Acer – TravelMate 5520C review

bargain notebook for the business user
Photo of Acer – TravelMate 5520C
£340 + VAT

The latest addition to Acer’s TravelMate range of business notebooks is the 5520C and it’s aimed at smaller businesses with tight budgets, as it comes with a sub-£400 price tag.

As you might expect for that price, some compromises have been made; it’s not the lightest notebook around (it weighs 3.4kg with the power brick), it doesn’t have the host of security features that the more expensive TravelMates have and, perhaps more significantly, it comes with an AMD processor instead of the usual Intel CPU.

Having said all that, what you do get is a no-nonsense business laptop with most of what you need built in, combined with a reasonable battery life; just under two hours while watching a DVD.

This machine is powered by an AMD Athlon 64 X2 TK; a dual core processor with both cores running at 1.7GHz, each with 256KB of L2 cache. Backing this up is 1GB of PC2-667MHz DDR2 memory in the form of two 512MB modules.

Replacing these memory units with a couple of 1GB modules would help to raise the performance of the 5520C, which is a little disappointing as shown by the PCMark05 overall score of 2,612 and the overall Vista Benchmark score of just 2.8. This latter low score comes from the fact that the benchmark uses the lowest scoring component to give the overall score, which in this case is the Gaming benchmark, but more on that later.

Build quality throughout is, as always with a TravelMate, first rate and although the lid is quite thin there isn’t much flex to it. The keyboard features the now famous 5-degree curved TravelMate layout, which may look a bit odd but is a joy to type on. The keys themselves are nice and responsive as is the 4-way scroll trackpad. Under the trackpad sit three mouse buttons; left, right and scrolling.

To the left of the keyboard is panel that holds four Easy-launch buttons and three productivity buttons. The four Easy-launch buttons control access to Acer’s Empowering Technology (a whole host of useful Acer utilities that come pre-installed), the Internet, e-mail and one that is user programmable. The three remaining productivity keys launch the Windows Lock function, get the 5520C ready for presentations and automatically sync to an external storage device; very handy for running back-ups.

The reason for the low gaming score in the Vista Benchmark becomes apparent when you run any form of graphics benchmark. Powering the graphics sub-system is ATI’s Radeon X1200 chipset which comes with 256MB of dedicated onboard memory and, by using ATI’s HyperMemory, can access up to 128MB of system memory for a total of 384MB.

This is fine for all your usual office apps and for driving Vista’s Aero interface but comes up short if you want to indulge in any games playing. Even at a resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels it produces a score of 800 in 3DMark05, while the average frame rate in F.E.A.R is barely worth mentioning at 16fps. All of this is pretty academic anyway – it’s a business system, so stunning graphics are nowhere to be seen on the list of requirements.

Output from the graphics system powers a rather nice 15.4-inch, WXGA, widescreen display with a 1,280 by 800 pixel native resolution and Acer’s CrystalBrite technology which, although reflective, isn’t as bad as some we have seen. Plus there’s a built-in 0.3-megapixel web-cam at the top of the screen.

Storage is provided in the form of a 120GB, 5,400rpm Hitachi hard drive and there is a DVD burner built in. You also get both Express and PC Card slots and a 5-in-1 card reader is housed in the front of the chassis. Connectivity-wise the TravelMate 5520C is well served; 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Gigabit Ethernet and, if all that should fail, a humble V.90 modem.

The 5520C comes with Windows Vista Home Premium pre-installed and, in addition to the a forementioned Acer utilities package, CyberLink Power DVD, Norton Internet Security, NTI CD Maker and NTI Shadow make up the software bundle.

Company: Acer

Contact: 0870 853 1005

If you are in a business working to a strict budget then Acer's TravelMate 5520C might well be worth looking at. It may not have the glamorous looks of some notebooks out there, but it does all the stuff that matters well and you have the strength of Acer's build quality, so it should survive the rough and tumble of everyday life on the road.