Acer Aspire 9410 review
It's difficult to find a meaningful compromise in this fast, well-configured laptop - it's amazing value for less than £800
In the laptop market, there aren't many examples of bigger being better. But even a cursory glance at some of the Aspire 9410's most obvious charms - the 17in glossy TFT, large hard disk and DVD-RAM drive - is enough to warrant a closer look. Even better, the pricing is exceptionally aggressive - less than £800 for this quality of multimedia laptop is the best price we've seen.
The screen is clearly where most of the money has gone. It's a 17in TFT that's perfect for watching films from across the room, and it acquitted itself particularly well in our DVD and photo tests. DisplayMate produced a set of colour ramps with imperfections that were distinguishable only under close scrutiny. The resolution is comparatively low at 1,440 x 900, but this is still sufficient for everyday office tasks and has the added advantage of keeping Windows' text legible at arm's length.
The Aspire's multimedia capabilities extend far beyond the screen. Acer pre-installs its own Arcade software. It's clearly a poor relation to Windows MCE but, although the 10ft interface is slightly redundant without a remote control, it's a simple way of browsing through your photos or watching a DVD. There's also no TV tuner support, so even if you add a USB tuner later you'll need to use third-party software.
A pair of stereo speakers is built into the wristrest and, although they're loud enough, a near total lack of bass makes them frustrating when listening to music. The location of the speaker output on the front of the machine is also problematic, as it will leave a trailing wire down the front of the desk, but we welcome the addition of a 3.5mm S/PDIF port.
The optical drive is capable of writing to all formats of DVD including DVD-RAM, and the hard disk is a sensibly generous 120GB model. That's a good size for jobs such as video editing, while the 5,400rpm spin speed and 8MB buffer keep intensive operations moving swiftly. The only notable omission in terms of the hardware specification is the lack of any memory card reader, while the Aspire's media-centre credentials are slightly dented by the fact that there's no S-Video out port, so you can't easily connect to a TV.
Acer has made use of the chassis' width, and the full-sized numeric keypad will be a welcome timesaver for anyone who regularly uses Excel. The keyboard itself feels hollow and sits on a more flexible base than is ideal, but it doesn't make typing unduly stressful.
Build quality in general isn't amazing: while the base of the unit is reassuringly solid, the screen hinges are fairly stiff and the back of the TFT is worryingly flexible. If you're planning to take it on your travels, a decent laptop bag will be a necessary investment.
But we don't want to overstate this point: at 3.6kg, the Aspire isn't designed for working on the move, but more for being carried around from room to room. What's more, if you do decide to use it away from a power point, you'll get a respectable amount of battery life: in our tests, it lasted for 3hrs 47mins under light use and 1hr 46mins under more intensive conditions.
Quite aside from its multimedia capabilities, the Aspire 9410 is impressively fast too. The Core Duo T2300 has a clock speed of 1.66GHz and, coupled with 1GB of RAM, it produced a score of 0.98 in our application benchmarks. Unless you're working with HDV, manipulating huge digital images or modelling large 3D landscapes, you won't want for anything more.
Nvidia supplies the gaming potential, although all but the most gentle of gamers will struggle to get satisfaction from the GeForce Go 7300. At the most basic settings of our benchmarks - 1,024 x 768 with no anti-aliasing or anisotropic filtering - Call of Duty 2 and Far Cry returned average results of 13fps and 12fps respectively.