28 March 2009

Acer Aspire 8930G

Giant-screen performer begs for a Blu-ray drive

WHEN WE REVIEWED Acer's Aspire 8920G notebook in May 2008, we loved its elegant design, innovative six-speaker audio system, and dazzling 18.4 inch display. With the Aspire 8930G ($1,699), you get all that, plus a processor upgrade, for almost $1,000 less. You don't get a Blu-ray drive, however.

As with the 8920G, the 8930G sports Acer's sleek Gemstone Blue finish with the backlit Acer logo on the lid. Beneath the shiny lid is one of the most beautiful notebook displays we've ever laid eyes on: an 18.4-inch panel featuring wide color technology and a 16-to-9 aspect ratio. Because the screen has a 1,920x1,080 resolution, it can display content in full HD (1080p) and it shows movies in their native aspect ratio without stretching or scaling.

The display practically begs for a Blu-ray drive, but unfortunately this model comes with a standard DVD multiformat drive. Still, The Polar Express on DVD looked fantastic on the big screen, and it sounded great, too, thanks to Acer's unique Tuba CineBass sound system, a six-speaker configuration that delivers full six-channel Dolby-optimized audio. A subwoofer built into the hinge assembly gives the system a much-needed bass boost. Above the display sit Acer's Crystal Eye Webcam and two microphones, which can be used along with the included Webcam utility to capture video clips and stills. It also works with Acer's VCM software, a Skype-based utility for setting up and conducting videoconference sessions.

The full-size keyboard is roomy, with big, comfortable keys and a dedicated numeric keypad, but the textured touch pad is small given the size of the keyboard deck. Still, it provides smooth cursor control. A biometric fingerprint reader nestled between the two mouse buttons uses Acer's Bio-Protection Fingerprint Solution software to provide enhanced security; you can use it in conjunction with Acer's FingerNav utility to scroll through Web pages and documents.

Instead of the usual strip of media-player controls, the 8930G features the CineDash panel, a touch-sensitive controller located on the left side of the keyboard deck. The white-backlit panel sports a circular volume control that you can swipe to raise and lower the volume, it's a bit finicky and can be frustrating to use when you're trying to obtain a specific audio level.

A hotkey takes you into the Acer Arcade applet, where you can launch your DVD movie player, access media files on your home network, play video clips, and view photos. You'll also find a Hold button and a Mute key at the top of the panel.

The 8930G offers a good selection of I/O ports, including HDMI and VGA outputs, four USB ports, and an external SATA (eSATA) port, as well as headphone, microphone, and line-in jacks. It also has a DisplayPort connector, a six-format card reader, and a 54mm ExpressCard slot. The 320GB hard drive comes with Windows Vista Ultimate (64-bit) and various Acer utilities, as well as some trial applications.

Powered by a 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo CPU (T9400) and 4GB of RAM, the 8930G performed quite well on our productivity benchmarks. Its score of 3,988 on the Futuremark PCMark Vantage test trumped the Sony VAIO AW170Y/Q's score by more than 800 points. It also outperformed the VAIO on our Windows Media and iTunes conversion tests. The HP HDX18's Windows Media encoding times were slightly faster than those of both the 8930G and the VAIO, however. The 8930G's Cinebench 10 score of 5,125 bested the Toshiba Qosmio G55-Q802 by more than 1,000 points but trailed the VAIO by 94 points.

Driven by Nvidia's GeForce 9700M GT graphics engine, the 8930G managed a Futuremark 3DMark06 score of 6,297 (at 1,024x768), handily beating the IIDX18's and G5S-Q802's scores of 3,248 and 4,956, respectively. Still, it couldn't touch the scores produced by some of the more robust gaming systems we've reviewed recently, such as the Alienware M17 and Toshiba Qosmio X305-Q708. Similarly, its Futuremark 3DMark Vantage score of 1,848 using the Performance preset was nearly 600 points higher than that of the HDX18 but paled in comparison with the X305-Q708's and M17's scores. A low score of 8.9 frames per second on our Company of Heroes DirectX 10 test proves that the 8930G can handle casual gaming as long as you use low detail settings.

We did manage to get 1 hour and 59 minutes of juice—slightly above average for an 18-inch notebook—from the battery on our DVD rundown test. With its solid performance and high-end video and audio components, the Ace/ Aspire 8930G is among the top multimedia notebooks we've seen. If the lack of Blu-ray playback is a deal breaker, you can spend $900 for a different configuration altogether or opt for the $2,199 HDX18. —John R. Delaney

Computer Shopper March 2009


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