If you're in the market for a notebook that does double duty as a full-fledged entertainment center, then take a good look at Acer's new Aspire 8943G, but don't buy it just yet. There's a lot to admire about this multimedia monster. We love the minimalist aluminum design, and the beautiful 18.4-inch screen is great for watching Blu-ray movies and TV shows. Plus, the Dolby-powered speakers will allow you to hear both dialogue and explosions from across the room. The desktop replacement also sports a quad-core CPU and a whopping 8GB of RAM. But its inability to hold a steady Wi-Fi connection prevents us from recommending the notebook until Acer issues a fix.
We were immediately struck by the Aspire 8943G's elegant, understated design. The brushed aluminum lid is both handsome and fingerprint-proof, and its only decoration is a tasteful chrome Acer logo. Under the hood this aesthetic continues, with aluminum dominating the upper part of the deck, giving way to a black strip encompassing the palm rest and touchpad area. Coming in at 17.3 x 11.6 x 1.7 inches, this 8.4-pound system has a large footprint but is still relatively easy to carry from room to room.
Acer kept the deck uncluttered only three buttons on the hinge cylinder: quick launch for the Acer Arcade and a user-defined function on the left, and Power on the right. You'll also find two large speakers above the keyboard--part of the Dolby 5.1 Cinematic Surround system--and a fingerprint reader to the far right of the palm rest area.
All of the notebook's ports are on the sides and front; VGA, HDMI, eSATA/USB, USB, FireWire 400, audio-in, mic, and headphone are on the left. Ethernet and the three remaining USB ports bookend the optical drive on the right. Quick launch buttons for Wi-Fi/Bluetooth activation and Acer's included backup software sit on the left edge in the front, a volume wheel is tucked under the touchpad area, and a memory card reader sits in between that and an IR receiver port.
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Keyboard and Touchpad
The 8943G's metal, chiclet-style keyboard was comfortable to type on, and there's plenty of room for a full-size number pad. We also appreciated that the Caps and Number Lock keys house a small, blue LED to indicate when they're active.
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The most interesting aspect of the 8943G's design is its black touchpad, which converts into dedicated media controls at the touch of a button. The generous 3 x 2.2-inch touchpad has a glossy plastic surface that was relatively easy to use despite some friction. Our biggest complaint is that it attracts fingerprints and smudges quickly. There's a single mouse button bar with generously-sized buttons that have a good amount of spring to them. We had no trouble distinguishing left from right due to the circular button at the center of the bar, but we often pressed this button when we meant to left click.
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Pressing the circular button activates the touchpad's secondary media control functionality, lighting up launch buttons for the Acer Arcade Deluxe Movie and Music playback controls. The balance here between aesthetics and function works, as the deck isn't cluttered with buttons users don't always need. When the media controls are active, the touchpad ceases to work normally, which makes sense as you don't necessarily need it for watching a movie or playing music.
The 8943G remained cool during our use and testing. After playing a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes, we measured temperatures on the touchpad (89 degrees Fahrenheit), between the G and H keys (95 degrees), and the middle of the underside (90 degrees)--all within our acceptable range. The area around the vent on the back left of the notebook did get up to 105 degrees, but since this isn't the type of notebook users will likely place in their laps, we don't have an issue.
Display, Audio and WebcamClick to enlarge
The glossy 18.4-inch, 1920 x 1080-pixel display didn't deliver the richness of color we expected at first, but after adjusting options in the ATI Catalyst Control Center (found in the Start menu) we were able to achieve true blacks and better color depth. While watching a 1080p trailer for The Discoverers, we were impressed by how the notebook handled both languid motion and transitions from light to dark, though we were distracted by our reflection at times. The glossiness also meant narrow horizontal and vertical viewing angles; even though users get a screen worth sharing, more than two people sitting close to the notebook will have to contend with some color distortion when watching video.
The speakers on the deck of the 8943G and subwoofer underneath delivered powerful sound while listening to music and watching Hulu videos. At 50 percent volume we were able to fill a small room our tunes, and 75 percent was a good maximum for music. Still, the audio quality could be better. When listening to Aerosmith's "Eat the Rich" we noticed that the bass sounded muddy, though vocals and guitars were clear. After fooling around with the EQ settings in the Realtek HD Audio Manager area we were able to achieve better results.
The Acer Crystal Eye webcam captured decent but dark images up to 1280 x 1024. We weren't able to get the camera to show the true color of our shirt (even after adjusting some of the settings), though skin tones were more on target. While chatting with a friend in Skype they also noted backlighting issues as well as some blur, though it wasn't distracting.
The 1.6-GHz Intel Core i7-720QM CPU and 8GB of RAM earned the 8943G a score of 5,665 on PCMark Vantage. While this is comfortably above the average desktop replacement score (5,308), it lags behind the Samsung R780 (5,933) and Gateway NV7901u (5,814), two systems that have 2.26-GHz Core i5 processors and come in under $900. The $1,899 Toshiba Qosmio X505-Q890's 1.73-GHz Intel Core i7-740QM CPU blows it out of the water with a score of 10,392.
The 5,400-rpm, 500GB hard drive completed the LAPTOP Transfer Test in 4 minutes and 15 seconds for a score of 20 MBps. This is well below average for the category (32.6 MBps), though just under the Gateway NV (21 MBps) and the R780 (25.7 MBps). Boot time was predictably sluggish, with the notebook loading Windows 7 Home Premium in 1 minute and 16 seconds: 14 seconds below average (1:02).
Transcoding a 114MB MPEG-4 file to AVI with Oxelon Media Encoder took just 63 seconds, exactly the average for desktop replacements and only slightly slower than the Gateway NV (56 seconds) and the R780 (61 seconds).
Graphics and Video Performance
The discrete ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5850 GPU scored 8,523 in 3DMark06, comfortably above average (7,271) and both the Gateway NV (7,418; Radeon HD 5650 GPU) and R780 (7,069; Nvidia GeForce GT 330M GPU). However, the Qosmio X505's score was over 1,000 points higher (9,801). In 3DMark Vantage the Aspire 8943G earned 5,644 marks. This is around 200 points below the average (5,877), but the majority of the scores in this category come from high-end gaming machines. The Aspire even comes out a tad ahead of the Qosmio X505's score of 5,619.
Though the 8943G isn't a dedicated gaming laptop, its large screen and discrete graphics will tempt many owners to fire up a title or two. The notebook's Far Cry 2 frame rates were above average both in autodetect mode (99 frames per second at 1024 x 768 res) and at maximum (35 fps at 1920 x 1080 res). This speed is on a par with the Qosmio X505 (100/33 fps) and well above the R780 (66/24 fps) and Gateway NV (73/30 fps). In World of Warcraft the 8943G reached 264 fps in autodetect and 57 fps at maximum resolution, again comfortably above average (132/46 fps).
HD video from the hard drive and the web played smooth and crystal clear. Blu-ray discs were rich and clear when we popped in The Truman Show at full 1080p.
Wi-Fi and Battery Life
When connected, the Broadcom 802.11b/g/n wireless radio delivered throughput of 26.6 Mbps at 15 feet from the router and 21.9 Mbps at 50 feet, just a sliver above average (26.3/17.7 Mbps) but not as powerful as the Gateway NV (50.4/24.8 Mbps) or Samsung R780 (47.4/22.1 Mbps).
However, staying connected was a huge issue. While using the notebook we noticed that the radio often showed limited or no access to the Internet even though our routers were working. When we attempted to troubleshoot the issue, the wireless connection would sometimes shut down completely, and only restarting the system allowed it to function again. Acer sent us a second wireless card, which did not alleviate the problem. And it looks like this is anything but an isolated problem as we found a huge thread on the NotebookReview.com forums, with lots of users complaining about losing wireless connectivity on their Acer 8943Gs. The company told us that it believes the issue is driver-related, and hopes to have a fix within a week. We'll revisit this review after the update is released, but for now this is a show-stopping problem.
The Aspire 8943G lasted 2 hours and 53 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous surfing over Wi-F), 10 minutes longer than the category average. That's just 7 minutes shy of the Gateway NV (3:00), and on a par with the Qosmio X505 (2:51).
Software and Warranty
As with other Acer notebooks, there are a number of manufacturer-branded utilities and programs bundled with the Aspire 8943G. There's Acer Arcade Deluxe, Backup Manager, Crystal Eye Webcam software, eRecovery Manager, Game Console, Updater, and Video Conference Manager. Other utilities include EgisTec file shredder, eSobi, Intel Rapid Storage Technology controller, Norton Online Backup, NTI Backup Now, and NTI Media Maker.
The 8943G is also ready to handle all your video files out of the box with Adobe Flash Player, Haali Media Splitter codecs, and Microsoft Silverlight preinstalled. The notebook comes with trial versions of McAfee Internet Security and Microsoft Office 2007, a full version of Microsoft Works Suite, and Skype.
Acer includes a 1 year parts and labor limited warranty with the 8943G. Tech support hours are from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. EST (Mon--Fri), 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Sat), and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Sun). Check out Acer's score in our Tech Support Showdown.
Aside from our model, the Aspire 8943G-6782, Acer also sells one other configuration in the U.S. The $1,399 8943G-6190 has most of the same specs, but it comes with 4GB of RAM instead of 8GB (still upgradeable to 16GB) and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR instead of Bluetooth 3.0. If Bluetooth isn't a priority, you can come out ahead by buying this config and upgrading the RAM yourself for under $100.
VerdictClick to enlarge
Aside from the wireless issue, the $1,599 Acer Aspire 8943G pleases with its combination of a clean, modern design and multimedia maven-pleasing features. Though the Toshiba Qosmio X505-Q890 is a better performer in the 18-inch category, it's less attractive and costs $1,899. If you're looking to save a little cash and don't need the extra power, the Aspire 8943G is a good choice. However, until Acer resolves the sporadic wireless connectivity, we can't recommend this system. We'll update our review once a fix from the company becomes available.