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Long and dark, shiny and black
on December 7, 2012
"Long and dark, shiny and black ... open up your engines, let `em roar, tearin' up the highway like a big old dinosaur!" said Springsteen about Cadillac Ranch, and the same could be said of this four hundred dollar laptop from Acer. I got it as a desktop replacement to run Windows 8 as well as indie PC games, and I think it's going to work out fine.
It's a big, heavy, shiny black plastic thing, portable but not light. Hinges and latch move well. The screen is bright and sharp, with adequate but not great viewing angles. I wouldn't mind watching a movie on this screen, but it would be difficult to share it with someone else given these viewing angles. I suppose you could consider this a privacy feature. The chiclet style keyboard has full size keys with good tactile feedback and an intelligent layout. The full-size number keys are particularly welcome. I wish it were backlit but that's something for a higher-end machine. Functions such as media playback, volume control, and brightness control require two hands -- one to press the function key on the left side, and another to press the desired action. Not optimal but fair enough considering the price.
There's a webcam with microphone and a "Dolby Home Theater" speaker grille up front, both of which work as expected. The large trackpad is off center with the screen but lines up nicely with the keyboard, and is responsive to touch. The trackpad buttons are easy to hit with your thumbs. Up front is an SD card slot, which SHOT THE COVER ACROSS THE ROOM when I tapped it to eject it. Be careful with your photos when loading them onto this machine!
Ports on the left side of the machine: Power (where it should be, near the recessed power button), gigabit ethernet, a large exhaust vent, a full size VGA port, HDMI out, USB 3.0, microphone, and headphone jacks. Ports on the right side: Kensington security slot (I wonder about its usefulness given the plasticy feel of the machine), a pop-out DVD tray, and two USB 2.0 slots, unfortunately right where a right-handed person would want to use a plug-in mouse.
Wifi-N is superfast, the 500GB hard drive speed is a bit pokey but acceptable, system boot speed is quick, and graphics performance is wonderful for the price. A8 Vision from AMD is considered the budget gamer card of choice, and it does not disappoint. I threw every 3D game from my Steam collection at it, and the only title that required me to turn down the graphical detail was Star Wars: The Old Republic, and then only down halfway while running at full resolution.
The system ships with Windows 8, which is a mixed bag -- check the reviews elsewhere for that. It's as schizophrenic as they say, but it's probably going to get better with software updates. The Acer suite of pre-installed software is innocuous and easy to remove.
Verdict? If you want an inexpensive laptop that can play games and run Windows 8, this is certainly worth a look.
UPDATE: I've added some new hardware to this machine. It's no longer a four hundred dollar laptop, but know this: the machine can take 16GB of 1600MHz DDR3 RAM (despite the manufacturer saying it maxes out at 8GB), which bumps the Windows memory rating up to 7. Add a solid state hard drive and the storage i/o rating goes up to 8. Both upgrades, especially the SSD, really make this machine /sing/.
UPDATE #2: The Wifi driver is inexplicably set to power down by default, which explains the unreliability some people have reported. Solving this problem requires you to simply uncheck the box in the wireless network interface Properties pane.