’s laptop bestseller list for months. It’s easy to understand why. With a list price of $350 but usually selling for closer to $310, this AMD Ryzen 3-powered Aspire 5 packs some enticing features for the price, including a Full-HD 15.6-inch display, a slim-and-trim chassis, and solid performance when it comes to day-to-day computing tasks.

That said, a Windows 10 laptop this inexpensive has its compromises. In this case, we’re talking a scant 4GB of RAM and a cramped 128GB solid-state drive, while battery life falls significantly short compared to similar Aspire 5 models that don’t cost much more. Indeed, if you stretch your budget just a tad, you can get an Aspire 5 (such as the Core i3-powered Aspire 5) that’ll last considerably longer without a power adapter. 

Price and configuration

Acer offers nearly two dozen configurations in its budget Aspire 5 line, ranging from $350 (list price, as opposed to Amazon’s sale price) for the somewhat bare-bones AMD model we’re reviewing here all the way to $850 for a considerably beefier quad-core Core i7-8565 model with a healthy 12GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, and dedicated Nvidia GeForce MX250 graphics. Most Aspire 5 versions boast a 15.6-inch display (although I spotted at least one 14-inch model), with a mix of 1080p and 720p resolutions.

Cracking open the hood of this particular model, we find:

  • CPU: Dual-core AMD Ryzen 3 3200U
  • RAM: 4GB DDR4 RAM
  • GPU: Integrated Radeon Vega 3
  • Display: 15.6-inch 1920 x 1090 IPS “ComfyView”
  • Storage: 128GB SSD

We’ll cover the Aspire’s real-world performance in a moment, but on paper, we’ve got the makings of a fairly basic laptop that should do the job when it comes to general computing duties such as Office tasks and web browsing.

The dual-core Ryzen 3 CPU is roughly equivalent to an 8th-generation Intel Core i3 chip, which ranks as a solid dual-core workhorse. The 4GB of RAM means you’ll likely see some performance hiccups if you run too many programs at once. The integrated graphics core will allow for Minesweeper and some light photo editing, but nothing more taxing than that. And while a solid-state drive always helps to speed up performance compared to a traditional spinning hard drive, the skimpy 128GB capacity (which falls to about 100GB once you take Windows 10 and other pre-installed apps into account) will fill up quickly unless you rely on cloud storage.

On the plus side, it’s refreshing to see a full-on 1080p display on a laptop in this price range, not to mention one that uses an IPS (in-plane switching) panel for relatively wide viewing angles. It’s not unusual to see manufactures saddle budget laptops such as this with cheaper (if faster) 720p TN (twisted nematic) displays, which make for fuzzier viewing and faded or even inverse colors if you’re looking at the screen from the sides, top, or bottom.

Design

Budget laptops are notorious for being boxy and bulky, but Acer has done a nice job of making its Aspire 5 line look slim and sleek. This particular AMD model is no exception. Measuring 14.3 x 9.7 x 0.7 inches, the Aspire feels lighter than its actual weight of 3 pounds, 13 ounces (or 4 pounds, 5 ounces if you include the AC adapter). The aluminum lid gives the Aspire a premium look. You can actually rotate the lid back a little beyond 180 degrees, meaning you can lay the laptop completely flat with the lid open.

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MSI Prestige 14 review: Workhorse power in a thin-and-light shell

All laptops are a compromise in design and MSI’s Prestige 14 is no different. Even so, there’s a lot to love about what is likely the most powerful laptop in its class.

We’re not exaggerating. The Prestige 14 ($1,699 from Amazon) packs a 6-core Comet Lake Core i7-10710U along with a GeForce GTX 1650 Max-Q discrete GPU, all while weighing 2.8 pounds. That’s basically the same weight as a Dell XPS 13 7390 or HP Spectre x360 13, which don’t have discrete GPUs. MSI does all this while also including a 4K screen and a reasonably sized 52-watt-hour battery.

This review is part of our ongoing roundup of the best laptops. Go there for information on competing models and how we tested them.

msi prestige 14 5 Gordon Mah Ung

MSI’s Prestige 14 is arguably the most powerful laptop in its weight class.

The compromise

But as we said, there is compromise to all laptops, and in with Prestige 14, it’s the cooling. While competitors might use two fans or beefier heat pipes to keep all of that hardware cool, MSI tasks a single fan and a single heat pipe. That results in loud fan noise when pushed and yes, performance throttling at times.

For many people, the performance and weight of the Prestige 14 will be a godsend. For others, the compromise may be too much. Keep reading to learn more about the pros and cons of the Prestige 14.

screenshot 20200129 152008 IDG

The MSI Prestige 14’s single exhaust fan pushes all of the heat out one side of the laptop.

MSI Prestige 14 Specs

It’s truly impressive that MSI was able to fit so many high-end parts into such a small and slender chassis. Here are the main features:

CPU: Our review model came with a Comet Lake U 6-core Core i7-10710U. Budget-minded folks can opt for the quad-core Core i5-10210U.

RAM: 16GB LPDDR3

Storage: Our unit had the 1TB NVMe SSD, and a 512GB SD is available in the lower-cost model.

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HP Envy 13 review: A slim, light, and inexpensive workhorse with discrete graphics

There’s a lot to like about the HP Envy 13, starting with its super-slim design, its bright 4K display, its comfy keypad and impressive quad-core performance. The Envy 13 also manages to pack in a discrete GPU and respectable battery life, all for a very reasonable price tag. That said, we did encounter some issues with the laptop’s overly sensitive trackpad (which HP says it’s investigating), resulting in a jittery cursor that regularly jumped around the screen and even highlighted and deleted our words by accident.

Configuration

For as little as $750 with discounts, you can snap up an HP Envy 13 with a 13-inch full-HD display, an 8th-generation Intel Core i7-8565U processor, 8GB of RAM, and an integrated Intel UHD Graphics 620 core. On the other end of the spectrum is a 13-inch HP Envy with a 4K display, a 1TB SSD, a 10th-gen Intel Core i7-10510U CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a discrete Nvidia GeForce MX250 graphics card, all for a discounted $1,350 sticker price. You can explore all these configurations directly on HP’s Envy 13 shopping page.

We tested the HP Envy 13-aq0044nr ($1,100 on Amazon), which cherry-picks features from both the higher- and lower-end configurations of the laptop.

  • CPU: Quad-core Intel Core i7-8565U
  • RAM: 16GB DDR4 RAM
  • GPU: Discrete Nvidia GeForce MX250
  • Display: 13-inch UHD (3840 x 2160) IPS BrightView touchscreen
  • Storage: 512GB SSD

Overall, that’s an impressive amount of power under the hood for a fairly reasonable price. The 8th-gen Core i7 processor might look like a disappointing downgrade to those thirsting for a 10th-gen Intel CPU, but from what we’ve seen, there’s not much of a performance gap between the 8th-gen Whiskey Lake processor in this configuration and the 10th-gen Comet Lake chip in the pricier Envy 13 models. Both of these quad-core CPUs are built on Intel’s 14nm process, for one thing. While the Comet Lake processor has a slightly higher boost clock, you’re probably not going to feel the difference in typical daily desktop duties.

Besides the solid CPU, you’re also getting a generous 16GB of RAM and a roomy 512GB SSD, meaning you’ll enjoy plenty of multitasking headroom, plus enough storage to install plenty of programs and even a decent amount of media. The 4K touchscreen should deliver razor-sharp visuals (although you’ll pay a price in the battery-life department), and then there’s the cherry on top: discrete graphics in the form of an entry-level Nvidia mobile graphics card, handy for working in Adobe Premiere or even playing a little Fortnite

Design

Sleek, slim and silver (or “pale gold,” if you cough up an extra $10 on HP’s online configurator), the HP Envy 13 cuts an enviably trim profile. Measuring 12.1 x 8.3 x 0.58 inches and weighing in at just 2.8 pounds (or 3.42 pounds with the AC cord, which comes with a compact power brick), the Envy 13 feels great to hold in your hands, and it’s barely there in your backpack. I should know, because the Envy 13 served as my laptop at CES in Vegas this year. My back is eternally grateful for the Envy 13’s light, wafer-thin shell.

The top of the HP Envy 13’s aluminum lid is featureless save for the HP logo stamped in the middle. When you close the lid, the front lip has an hourglass edge that makes the laptop easier to open, while the L-shaped back edge of the lid covers the hinge, making the rear of the Envy 13 look like the spine of a book. When opened, the hinge props up the Envy 13’s lower chassis, angling the keyboard while also allowing for a cooling airflow beneath the laptop.

hp envy 13 aq0044nr hinge Ben Patterson/IDG

The hinge on the HP Envy 13 props up the keyboard while helping to maintain airflow beneath the chassis.

Opening the Envy 13’s lid reveals (in the case of this particular SKU) the eye-popping 4K display, which is surrounded by slim bezels on the top and sides but a rather chunkier one on the bottom. Above the keyboard sits a speaker grille with an attractive diamond-cut design. The power button takes residence just above the Escape key, which should help prevent the accidental presses users sometimes experience with side-mounted versions.

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Dell XPS 15: Everyone’s favorite workhorse laptop finally gets upgraded

The Dell XPS 15 is long overdue for an upgrade, and on Wednesday it’s finally, officially getting one.

Dell said the new XPS 15 9500 will be available for order starting Wednesday, with prices starting at $1,300. We’d guess that’s for a base version with FHD+ display and integrated graphics only. For more about the upgrades and all the configurations, keep reading.

The display’s the thing

As with the newly announced XPS 17 9700 and its two 13-inch siblings, the display upgrades are a highlight. Like its siblings, the XPS 15 9500 sheds its bezels. The screen still measures 15.6 inches, but the aspect ratio moves from a squat 16:9 to a taller 16:10.

Both panel options are quite lovely. The FHD+ version has a resolution of 1920×1200, features 100 percent of sRGB color gamut, and can hit 500 nits of brightness. That’s above standard for most FHD-class screens.

xps15 front screen view blue fill Dell

The new XPS 15 is all screen.

The high-end version takes the resolution to 3840×2400 and can also hit a very bright 500 nits. The touch panel can reach 100 percent of Adobe RGB and 94 percent of DCI-P3 color gamut, meets HDR400 specs, and comes with a glossy but anti-reflective coating. Both screens also feature integrated Eyesafe technology, which reduces blue-light emissions while still maintaining “normal” colors. Most blue-light modes today aren’t all that different than slipping on a pair of 1990s Blueblocker glasses, giving everything a heavy brown tint.

Inside the Dell XPS 15 9500

Internally the XPS 15 9500 steps up to Intel’s newest 10th-gen Comet Lake H chips, with CPU options ranging from a quad-core Core i5-10300H to an eight-core Core i9-10880H. The GPU ranges from an integrated graphics-only option to a GeForce GTX 1650 Ti.

RAM is DDR4/2933 in capacities from 8GB to 64GB, while storage options go from 256GB to 2TB. Speaking of storage, Dell said the laptop does away with the hard drive bay of the previous version, finally—finally—offering two M.2 slots inside.

xps15 top view blue fill Dell

The new XPS 15 9500 features a standard dome keyboard with 1.3mm of travel and a Precision Driver-compliant glass touchpad.

While the XPS 17 and the XPS 13 2-in-1 feature fancy copper vapor chambers to cool their interiors, Dell said it was able to fit standard (albeit slightly thinner) heat pipes inside while still making the laptop just 18mm thin. As we said earlier, Dell features two M.2 slots in the XPS 15 9500, with one occupied from the factory with the operating system. The company said there are also two DDR4 SO-DIMM slots, which will be occupied from the factory. Dell officials said the M.2 and RAM slots are accessible from the bottom of the laptop without removing the motherboard, as is the case with some competing designs.

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