Performance and Conclusion
As I mentioned during the introduction to this review, taking a retrospective look at an older computer to compare its performance with newer hardware is difficult because the change is often so dramatic, older hardware simply won’t run newer benchmarks. Certainly I ran into this problem with the Acer Extensa 5420. But I was able to run a handful of common benchmarks, which we can use to provide us with a small window into the past.
This Acer Extensia tested here comes equipped with an AMD Turion 64 X2 processor running at 1.9 GHz. IN addition, it features 2GB of DDR2 RAM and ATI Radeon X1250 integrated graphics with 256MB of dedicated memory.
For comparison, I’m going to use a few modern laptops we’ve recently reviewed. One obvious pick is the ASUS K53T, which is powered by AMD’s latest A6 mobile processor. Another good pick is the MSI X370, which we reviewed with the AMD E-350 processor. Finally, we’ll use the Dell Inspiron 14z as a stand-in for what modern mid-range Intel laptops can offer. Here are their specifications.
As usual, we begin with SiSoft Sandra.
It’s interesting to see how drastically these two benchmarks split the performance of the Turion 64 X2 in this aging Acer. The processor arithmetic test goes well enough for the Turion, as it manages to defeat the E-350 in the MSI X370. The gap between this older processor and the more modern AMD A6-3400 found in the ASUS K53T is surprising, as well.
Yet when we turn to multimedia performance, we see that the Acer Extensa falls behind significantly. In my past testing experience with Sandra, the multimedia performance benchmark does seem to stress performance-per-clock and make extremely good use of all available cores. This, combined with things like new and/or improved multimedia instruction sets, contributes to the old Turion being left behind.
We have two other solid processor benchmarks that worked, those being 7-Zip and Peacekeeper. What did they reveal?
In 7-Zip the Turion manages to outpace the E-350 by about 500 points across the board, but doesn’t stand a chance of catching up to the newer AMD A6-3400. Of course, the Core i5 in the Dell outpaces them all by a large margin.
Peacekeeper, which tends to focus heavily on single-core performance, tells a different story. Here the Acer Extensa comes within 300 points of the newer ASUS K53T. Though this still represents an increase of about 30%, it’s surprising to see a processor from a five year old laptop come so close to a new, mainstream processor in any benchmark.
Graphics testing on the Acer was difficult, as it simply would refuse to launch any game recently used for benchmarking. Part of this is due to the fact the old integrated graphics component only support DirectX 9, but even Dawn of War: Retribution crashed consistently. In addition, the Acer can’t run all PCMark 7 tests nor can it run 3DMark Vantage or 3DMark 11.
As such, we’re left with 3DMark 06. How’d it score?
Ouch. It’s benchmark results like these that remind us why integrated graphics is still a four letter word to many geeks. Virtually every graphics component available in modern laptops, with the exception of Intel powered netbooks, has surpassed the performance of the Radeon X1250 by an order of magnitude.
Subjectively, the Acer Extensa feels more or less like a modern netbook so long as you stay away from HD video or 3D gaming. The system is equipped with Vista, and would probably feel quicker under Windows 7 – at least in my opinion. But programs generally open with acceptable speed, and web browsing feels little different than it does on a modern dual-core netbook like the MSI X370.
HD video brings the laptop to its knees, however, and most games simply won’t launch. Even titles that were old at the time the Acer was shipped, like Half Life 2, wouldn’t run at acceptable frame rates no matter the detail settings or resolution used. You’d have to enjoy Good Old Games to have any fun.
After spending some time with the Acer Extensa, I came away with the impression that the last five years of laptop design have largely been dominated by one goal – making laptops slimmer, sexier and more portable.
This laptop is gigantic. It’s also incredibly dull. Not even the cheapest Acer, Dell or HP laptop sold today is so inconsiderate as to offer the same attitude of unapologetic boredom. From the gray Tupperware-esqe plastics to the chunky frame to the beveled black keys, everything about this laptop is oppressively dull. It’s not a laptop that anyone will take a second glance at in public, except perhaps to remark in surprise that it’s still running.
You may not have to worry about that much, however, because simply taking it with you is a hassle, and if your destination lacks a power cord you won’t have more than two hours of use available.
Another are of issue are the touchpad, which is ridiculously small. And the performance, of course, is far superior to modern laptops – though the processor isn’t so far behind as you might have guessed.
For all its design issues, however, the Acer Extensa is distinctly better than modern laptops in two notable ways. The keyboard is excellent by today’s standards, mostly due to great key travel – something the laptop can offer because it is thick. Connectivity is a slap in the face to modern laptops. You’ll find this many ports only on modern enterprise laptops, and even then they may be short a USB port or two.
Both of these are features that get in the way of making laptops thinner and more portable, and so they’ve been axed. Is it for the better? Maybe, maybe not – certainly it’s convenient for geeks who never leave home without a PC in tow, but the additional ports and better keyboard can have real benefits for people who use their laptop as a desktop replacement.
Intel’s pushing of the ultrabook further displays this problem – most of those systems are well built and extremely portable, but they also tend to lack connectivity and offer keyboards that are stiff and lacking in key travel. Personally, I believe that there is a point at which it doesn’t make sense to insist on laptops being lighter, thinner and more portable than they already are. And we may be moving past that point right now.