Acer's Aspire 5 series covers quite a few price tiers, but to the consumer they'd never be able to tell the difference just by looking at them. Without the stickers on the side pointing out that the internals are different, you'd not be able to tell them apart.
They all have a rubberised plastic feel, pocked with a kick-plate-style pattern. They all feature Acer's attractive "floating" keys, an island-style set-up that does indeed make the keys look like they're floating. They all have 15.6-inch, glossy, 1366x768 screens, multi-touch touch pads (along with their infuriating inaccuracies), and have cheapened out by providing only mono sound, which is hidden by a speaker-grille facade that runns along the full length of the laptop.
There are VGA and HDMI out, gigabit Ethernet, three USB ports, headphone and microphone jacks, a DVD+-RW drive and an SD card reader. There is no Bluetooth, and although different models use different chipsets, the 802.11n supports only 2.4GHz, not 5GHz. These are mainstream models, folks. They're even all kitted out with 4GB RAM and a 500GB hard drive.
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit is the platform of choice, paired with McAfee, Norton Online Backup, CyberLink PowerDVD 9, NTI Media Maker, Skype, a bunch of game demos (which you can install thanks to the annoying Oberon Media), an RSS reader called eSobi and Shredder (which is a trial secure file deletion program).
Thankfully, things do differ somewhere — the processor, motherboard and graphics.
The Aspire 5552G, for example, runs an AMD Phenom II X4 N950 @ 2.1GHz with an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5650. This gives it a decent performance advantage over its Core i3 Aspire 5742G cousin; however, it doesn't feature the same Optimus graphics switching technology, meaning battery life is significantly less.
3DMark06 brought in a score of 7414, nothing to sneeze at and making this mainstream laptop a decent but not amazing performer in some modern games. PCMark05 fared reasonably as well, scoring 5861, indicating it should be fine for web browsing and office tasks.
Battery though took a hit compared to the Intel/Nvidia-equipped Aspires, clocking in at only one hour, 15 minutes and 16 seconds, compared to the over two hours provided by both the Core i3 and Core i5 Aspire 5742Gs. This test was performed with all power-saving features turned off, screen brightness and volume set to maximum and an XviD file played back, so it's quite stressing on the laptop — more casual use will see significantly longer battery life.
The Aspire 5552G provides a decent package and a good whack of performance. We'd love more battery life and a 5GHz radio in there, but for the price it does reasonably well.