Acer has pushed its way into the top tier of notebook makers worldwide by building solid machines at rock-bottom prices. But aside from the company's inspired Ferrari line, its laptop design has been, well, bland. So Acer turned to BMW Group DesignworksUSA to inject some style into its Aspire offerings, such as the $599 Aspire 4710-2013 we received. While the result is more interesting than what Acer has produced in the past, it's the value this notebook provides that makes it compelling.
The rounded, matte-black exterior (with just a hint of glossy black trim) feels good in your hands, and the finish is smudge-proof. But some may find it a bit too understated; going forward, the company should take a page from Gateway's NX570x, which does the basic-black thing with more style. Inside, there's the opposite problem: The putty-gray, soft-touch keyboard deck seems as though it's meant to resemble leather but comes up short and feels dated. The black and blue characters on the key tops, a perforated speaker strip above the Function keys, and green shiny accents throughout create visual clutter instead of the streamlined elegance you find in a real-deal BMW.
The component list, on the other hand, is pleasing to the eye: an Intel Core 2 Duo processor (other budget models deliver a Celeron at this price), 120GB hard drive (double what some entry-level models come with), 8X DVD burner, and a 14.1-inch widescreen. The glossy panel delivers a rich, bright image, and while the 1280 x 800-pixel resolution isn't stellar, it's comfortable to work on for long stretches with no tiny-text syndrome. DVD playback showed good shadow detail and lifelike colors, with just a bit of motion blur. Sound quality from the built-in stereo speakers lacked depth, but it was acceptable for a budget laptop.
The full-sized keyboard was comfortable to use and sports a traditional layout, not Acer's curved "ergonomic" shape. There's a handy volume dial on the front edge of the chassis but, oddly, no mute button. You also won't find dedicated multimedia control buttons, but there are four quick-launch keys for the wireless manager, Web, e-mail, and Bluetooth (although Bluetooth didn't come on our configuration). And we love the wide, scrolling touchpad, even though the mouse buttons were a little stiff. The Aspire 4710 has the expected port assortment, including four USB ports, FireWire, S-Video, VGA, an ExpressCard slot, and a 5-in-1 card reader.
In hands-on use, we were pleased at how quiet the Aspire 4170 was, with nary a whisper coming from the chassis (except when an optical disc is spinning up). It booted in a sluggish 1 minute and 52 seconds, which is to be expected with just a 1.73-GHz processor and 1GB of RAM (for Vista, we like to see 2GB). The integrated Intel graphics handled Vista's Aero effects and other visual elements just fine, even with multiple windows open. The machine created a ten-picture, WMV-format slideshow in 5 minutes and 36 seconds, which is admirable for a machine in this price range.
On our benchmark tests, the Aspire 4710 delivered results below average for thin-and-light notebooks but right in line with other budget entries: 2,654 on PCMark05 and 1,112 on 3DMark03, which means you can forget about serious 3D gaming. Wireless throughput from the 802.11b/g radio, at 16.3 Mbps at 15 feet and 15.8 Mbps at 50 feet, are right on target for the class. However, the 1 hour and 58 minutes of battery life on our DVD rundown is about 15 minutes shy of the average.
The software selection is surprisingly strong for a value notebook. In addition to all the goodies you get with the Windows Vista Home Premium operating system, Acer delivers CyberLink PowerProducer 3 for capturing video, editing movies, and creating DVDs; also included is NTI's CD & DVD Maker for other disc-creation tasks. The seemingly misnamed Acer Arcade Deluxe doesn't provide games (links to free online games and demos are found under the Acer GameZone icon) but rather a Media Center-like interface for playing DVDs, capturing video, and more. The handy Acer eTools palette provides one-click access to wireless and power management settings, presentation mode, and system and backup tools.
A budget buyer knows a $599 machine isn't the fastest machine out there, and the Acer Aspire 4710-2013 delivers good performance for the price, plus a better feature set than you might expect. Although the design isn't for everyone, this is one of the best $599 notebooks you're going to find.
Seven Tips for Better Notebook Battery Life
Commit to these simple habits and you could extend your notebook's battery life by 25 percent or more.
Budget Notebook Bonanza
We review four sub-$800 dual-core notebooks and two sub-$600 notebooks, all running Vista, to prove you don't have to spend a lot on your next notebook.
Check out all our notebook reviews, complete with ratings.