Thursday, August 30, 2007

Acer Aspire 5020 Series AMD Turion 64 Notebook Review

by Joseph Roost, The Netherlands

Acer Aspire 5020 Acer logo

Model under review: Acer Aspire 5024WLMi (LX.A4605.038).

Note: Since this review was posted last year on 1/10/2006 Jos added a Follow Up Section to this popular article.

Introduction

For some months I have been considering replacing my 'very' old Pentium 200 desktop system with a notebook. Although a DTR (DeskTop Replacement) notebook in principle, it should definitely be a mobile notebook with at least 2 hours battery time and not 'too' big or heavy.

Performance wise, it should be able to handle any office-, DTP- or image processing application, and of course also the occasional game. A further personal requirement was that this new notebook should at least be equivalent to my other desktop system: an Athlon XP 2800+ with GF4-Ti4200 graphics.

After some studying and reading about the current notebook offerings and visiting some computer shops, I came to the conclusion that I wanted a notebook with a 15.4" screen and at least a Pentium M 745 or an Athlon 64 (mobile) 2800+ or better.

AMD Turion 64 logo I was more or less ready to buy an Acer Aspire 1690 series Pentium M notebook, when AMD announced the competing Turion 64 CPU and Acer announced the Aspire 5020 series using it. This Aspire 5020 series looked quite similar to the Aspire 1690 series and the Turion promised to be cheaper than a similarly-performing Pentium-M. Being slightly AMD-minded, I decided to wait for the Aspire 5024WLMi. When it appeared "in stock" at the end of May 2005, I ordered one for Euro 1150,= at HardwareDiscount in The Netherlands.

Main Characteristics

For the complete specification see e.g. the Acer.co.uk Aspire 5020 series product page.
Here I list only the main characteristics of the Aspire 5024WLMi.

  • AMD Turion 64 processor ML34 1.8 GHz with 1 MB L2 cache, AMD PowerNow! and HyperTransport
  • ATI Mobility RADEON XPRESS 200 series chipset
  • 512 MB DDR 333 memory (2x256)
  • 80 GB 4200rpm ATA/100 hard disk drive
  • DVD-Dual Double Layer drive (Pioneer DVR-K04RA in my notebook)
  • 15.4" WXGA Acer CrystalBrite TFT LCD with 1280 x 800 pixel resolution
  • ATI MOBILITY RADEON X700, with 128 MB VRAM
  • 56K V.92 modem, 10/100/1000Mbps Gigabit Ethernet, dual-mode 802.11b/g
  • 60Wh Li-Ion battery with 'Up to 3 hours battery life'
  • 363 (W) x 278 (D) x 24/32.9 (H) mm, 3.07 kg (6.77 lbs.)
  • Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition

First Impressions

I used this notebook for several days now. Below are my first impressions and some benchmark results of this machine 'right out of the box'.

Box contents

The notebook came well packaged and sealed in a white-green Acer box inside a brown shipping box, containing:

  • the notebook itself
  • the battery pack
  • the AC power adapter
  • a modem cable to connect to a telephone socket
  • a 'Just for Starters...' poster
  • a thin, three-language Aspire 3020/5020 Series User's Guide
  • a modem User's Guide
  • warranty card and International Travelers Warranty passport
  • an MS Windows XP booklet, but no CD
  • a CD package containing Acer Recovery cd's, Norton AV 2005, NTI CD&DVD maker

How it looks

Here are some pictures of the 5024WLMi. I found these pictures on the web (see also the German Acer ftp site):

Click the images to enlarge!


The notebook feels solid and well made. The silver with black design definitely looks good, although maybe more business-like than stylish. I'm not completely sure if the silver parts are from aluminum or plastic.

The size of this notebook is typical for a notebook with a 15.4" screen, but it really is thin, even thinner than the 1690 series.

With the battery installed, the notebook weighs just over 3 kg, which feels quite heavy and is probably too heavy to carry around for a long time. But as I will use it mostly as a desktop replacement, this is no problem.

Installation

Installation is very simple. The first time you switch the system ON, it automatically starts Acer's SelfConfiguration Pre-load utility. I could select to install either English, French or Dutch Windows XP. After some time it enters Windows XP setup, asking you language, time-zone and keyboard settings. Eventually, you end up with the normal Windows XP desktop, ready to work. The whole process took less than 20 minutes. The Windows version is Windows XP Home with ServicePack 2. The hard disk is (default, no questions asked) formatted in two equal FAT32 partitions of each appr. 38 GB. The C-drive contains Windows and all Acer software, the D-drive is empty. I think there is also a hidden system recovery partition, but I didn't investigate this.

Included software

  • Acer eManager - for connecting to a beamer, system recovery and some basic system settings
  • Acer Arcade - for playing video and audio
  • NTI CD & DVD maker and Backup Now - for burning CD's and DVD's
  • Cyberlink PowerProducer - for making video / dvd's
  • Norton AntiVirus

Note: the Acer ePowermanagement software (which is present on e.g. the Aspire 1690) was not installed on this machine. You can only set power management features via Windows.

Documentation

The included documentation on paper is minimal: the User's Guide 'covers everything' in 26 pages. There is a slightly more extensive .PDF version installed on the hard disk.

Layout of ports and indicators

Front:

Front view - click to enlarge!

  • Left and right speakers
  • Bluetooth communication button/indicator

  • Note: on the 5024WLMi model the button/indicator is there, but there is NO Bluetooth installed!
  • WLAN button/indicator
  • Line-in/mic-in jack
  • Speaker-out/line-out/headphone jack
  • Battery indicator
  • Power-on indicator



  • Left:

  • Left view - click to enlarge!


  • Ventilation slots
  • S-video/TV-out port
  • IEEE 1394 port
  • 3 USB 2.0 ports
  • Infrared port
  • PC Card slot: Accepts one Type II PC Card.
  • 6-in-1 card reader: Accepts an MS, MS PRO, MMC, SD, SM, or xD-Picture card



  • Right:

  • Right view - click to enlarge!


  • only the Optical drive on this side



  • Rear:

  • Rear view - click to enlarge!


  • Security keylock
  • Power jack
  • Modem jack (RJ-11)
  • Network jack
  • USB 2.0 port
  • External display port
  • Ventilation slots



  • Underside:

  • Underside view - click to enlarge!


  • Wireless LAN bay
  • Battery bay with lock and release latch
  • Cooling fan - Note: Do not cover or obstruct the opening of the fan.
  • Memory and hard disk bay (secured by a screw).

    Screen




  • The screen is a 15.4" WXGA (1280x800) TFT LCD screen with Acer's CrystalBrite technology. This means that it has a kind of a glossy finish (like Sony X-Black) which should provide a brighter display. Disadvantage is that you may/will have more reflections.


  • Indeed, I found the display sharp and bright with lively colours. But I also noticed reflections, especially when displaying dark-coloured images on the screen. However, when displaying light-coloured images (e.g. when wordprocessing with a white or light-gray background) these reflections are much less noticable or disturbing. But you should definitely take this into account when positioning your notebook.




  • The viewing angle of the screen is good, especially in the horizontal direction; the vertical direction is a bit more sensitive and you quickly see the intensity of colours change when you rotate the screen.




  • I used the "Dead Pixel Buddy" from LaptopShowcase to investigate my screen for dead pixels: I found not a single dead (sub)pixel.

    Speakers




  • The speakers are, I think, notebook - standard. They are small and do their job but sound a bit tinny. If you are critical about sound, I would recommend using headphones or connecting external speakers.

    DVD drive




  • The CD/DVD drive appears to be a Pioneer DVR-K04RA. The drive was hardly noticable when playing an audio CD or a DVD. However, when copying files from a data CD it was rather noisy. Until now, the drive had no problem reading any CD or DVD that I tried. Burning a CD was no problem. I have not yet tried burning a DVD.

    Noise




  • You almost never hear the harddisk. When doing light work or on battery, the fan is usually OFF. Sometimes the fan switches on with low speed and is then noticable, but not disturbing. When the system is being worked hard and the CPU and/or GPU get warm, the fan noise at full speed is quite intrusive. You can also feel that the system becomes warm, especially at the left side, but it never becomes very hot.

    Keyboard and Touchpad


  • Keyboard - click to enlarge!


  • The keyboard generally works and feels O.K. It does 'give way' a bit in the upper left corner but for the rest feels solid. Until now, I mostly worked on a full-size keyboard with separate arrow-keys and numeric keypad. And therefore, finding the correct arrow-, Home-, End- or Del-key still causes me some problems. Also some of these keys are rather small. Probably, someone used to working with a notebook would feel more and/or quicker at home, but for me it will take some time to get used to and to reach the same typing speed as on normal keyboard.




  • I quickly got used to using the touchpad. It works well and allows precise and rather quick cursor positioning. Personally, I'm still quicker with a normal mouse though. Furthermore, there are several buttons and keys for special / Acer / notebook functions, e.g. Fn-key plus arrow-keys allows you to control volume or brightness, etc.

    Battery




  • The battery of the Aspire 5020 series is a 60Wh Li-Ion unit with, according to Acer, 'up to 3 hours battery life'. Using Battery Eater '05 Pro I measured batery life under several conditions, trying to get an indication of minimum and maximum battery life:


    • 'Minimum' battery life: I measured this by using BatteryEater in 'Classic' mode and disabling all powersaving options by selecting the "Home/Office" power management scheme in Windows and setting all 'switch-off' times to 5 hours. BatteryEater then keeps both CPU and GPU busy with an OpenGl animation. I checked several times with CPU-Z and saw that the CPU continuously ran at 1800 MHz. Also the fan was almost continuously operating at full speed. Under these conditions, the battery was drained and Windows shutdown after 95 minutes.
    • 'Maximum' battery life: For this I selected the "Portable/laptop" power management scheme in Windows and again set all 'switch-off' times to 5 hours. Under these conditions, I ran BatteryEater in 'Readers' mode, only displaying text as if someone was reading. I checked several times with CPU-Z and noticed that the CPU was at 800 MHz. On top of that, I did some writing of this review, but not continuously. The fan was mostly OFF and only occasionally switched on with low speed. In this mode, the battery was drained after 3:30 hours.
    So, Acer's claim for 'up to 3 hours' seems valid. I have only had this machine a few days now, but from my experience until now, I think that when using this notebook for such things as gaming, the battery will be empty after one to one and a half hours. Doing light to moderate Office applications, three hours certainly seems feasible.

    Customer Support




  • Fortunately, I have not had to use the customer service support, so I can not say anything about it. There is a standard one year send-in warranty (which I did not upgrade) and you get the International Travelers Warranty if you take the notebook with you abroad.


  • Speed / hard disk / memory




  • Generally, this machine feels fast and responsive. Booting into Windows takes appr. half a minute.




  • I did not yet play full games on it, but the 3DMark and Aquamark benchmarks (see below) really flew over the screen. I think the installed Mobility Radeon X700 with 128 MB memory is up to any game you want to play.




  • The hard disk is a 80 GB 4200rpm drive. As already mentioned, it comes default formatted in two equal FAT32 partitions of each appr. 38 GB. I consider this one of the weaker parts of this notebook. Personally, I would rather have a single 80 GB NTFS partition and also a 5400rpm drive for faster access to data on the hard disk.




  • The installed memory consists of two Nanya 256 MB DDR333 memory modules. This is enough for most applications, but I'm considering upgrading it to 1024MB to prevent swapping to the hard disk as much as possible.


  • Processor / System Info


  • This is one of the first notebooks with the AMD Turion 64 processor, in this case the ML 34 model which runs at 1800 MHz:





  • I'm not sure where the "3400+" rating in the processor name comes from. I thought AMD had abandoned these ratings for the Turion. I also think that this 1800 MHz Turion is closer to an Athlon 64 with a 2800+ or 3000+ rating than to a 3400+ rating.




  • I was unpleasantly surprised by the indicated memory speed: the installed memory is specified as DDR 333 so I was expecting a memory frequency of close to 166 MHz, and not close to 133 MHz. With proper DDR 400 SoDIMMs you should be able to run Athlon 64 memory at 200 MHz. And there is no BIOS setting to adjust the memory speed! I have asked Acer for an explanation, but have not yet received a reply.




  • Benchmarks




  • To get an idea where to place this machine performance-wise I ran some benchmarks and compared the results with my Athlon XP desktop system.



  • And as many people will be interested in how this Turion notebook performs in comparison to Intels' Pentium-M / Centrino platform, I include some benchmark results for the Aspire 1694WLMi that I found on the internet (see the links at the end).

    System comparison table

    System Aspire 5024WLMi Aspire 1694WLMi Athlon XP 2800+
    comment the Turion notebook

  • reviewed here a Pentium-M notebook my desktop system

  • for reference
    Dimensions WxDxH 363 x 278 x 24/33 mm 364 x 279 x 34/39 mm n.a.
    Weight 3.1 kg 3.0 kg n.a.
    Battery 60 Wh Li-Ion 65 Wh Li-Ion n.a.
    chipset ATI Mobility

  • RADEON XPRESS 200 Intel 915PM Express VIA KT333
    CPU Turion 64 ML34 Pentium M 760 Athlon XP 2800+ Barton
    CPU freq. 1.80 GHz 2.00 GHz 2.08 GHz
    L2 cache 1024 Kb 2048 Kb 512 Kb
    GPU Radeon X700 /128MB Radeon X600 /128MB GF4 Ti4200 /64MB
    RAM as tested 512 MB DDR PC2700 1024 MB DDR PC2700 1024 MB DDR PC2700
    Harddisk 80 GB 4200rpm 100 GB 5400rpm *1 80 GB 7200rpm

    Benchmark results


  • The numbers for the Aspire 5024WLMi in bold were measured by myself with the notebook as it came right out of the box, at Windows Home/Office power saving settings and connected to an AC wall socket.


  • System Aspire 5024WLMi Aspire 1694WLMi Athlon XP 2800+
    Turion 1.8 GHz Pentium-M 2.0 GHz Athlon XP 2.08 GHz
    CPUMark99 233 238 *3 184
    PCMark2002 CPU 5859 6084
    Memory 6435 4254
    Harddisk 621 761
    PCMark04 v1.3 3415 3960 *2 3154
    Super-Pi 1M

  • (lower is better) 2M 50 s

  • 118 s 40 s *1

  • 57 s

  • 134 s
    ScienceMark Primordia

  • (lower is better) Moldyn 517.3 (499.3 *4)

  • 110.7 (98.0 *4) 467.4 *4

  • 105.5 *4 497.0

  • 96.4
    3DMark2001 SE 15045 12783 *1, 12025 *2 9849
    3DMark05 2161 1300 *1, 1269 *2 not supported by GF4
    Aquamark 3 40,384 26,477 *2 16,022
    Battery Eater Pro 1:35 'minimum'

  • 3:30 'maximum' 2:59 *1 n.a.
    SiSoft Sandra 2005
    CPU Dhryst MIPS 8317 (8354 *4) 8656 *4 8416
    CPU Whetst MFLOPS 2840 3195
    CPU iSSE2 MFLOPS 3667 -
    CPU media Int it/s 17152 (17240 *4) 19142 *4 19139
    CPU media Float it/s 18448 20368
    RAM BW Int MB/s 1929 2116 *2 2028
    RAM BW Float MB/s 1930 2240 *2 1942
    1. http://www.notebookreview.com/forums/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=15460

    1. A review of the Aspire 1694WLMi.
    2. http://www.gamesplanet.be/index.php?main=gp_article&info=gp_article&articleId=402&chk=5LieVx2Er1

    1. A review of the Aspire 1694WLMi.

    1. (Beware: SiSoft Sandra CPU results probably at 800 Mhz powersaving mode !!!)
    2. http://forum.hardware.fr/hardwarefr/MiniPCPortablesPDA/ACER-Aspire-1693-WLMi-sujet-13948-1.htm

    1. Some benchmark results for the Aspire 1693WLMi with Pentium M 750 @ 1.86 Ghz.
    2. http://www.gamepc.com/labs/view_content.asp?id=turion64&page=1

    1. Turion and Pentium M comparison review.

    1. In my table above, I used their Turion MT34 results, assuming ML34 similar to MT34.

    1. They also give Pentium-M 750 (1.86 GHz) and P-M 770 (2.13 GHz). I interpolated their results for P-M 760 at 2.0 GHz.
    2. http://www.xtremesystems.org/forums/showthread.php?t=59500&highlight=turion

    1. Gives some benchmark results for Turion ML30 at 1.6 GHz and overclocked at 2.0 GHz.

    Conclusion

    Pros:
    • good value for money: cheaper than a Pentium M (760) system but performance comes very close
    • excellent graphics adapter
    • up to three and a half hours battery life
    • large and clear 15.4" CrystalBrite screen
    Cons:
    • memory only running at 133 MHz - why Acer ?
    • 4200rpm hard disk
    • keyboard gives way at left side
    • fan rather noisy when at full speed
    • no Bluetooth
    Notwithstanding any comments or remarks I made above, I did not have a single serious problem with this notebook. I think this is a very good machine: a nice design and as compact as it can be for a 15.4" screen. It is also very powerful and has a good battery life.

  • This Turion notebook is definitely a solid competitor for the Pentium-M / Centrino notebooks, even more when models with the faster ML37-ML44 Turions and/or the lower power consumption (25 Watt) MT34-MT44 will come out.



  • I can recommend this notebook to anyone looking for a powerful and still mobile (desktop replacement) notebook.

  • Review Follow-up

    10 January 2006



    In the 7 months since my original review was published, there have been extensive discussions about the Aspire 5020 series notebook, here on Notebookreview.com and on other fora. I will list the most important issues here and also give a list of links to newer drivers, to some articles about the Turion and to some utilities that may come in handy when using this notebook.

    Generally, I'm still very happy with (the performance of) this notebook, especially after the "slow memory" problem was solved. Also, the screen, keyboard and DVD drive are still doing well, although I had to order a new cover for the DVD drive from Acer Support.



    Pros / Cons / Known issues:

    • no SPDIF out
    • cover of slot-in DVD sometimes comes off; you can order a new one from Acer support.
    • the outside cover scratches very easily


    Memory speed:

    DDR333 / PC2700 memory modules:


    From bios 1.11 onwards, DDR333 / PC2700 memory now runs at the expected 167/333MHz !



    DDR400 / PC3200 memory modules:


    Although the Turion64 in principle supports DDR400 / PC3200 memory at 200/400MHz, these modules are not guaranteed to work at that speed:


    some modules may indeed work at 200/400 Mhz, but others only at 167/333MHz.



    Launch Manager:

    You need to have Launch Manager installed in order to use the wireless network button(s) at the front. If you have problems with these buttons after installing MS Office, you should get LaunchManager 1.0.8.3 from the Acer website.



    Bios:

    Acer has released several new Bios versions for the Aspire 5020, but supplies little, if any, information about what is solved or included for each new version. Make sure that you have at least version 1.11 installed, which solves the "slow memory" problem mentioned in my original review. With bios 1.13 there were some installation problems when using the included bol113.bat file. But you can also download the separate Winphlash utility from the Acer website to update the bios. You need the bios file from the M26 subdirectory when you have the X700 graphics. The latest version is Bios 1.18 as per 5 December 2005, which installed and works without problem on my machine.



    Popping noises:

    Initially there were reports about "popping" sounds during audio playback. These problems were resolved with new audio drivers from Realtek (from version 3.76 (5.10.0.5900) onwards), which are now (probably) also included in the new Audio.zip from the Acer website.



    ATI Mobility Radeon drivers:


    The Acer supplied ATI drivers appear to work quite well.


    However, ATI has released several newer versions of drivers for the Mobility Radeon, but if you try to download these from the ATI website, you initially download a program (atimcatw.exe) which says that these drivers are not suitable for your Acer notebook.


    You can bypass this atimcatw program and download the 32-bit Mobility Catalyst drivers (ca, 33 MB) via the following direct link:


    http://www.ati.com/online/mobilecatalyst/index.html


    And they do work without problem on my Acer Aspire 5020 - I have the Mobility Catalyst 5.12 drivers installed right now.


    If you also want to install/use the ControlCenter, you need to have .NET Framework installed.


    Alternatively, you can download the 'normal' Catalyst drivers and adapt them with the Mobility Modder tool, which is also the way to go for 64-bit drivers.



    SM-bus drivers:


    When the SM-bus drivers are missing, e.g. after new Windows installation, you can download new "Southbridge" drivers (which include the drivers for SM-bus) from the ATI website via "Motherboards with ATI graphics".



    AMD processor driver:


    There are newer versions (May 2005) processor drivers available for the Turion64 from the AMD website:


    version 1.2.2.2 for 32-bit Windows XP


    version 1.2.2.1 for 64-bit Windows XP Pro x64



    Recovery CD's:


    These just re-create the system as it came from the factory, i.e. with C: and D: FAT32 partitions and a small hidden recovery partition. If you want to install Windows according to your own preferences, you will need a separate Windows CD.



    Updated benchmarks:


    I re-did some benchmarks of my original review to show the effect of going from 2x256MB@133MHz (original modules with original bios 1.03) to 2x512MB@166MHz (new modules with bios 1.11).


    As expected, there was a considerable improvement in PCMark and Sandra memory benchmarks. Also 3DMark and Aquamark seemed to like more/faster memory, but all the other benchmarks seemed to depend mainly on CPU-speed.



    System Aspire 5024WLMi

    Turion ML34 1.8 GHz
    BIOS v1.03 v1.11
    Memory 512 MB (2x256) 1024 MB (2x512)
    Memory speed ~133 MHz ~166 MHz
    PCMark2002 Memory 6435 7057
    PCMark04 v1.3 3415 3493
    3DMark2001 SE 15045 15564
    3DMark05 2161 2202
    SiSoft Sandra RAM BW MB/s 1930 2459

    Aspire 5020 names and part numbers

    Recently, Aspire 5020 series models with 256MB X700 graphics have appeared.


    I also found one reference to an Aspire 5025WLMi with a ML37 Turion processor (but not on an Acer website).



    Therefore, as far as I know, there are now 3 part numbers for the Aspire 5020 series, depending on installed graphics adapter:

    • LX.A4705.xxx for the 5020 series with ATI X600 64 MB
    • LX.A4605.xxx for the 5020 series with ATI X700 128 MB
    • LX.AA505.xxx for the 5020 series with ATI X700 256 MB

    Furthermore, the following model names are used, depending on installed CPU:

    • 5021WLMi with Turion 64 ML28 (1.6 GHz, 512 KB)
    • 5022WLMi with Turion 64 ML30 (1.6 GHz, 1024 KB)
    • 5023WLMi with Turion 64 ML32 (1.8 GHz, 512 KB)
    • 5024WLMi with Turion 64 ML34 (1.8 GHz, 1024 KB)
    • 5025WLMi with Turion 64 ML37 (2.0 GHz, 1024 KB) ??

    Upgrading the CPU ?

    I have recently seen faster Turion64 CPU's, e.g. Turion64 MT37/ML37 (2.0GHz, 1024KB, 25/35 W) being offered for appr. 250 Euros, and Turion64 MT40/ML40 (2.2GHz, 1024KB, 25/35 W) being offered for appr. 300 Euros. Still expensive but likely to become cheaper.

    Furthermore, recent contributions to this thread show that it is apparently physically posible to upgrade the Aspire 5020 with a new CPU, but you will have to dis-assemble the system almost completely. It is also not known if the bios supports faster CPU's (it probably will, if the mentioned 5025WLMi with ML37 is an official Acer model).

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