Acer TravelMate X5 review

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OUR VERDICT

The Acer TravelMate X5 delivers a highly portable package with plenty of power for those that need it away from the office. However, that performance is concentrated in the CPU, and won’t help those that need powerful graphics or compute performance.

FOR+

Powerful platform
Under a kilogram
Spare NVMe slot

AGAINST-

Proprietary PSU
No memory upgrades
Mediocre GPU

Acer already has a very wide range of laptops to choose from, so what’s different about the new TravelMate X5 series?

There is a sector for high-performance laptops, personified by the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, that aims to give business customers both performance and portability without significantly compromising either objective.

And, that’s the niche that the Acer TravelMate X5 has been designed to fit.

Can it truly deliver desktop-level performance in a lightweight 14-inch form factor, or is this an unrealistic objective?

Price, availability and value 

Acer, like most of the big machine makers, tailors its SKUs to each region or country, and the TravelMate X5 is no exception.

Our review hardware was a TMX514-51-7411 with the part number NX.VJ7EK.007, that is sold in the UK for £1,099 directly from Acer.

The American equivalent machine has almost the same specification, other than it comes with 16GB of RAM, and costs roughly $1,399.

It’s worth noting that the X5 is a B2B product, and therefore it might not be listed on the public-facing Acer website, so contact sales if you want available pricing and specifications for your region.

Design

The Acer TravelMate X5 doesn’t break any new ground for portable computing technology, its modest aim is to be better than what can before it.

It was designed for those that want something almost identical to the machine they bought five years ago, with a fragrant whiff of new CPU generation smell.

And for that customer, Acer has taken a recently released 8th Generation Intel CPU and levered it into a very thin, and largely by-the-numbers, 14-inch notebook.

However, it does have the odd idiosyncrasy, one of those being the organisation of the ports.

Except for the headphone jack, all the ports are on the right-hand side.

These include two USB 3.1 Type-A, a single USB Type-C (sleep-and-charge), a full-sized HDMI port, and the power inlet.

Not an ideal arrangement if you are right-handed, and like to use external storage and a mouse. Why the left edge didn’t have a place at least one USB port is a mystery. 

Placing any port on the spine is impossible due to the big hinge connects the screen and base with enough travel for the system to be made flat.

Such a wide motion is usually a sign of a touch screen, but this model hasn’t one of those.

It is available on other models, but we presume those machines won’t be using tent mode.

Keyboard and touchpad positioning is a little irregular, with the touchpad placed off-centre to the left by about 3cm for no obvious good reason.

And, the keyboard has a wide gap above it to the screen hinge but uses tiny function keys that could have easily been made bigger given this unused space.

The final curiosity of the keyboard is that the designers chose to put the power button on the very right corner, enabling those who aim for the backspace key and overshoot to initiate shutting down their system unexpectedly.

Below the keyboard to the right is a fingerprint reader, avoiding the additional cost of making the camera infrared while still adding some biometric security.

Portability was a significant element in the design brief for the X5, and that its designers managed to deliver it under 1kg is a remarkable result. Even with the very small power supply, this is a very easy to carry system and could easily be transported in a soft sleeve rather than needing a laptop bag.

The processor in the review model is very powerful, possibly too much for what most of these machines are likely to be used.

But conversely the amount of RAM is less than we’d expect, and the UHD Graphics 620 GPU isn’t well-balanced with the CPU driving it.

The Core-i7 CPU makes the Acer TravelMate X5 ideal for processor-intensive tasks as long as they don’t involve graphics. But it also comes with an assumption that mains power is available to feed the demands of the CPU for an extended period.

One omission from this design is LTE networking support. You can add this with an external device, but many business machines come with a mobile phone card tray and the ability to access LTE networks using it.

Specifications

The processor in the review model is very powerful, possibly too much for what most of these machines are likely to be used.

But conversely the amount of RAM is less than we’d expect, and the UHD Graphics 620 GPU isn’t well-balanced with the CPU driving it.

The Core-i7 CPU makes the Acer TravelMate X5 ideal for processor-intensive tasks as long as they don’t involve graphics. But it also comes with an assumption that mains power is available to feed the demands of the CPU for an extended period.

One omission from this design is LTE networking support. You can add this with an external device, but many business machines come with a mobile phone card tray and the ability to access LTE networks using it.

Performance

As we’d expect from an 8th generation ‘Y’ series Core-i7 processor combined with an NVMe SSD, this is a quick system that would only be outperformed by a ‘U’ series mobile processor that would demand far too much power to be this portable.

The critical weakness is the elderly GPU that Intel has combined it. The UHD 620 first appeared with Kaby Lake series processors in 2016, and the core technology is much older.

While it might be fine for surfing, it hasn’t enough power for gaming or design work, and it struggles to play 4K streaming content to an external monitor.

The GPU in this system is a significant bottleneck because the same CPU connected to a discrete video system would undoubtedly outperform this configuration by a magnitude.

With such an imbalance, the CPU is very likely to be waiting for the GPU to complete its tasks, negating much of its performance advantage over a Core-i5 or a previous generation device.

It is Intel’s problem to address, not Acer, but at each new chip generation, the discrepancy between the CPU side of this equation and the GPU becomes even greater.

Benchmarks

These are excellent benchmark results from a computing standpoint, with the Core-i7 delivering excellent single and multi-thread results.

It achieves this by having four cores and hyper-threading, allowing for eight threads to be simultaneously processed. And, while the base clock of the chip is only 1.8GHz, it can Turbo a single core up to 4.6GHz for an especially demanding thread.

Where it doesn’t shine is in any test that involves 3D graphics rendering, making this machine unsuitable for those that use CAD software or who like to game occasionally.

The storage in the review machine was a Western Digital SN520 NVMe SSD drive, that is designed specifically for laptop use, having a low power profile.

At around 1,700mb/s reads and 1,400mb/s writes it isn’t the very quickest SSD around, but it is much better than the typical performance offers by a SATA SSD.

Alongside the typical synthetic tests detailed under our benchmarks, we also used a Datacolor Spyder calibrator to probe the screen and were pleasantly surprised by the results.

The IPS panel in the X5 has excellent viewing angles and manages 100% of the sRGB gamut, even if it can only manage 77% of those preferred by AdobeRGB.

The quoted backlight of 300 nits is an accurate number, and both colour and luminosity uniformity are good across the panel.

Battery life 

As we’ve already hinted, a powerful CPU and a relatively small battery have only one obvious outcome, and that isn’t all-day-running.

There are a significant number of phablet phones that have more than 4670 mAh available to them, and with the Core-i7 in turbo mode, turning the screen brightness down isn’t doing to make much difference to the operational window of this device.

Amazingly Acer quotes 9 hours running time for this machine, although it didn’t reflect our experience.

Using PCMark08 Home test with the screen brightness set to 120 nits and minimum performance for maximum running time, we managed 4 hours and 15 minutes.

If you like a brighter screen and to see more of what the Core-i7 is capable, then three hours is probably a more realistic expectation.

That’s enough battery life for a commute, but well short of a working day.

Upgradability

If you buy one of these and need more storage or memory what are your options?

Removing the back from the X5 requires a very small T5 Torx screwdriver, extracting eleven screws and using a plastic plectrum to gain access.

Once inside, you can make some changes to the system, but not as many as you might like.

The good news is that the X5 has a second NVMe PCIe slot, allowing you to upgrade the storage with a second drive or clone the existing system to a bigger capacity device.

What you can’t upgrade is the memory, as that is soldered to the mainboard.

Therefore, be sure that the memory that comes with your model will be sufficient, as it is never going to be expanded.

A few other items can probably be swapped out, like the WIFI card and the battery, but these would require exacting parts to exchange.

Final verdict 

There are plenty of things to like in this design, most notably the very low weight for a high-performance system.

However, getting the weight below 1kg came at a cost in both the robustness of the machine and battery life. You won’t experience all-day working on the TravelMate X5, or even half of that.

What also undermines the power in this system is Intel UHD 620 GPU, a component that is now horribly mismatched with the Intel i7-8565U processor and a major bottleneck to that chips ability to express itself.

That is an Intel problem, but the next is entirely self-inflicted by Acer. We’re not sure why Acer filled this business machine with bloatware, but they did.

Why machine makers are still doing this, something they know their customers despise is a mystery. But we stopped falling for Anti-virus makers the-sky-is-falling routine in the last century, and pre-loading games like Candy Crush on a business machine is patently bonkers.

We’ve also had enough of easily breakable proprietary power supplies for laptops, and Acer needs to leave that era behind with bloatware.

Overall, the TravelMate X5 is an interesting choice for those that want a powerful system that isn’t excessively heavy. The battery life dictates that mains power is handy when you need it, and when connected to external power this is a very fast system.

We can’t deny that the TravelMate X5 is portable power personified, but it might also be impractical for some.