The Acer Aspire 8943G is a ridiculously big laptop that you'll either love or hate for its outlandishness  - UPDATED 5 NOV 2010

Acer’s Aspire Ethos is an impressive beast. Not least because of its substantial size - it’s a hefty 18.4in model - but also because of its bold, minimalist design and superior build quality.

Peel off the stickers proclaiming the Core i5-450M processor, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5650 1GB graphics and Windows 7 operating system, and it could hide in plain sight nestled between the distinguished black and silver components of a Bang and Olufsen hi-fi system.

Sound is indeed one of the Acer Aspire Ethos AS8943G's strong points. It’s unique feature among those on test being the inclusion of what Acer calls a 5.1 Dolby Home Theater surround-sound system.

Unless you’re small enough to actually sit on the keyboard, you won’t be getting sounds coming from behind you, but the six-speaker system does add a noticeable 3D ambience to film soundtracks and there’s a good deal more bass available than from smaller laptops such as the Sony and Samsung models reviewed here.

For music both a Medion Akoya P8613 and Toshiba Satellite A660-15T produced a richer sound.

The screen of the Acer Aspire Ethos AS8943G isn’t just large, it’s also the only one of the group to support the full high-definition 1080p resolution, so it’s best able to fully exploit its built-in Blu-ray drive.

On inserting a disc, Acer’s Arcade deluxe software kicks in and starts playing the movie for you. It’s a highly immersive experience and the best on offer from this round-up. In our tests it produced the most vivid colour, the best contrast and the deepest blacks. It’s also evenly illuminated across the whole screen.

Video as well as music playback can be controlled via the Acer Aspire Ethos AS8943G's wireless remote, or by the Acer Aspire Ethos AS8943G's touchpad which magically transforms into an illuminated control panel at the push of a button.

When it comes to getting some work done, the Acer Aspire Ethos AS8943G's 2.4GHz CPU delivers reasonable performance although it’s still outpaced by the competition. Its WorldBench 6 score of 99 points sits at the bottom of this table. Gaming performance however is the fastest of the bunch, edging above 30fps in our basic Crysis test.

A capacious 87Wh battery enables MobileMark 2007 to run for almost 4.5 hours (264 minutes), which is jolly impressive for a laptop of this size and power.

NEXT PAGE: The review of the Acer Aspire Ethos AS8943G from PC World Australia

It has a massive 18.4in Full HD screen and plenty of horsepower under the hood. The Acer Aspire 8943G is designed to be a comprehensive desktop replacement or media centre, but one thing's for sure: you'll need a huge desk to accommodate it and it's too big to ever be used on your lap.

Note: the £1,599 price is for the version of the Aspire 8943G that has an Intel Core i7-740QM CPU, 8GB RAM and two 500GB hard drives. A price for our review configuration was not available.

Acer Aspire 8943G: Specifications and performance

The Acer Aspire 8943G has been designed to perform almost any home computing task you can think of, including playing games. With a 3GB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5850 graphics adaptor and an Intel Core i7-720QM CPU, the Aspire can run most games on the market without any problems. However, you won't be able to run many graphics-intensive games at the native 1920x1080 resolution of the screen without noticing some stuttering in the frame rate. This will apply mostly to 3D shooters; role-playing games, sports games and car racing games all ran quite well when we pushed them to the limit.

In 3Dmark06, the Acer Aspire 8943G recorded a score of 8521, which isn't quite as fast as the latest Dell XPS 17 (1710X) (it scored of 10,940). Unlike the Dell XPS 17, though, the Aspire doesn't get too warm while it's processing 3D graphics, so you can continue to use its keyboard. Nevertheless, the keyboard isn't great for gaming (its chiclet-style and the huge palm rest are fine for typing though), so you'll still want to plug in an external one or use a controller.

The performance of the Acer Aspire 8943G in our media encoding tests was as good as we were expecting. In the Blender 3D rendering and iTunes MP3 encoding tests, the Aspire 8943G recorded times of 47sec and 1min 10sec, which are almost exactly the same as the Dell XPS 17 (1710X) despite the Dell having the slightly zippier CPU. The Aspire's Core i7-720Qm runs at 1.6GHz, while the Dell's Core i7-740QM runs at 1.73GHz. The Aspire also has 6GB of DDR3 SDRAM — the same as the Dell — and there are four SO-DIMM slots.

The Aspire's four memory slots and Wi-Fi adapter.

In our hard drive transfer tests, the Acer Aspire 8943G recorded an average transfer rate of 33.35 megabytes per second. This is a fast time; it's just under 2MBps slower than what the Dell notebook achieved (the Dell uses a faster, 7200rpm hard drive). The Aspire uses a 640GB Western Digital drive (WD6400BEVT-22A0RT0) with a 5400rpm spin speed. Like the Dell XPS 17, the Aspire has enough space in its base for two hard drives — a second 2.5in SATA drive can easily be installed once you remove the access panel for the second drive bay.

The Aspire's two hard drive bays.

Acer Aspire 8943G: Media centre features

A second hard drive will come in handy if you want to use the Aspire 8943G as a personal video recorder (PVR). It has a built-in digital TV tuner (it ships with an adapter so you can plug in a regular-size antenna connection) and it ships with a Windows Media Center remote control and a built-in infrared receiver, so there aren't any messy extra wires to plug in.

The base has five speakers built into it — two front, two rear and one sub-woofer, which are adequate for when you want to watch TV and movies on the notebook itself. They are not of very high quality though and you will have to put up with a tinny sound that lacks warm low frequencies. In saying that, with the surround speakers, the big 18.4in screen, the Blu-ray player, digital TV tuner and remote control, the Aspire is its own self-contained entertainment unit. It's perfect if you want all this functionality for a bedroom or small rec room. The glossy screen is prone to reflecting lights though, and its vertical angles are as shallow as every other notebook we've seen, but its overall quality is fine watching videos and viewing photos.

Acer Aspire 8943G: Battery life

Despite its behemoth size, the Aspire ships with a big battery that gives it a respectable life away from a power outlet. In our battery rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise the screen brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video, the Aspire lasted exactly two hours. This is better than many 15.6in notebooks we've tested recently, such as the Samsung R590-JS02AU and the MSI FX600.

Elias Plastiras, PCWorld.idg.com.au

See also: Group test: what's the best Budget Laptop?

See also: Group test: what's the best laptop?

NEXT: our expert verdict >>

Acer Aspire 8943G: Specs

  • 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-450M
  • 18.4in 1920x1080 LED-backlit LCD
  • 16:9
  • Rotational volume control, 5 speakers
  • ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5650 with 1GB RAM, 4GB DDR3 RAM (as reviewed: 8GB and 16GB flavours are available)
  • Blu-ray (BD), CD, DVD
  • Rechargeable removable battery
  • Windows 7 (64-bit), Windows 7 Home Premium
  • 5400rpm SATA 640GB (up to 1500GB available)
  • SD
  • 1.3Mp
  • 3 x USB 3.0 ports
  • 3.5mm headphone jack, Digital audio, Digital TV tuner, eSATA, FireWire, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI, Microphone, USB 2.0, VGA (D-sub)
  • Bluetooth
  • Wi-Fi (wireless networking)
  • Bluetooth, Wireless 802.11b, Wireless 802.11g, Wireless 802.11n
  • 31/43.8x440x295mm
  • 4.6kg
  • 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-450M
  • 18.4in 1920x1080 LED-backlit LCD
  • 16:9
  • Rotational volume control, 5 speakers
  • ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5650 with 1GB RAM, 4GB DDR3 RAM (as reviewed: 8GB and 16GB flavours are available)
  • Blu-ray (BD), CD, DVD
  • Rechargeable removable battery
  • Windows 7 (64-bit), Windows 7 Home Premium
  • 5400rpm SATA 640GB (up to 1500GB available)
  • SD
  • 1.3Mp
  • 3 x USB 3.0 ports
  • 3.5mm headphone jack, Digital audio, Digital TV tuner, eSATA, FireWire, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI, Microphone, USB 2.0, VGA (D-sub)
  • Bluetooth
  • Wi-Fi (wireless networking)
  • Bluetooth, Wireless 802.11b, Wireless 802.11g, Wireless 802.11n
  • 31/43.8x440x295mm
  • 4.6kg

OUR VERDICT

Around the edges of the Acer Aspire 8943G, you'll find the afore-mentioned Blu-ray drive, as well as four USB 3.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI, VGA, FireWire, eSATA/USB 2.0, an SD card slot and microphone and speaker audio connections. The unit also has a fingerprint reader and a webcam. We wish it had an ExpressCard slot, which could come in handy if you ever want to add USB 3.0, for example, but overall it's a great set of features. Combined with a zippy configuration and a huge screen, the Aspire 8943G makes for a great desktop replacement; that doesn't change the fact that it still looks ridiculously big.

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