A massive notebook with quad-core processing, an SSD system drive and expandable to 16GB of RAM
The Acer Aspire Ethos 8951G is a behemoth of a notebook that's perfect as a desktop replacement. It has an 18.4in, Full HD screen, a comfortable backlit keyboard and its guts are full of Intel Core i7 quad-core goodness. It's a computer that can be used for anything, including gaming, and it has a strong focus on multimedia. So much so that the touchpad can be removed from the notebook's base and used as a remote control with the supplied Clear-Fi software. It's not great software though, and the functionality of the touchpad as a remote is limited, but we like the innovation.
To set up this notebook, you'll need a decent-sized piece of desk real estate — this isn't a notebook that you'll want to move around too often and it's not something you'll easily be able to use on your lap. It's 430mm wide and 330mm deep and weighs just over 4kg. However, because it's a big notebook, it also has a big 8-cell battery installed. This allows it to last a surprisingly long time away from a power outlet — it lasted over four hours in our rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video.
Performance and specifications
Its application performance was fast in our tests, but it didn't beat the current fastest laptop we've seen this year — the HP Pavilion dv7. It recorded 24sec in the Blender 3D rendering test, 54sec in the iTunes MP3 encoding test and 45min in the AutoGordianKnot DVD-to-Xvid transcoding test. These are all speedy results, thanks mainly to the installed Intel Core i7-2630QM CPU, which has four cores plus Hyper-Threading and a frequency of 2GHz. There is also 8GB of RAM installed, and the neat thing is that you can install eight more gigabytes through two free SO-DIMM slots and work with a maximum of 16GB.
This is one of the few notebooks we've seen that makes use of both solid state drive (SSD) technology and conventional hard drives. The operating system and applications are installed on a 128GB Intel SSD, and there is also a 750GB secondary hard drive installed for extra applications and data. Both drives sit in 2.5in drive bays and are easily replaceable. In our tests, the SSD screamed! It managed a record rate of 103 megabytes per second (MBps) in our file transfer test (in which we copy files from one location on the disk to another) and its CrystalDiskMark read and write rates of 251.7MBps and 118.6MBps, respectively, were fast, too.
Graphics are handled by an NVIDIA GeForce GT 555M adapter that can use up to 4GB of memory (combined with the system RAM) and it recorded a solid score of 9965 in 3DMark06. It might struggle to run many graphics-intensive shooters without chugging a little at the native Full HD resolution of the screen, so you'll have to play around with the resolution and graphics settings to get the smoothest frame rates out of your favourite games. Optimus switching technology is implemented so that the unit changes to the integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics when the power adapter isn't connected.
Connections and other features
The Aspire Ethos has every conceivable port you would want, including HDMI, USB 3.0 and eSATA. It even has a built-in fingerprint reader for security, but this sometimes gets in the way while typing — if your palm swipes it by accident it will make an alarming noise and ask if you want to enrol a finger. One feature the Aspire Ethos lacks is an integrated digital TV tuner. If you want to watch TV through this notebook, you'll have to plug in a USB-based tuner. There are five USB ports all up, with one doubling as the eSATA port and one supporting USB 3.0.
You can watch Blu-ray movies through the installed Blu-ray/DVD-RW combo drive and the screen supports a native resolution of 1920x1080, which is perfect for high-def movies. However, the screen is very glossy and reflections off it can be annoying. You can navigate the screen by using the notebook's touchpad, but it's not a very comfortable experience. Its surface has plenty of resistance and it's one of the most tiring touchpads we've ever used. We'd definitely plug in a mouse. The keyboard is good though — its keys are soft and have good travel and response.
The touchpad also pops out of its little area in the chassis and can be used as a remote control for the pre-installed Clear-Fi software. However, the icons on the touchpad for controlling the software aren't very useful. For example, icons for skipping and stopping files only show up on the pad after you've already started playing a file. It's very unintuitive. Nevertheless, it's a nifty innovation from Acer and hopefully better implementations are in store for future models.
One thing we wish the Aspire Ethos had is dedicated volume controls. There's a lot of space on the chassis where these could have been installed, but instead you have to press the function key as well as a left or right arrow key to change the volume. The speakers on notebook are relatively loud, but they are still 'notebook quality'. For serious listening you are better off plugging a good set of external speakers or connecting to a home theatre amplifier.
There's a good deal of technology located within the cavernous chassis of the Aspire Ethos and it makes for a very powerful and versatile desktop replacement computer. We like its keyboard and the amount of connectivity that's on offer (including dual-band Wi-Fi), but we wish the screen wasn't so glossy and that the touchpad didn't feel so resistive. That said, you can always plug in your own mouse and monitor if you want.