Photo courtesy of notebookcheck. Do see their great review (linked in the post).

Acer V3-571G FullHD IPS: Superb price/performance Linux development laptop

I recently needed a new mobile development workstation. My main requirements were that it should have at least a Full HD (1920×1080) IPS (in-plane switching) screen and a good keyboard, and that it should be able to run Linux, preferably Ubuntu, as its primary operating system.

After experimenting with a screenshot of my 1920×1080 desktop workstation running IntelliJ Idea 12 (my IDE of choice) on an Asus UX31A with 13″ Full HD IPS screen,  I realised that I would have to go with a larger screen. The Asus UX52VS with 15.6″ IPS also looked like a good bet, but there were no reviews available yet, it was not clear whether the 4GB RAM and hybrid HDD (large spindle drive, 24GB SSD cache) would be easily upgradable to full SSD, and the  €1200 price tag was reason for more consideration.

I finally stumbled upon this review of the Acer V3 571G with Full HD IPS, which was mostly quite surprised that such a laptop with such a screen could be sold for entry-level prices. I subsequently purchased model number V3-571G-73638G75Maii, with Full HD IPS (this is the LP156WF4-SPB1 LED IPS matte panel by LG Philips ), Intel i7 36732QM (a real mobile quad-core; many mobile i7s are dual core), NVIDIA GeForce 710m with 2GB VRAM (Optimus graphics switching), 8GB RAM, 750G HDD, all for €799. I also purchased an Intel 520 240G SSD, a really fast SSD with built-in hardware encryption that would replace the main HDD, for €200.

Photo courtesy of notebookcheck. Do see their great review (linked in the post).
Photo courtesy of notebookcheck. Do see their great review (linked in the post).

Upgrading HDD and RAM

My first impression of the laptop was that in reality it does not look quite as cheap as the photos might make one believe. I was pleasantly surprised when I set out to replace the HDD with the Intel SSD. After removing two screws on the underside, a panel can be removed behind which the hard drive and RAM can be easily upgraded:

Upgrading the hard drive and ram has been made straight-forward, as it should be.
Upgrading the hard drive and ram has been made straight-forward, as it should be.

Configuring Linux: Ubuntu 12.04.2

After the SSD upgrade, installing Ubuntu 12.04.2 went mostly without a hitch. 12.04.2 comes with the LTSEnablementStack, backports of the Quantal kernel (3.5) and the new X stack to support more hardware. This caused some dependency problems when I installed bumblebee (Linux support for NVIDIA Optimus graphics switching), but this problem was almost immediately fixed by the ubuntu-x-swat team when I reported it on #freenode, so you should be fine. Just in case you need a reminder, bumblebee is installed and configured as follows:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntu-x-swat/x-updates
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:bumblebee/stable
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install bumblebee bumblebee-nvidia primus

If you want to run something on the NVIDIA, just do “primusrun command” or “optirun command”, where the former is preferred due to performance.

Other than that, make sure you have GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT=”apci_backlight=vendor acpi_osi=” in your /etc/default/grub (run update-grub and reboot after you change this) to get the screen brightness hotkeys working. Unfortunately, the brightness notifier itself does not work, but this is not a problem.

Weakpoint: BIOS ATA security support

After a few mails to-and-fro with Acer tech support (they do respond, mostly) and two nights of experiments, I can now confirm that the HDD password implementation on the laptop is worth less than nothing. In the spirit of full disclosure, this is the Insyde H2O BIOS implementation of HDD  passwords. This BIOS is used on many modern laptops besides Acer.

For many of the current self-encrypting drives, BIOS support of the ATA security feature mode set is important. It should be possible to set both master and user passwords, and, more importantly, the BIOS should ask for this password at bootup, at which point it should pass the user-entered password, unchanged, to the hard drive as ATA commands. Setting the HDD password on the Acer does none of the above. Instead, it sets a fixed password that has nothing to do with the user password. At bootup, it asks for a HDD password. However, if you enter this incorrectly 3 times, you get a hash code. This hash code can be used with a simple Python script to generate a master unlock password with which the HDD can be trivially unlocked. I confirmed experimentally that this works.

I also experimented with setting the ATA security user password to a known value using hdparm from a Linux boot USB. The Insyde H2O BIOS unfortunately does not fall back to sane behaviour.

To summarise: The Acer BIOS can’t be used to manage ATA security. Because it is important that my SSD is fully encrypted, I now boot the laptop with a USB stick, unlock with the real ATA user password using hdparm, and then warm-boot back into the SSD. I perceive this as a relatively small price to pay for reasonable and super fast data security (my Intel does 500MB+ read and write, all with AES-128 encryption). Remember that software encryption has a severe performance and durability impact on all SSDs, especially those using compressing controllers such as the Sandforce, but also SSDs that employ no compression at all. AES-NI is really not the issue here, it has to do with the performance and durability optimizations modern SSD controllers do.


The matte Full HD IPS screen on this laptop is a pleasure to use. I find the chiclet keyboard above average for programming. It’s not as rigid as the keyboard on my Samsung NP300V3a, but it’s entirely acceptable. The combination of an Ivy Bridge i7 3632QM quad core, an Intel 520 SSD and 8GB of 1600MHz DDR3 RAM makes for a laptop that feels super responsive. Taken together with the solid Ubuntu support and the €799 + €200 price tag, and in spite of lack of ATA security support in the BIOS, I can only highly recommend this machine to any developer looking for a powerful Linux laptop on a budget.

12 thoughts on “Acer V3-571G FullHD IPS: Superb price/performance Linux development laptop”

  1. Hi,
    this is a very clear and interesting article. Thank you. I wanted to buy this laptop but i finally changed my mind because of the hdd password issue. Others 15″ with IPS panel has the same problem i guess: the samsung chronos 7 series, Sony Vaio SVS, etc (I looked the user manuals and the bios section only refers to a unique user hdd password…).
    Do you really boot up from your usb key each time ?
    If so that’s a serious drawback to me :-(. It seems that the Asus Zenbook accepts user+supervisor hdd passwords. My Lenovo laptop manages hdd passwords successfully too. I have a samsung 840 Pro Hdd and I really want to use the encryption feature.

    1. Wow, I thought I was the only one that worried about such things. 🙂

      Yes, I still boot with my USB to unlock the drive. Interestingly, the drive remains unlocked during S3 sleep, so having to boot with USB is less of an inconvenience because it doesn’t happen all that often. The drawback is that it’s my responsibility to “arm” the security when this is necessary, for example when travelling, by shutting down the laptop.

      Probably all the Insyde H2O EFI BIOS implementations will have this problem I’m afraid.

      I think that the Asus will do better at this, although I suspect it’s passwords are limited to 8 characters in length. Even with random alphanumerics, this only gives you 40 bits of entropy.

      All in all, I’m still extremely happy with the Acer + SSD. I don’t perceive the USB-booting as such a major issue, due to the S3 suspend not locking the drive.

      Good luck with your purchase, I’d be curious to hear what you ended up getting!

  2. Thanks for the additional infos. I must admit that your comment on really points out to me the issue :-).
    I will probably buy one of the recent asus 15″ laptops: The UX51V model has the LP156WF4 lcp panel and maybe also the UX52VS. They’re a little bit pricey compared to the Acer though. The 13.3″ (UX31A) version has a better panel concerning the sRGB color gamut and contrast but for me this size is too small for an HD (1920*1080) panel.
    I never use the hibernation mode especially as a ssd drive can boot in 15 sec… So finally i did not have much choice…
    What will happen if I put an already encrypted ssd in a new pc? Do i just need to redefine the same password in the new bios to get it work ? I read somewhere that bios manage the recording of passwords differently depending on manufacturer

  3. I’m glad that I found your website! Read the article regarding ssd encryption and now thinking of buying a new samsung 840 pro ssd. Please answer on my nub questions:

    1. My sony laptop has the following bios options: “Set Machine Password” and “set user password”. Does it means that ATA security is supported and the ssd encryption keys will be protected when the above options are enabled?

    2. My laptop does not have TPM chip. Will it affect the encryption security?

    3. If I insert the encrypted ssd to another PC will I be able to enter the password and decrypt the data?


  4. I’m interested in buying this laptop, however I can’t find a shop which has one with i7 and full HD display. In fact, it seems that model number V3-571G-73638G75Maii has i7 and a 1366 x 768 display, as shown on Acer website. I was able to find V3 with full HD display but just with i5. Can you point a shop where I can find V3 with i7 and FHD?

  5. Thank you for your reply on my question above. I was in my city to buy the Acer aspire laptop V3-571G 73638G75MAII you talked about in your blog above. Maybe you won’t beleive it, but I found two slightly different versions. One in the shop BCC with a touchpad with a Synaptics touchpad-driver installed and one in the shop Mediamarkt with a touchpad with a Elantech touchpad-driver installed. From the outside both laptops look 100% identical. I assume the touchpad-hardware is not identical between those two laptops. The Acer website shows at the supportpage a Synaptics driver and a Elantech driver for this laptop model.
    Because I am planning to install Ubuntu I’m curious which touchpad-hardware and touchpad-driver is installed on your laptop and if you know which of the two is more compatible with Ubuntu.

    1. Mine is:

      psmouse serio1: synaptics: Touchpad model: 1, fw: 7.4, id: 0x1e0b
      1, caps: 0xd04773/0xa40000/0xa0400

      I don’t know how compatible the Elantech laptop is. I would recommend that you order via internet. According to Dutch law, you have 8 days within which you can always return the laptop, and they have to give you your money back. There is no such law for brick and mortar shops.

  6. Just did a writeup of running Fedora 19 on the ASUS N550JV. This notebook has a feature you might be interested it – it allows you to set the ATA master and user password directly within the BIOS! It also has a FHD IPS screen and full metal casing so is worht considering as a dev machine for the road.

  7. hi,
    i’ll probably buy an acer v5-573g very soon, it would be nice if you could you tell us the hdparm commands you’re using to :
    – set a master and user hdd password for the first time.
    – access the drive on a daily basis
    – remove the hdd passwords (master+user).
    And what linux distro do you use for that ? Does it include hddparm ?
    By the way, a short and detailed manual would be very useful 🙂
    Thank you

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