Friday, August 1, 2008

Acer Aspire 8920

While the Asus Eee PC and MSI Wind set the stage for smaller and lighter laptops, that’s only one side of the story. As low cost sub-notebooks evolve, manufacturers are simultaneously making larger models that narrow the gap between a full-fledged desktop and a laptop. We laid our hands on one such large powerful laptop — the Acer Aspire 8920. With a large, wide-screen size of 18.4 inches, a full high-definition resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels, and speakers that produce quality sound, you can think of this laptop as a machine with desktop-like features that is portable.

Best in Class Features and Specifications
Every core component in the Acer Aspire 8920 screams performance. One of the faster mobile CPUs, the Core 2 Duo T7500 (2.2 GHz, 4MB L2 cache and 800 MHz FSB) lies at the heart of this laptop, matched by a 3GB RAM and an Nvidia Geforce 9500M GS video chip. There is also a 1GB turbo memory to help further speed up the laptop. Storage is best in class at 320GB. These specs match up to a mid-range desktop of today and naturally, the performance from this Aspire 8920 is top notch by laptop standards.

A WorldBench 6.0 score of 85 places this at the top of the laptop performance list. The 3GB RAM and the fast CPU makes multitasking a breeze. WorldBench 6.0 (PC World’s real-world benchmarking tool) multitasking test took 360 seconds to complete, while the time taken by mainstream laptops in last month’s shootout hovered between 440 - 500 seconds for most machines. PC Mark 2005 produced a score of 5461 points, over 25 percent more than the numbers posted by mainstream laptops that we tested last month. Responsiveness and performance with CPU intensive tasks such as 3D rendering or multimedia editing is as on a desktop.

Impressive Gaming Performance
This was not really a surprise for us, given the Nvidia 9500M GS video chipset that is inside this Acer. 3D Mark 2006 gave a score of 3200 – not quite in the league of mid-range desktop video cards, but competent nonetheless. On a desktop with 2GB RAM, AMD Athlon X2 4000+ and an Nvidia Geforce 8500GT (a fast entry level video card), we obtained a score of 2850, about 10 percent less than what the Acer Aspire 8920 managed. We ran Company of Heroes as a real world test – at 1024 x 768 resolution and medium settings, the benchmark managed a very healthy 112fps, indicating there is enough room for increasing detail levels and / or resolution. We also played Need for Speed Pro Street as an informal test, and found the game playable without any problem at 1024 x 768 resolution and medium quality settings. Depending on the resolution and detail levels, current and one generation old games will be playable on the Aspire 8920.

Design and Connectivity
The grey-black dual color scheme works for the Aspire 8920, lending its exterior a graceful look. This is not one of those Acers that try too hard to look chic. But build quality should have been a couple of notches higher. The chassis flexes easily under pressure and this alone can rob this laptop off the classy look that it tries to project. The touch-sensitive media control keys to the right of the keyboard seem a tad overdone as well. And they require a bit of pressure to operate – not really touch ‘sensitive’.

The inclusion of a number pad, similar to a desktop keyboard is a valuable addition. People who work with spread sheets or data entry that requires numeric input will find this a blessing. Given the generous space on this 18.4 inch display laptop, we cannot comprehend why Acer decided to go with smaller sized arrow keys and navi-keys (Page Up / Down, Home, End). For a desktop replacement laptop, this is a downer.

Display and Sound
The display can have you smile and frown at the same time. While it is high on brightness and contrast, and makes movie viewing a pleasure, a part of the experience is lost due to the very evident backlight bleeding.

Play your favorite music track, turn up the volume and you will have a hard time concealing a wide smile as you pleasantly note its superb sound quality and volume levels. This is certainly one of the best sounding laptops that has made it to our labs. Thanks to a dedicated sub-woofer, you can even watch movies on the laptop without losing too much of the experience.

For an asking price of Rs. 63,000, the Acer Aspire 8920 is splendid value for money, in spite of some shortcomings that we have mentioned above. We wish Acer had ironed these out, even if that meant a higher price tag. For Rs.70,000 this still would be a great buy if the display gets better, build quality upped a bit and with a more desktop like keyboard. In its current trim, this makes for a great desktop replacement at this price point. The inclusion of a Blu-ray ROM (writes DVDs) is a pleasant surprise. You’ll be hard pressed to find a similar model from competing companies like HP or Dell in this price range.


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