First things first, this machine isn't for the feeble. Weighing a hefty 17.2 pounds, the Acer Aspire 9800 rides shotgun with the Dell XPS M2010 as one of the largest laptops ever; the display alone is thicker than some notebooks. The entire system is 2.4 inches thick.
We took advantage of the huge screen and integrated HD-DVD drive to view the hi-def version of Aeon Flux. Colors popped, blacks looked very dark, and the glossy screen didn't distract with heavy reflections. When we watched the movie in full-screen mode, however, we saw a small drop in quality: That's because unlike the Toshiba Qosmio G35-AV650, the 9800's LCD doesn't support WUXGA resolution (1900 x 1220 pixels); with this configuration, you get WXSGA+ (1680 x 1050 pixels). Like the Qosmio, the 9800 can play HD-DVD content but not burn it to disc.
On the plus side, the built-in Acer 3DSonic stereo speakers and the bass-heavy Acer BasSonic subwoofer delivered very strong sound. For those who want to connect the 9800 to surround sound speakers, Acer includes an S/PDIF output.
In fact, the 9800 is littered with almost every connectivity option you'd expect a multimedia machine to have. You get four USB ports, an ExpressCard slot, and a 4-in-1 memory card reader that accepts SD, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, and xD formats. The back of the notebook houses an HDMI output for hooking up this behemoth to an HDTV, and a TV tuner for picking up broadcast TV. The 9800 also includes an integrated 1.3-megapixel webcam (with a knob for angling the camera up or down) for face-to-face communication.
The front bezel houses a slew of easily accessible ports and switches for inserting headphones or a microphone and activating Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Right in the middle of all this multimedia connectivity is a comfortable, full-sized keyboard. However, some may not like typing that close to the 20.1-inch display; we would prefer a detachable keyboard, like the Dell XPS M2010's.
Labeled, illuminated multimedia controls align the left side of the keyboard. The topmost button, labeled Acer Arcade, launches Windows Media Center, which lets users watch TV via an integrated TV tuner and record programming to the humongous 240GB hard drive. Acer kindly includes a remote control, so you can easily access these features while kicking back.
The 8,690 3DMark03 score and 4,203 PCMark05 score demonstrate that the 9800 offers good 3D graphics and productivity performance. In our F.E.A.R. test, the 9800 ran at a smooth 49 fps on the autodetect setting (640 x 480-pixel resolution) and at a decent 27 fps at the maximum setting (1024 x 768-pixel resolution), making this a machine that can handle all but the most demanding games. Wi-Fi performance was a bit disappointing, with average wireless scores of 6.9 Mbps 15 feet from our access point and 6.1 Mbps from 50 feet.
Battery life is the other underperforming aspect of the 9800. During our DVD rundown tests, the notebook lasted a paltry one hour and ten minutes with Wi-Fi on and only three minutes longer with Wi-Fi turned off. Granted, this is an abysmal amount of juice, but we can't imagine anyone lugging a 17.2-pound desktop replacement too far from an outlet. If you do, the 9800 features Acer QuickCharge technology, which should recharge the battery up to 80-percent capacity within an hour.
The 9800 comes with a pretty standard software package, including CyberLink Power Producer, Norton AntiVirus, and NTI CD-Maker with Acer GridVista-a software utility that improves productivity by dividing this system's larger-than-life screen into four windows, each one designated to a specific application.
Although the Acer Aspire 9800 offers a bigger screen than the Qosmio and is cheaper than the Dell XPS M2010, the Qosmio has a higher-res display, and the M2010 has better ergonomics. Still, this system offers a lot of multimedia bang for your buck.