First let me say, “I AM A MAC GUY”. We can also say that “I AM A LINUX GUY”. I am most definitely NOT a Windows guy. All this being said I am also a Maker, or we used to say in the old days…….a Geek.
I have a lot of hobby type hardware such as Lasers, Vinyl sign machines, 3D printers, and CNC machines. These things all have Mac or Linux software of some kind but the cream of the crop software is written for Windows. While I can function on most of the hardware platforms with Mac, the straw that broke the camels back was my newly found love of CNC. The best CNC software, hands down, comes from Vectric, and the new CNC machine I bought comes with Vectric VCarve Desktop. The only computers I own with Windows on it are an old 3rd generation Intel i3 laptop with a tiny amount of RAM and a copy of Windows 10 on Parallels for Mac M1. By the way, Parallels on a Mac M1 runs about as efficiently and trustworthy as the Government. And it isn’t portable as I have it on a Mac Mini. My CNC is in a back yard shed which is either too hot or too cold and I want to do all my prep and design work in the house and run out with the laptop just when it is time to set up the job on the machine.
A new Windows laptop was really my only choice here. Here were my working parameters:
- Cost – Always the first consideration. I only want to use this to run VCarve Software.
- Availability – I wanted a computer I could run to the store and get and return if necessary. Buying a computer by mail can be a horrible PITA if something goes wrong.
- Upgradability – The laptop I chose can have RAM, and the M.2 SSD upgraded and it has an un-used place for a 2.5″ SSD SATA drive.
- At least an Intel i5 chip
- Upgradeable to Windows 11
I ended up buying an Acer Aspire 5 from Walmart, specifically the:
I hit all 5 of the wickets I listed above. Now lets go a little deeper.
If you have ever read my blog you’ll know that I will not go on and list the product specs and talk about how RAM made by virgins is better than RAM made by non-virgins. You can read the specs on this and any other laptop in a million different places. Me repeating them is of no benefit to you or me. I like to buy something, use it, and then tell you what I like or don’t like about it. So let’s get into that.
I LIKE this laptop but make no mistake, it is a budget laptop. If I were buying a Mac that had a 256GB SSD drive it would fill up the second I logged into my iCloud account. My email, and photos and shared drive would pack that tiny hard drive full.
But because I HATE WINDOWS, I have no Windows eco-system. As long as Windows 11 and VCarve Desktop fit………….I’m golden. Your mileage may vary here. It may vary a LOT. But again, I can add a SATA drive or buy a larger M.2 SSD. Let’s get into Pros and Cons. Most folks start with Pros first. I hit most of them in my working parameters above. I’ll lead with the Cons
- No backlit keyboard. This kinda sucks as I share a common trait with other geniuses (LOL). I don’t sleep but 4 or 5 hours a night. I go upstairs so as not to disturb my pretty wife and if I am designing stuff on this laptop I need a light on most of the time.
- It feels “plastic-ey”. I run back and forth from home to the shed in the hot, cold, rain, snow and I set it down in my workshop and it really is just a matter of time before I drop something on it or drop it on the floor. I worry about how robust it is. That being said, not many laptops are very robust to begin with. Someone needs to expand the Panasonic Toughbook concept for home users.
- No card reader. I’ll discuss this in the pros section. Your mileage may vary here.
- To upgrade means taking the entire back off the laptop. Nobody wants to do that with a new laptop that is in warranty. Whatever happened to 2000 era laptops that had little doors to upgrade everything. I have old laptops around here that have doors for the hard drive, memory, and CPU and fan. Newer is not always better.
- The product page says it has Windows 11. It most certainly DID NOT. It did offer to download and install Windows 11, which I did. That was actually pretty easy.
- It comes with 3rd party anti-virus and security software (Norton), which expires after a month. Yougottabekiddingme. Here’s what John does. Because John hates and distrusts Windows…………I hit the wifi key when I’m not needing the internet. Can’t download a virus if you aren’t hooked to the internet.
- It has a full size LAN port. Since I usually keep wifi disabled I’ll hook up to ethernet every once in a while and run Windows Upgrade. I run behind a hardware firewall and route everything through a local DNS server.
- It has a decent mix of ports but there is no card reader. This is no problem for me as my CNC machine has a pendant which has a USB port. If I used an SD or Micro SD card in the laptop I’d have to put it in a USB adapter anyway. I only have need of a thumb drive for my hardware for no card reader is not a “Con” for me. It could be for you.
- Again it is upgradeable. Big plus.
- Decent screen.
- Decent keyboard except for no back light.
- Pretty excellent battery life and I run the screen at full brightness.
Now let’s talk about a Con that has nothing to do with the computer but rather with Walmart. I paid $499 for this laptop and by my estimation………that’s a GREAT deal. However within 2 weeks, probably less, the price dropped to $449.
Walmart will NOT price adjust. They will however accept a return and give me a full refund, and then I can repurchase at the cheaper price. My response to that is simple. “WTF sense does that make?” And that’s all I’ll say about that. Just that it makes no sense for them or me to not just do a price adjustment.
UPDATE: I took the $499 laptop back and walked out the door with a new laptop for $449 minus some money for a coupon code I found. Even the woman at the return desk was stunned at the policy of not giving me a price adjustment. It was kind of stupid to replace a laptop over $50 but their policy seemed like it was designed to prevent me from getting the price reduction which naturally made me want it all the more. I feel like I came out on top of this deal.
If I were a Windows user, in a Windows One Drive ecosystem and doing serious, serious work for a living this laptop might not cut my mustard. It has just 8GB of RAM and a small hard drive. I can’t imagine loading the MSOffice Suite on this thing. As it stands I use this laptop for ONE THING and one thing only. Running VCarve Desktop for my CNC machine. Yeah, I’ll probably throw Lightburn on it for my lasers, and maybe even some RTL-SDR software on it soon such as SDRPlay. (I’m a shortwave radio geek and Software Defined Radios are the shit and also operate best on Windows platforms).
I would recommend you examine your needs before buying a budget laptop of any kind. The Acer Aspire 5 A514-54 Series suits me perfectly because my needs are MINIMAL.
UPDATE May 19, 2022: The laptop now goes for $399 and is really a steal at this price.
And although I’m ashamed to admit it, I took the laptop into my woodworking shed and the keyboard got covered in sawdust. I took a Shop Vac to it to clean it up and accidentally sucked a couple of keys off of the keyboard. One had a broken retainer clip. Although there are websites that have replacement keys and clips online they don’t seem to sell the keys for this Walmart version of the Aspire 5. I sent the laptop to Acer for a warranty repair. They replaced the entire upper deck with a new keyboard and the turn around time was about a week, including my shipping time to them.