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Acer Extensa 5420 Retrospective Review: How Far Have We Come?

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Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Acer
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Introduction and Design

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As a writer and laptop reviewer, I am constantly bombarded with the chance to look at new laptops. These are the latest and supposedly greatest the industry has to offer. Comparing these modern laptops with each other provides you, the reader, with information about what you should buy today. But it doesn’t provide a wider perspective throughout the years. 

There’s a long line of common complaints that are leveled at modern laptops including poor display quality, underwhelming build quality, and crappy keyboards. Certainly, there seem to be room for improvement in these areas on many laptops. Yet nostalgia has a tendency to obscure our view of the past. Was that laptop you used to own really superior to anything on the market today? Or is your memory clouded by the good times you had using it at a friend’s LAN party or writing an important paper twelve hours before it was due?

To find out, we’re going to step into the past and do a review of a nearly five-year-old laptop, the Acer Extensa 5420. This 15.4” laptop was not a top-of-the-line model when it was put on sale in 2007. It was the very picture of mainstream computing, a completely average dual-core laptop with discrete graphics that typically sold for between $500 and $600, depending on the configuration.

Continue reading our retrospective on the Acer Extensa 5420!!

Speaking of which, let’s have a look at the relics powering this laptop.

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Yep, that’s some old-school hardware. Minus the AMD processor, it’s very similar to a Lenovo ThinkPad that I owned during the same time period. I don’t expect this laptop to offer much in terms of performance, but we will be benchmarking it as part of this retro-review. 

Design

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The Acer Extensa 5420 appears to be made of discarded tupperware. This is not entirely an insult. While the gray plastics are dull and attractive in a way that even the most basic of today’s laptop can’t match, they also seem to have held up well over the years. Everything has remained intact, and the thick palmrest and display lid plastics appear as if they could survive another five years of use without worry. 

You might think that this, combined with a chassis that is about 1.4 inches thick, would provide plenty of rigidity. You’d be wrong. Picking up the Extensa from any corner elicits a wide variety of groans, and the plastics are the optical drive bay are positively floppy. This is an area of design where laptops have obviously improved over the years, as it’s rare to see such a sloppy chassis in even today’s cheapest products. 

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Connectivity is every bit as impressive as the chassis isn’t. Along the left side of the laptop you’ll find FireWire, one USB port, VGA, S-Video (remember that?) and Ethernet. You might think that’s not much, but then you’d look at the back and discover three more USB ports as well as a hook-up for a dial-up modem. At the front there’s not only a microphone and headphone jack but also a line-in jack and a card reader. 

Such an array of connectivity is hard to find even on today’s most expensive laptops, and the connectivity is arranged in convenient locations. Even the power plug is at the rear, the best location, and one too rarely used. 

January 16, 2012 | 01:24 PM - Posted by Digital Doc (not verified)

Thanks for the look back. I think the real take home message is that the older Turion processor still outpaced the E-350 modern chip. Guess I'll hang to my Core 2 Duo notebook for some months more!

January 16, 2012 | 01:58 PM - Posted by Adam (not verified)

We want dedicated video cards or for integrated graphics to not stink. Not every PC has to be a gaming PC but even a basic main stream laptop should be able to play older games.

January 16, 2012 | 02:19 PM - Posted by D. (not verified)

I've recently refurbished this type of laptop for a friend and I was curious on your take. A similar Turion, but with 4GB DDR2, an Intel SSD, working ventilation and a new battery straight from Taiwan made this lappy surprisingly decent, bar HD & gaming as you pointed out. Then again on a 13*7 screen even 720p is a little pretentious :)

January 16, 2012 | 06:20 PM - Posted by HyperMinimalism (not verified)

I hope you guys do more reviews similar to this. A look back to some of the older processors and video cards would be appropriate. Just to see how far we have come, and for those of us looking for another excuse to upgrade. Maybe a heatsink and case as well?

I have recently been searching for comparisons to even graphics cards just two generations ago and have not found many except for a few forum questions with some very opinionated responses not grounded in fact. For example GTX 280/285, GT8800, and radeon 5870/5850 as well as crossfire and sli comparisons to the new generations will probably be a hot topic considering many people wait at least two generations to upgrade.

Comparing this many different products can be quite nebulous, but I hope you find a new intern that has plenty of time on their hands to put together something like this for us. ;)

HM

January 17, 2012 | 04:08 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

That is a really good idea for us - I think we can target a GPU style article on this topic pretty easily, if we limit the solutions tested.

January 18, 2012 | 11:46 AM - Posted by Annoyingmouse (not verified)

Lol good read.

If not for the glossy screen boom of 2008-09, the total market shift to 16:9 aspect ratio of 2010, and the on again off again glossy plastic trend of 2004 - present, I'd be quite thrilled with contemporary notebooks\laptops. You really can get a lot for your money these days, I'd just rather have a matte 16:10 or 4:3 screen.

January 18, 2012 | 12:57 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

This is a great laptop. It runs fast with over 60 firefox tabs open. The only complaint I have about this is the touchpad mouse isn't very accurate. It will click on things when you haven't actually clicked (clicking can be done by tapping the touchpad twice as well as the left click button, but if you lift your finger to move the touchpad farther to one side, then it sometimes interprets that as a click). Other times the mouse pointer will change position across the screen without you moving your finger. I don't know if that's an overall problem, or just a problem with mine, but if you can deal with the mouse, it's a great laptop.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001G4U11C/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=...

February 4, 2012 | 05:10 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I have an old Extensa model 46307 with Vista. Overall it works pretty well for what I use it for. What annoys me is that while typing, I find myself in a completely different sentence or line. Is this a problem with the Extensa or is it Vista? It does not happen with my Lenovo running XP. Thanks!

February 6, 2012 | 03:00 AM - Posted by Adam Worth (not verified)

I don't have anything bad to say about these laptops. They have a huge life span. From my point of view, it's no wonder that an Acer is considered the best gaming laptop 2012.

April 18, 2012 | 07:53 PM - Posted by Leland (not verified)

The memory of my 5420's keyboard totally ruined me when I tried to start shopping for a new laptop early this year. Thanks for giving it its critical due.

July 20, 2012 | 08:48 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I am struggling on with one of these. It has not been a happy experience. The keyboard isn't very nice. New flatter ones are worse. It came with XP, one of the last just as the Vista fiasco was brewing. Also one of the last with a PCMCIA slot for my ooollldd SmartMedia card reader. (The Olympus camera still goes well age 11). When new I put Norton Ghost aboard. OH DEAR! Couldn't get it going properly, downloaded heaps of Acer stuff. In the end I sent it back for reformatting. Acer replaced the hard drive, presumably a ready to go one made for a quicker turnaround! I got a Seagate which I specifically did not want after an earlier adverse experience! To be fair that is still going ok.
I have always thought the rear power connector with a right-angle plug beside the USBs was in a STUPID place. And so it has proven, as this is now intermittent. I took it into a local repairer who quoted NZ$250 to fix as disassembly was complicated, this after a quick lookee-see for $50! Now the top is cracked both sides round the hinges! Dispute! New machine needed. NOT an Acer for me!

July 20, 2012 | 08:55 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Oh I forgot! My mouse jumps and my typing jumps as described above. I thought it was due to a problem after it came back from Acer. It only seems to happen if I rest my left hand on the case. Presumably the pressure activates the mouse pad somehow.
And there IS a webcam on mine. And mine was Intel. Confusing!
And it is SOO heavy. I miss my little Asus 14 laptop I had ages ago. Then the big ones cost more, now it is the other way round!
(Same correspondent as previous post)

January 19, 2013 | 02:05 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

damn thing wont power up anymore

trys to turn on blinks a few times and repeats and then powers off

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