Can $1,000 buy you a good desktop replacement notebook? Acer offers up a definite "yes" with the Aspire 9300-5005, a $949 desktop replacement that comes equipped with a 17-inch widescreen, competent processing power, and enough muscle for midrange gaming and graphics tasks. Though it lacks some of the niceties found on higher-end multimedia systems, this notebook delivers outstanding value.
At 15.7 x 11.6 x 1.2 inches, the Aspire 9300-5005 is average sized for a desktop replacement with a 17-inch display. At 8.1 pounds, it's far too heavy for regular travel but light enough to bring into the next room without undue strain. Its black-and-silver coloring and functional design are inoffensive but unremarkable.
The keys are large but spongy and packed together, partly because of the dedicated number pad--a nice feature for spreadsheet jockeys but not much of a value add for anyone else. We're fans of the Aspire 9300-5005's large touchpad, which features both horizontal and vertical scrolling zones. A four-way rocker switch between the large mouse buttons facilitates navigating through long documents and Web pages.
The glossy widescreen display, with a pleasing 1440 x 900-pixel native resolution, isn't the brightest in the desktop replacement class, but it delivers clear, crisp images and a reasonable amount of screen real estate for editing documents side by side and working in multiple windows. The stereo speakers project audio that's clear though not particularly loud; their placement along the front edge of the system lets you listen to music even when the lid is closed.
The Aspire 9300-5005 gives basic users some, though not all, of the features they'll want. Notably absent are dedicated volume controls commonly available on competitive desktop replacement systems; worse is the lack of even one FireWire port. Nevertheless, in addition to a DVD+/-R burner, the Aspire 9300-5005 has four USB 2.0 ports for connecting to peripherals; S-Video and VGA outputs for connecting to an external display; one Type II PC Card slot; and a 5-in-1 media card reader. A built-in webcam is located above the display, handy for videoconferencing, and four programmable quick-launch buttons sit above the keyboard.
The Aspire 9300-5005's built-in networking features include Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11b/g Wi-Fi (plus a wireless on/off switch). And though there's a button for it, Acer says Bluetooth is not available on this model. The Aspire 9300-5005's wireless throughput of 11.3 Mbps at 15 feet and 9.4 Mbps at 50 feet was on target for a desktop replacement.
Our test unit was configured with Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium as well as a handful of Acer's helpful, homegrown utilities for managing system settings. Our Aspire 9300-5005 also included a robust array of hardware, including a dual-core 1.6-GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-50 processor, a dedicated Nvidia GeForce Go 7300 graphics card, 1GB of DDR2 RAM (upgradable to 4GB), and a roomy 120GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive.
These components delivered very good results on our benchmark tests, including a score of 2,993 on PCMark05. For less than $1,000, you get a system that will easily shoulder any productivity task and capably handle multiple applications at once. And although it may not run today's most demanding games and graphics applications set to the maximum settings, with a 3DMark03 score of 3,042, you should have no problem using the Aspire 9300-5005 as a midlevel gaming system. The six-cell battery lasted for only 69 minutes on our DVD drain test, but this laptop isn't made to stray far from the wall socket anyway.
If you're looking for a big display and powerful performance for about $1,000, the Acer Aspire 9300-5005 is about as good as it gets.
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