Acer Aspire 3 vs Acer Aspire 5: Acer's value-packed entry-level and mid-range laptops compared

Performance and features inevitably come at a price, but does the Acer Aspire 3 or Aspire 5 offer the best bang for your buck?

Acer Aspire 3 vs Acer Aspire 5
(Image credit: Acer)

You pays your money. And you takes your choice. So it goes with the huge array of the best laptops on the market. However, it really can be baffling trying to spot where the value really lies – there's just so much choice and so many specs and jargon that knowing if you've overpaid for something you're not going to make the most of is tough.

When it comes to comparing the Acer Aspire 3 with the Acer Aspire 5, however, you've got half a chance of working out which suits your needs better. That's because they're very similar portable PCs by most metrics, so the few areas where they differ really stand out. Both have graced our best budget laptops guide – at time of writing, the Aspire 5 holds the #2 spot (head to our Acer Aspire 5 review for the full low-down on that machine) – so both are good machines, but which offers better value for money?

That's what this feature is designed to help you discover. After all, there is a price difference here, and we don't think it a smart move to waste money here at T3, so finding which works for you before purchase is key.

Styling wise, the Aspire 5 not only looks slightly sleeker, it also uses more expensive materials. As for specs, both systems can be equipped with a range of Intel and AMD CPUs, but it's the pricier Aspire 5 that's available with the very latest 11th Gen Intel chip and at least one six-core AMD processor, where the Aspire 3 makes do with 10th Gen CPUs and tops out at four cores. The Aspire 5 also has superior wireless and wired connectivity, support for more memory and storage and a screen upgrade.

Of course, it's also the more expensive laptop, costing around 20 per cent more, like for like. By way of example, 15-inch versions of these laptops (the Aspire 3 can also be had in 14-inch and 17-inch variants, the Aspire 5 in 14-inch) running a 10th gen Intel Core i7 CPU are yours for around £659 for the Aspire 3 and £799 for the Aspire 5 (cheaper models well below £400 for the Aspire 3 and below £500 for the Aspire 5 are available). So, the question is, how much are the Aspire 5's upgrades worth to you? Or is does the Aspire 3 have everything you actually need? Read on for our Acer Aspire 3 vs Acer Aspire 5 showdown.

Acer Aspire 3 vs Acer Aspire 5: Design and screen

Acer pitches the Aspire 5's 81.61% screen-to-body ratio as something of a selling point. But with fairly large bezels above and below its 15-inch panel, it's not actually going to win any prizes when ratios above 90 percent are now fairly commonplace.

The Aspire 3 sports a broadly similar design. But where the Aspire 5 boasts aluminium keyboard and screen covers, the Aspire 3 is pure plastic. That's more a matter of style and feel than robustness. The Aspire 3 feels tough enough. But the Aspire 5 is the nicer thing to touch and hold.

Acer Aspire 5

Acer Aspire 5

(Image credit: Acer)

Both laptops are reasonably thin and light, but neither sets new standards for slimness. The Aspire 5 is around two millimetres thinner and just squeaks in under 18mm, with the Aspire 3 clocking in at a whisker thinner than 20mm. Both offer a generously proportioned keyboard with full number pads.

One area where these two Acer 15 inchers do diverge is screen quality. In both cases you get a 15-inch 16:9 panel with 1,920 by 1,080 pixels. However the Aspire 5 gets an IPS panel for superior colours, contrast and viewing angles. The Aspire 3's panel is based on cheaper TN technology.

As for connectivity, it's another metric by which the Aspire 5 has a clear edge. It packs four USB ports, including two USB 3 Type-A 5Gbps ports, one USB-C 5Gbps and a USB 2 Type-A. The Aspire 3 has two USB 2 Type-A, one USB 3 Type-A 5Gbps and no USB-C at all. The Aspire 5 is likewise superior when it comes to wireless connectivity thanks to WiFi to the Aspire 5's WiFi 5. The Aspire also has the better claimed battery life with 9.5 hours to the Aspire 3's eight hours.

Acer Aspire 3 vs Acer Aspire 5: Specs and performance

Both systems are available with a fairly wide array of Intel and AMD CPUs, with certain chips available in both platforms. However, it's predictably the Aspire 5 that scales higher. For starters, the Aspire 5 exclusively offers Intel's latest 11th gen Tiger Lake CPUs. It's also the only option if you want AMD's Ryzen 4000 chip, which is available with up to six cores.

That said, for most people, most of the time, a mid-range quad-core Intel Core i5 or AMD equivalent will be plenty. Moreover, specifying the Aspire with the top CPU options lifts the price into uncomfortable territory where it must compete with some physically more impressive laptops from brands like Asus and Lenovo. But if you plan on doing lots of really CPU intensive tasks, such as video encoding, the higher end Aspire 5 options will get your workflows finished faster.

Acer aspire 3

Acer aspire 3

(Image credit: Acer)

The same goes for the Aspire 5's theoretical advantage when it comes to system memory. Yes, it extends all the way to 24GB where the Aspire 3 tops out at 16GB. But 16GB will be plenty for all but the most demanding users.

Ditto the Aspire 5's superior graphics options. Most models in both ranges run integrated CPU graphics. But the Aspire 5 can optionally be had with an Nvidia GeForce MX350 graphics chip. The Aspire 3 maxes out with the MX230. In truth, neither graphics chip is up to the job of proper gaming. So, we wouldn't recommend paying the premium.

Acer Aspire 3 vs Acer Aspire 5: Price and verdict

Roughly like-for-like, the Acer Aspire 5 runs around 20 per cent more expensive than the Acer Aspire 3 (see our price widgets below for the best current offers on both machines in your territory). Both laptops are available in a wide array of configurations. However, we'd recommend Aspire 5 configurations for around £500. At that price point, you get a decent feature set, plus that IPS screen, which is a big bonus. 

As for the Aspire 3, we'd aim to keep the price sub £400 to ensure that you're getting decent value. In both cases, the appeal on offer is largely a function of configuration and in turn price. The Aspire 5 with a quad-core processor for under £500 is a very nice package. Ditto the Aspire 3 with the configuration kept in check. Move up the range and the value proposition suffers.

Overall, we'd lean towards the Aspire 5 for its superior screen, plus that USB-C port and WiFi 6 connectivity. The classier alloy chassis doesn't hurt, either. Just don't go mad with that options list.