If you’re looking for a high-powered multimedia notebook with all the goods, the Acer Aspire 8940G offers the best combination of performance and value we’ve seen. This 18.4-inch system delivers remarkable performance by combining a powerful Intel Core i7-720QM processor with Nvidia GeForce GTS 250M graphics. It also includes a bevy of entertainment options, including a Blu-ray drive, a rich, full HD (1920 x 1080) display, and Dolby 5.1 surround sound speakers. For $1,349, you won’t get more bang for your buck anywhere else.
Design and Ports
Measuring 17.3 x 11.6 x 1.7 inches and weighing 9.2 pounds, the all-black Aspire 8940G is a hefty desktop replacement that users won’t tote very far from their desks. Even so, it’s lighter than the 10.4-pound, 18.4-inch Toshiba Qosmio X505. The glossy lid collects a fair amount of fingerprints and smudges. This aesthetic extends to the bezel surrounding the display, as well as to the exterior edges of the system’s base. A finely textured wrist rest gives the machine a subtle elegance.
The large base affords a wide, comfortable, island-style keyboard that offers decent feedback, and it includes white backlighting. The keyboard also has large Shift keys, a full number pad, and a responsive, vertically-aligned multimedia touch-control strip on its right side, which is highlighted by illuminated keys and a button that launches the Acer Arcade Deluxe application (for accessing movies, music, photos and more). A volume wheel, positioned below, lets you quickly adjust audio. The left side of the keyboard houses another vertical strip with touch-sensitive buttons that activate the Acer Backup Manager, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi. These new input methods are an improved take on the CineDash control scheme found on the Acer Aspire 8920G.
Located south of the keyboard is a large, multitouch touchpad (positioned just left of center) that allowed us to effortlessly whip the cursor about the 18.4-inch display. Acer also includes a button to the right of the touchpad that lets users lock/unlock it. A biometric fingerprint reader is nestled between two stiff and noisy mouse buttons.
You want ports for connecting accessories and peripherals? You got ‘em. Acer builds in a 5-in-1 memory card reader, five USB 2.0 ports, HDMI, VGA, DisplayPort, eSATA, an ExpressCard/54 slot, FireWire 400, and headphone, microphone, and S/PDIF jacks.
Display, Audio, Webcam
The glossy, full HD (1920 x 1080-pixel resolution) LED-backlit display provided plenty of real estate for comfortably reading Web pages or viewing photos. We saw colors pop when we popped our Blu-ray disc of Ghost Town into the 4X optical drive, courtesy of the 60-percent color gamut that brings out more brilliant visuals. The 16:9 display kicked backed reflections, particularly during dark scenes or when we moved left or right of center.
The Dolby-optimized Acer CineSurround sound system (with five built-in speakers and Acer’s Tuba CineBass booster) delivered stellar audio. Whether we were watching a movie or streaming James Brown tunes from Slacker, we were impressed with the loud volume and the fullness of the voices and music. Overall, we found the 8940G’s sound superior to the audio flowing from the Toshiba Qosmio X505’s Harman Kardon speakers, which packed better sound than your standard notebook speakers, but didn’t match the low- and mid-end richness of Acer’s machine.
Embedded in the bezel above the display is Acer’s high-definition Crystal Eye webcam, which proved to be one of the best we’ve used on a notebook. Friends reported stunningly life-like clarity; skin tones were true, colors rich, and images sharp. We were also pleased that we could snap JPEG photos at 320 x 240, 640 x 480, and 720p resolutions, and shoot 720p AVI video.
The main attraction of the Aspire 8940G is its 1.6-GHz Intel Core i7-720QM quad-core engine, which automatically overclocks to 2.8-GHz depending on the needs of the system. The CPU, in conjunction with 4GB of DDR3 RAM (expandable to 8GB) and the 5,400-rpm, 500GB hard drive, produced a PCMark Vantage score of 5,962, which was nearly 1,900 points greater than the desktop replacement average, and nearly 600 points better than the Qosmio X505’s 5,399 mark. (It should be noted that the X505 packs the same processor and 6GB of RAM.)
The 500GB hard drive affords plenty of space for storing music, photos, and high-definition video. It booted the 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium operating system in 1 minute and 12 seconds, which is 7 seconds longer than the average for desktop replacement notebooks. The 8940G copied a 4.97GB folder of mixed media at a rate of 22.5 MBps, which was 2.4 MBps slower than the category average. The system carries a second slot for adding extra storage.
Video detail is handled by Nvidia’s discrete GeForce GTS 250M graphics card (with 1GB of dedicated video memory), which churned out a 4,261 3DMark06 score—more than 2,300 points lower than the category average. Still, we enjoyed a smooth 59 frames per second when playing World of Warcraft at 1920 x 1080 resolution and with effects maxed out. The GPU was also able to push Far Cry 2’s polygons at a rate of 60 fps at the 1024 x 768 default resolution (the Toshiba X505 achieved 88 fps with the same GPU), but it dropped significantly to just 14 fps at maximum resolution (1920 x 1080). We enjoyed blasting zombies in Left 4 Dead, although the visuals suffered from a considerable amount of jaggies.
The extra number-crunching muscle that the Core i7 CPU provides allowed us to transcode a 114MB MPEG-4 file to AVI in a lighting-fast 2 minutes and 56 seconds using HandBrake, which was significantly shorter than the 5:32 category average. When we transcoded the same file using vReveal, which leverages the muscle of the GPU, the conversion from MPEG-4 to AVI took 3 minutes and 7 seconds, which was 11 seconds longer than the time notched by the Core i7 CPU. Both times, however, were smoked when we performed the same action using Oxelon Media Converter (which utilizes the CPU’s four cores); it transcoded the file in just 1 minute and 2 seconds.
Wi-Fi and Battery Life
The 8940G’s 802.11a/b/g/n radio demonstrated slightly below-average wireless strength. It pushed data at a rate of 18.1 Mbps at 15 feet away from our access point, dropping to 14.4 Mbps at 50 feet. These marks are a bit lower than the 20.1 Mbps and 16.4 Mbps desktop replacement averages, but you’ll still be able to quickly download files and maintain smooth HD video streams.
Although chances are slim that you’ll lug this big boy away from an outlet for any significant amount of time, it’s good to know that the 8940G’s eight-cell battery will allow you to stay productive in those rare instances. The notebook lasted 3 hours and 12 minutes on our LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous surfing over Wi-Fi), which was 37 minutes longer than the typical desktop replacement.
Charging the 8940G to 100 percent battery capacity took 1 hour and 31 minutes, nearly an hour shorter than the Qosmio X505’s 2:29. During that time, the 8940G used a total of 7052.5 watts. You wouldn’t expect an 18.4-inch notebook to be the greenest on the block, but the 8940G is actually better than the average desktop replacement when it comes to energy efficiency. Its LAPTOP Battery Efficiency Rating, which is defined as watts to charge divided by battery life, was 36.7—far more green than the category average (67.9) and the X505 (58.4).
As of this writing, the Aspire 8940G is only available in the configuration we tested.
Software and Warranty
Acer preinstalls a number of applications, including Acer Arcade Deluxe, Adobe Reader 9, McAfee Internet Security Suite (60-day trial), Microsoft Works with Office Home and Student 2007 (60-day trial), Microsoft Windows Live Essentials, and NTI Media Maker 8. The system is covered by a one-year international travelers warranty, and Acer covers the system with a one-year limited warranty and toll-free phone support on Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (EST). To see how Acer fared in our Tech Support Showdown, click here.
Priced at $1,349, the Acer Aspire 8940G is $550 less than the Toshiba Qosmio X505, but don’t let the difference trick you into thinking it’s an inferior notebook. It produced greater CPU performance than Toshiba’s offering, and unless you’re a gamer, you won’t mind its relatively ho-hum GPU performance. Packing a Blu-ray drive, powerful speakers, and a full HD display, Acer has created one of the most stacked notebooks on the market today. It’s a no-brainer for those who want a killer multimedia experience.