Review Acer Aspire 5742G Notebook (GT 540M)
A boring notebook with interesting hardware is what we thought when we looked at the Aspire 5742G-458G64Mnkk's configuration. A seasoned Core i5-450M beside 8 GB of RAM and a strong NVIDIA GeForce GT 540M. The latter includes the graphics switcher, Optimus. This means it's possible to switch to the Intel HD (in CPU) for saving energy.
This competent hardware is on the shelves for starting at 699 euros. Gaming suitable bargain or beefed up budget laptop? How do waste heat and system noise coincide with the strong performance? If Acer invests in graphics and memory components, then where has the manufacturer made cutbacks? Is the GeForce GT 540's aptness for the latest games superior to that of the new Radeon HD 6550M or the older HD 5650? All answers in our detailed review.
The Aspire 5740G's case is viable for both mobile use and the desk. The hands are treated to a pleasantly matt and textured work surface. Fingerprints don't have a chance here. They only find retreat on the glossy display bezel.
The case is sufficiently stable and makes an impression of endurance with their clean gaps. We can however twist the chassis slightly with both hands. The wrist-rest can be depressed marginally on the right. In return, the key bed yields evidently under slight pressure. The base plate can be dented selectively with one finger – especially on the vents. The large cover on the bottom bids upgrade options. The hard disk, RAM and WLAN (mini PCIe) modules can be accessed.
We can twist the lid evidently (picked up at the corners). Nevertheless, due to the stiff surface and grip, a stable impression is created anyway. The non-slip texture provides a very good everyday suitability as well.
The battery can be removed for permanent use on the desk. No gap is created in the work environment and there aren't any feet on the battery pack. The battery is rolled out and fits very securely.
The hinges keep the lid firmly in position and they hardly teeter. They are pulled tight so that we need both hands for opening. The hinges sit very tight in their mounting in the case. The wide maximum opening angle of 160 degrees is more than sufficient for use on the lap.
The Aspire 5742G brings along a limited amount of interfaces for connecting devices like TFT, printer, router, mouse or hard disk. eSATA (fast ext. HDDs), ExpressCard (controller cards, etc) or FireWire (camcorder, ext. HDDs) aren't among them.
External flat screens or even TV sets can be connected to the HDMI. There are only three USB ports. The USB port positioning on both the right and the left isn't particularly sensible. Both righties and lefties are at an equal disadvantage when a mouse is used. USB cables, as well as HDMI / VGA could obstruct mouse utilization.
Connections on the rear or at least in the back part of the sides would have made more sense for an easier cabling. The sunken hinges however prevent the rear from being used for interfaces, as is very often the case. All plugs, including the power socket, thus gather on the visible sides.
The Atheros AR5B97 wireless card supports WLAN in the fastest draft-n standard. However, it does not include a Bluetooth 3.0 module, as in other laptops. If you want to link the 15.6 incher to the gigabit switch at home, you'll find an appropriate LAN card in the Broadcom NetLink Gigabit Ethernet adapter.
The user will have to create his own recovery DVDs for Windows via Acer's Recovery Manager. The desktop is not cluttered with pre-installed software and links (Acer GameZone, accessories shop, registration, updater). The perpetually popping up reminders of Norton Internet Security and Acer registration gets annoying after a while.
This is a 24 month bring-in warranty. So the user has to send in the device at his own expense and safety measures. In order to extend the warranty up to a total of three years, about 90 euros have to be invested for Acer's Advantage warranty extension. However the buyer gets an onsite service for the entire period, which is not included in the standard warranty.
The keys provide the fingers with a pleasantly clear pressure point and a medium key drop. Depending on the position, the keystroke is more or less spongy though (most intensive on the right & left). This supplies a coiling typing feel.
Acer installs a complete number pad and thus gives the Aspire 5742TG office facilities. The number pad simplifies entering figures. Although the arrow keys are only half the size of standard letter keys, they are separated from the shift key by a gap. This facilitates touch typing to a great extent.
The mouse replacement is an Elan Smart Pad (v5.2). Its surface is smooth and can be used accurately and fast. The touch surface doesn't have a marked horizontal scroll bar, but in return a visibly marked vertical scroll field. The lower scroll area is standardly enabled.
The keys click noise is quite loud, but muffled. The pressure point doesn't require much pressure and provides a viable feedback. Overall, the touchpad, sensitive up to its edges, makes a good impression. Nevertheless, the keys are too stiff for a perfect office mouse pad (short key travel).
The reflective LG screen (model: LP156WH2-TLEA) has a resolution of 1366x768 pixels. The WXGA resolution is course for a 15.6 incher, but acceptable. The GT 540M wouldn't be able to render higher resolutions smoothly in current games anyway. The pixel distribution comes very close to an aspect ratio of 16:9. Office users will want a matt display because of the reflections.
The LG screen is at most average in many cases. However, it is standard in the budget multimedia category. It starts with a low contrast of 178:1. Optically, the glare type screen enhances the color perception a bit, but the assessment remains unchanged. Colors are less contrast rich and brilliant, and black isn't deep black.
The screen already won't come in question for pros because of the narrow color spectrum. An extended color space is out of reach. We show the screen in comparison to AdobeRGB (t), sRGB (t) and the good consumer display of Sony's Vaio EB3Z1E (t).
The screen distributes the brightness very evenly over the surface (92%). Consequently, the LED backlight's deviations are very low. There aren't any visible spots on a homogeneous surface. The luminosity is overall good with an average of 217 cd/m2.
The 5742G's display is inadequate for outdoor use. This is due to the evident reflections on the glossy screen. The rather good brightness can't change anything about that either, although it tries to defy them. The desktop doesn't inevitably dim in sunlight, but the glare type impairs the view to a large extent.
We can deviate up to 40 degrees from the front horizontally. As of there the display starts to dim and colors falsify. This effect already starts at the slightest deviation of 15 degrees vertically. The image dims and colors invert. We experience the most intense restrictions when looking down or up on the sides. When several people want to watch a movie or look at pictures, the one or other will have problems in seeing a good image.
Depending on the model, the Acer Aspire 5742G is available with an Intel Core i3-370M processor (2.4 GHz) or a Core i5-460M (2.53 GHz), as well as an i5-450M, as in our test device. It has a standard clock rate of 2.40 GHz. The CPU automatically clocks up to 2.66 GHz when more power is needed with the Turbo Boost feature. Both cores of the Core i5-450M are able to process a total of four threads at the same time with HT (Hyper Threading). The i5-450M processor manufactured in a 32nm procedure has a TDP of 35 watts.
A dedicated NVIDIA GeForce GT 540M (1024 MB) provides its services for games and hardware acceleration (CUDA, DirectCompute, OpenGL 4.0). The GPU is still very new on the market. Nvidia's graphics switcher, Optimus, is used aside the Intel HD incorporated in the processor. In opposition to switchable graphics, such as ATI (see TimelineX 4820TG, HD 6550M), Optimus has the advantage of an automatic, smooth and uninterrupted switching.
Eight gigabytes of DDR3 RAM on two slots with 4 GB each and a 640 GB hard disk complete the multimedia machine.
The present i5-450M scores as follows in comparison to other processors of this price range: The processor test, Cinebench R11.5 (64 bit) rewards the test system with 2.19 points. 460M CPUs also tend to lie at 2.2 points. A 430M achieves 2.0 points and an i3-330M only reaches 1.75 points.
The 450M beats the lower clocked 430M in single core calculations (standard: 2.26, Turbo: 2.53 GHz). The latter reaches up to 3362 points (Cinebench R10 Single Core 64 bit, Sony Vaio VPC-EB1S1E/BJ). The 450M in the test device achieves 3690 points. The 450M can't assert itself against an i5-460M (3830 points, Samsung QX310-S02DE). The difference of 4% is however trivial.
|PCMark Vantage Result||5269 points|
PCMark Vantage counts 5269 points. This rate visualizes the application speed as interplay of CPU, GPU, RAM and HDD. The Acer Aspire 5742D is immediately behind the Sony Vaio VPC-EB3Z1E/BQ (5.603), MSI GE603 (5.574) or Acer Aspire 5820TG (5.745). These notebooks are all equipped with an i5-460M processor.
|3DMark 05 Standard||14077 points|
|3DMark 06 Standard||7458 points|
|3DMark Vantage P Result||3785 points|
|3DMark 11 Performance||958 points|
A 5400 rpm hard disk from Toshiba is installed in the 5742G (MK6465GSX). The 640 GB HDD reads data from the rotating disks with 61.8 MB/s in sequential read. CrystalDiskMark indicates 80 MB/s due to a different test routine. This fairly low rate nevertheless brings in a good HDD score in PCMark Vantage (3701 points). The reason for this may be the high burst rate of 98.3 MB/s. This data rate shows the speed with which data can be read out of the cache.
One of Nvidia's first new 5xxM range graphic cores is installed with the GeForce GT 540M (1024 MB DDR3). The chip based on the GF108 core (Fermi) and supports DirectX 11 and GDDR5 memories. The latter will likely hardly ever be used in view of the price.
The memory bandwidth is, alike the Radeon HD 6550 counterparts, 128 bits. This could limit the performance in high resolutions, but the Aspire 5742G doesn't bid this natively anyway. The core clocks with 672, the memory with 800 MHz (see GPUZ-Z tools). The specifications would also allow a memory speed of 900 MHz. The GPU supports Optimus and can be disabled in favor of the Intel HD (fully automatically). Initial problems in computer games were partly the Intel HD (IGP) utilization in the beginning of a game. However, our test device processes the three test games perfectly.
If you are looking for a gaming suitable laptop, you'll naturally ask yourself if you should opt for AMD's HD 6550M or HD 5650, or even for a GeForce GT 540M. The majority of synthetic benchmarks speak for the Fermi GPU. Real games see this differently.
3DMark2006 (1280x1024) finishes with 7458 points with Nvidia's new midrange. The HD 6440M (7182) and HD 5650 (6903) need a strong i5-460M processor or higher in order to even come close (e.g. Acer Aspire 5820TG-5464G75Mnks). The 3DMark Vantage score (3785 pts.) can surpass the HD 5650 (3494 pts.), but is on par with the HD 6550M (3700 pts.).
However, benchmarks like Unigine Heaven or Futuremark 3DMark11 can first properly assess the GT 540M's DX11 performance. Unigine Heaven 2.1 finishes with 13 fps (score 326), HD 5650 (10 fps) and HD 6550 (11 fps) can't reach this. 3DMark11 winds itself up to 958 performance points. The HD 6550M (1107 pts.) and HD 5650 (1024 pts.) look better here. In comparison, a GeForce GTX 460M achieves 1789 (Medion Erazer X6811-MD97624, i7-740QM). All comparison rates stated here were determined with a strong Intel Core i5-460M, respectively i7-640QM (Acer Aspire 5820TG, Acer Aspire 4820TG).
Synthetically, the benchmarks speak for Radeon. But what do real games say?
No longer brand new, but still a real challenge for mobile systems – the fantasy role game from the end of 2009. The game play isn't really smooth in high details with both Radeon cores and a fast i5 processor with 23 fps (native resolution 1366x768). It doesn't look any better with the GT 540M. We determined exactly 24 fps. Thus, the new Fermi GPU doesn't bring any advantages.
|1366x768||all on/high, 4xAF||24.1 fps|
|1024x768||all on/med, 2xAF||35.5 fps|
|800x600||all off/low, 0xAF||73.2 fps|
Battlefield: Bad Company 2
The first-person shooter from the beginning of 2010 has always gotten along with AMD's graphics cards until now. It ran in high details (1366x768) smoothly with 32 fps (HD 5650 & 6550). The GT 540M isn't a threat for this standing with exactly 29.6 fps.
|1600x900||High DX10, AAA, 4xAF||18.4 fps|
|1360x768||Normal DX10, AAA, 4xAF||28.6 fps|
|800x600||Low DX9, AAA, 4xAF||51.7 fps|
A last try with Metro 2033 can ultimately turn the tide. The GT 540M achieves 28.6 fps in medium details. HD 5650 (25) and 6550M (26) can't quite reach this.
|1600x900||High DX10, AAA, 4xAF||18.4 fps|
|1360x768||Normal DX10, AAA, 4xAF||28.6 fps|
|800x600||Low DX9, AAA, 4xAF||51.7 fps|
If you mutate to a bean counter when it comes to buying a laptop, you should buy the GT 540M AND HD 6550 / HD 5650 according to the benchmarks and games. No GPU is categorically stronger. While some prefer Nvidia (3DMark2006, Unigine Heaven 2.1, Metro 2033), the others favor Radeon (3DMark11, Battlefield). A tie is more of an exception (Risen, 3DMark Vantage). But a handful of frames shouldn't be the reason for a buying decision. The clever GPU switching via Optimus in the Aspire 5742G speaks for Nvidia.
Acer's 15.6 incher shows itself from an acceptable side in terms of system noise. The fan runs in a low speed while surfing, listening to music or typing. It even turns off completely after a longer idle period. We determine a minimum of 31.4 dB(A) in idle. The hard disk is audible with a quiet rattle in this state during activity: 32.1 dB(A). The HDD is drowned out when the processor and/or graphics card are loaded.
Our three test games don't irritate the cooling system: usually 34.7 dB(A). The fan increases to a maximum of 40.3 dB(A) first when the CPU also calculates to its full in the stress test (Furmark & Prime95). However, the fan rotates evenly here. Overall, the fan management makes a good impression. The Aspire only gets audibly loud when CPU and GPU have to calculate simultaneously. Merely a quiet whirr remains in undemanding office mode.
31.4 / 32.3 / 32.7 dB(A)
||35.4 / dB(A)|
||34.7 / 40.3 dB(A)|
min: , med: , max: Voltcraft sl-320 (15 cm distance)
The bottom's average temperature is merely 24 degrees during a scenario of word processing and web surfing. The wrist-rest also only warms up to 24 degrees. The temperatures stay low during our benchmark test and only reach 40 degrees selectively in the stress test. However, the left and center keyboard area is affected. This provides for warm fingers. It looks a lot more precarious inside. The sensor reports up to 90 degrees on the CPU. Unfortunately, the GPU's temperature can't be read out.
(±) The maximum temperature on the upper side is 42.1 °C / 108 F, compared to the average of 36.7 °C / 98 F, ranging from 21.1 to 71 °C for the class Multimedia.
(±) The bottom heats up to a maximum of 40 °C / 104 F, compared to the average of 39 °C / 102 F
(+) In idle usage, the average temperature for the upper side is 22.4 °C / 72 F, compared to the device average of 31 °C / 88 F.
(±) The palmrests and touchpad can get very hot to the touch with a maximum of 36.1 °C / 97 F.
(-) The average temperature of the palmrest area of similar devices was 28.9 °C / 84 F (-7.2 °C / -13 F).
Now we have discovered the sector where the manufacturer has made cutbacks. Instead of the usual stereo speakers, there is only one mono speaker underneath the finely perforated plastic bar above the keyboard. We were already stumped about the missing Dolby Home Theater logo that usually adorns the case. The single speaker naturally can't meet the expectations placed on a multimedia notebook. The midrange-heavy, faded sound doesn't offer a differentiation or surround sound. Most sound enhancements in the audio properties (e.g. virtual sound) don't have an effect on the mono speaker.
The volume is fairly high, should however be limited in the volume balance because it otherwise scratches in the maximum level. Headphones will become mandatory because of the poor sound. We tried this and external speakers (YST-M20SDP) via the 3.5 mm headphone jack. The volume tethered to the notebook was almost static-free (audio test, no measurement).
The Aspire 5742G doesn't earn any kudos with two and a half hours of battery life. The weak 48 Wh battery takes its toll here. It's not due to the power consumption because it is, as we will see in a moment, rather low.
The runtime during an internet surf session with enabled WLAN is 2:36 hours (156 minutes). We visited news sites and executed a few downloads in this time. Undemanding users can boost the battery life up to 3:35 hours. These 215 minutes determined by BatteryEater's Reader's test are insignificant for routine use though (idle, lowest brightness, disabled wireless modules).
A DVD runtime test determined 160 minutes (2:40 hours). The 4400 mAh battery is ready for the next movie session after 1:41 hours (96 minutes, recharging).
When all energy saving options are applied and the brightness shines at its lowest level, the idle power consumption is 10.7 watts. Optimus has now disabled the GT 540M. An average of 20 watts is realistic in office use with a lot of idle. The Aspire 5742G doesn't have to evade a comparison with this idle power consumption. An Aspire 5741G-334G50Mn (i3-330M, HD 5470) treats itself to 10.5 watts; a Lenovo Thinkpad L512 (i3-330M, Intel HD) is satisfied with 9.2 watts. Both of these notebooks however have less performance from the processor's and graphic's side. Nvidia's Optimus pulls all its punches for our 5742G and shows that even a powerful notebook can handle energy very economically.
When the GT 540M is enabled during 3DMark2006, the effective power climbs to 74.3 watts. We determine the maximum power consumption in the stress test with Prime95 and Furmark. The multimeter indicates a steep 91.7 watts here. The 90 watt adapter is just right for this. The battery can't be recharged in this time, though.
|Off / Standby||0.3 / 0.8 Watt|
|Idle|| 10.7 / 14.3 / 18.3 Watt|
74.3 / 91.7 Watt|
Acer takes an inexpensive chassis and fills it with currently popular components. The Aspire 5742G-458G64Mnkk speeds up applications with a Core i5-450M and a whole 8 GB of RAM (2x 4GB). NVIDIA's GeForce GT 540M is added. It supplies a high 3DMark 2006 score (7458) and is basically on par with AMD's HD 5650 and HD 6550M. Additionally, users receive the graphics switcher, Optimus, which automatically switches among the Intel HD and the dedicated GPU.
The cooling system for the 35 watt processor works appropriately quiet in default mode and even in games. The temperatures only exceed 40 degrees selectively. The battery life is also viable due to low power consumption (idle: 10.7 watts, Optimus). However, the weak 48 Wh battery actually doesn't allow any long train rides. We determined 2:30 hours in the WLAN test.
The downsides of the 5742G is found in outdoor use, the connectivity and the input devices. The HD+ display is moderately bright, but the intense reflections on the glare type screen provide for adverse feelings. In regards to connectivity, especially gamers will miss eSATA, USB 3.0, and ExpressCard. The keyboard doesn't even come close to a good office input. It's too spongy. The adjective can also be used for the base unit, which groaningly allows itself to be twisted with a bit of pressure. Additionally, the poor sound of the mono speaker can't be overheard either.
If you are looking for strong 3D performance for 700 euros and don't have high expectations on input devices and interfaces, you can turn to the Acer Aspire 5742G-458G64Mnkk.