Acer Aspire 7720G review
It's no ultraportable, but HD DVD and 320GB of hard disk space are a real highlight at this price.
The HD bandwagon trundling through the consumer electronics arena is taking a while to affect the PC market. With a lack of clarity on which of the competing next-gen formats to choose, high prices and a less than compelling argument for HD on sub-20in screens, it's hardly surprising.
But the notebook market is proving a little more open to HD's charms, thanks no doubt to their portable entertainment skills. And it helps that Toshiba the creator of HD DVD and principal manufacturer of drives is being particularly aggressive on price. The result is this Acer: the cheapest HD disc notebook we've seen yet; sporting one of Toshiba's DVD drives, but costing comfortably less than £700.
That doesn't mean the rest of the components have suffered a major downgrade. The Core 2 Duo 7300 helped push it to 1.00 in our benchmarks, and 2GB of RAM means you can run even memory-intensive applications side by side without the supplied Windows Vista Home Premium stuttering.
Hard disk space, traditionally a little limited in notebooks, is even more impressive. The 320GB split across two hard disks (and, strangely, three partitions) provides ample storage for use as your main PC or video repository. For external storage, the HD DVD portion of the drive is read-only, but it will happily write to all formats of blank CD and DVD, including dual-layer.
The 17in screen has a reasonable 1,440 x 900 pixel resolution. It won't display 1080p HD video in its entirety, but you won't notice on a panel this small. It stands up well to scrutiny, too, with a good level of detail only occasionally spoilt by the all-too-reflective glossy coating. Sat close up, both standard DVDs and HD DVDs look great, and the panel is evenly bright, with decent viewing angles.
To make the most of the drive, though, you'll need to hook it up to a decent external display or an HDTV. The DVI-D output isn't ideal for this HDMI would be less cumbersome and also carry sound but the use of a DVI-HDMI adapter isn't a big strain.
The built-in speakers also do an adequate job for casual film watching; they become impressively loud before distorting, and there's a small subwoofer on the bottom of the chassis, giving an extra kick to the low-end. For more serious integration with a home-entertainment setup, the headphone jack doubles up as an optical digital out.
Acer also attempts to offer gaming performance, courtesy of Nvidia's GeForce 8400M GS graphics. It isn't up to the latest games - it only managed 17fps in Call of Duty 2 even at our lowest settings - but will cope with older titles. The GeForce card helps with HD playback, too.
As an unrepentant desktop-replacement notebook, we're not too concerned about the Acer's 3.5kg weight or rather lacklustre battery life around two hours of light use. It looks better than many of its big-boned brethren, too, from the outside at least. We like the glossy black finish to the lid, although the grey plastic interior does give away its budget origins. The 7720G also makes no attempt to be svelte, with a big bezel and generously sized keyboard and number pad. Unfortunately, this means the main keyboard is set off-centre. The keyboard is also slightly spongy; pushing hard on a key causes its neighbours to flex towards your finger. However, it's comfortable to use and well laid-out, while the smooth and accurate trackpad is slightly wider than normal to match the widescreen.
The Acer boasts a built-in 0.3-megapixel webcam and a range of expansion options, with four USB ports, a 5-in-1 card reader and an ExpressCard/54 slot allowing you to connect a wide range of external peripherals. You may, in the future, want to add an 802.11n adapter to complement the built-in 802.11abg.