ASUS U6E 12.1" Notebook

ASUS U6E 12.1
The term 'bigger is better' gets thrown around a lot, but it's not one that's often used when talking about computers. In some cases, bigger is better, because it represents extreme and raw power, while compact machines usually offer moderate performance. But as our lifestyles evolve, it becomes increasingly evident that most of the time, smaller is better.

I used to be one of those guys who always did believe that bigger was better when it came to notebooks. Actual performance aside, I enjoyed the larger screens and much more comfortable keyboards. But we're at a time where we are on the go all the time, and carrying a 12lb notebook is not that much fun anymore.

We first saw a real surge in small notebooks with ASUS' own launch of the Eee PC, a 7.1" offering that was designed for those who wanted ultimate portability. But, it wasn't for everyone, namely because you couldn't fit the entire OS on a single screen, nor was the keyboard that feasible for anyone with big fingers. I won't even touch on the performance aspect.

But that launch proved incredibly successful, and showed how desirable small notebooks can be. But, I'm not willing to sacrifice that much functionality just to shed a few extra pounds, or to have something smaller. Plus, with these sub-notebooks now hitting 10", you might as well just go for the next step up and get a real notebook - one that offers real performance and a nice resolution. That's why I personally feel that 12" notebooks are as close to the perfect size as we can get.

How small should we go?

Allow me to go a little off course for a moment. As I mentioned a moment ago, I've always been one of those people who preferred a robust notebook over a small one. To me, 'small' meant 'weak performance', and as an enthusiast, it's hard to just sit down in front of a machine with slow parts and be satisfied. But I clued in... large notebooks are nice, but lugging them around is not. Plus, who isn't always on the go nowadays? We all are, and that's when owning a smaller notebook is a blessing.

I don't fly all that often, but I do fly enough to care about the size of the notebook I bring on-board. I have made the mistake time and time again of bringing a 15.4" notebook on a flight, but I quickly came to me senses and admitted I've had enough. That's when I began becoming increasingly interested in smaller notebooks, and I'm sure glad I did.

If you have ever brought a full-sized notebook on the plane and sat in coach, you are no doubt aware of the downsides. Personally, I seem to have great luck in being seated behind someone ignorant enough to not look behind before slamming the seat back. There was one particular occasion on a flight last fall where I swore the notebook I was using was going to lose its screen, but luckily enough, it was fine.

With a 12.1", though, it's almost impossible for this to be a problem. I gave this theory a good test this month when I spent over 35 hours on various planes, thanks to my Computex trip. On most of the longer flights I had, I did have people in front of me shift their seat back without warning, but because of the small frame of the notebook, there was always enough leeway so that it wouldn't be caught in a bad spot. On the three planes where I used the notebook (Boeing 77L, Boeing 747-400 and Airbus A320), I didn't experience any real issue. It was a huge relief.

That's the cool thing about a smaller notebook. It's flexible. It can fit places where larger notebooks can have issue. But, not all 12" notebooks are created equal, and some can be designed in such a way that the size might be the only benefit. Luckily, ASUS has done a great job on their U6E, and I'll touch on all of the highs and lows in this article.

I think I've well-established that a 12" notebook is my personal favorite, but again, opinions will vary, and only you yourself will know what size will perfectly suit your lifestyle. If you don't fly that often, or at all, then a larger notebook might make more sense. It all depends on how much you are on the go, and your patience level. Carrying around a large notebook all day is not anyone's idea of fun.

But as I mentioned on the last page, not all 12" notebooks are created equal. The form factor is spot on, but design flaws can ruin the experience. Take the Hypersonic AG2, for example, which I took a look at last month. That was the notebook that turned me on to 12" notebooks in general, but it had a few lacking features... namely a full-sized keyboard. Because the keyboard didn't stretch completely from end to end, the keys themselves where smaller, and some were a chore to use... primarily the period.

When I received the U6E, I was pleased (ok, ecstatic) to see a full-sized keyboard. This is a huge deal to me, because while I don't necessarily have fat fingers, I like my typing experience on a notebook to be as close to the desktop experience as possible. When shifting from a full-sized desktop keyboard to a small notebook one, I tend to make typos far more often than I'd like. So for me, the ASUS notebook was an instant winner, even before I knew of the performance-related specs.

Luckily, though, the performance specs are not too shabby, either. Included is a 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 - one that's based on the 65nm process. This could be considered a downside, since the newer Penryn CPUs have been out for a few months, but the previous generation processors are less expensive, which is why they are still used more often in any manufacturer's notebooks.

Included also is 2GB of DDR2-667 memory, using the standard 5-5-5-15 timings we've come to expect. As for graphics, don't be expecting to be doing much gaming, since the integrated Intel GMA X3100 is used, but simple applications and games, like Google Earth, won't be a problem. Games that require a lot of texture memory, I've found, can be problematic. This is not a GPU for gaming, nor is that the focus of this notebook.

For storage, a Fujitsu MHY2160BH hard drive is used, which includes 160GB of space and runs at 5400 RPM. The wireless chipset used is of course Intel's own creation, the 4965AGN... the same WiFi used in the majority of notebooks right now. During my entire experience with the notebook, the WiFi was exceptionally reliable, and I connected to at least ten different access points.

We can now take a trip around the U6E to see just what it's made of. I should note that the U6S is also available, but has a few important differences... the price and the GPU. The price is at $1,649 (U6E is $1,399) and comes in a cool mocha brown color. The best part is that it includes an NVIDIA GPU, the GoForce 8400. It's low-end, but I have no doubts it would be leaps and bounds better than the integrated Intel chip used here.

The left side of the notebook features the power connection and also the lone side fan. Most of the heat will be exported here, so it should be left clear. Three USB ports are also found here, in addition to an ExpressCard slot. Towards the corner is a defunct port that's filled in with plastic (the same chassis is used on another model), and the WiFi enable/disable is also here.

On the opposite side can be found the DVD-RW drive, the microphone and headphones jack, another USB port and also a Kensington security lock. Directly above the DVD-RW drive is the memory card slot... very discrete.

In order to enable better battery-life, an extended battery is used here, a 6-cell model. It extends out the back of the notebook, but not enough to become a nuisance. The benefits will outweigh the downsides though, as it essentially doubles the battery-life of the notebook to ~3 hours.

The white touchpad follows the keen styling of the rest of the notebook. The pad itself is lightly textured, but still easy on the finger... something I thoroughly test. A fingerprint reader is located between the buttons - a nice touch.

Three buttons outside of the keyboard are found below the screen, two on the left and one on the right. The two left buttons represent the web cam and power savings mode, while the one on the right acts as the power button.

The full-sized keyboard is one of my favorite features of the U6E. After quickly becoming annoyed by the smaller board used on the Hypersonic AG2, this one proved to be a breath of fresh air. It's as close to a desktop keyboard as you will find on a notebook so small, so typing is made easy. I especially like the fact that the entire keyboard is flush, there are no keys that are oddly placed (such as the arrow keys).

Everyone will have their own likes and dislikes when it comes to laptop styling, but I like this one a lot more than I thought I would. It's better-looking in person, which is somewhat of a rarity.

Note: Most of the text on this page was taken from our review of the ASUS M51S notebook as a lot of the information is identical.

On initial boot, I was greeted with an option to select a language and also enter a username, followed by ten minutes pre-desktop setup. I am unsure why notebooks cannot be configured to work right out of the box, but Vista had a few things to take care of, so who am I to complain? The Windows Experience Rating for this notebook is 3.4, with the weakest link being the graphics. The other components range from 4.8 - 5.1.

After wiping away tears from seeing a Norton Internet Security setup screen, I checked out the programs list to see what has all been installed:

There's no way around it... there is a LOT of software pre-installed. For the most part though, a lot of it could prove useful for many people, so I wouldn't jump to conclusions and call it bloatware. Most of it is ASUS' home-brewed applications after-all, and is designed to both enlighten our lives and improve our desktop experience.

Non-ASUS software includes Norton Internet Security (three month trial), Adobe Reader 8 (which most people would have regardless) and Power4Phone (allows Skype phone calls, though I've never tested it). So overall, not too much third-party software.

It's well-known that ASUS develops a wide variety of products. Most of our readers best know them for motherboards and graphic cards, but that's far from the only market they touch. They even now make their own smart phones and UMPCs. It goes without saying, if there is a tech market, they will try to have a part in some way.

But a common problem with companies that have too wide of a product range is that instead of their products being top-notch, they instead create massive amounts of lackluster offerings. We see this occasionally with smaller companies, but luckily, I've yet to see this with ASUS. Having the massive workforce that they do really does help.

Their notebook line-up has impressed me ever since I first laid hands on the Lamborghini VX1. Since that time, I've taken a look at around ten of their notebook offerings (not all were reviewed) and neither of them let me down. Some were better than others, of course, but it all scaled with price.

Last month, when I took a look at the Hypersonic AG2 Avenger, I thought I found my true love in the 12" arena. That notebook came in the "perfect" size, offered lots of functionality and was fast. But, while it performed exceptionally, it lacked in overall design. The notebook itself wasn't that eye-pleasing, nor was the smaller keyboard that fun to deal with.

After using the U6E for a the past month, I really, really don't want to give it back. If I was in the market right now to purchase a new laptop, this would be it. I've said that before, but I can't help but be continually impressed by what ASUS is putting out there.

Let's start with the good. The U6E, for one, looks fantastic. There is nothing I would change from an aesthetics standpoint. The faux snakeskin palm rest looks sharp and so does the full-sized keyboard. The display itself also helps add to the overall design. It's sleek and very thin, despite being very bright and crisp. Another nice design feature is the webcam built into the screen. It's not exposed to the world like most, but is rather settled behind a small sheet of plastic, to better protect itself and to cater to the look that ASUS was going for.

From a functionality standpoint, the notebook wins again. There are four USB ports available (but no Firewire) along with a LAN and Modem, ExpressCard slot, VGA output, audio and also a memory card reader. There is not much missing here, unless you happen to need Firewire.

How about the downsides? The main gripe I have is with the left and right 'mouse' buttons. During normal use, I have my index finger on the touchpad, with my thumb nearer to the buttons. These are hard to press in this position, however, and I found myself having to lift up or move my hand in order to press down on them with my index finger. If they were slightly lighter to press down on, this problem could have been solved. If you happen to use your fingers to use these, and not your thumb like me, then this will not affect you.

Another oddity is the screen brightness during boot. For whatever reason, until it reaches an OS, the screen is very dim, and the same goes for the installation (if you install from a regular Vista disc. The restore disc is fine). Because the notebook's goal is to keep good battery-life, it keeps dim until it's in the OS, but during a fresh installation, if you do things manually, it's a little annoying, especially if your screen is facing sunlight. It's a very minor issue, but I found it strange.

Lastly, although I love the display, smudges and thumbprints are very noticeable during regular use. This is a rather minor issue, but if you don't happen to have a cloth and water anywhere near, then using it for an extended period of time can be a little frustrating. This is really only a problem if you are outside, or in a room with a lot of sunlight. In a regularly lit room, they will not be that noticeable, since the bright screen will drown them out.

That all said, those three issues don't come close to outweighing the U6E's redeeming features. As I mentioned, if I was in the market for a new notebook and had a $1,500 budget, I wouldn't hesitate to pick up this one. The only real downside I found while reviewing this notebook was knowing that the sample was sitting in a box for two weeks before I decided to crack it open. I don't want to give this back... not just yet.

* Pros One of the best-looking notebooks available.
* Full-sized keyboard on a smaller notebook (huge advantage).
* Bright screen offering 1280x800 resolution.
* Four USB ports and ExpressCard connectivity.
* Fingerprint reader and face recognition logon methods.
* Runs cool during regular use. Only when taxing the CPU will it become noticeably warm.
* Works amazing with Linux (Kubuntu tested).
* Reasonable battery-life (About three hours non-DVD video, manually tested).

* Cons More expensive than some competition. Paying for style and not performance.
* The integrated graphics is sufficient, but not for gaming.
* Buttons on touchpad are a little tough to use with thumbs.
* 3GB of RAM would have been a nice addition.


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Sony VAIO VGN-TZ31MN/W Review

Sony VAIO VGN-TZ31MN/W ReviewWith mini-notebooks like the Acer Aspire One and Eee PC 901 grabbing the headlines of late it's easy to forget that ultraportable notebooks you can carry around with you are nothing new. Sony, for instance, has made it a speciality of its range.

The Sony VAIO VGN-TZ31MN/W isn't a budget priced notebook but instead is a fully-fledged machine designed for the professional who needs a powerful but compact machine with a great battery life.

Weighing in at 1.2kg, this is a super-light design that packs all the features you'd expect from a top-class notebook. The build quality is high and the attention to detail makes it highly usable.

The keyboard has a novel design as each key sits in its own recess, which makes for a smoother and more stable design. We found this an incredibly comfortable keyboard to use and while it's not full-size, you don't feel as though you're compromising on size. The touchpad and mouse buttons are equally large and usable.

To keep weight to a minimum you'll find the screen is an 11.1-inch panel that has a native resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels. At this size images look sharp and crisp and as it uses LED technology, colours are truer to the original. The other benefit of LED screens is that they are considerably thinner and more power efficient than standard notebook screens, so ideal for ultraportable devices.

When it comes to performance, you'll find an Intel 1.2GHz Core 2 Duo U7600 chip that is supported by 2048MB of memory. This CPU is a low-voltage chip so isn't designed for high performance but you'll find it more than capable of handling most tasks. Being dual-core, you won't notice any real slow-down when running multiple applications.

The 100GB hard drive is on the mean side, as we were expected more in the way of storage at this price point. A dual-format DVD rewriter has also been squeezed into the compact chassis for viewing and writing data to CDs and DVDs.

When it comes to battery life, this machine lasted in our tests for just over 6 hours, which is simply stunning from such a compact machine. This is even more impressive when you discover the VAIO runs Vista Business Edition, which isn't exactly designed for mobile use. The usability of the TZ series has never been in doubt and with Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11a/g wireless LAN built-in you'll be able to take advantage of network access wherever you happen to travel.

Sony has bundled a comprehensive and varied number of applications for both professional and personal use, which helps add to the value of the notebook.

VERDICT
The changes Sony has made to the Sony VAIO VGN-TZ31MN/W have been merely cosmetic to keep it in line with other ultraportable notebooks in this price category. However, we remain impressed with what's on offer. While this machine will never compete with the new mini-notebook machines on price, there are no compromises made on performance, usability and design. If you need a state-of-the-art notebook, the Sony VAIO VGN-TZ31MN/W has to be it.


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Review Toshiba Satellite Pro U400

RToshiba Satellite Pro U400
Satellite Pro U400 is the business version of the more consumer oriented Satellite U405. This 13.3" notebook gives business users or standard consumers another notebook option if they really like the size and features of the Satellite U405, but don't want the "Look at Me!" glossy finish. Feature wise you can configure each notebook the same, with the exception of Windows XP being exclusive to the business notebook. Read on to see what we think of this business counterpart to the consumer U405.

Toshiba U400 review unit had the following specifications:

* Windows XP Professional (SP2)
* Intel T8100 Penryn (2.1GHz) Processor
* 13.3" WXGA 1280x800 TruBrite Display (Glossy)
* Intel X3100 Integrated Graphics
* Intel Pro 3945ABG (802.11a/b/g) and Bluetooth V2.1 +EDR
* 1GB PC2-5300 DDR2 SDRAM (maximum capacity 4GB)
* 160GB 5400rpm Toshiba Hard Drive
* DVD SuperMulti (+/-R double layer) drive
* 1.3 megapixel webcam
* Stereo speakers
* Fingerprint reader
* Dimensions (WxDxH Front/H Rear): 12.4" x 9.02" x 1.08" /1.38" with feet
* Weight: 4.61lbs with six-cell battery
* 75W (19V x 3.95A) 100-240V AC Adapter
* 6-cell (4800mAh) Lithium Ion battery
* 1-Year Standard Limited Warranty

U400's stylish design features a 2-tone color scheme of matte silver on black. Many of the traditionally-square notebook features have been softened with round edges. The overall style is carried onto the keyboard and touchpad areas with both reflecting the shape of the notebook itself. Once the factory stickers are removed from the palmrest areas, the notebook's design blends into a cohesive whole.

The plastic case of the notebook is fairly durable, with no squeaks or creaks when carrying it around. Some flex is present on vast open areas like the screen cover or palmrest, but it is pretty minor unless you always find yourself giving your notebook a death grip. The left edge of the palmrest above the ExpressCard slot is probably the worst point of flex on the entire notebook, since it has no bracing unless a card is inserted.

I feel that the matte paint on the Satellite Pro doesn't hold up quite as well as the Fusion finish on the consumer Satellite series. After a week or so of testing, the notebook is already showing some scuffs around the corners from my backpack and sliding around my desk. With the Fusion finish notebook, it is hard to find a small scratch, let alone an entire scuffed edge. I figure I have just been spoiled with the newer glossy textures which hold up to abrasion much better than anything found on prior notebooks.

The 13.3" WXGA screen found on the Toshiba Satellite Pro U400 rates average, and came with no problems or defects. The screen was dead/stuck pixel free during our review period, and was sealed well enough to prevent any major backlight leakage. The screen backlight was powerful enough to allow comfortable viewing in an office setting with as low as 40-50% backlight brightness level. The backlight levels were even throughout the screen, without any backlight bleed showing through, even on the lower edge of the taskbar.Color reproduction was good when screen was tilted in its optimum viewing range, but if you moved outside of that area colors would quickly invert or distort. The poor viewing range was the main cause of me giving this screen an average rating instead of above average.

keyboard found on the Satellite Pro U400 was very good for a notebook of this size. The keyboard stayed in place while typing, even under heavy pressure. Very little sagging was present during our testing, although the left side did have a smidgen more movement than the right side.

Typing on the keyboard is very comfortable, with plenty of space to make the keyboard feel anything but cramped. Key size was perfect, with good throw lengths and smooth action. Typing noise was low, and you could get away with secret ninja typing if you were careful.

The touchpad rated average with accurate finger tracking use, but lacked many customization features I have come to expect from touchpad utilities. Although the touchpad was a Synaptics model, the menus did not allow for any adjustment for sensitivity, scrolling, or additional functions. The lack of scrolling was my biggest complaint, since no notebook on the market right now lacks that ability. The touchpad buttons were smooth and easy to trigger, with a shallow and soft click when pressed.

Conclusion
The Toshiba Satellite U400 gives business users a solid feature list and moderate performance, but did not do as well as the nearly identical configured Satellite U405 we previously reviewed using Vista instead of XP. Performance across the board was less in every test we performed, with the only configuration difference between increased RAM on the Vista model. The other downside to this configuration is the paint finish which doesn't hold up as well as the Fusion finish on the consumer line, evident by the scuff marks already found on our review sample. If you were looking to purchase this notebook, I might direct you to a Vista configuration of the business U400, or the consumer U405 entirely for the better Fusion finish.

Pros

* Cool and Quiet
* Great Keyboard
* Adequate Port Selection

Cons

* Touchpad is not configurable
* Much lower performance on XP model over Vista


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Review Acer Aspire 8920G-934G64Bn

Review Acer Aspire 8920G-934G64Bn
We reviewed the bigger 18” 16:9 notebook after the Aspire 6920G, which is Acer's new compact multimedia class. The 8920G looks similar to the 6920G, but there are differences in their equipment. For example: the 8920G offers GeForce 9650M graphics and this graphic card is the successor of the GeForce 8700M GT chip.

We already know the 8920G design from the Aspire 6920G. The new case does not only look good, but also it is very stable. We were interested in the new 18” 16:9 display. It offers a resolution of 1.920 x 1.080 pixels and displays HD content with full quality (1080p). There are no black borders on the upper and lower area of the screen when watching a movie.

The 8920G's hardware was another focal point of our test, in particular the Nvidia GeForce 9650M graphics, which is the successor of Nvidia's GeForce 8700M GT graphic chip. Where are the graphic's strengths and does it offers more performance when gaming?
Case

Acer's new Gemstone design looks very good at this consumer notebook. There are linear and geometrical forms which get completed by curves and rounded elements. This design creates brand recognition and limits from competitors notebooks.

The 18” laptop looks very compacts and mobile, because of its new 16:9 wide screen display. Normally, notebooks of this size are not very mobile and do not look like they were. The new display has an effect on the cases size and therefore the case gets slimmer and longer. The overall weight of the notebook is 4160 grams, and hence the laptop is not lightweight.

The notebook is equipped with some illumination features, and one of them is the CineDash Media Console. This is a touch sensitive key panel which controls multimedia features and it is on the left side of the keyboard. Also the power button glows blue, and it is above the keyboard. Its illumination and its design attract attention. Even the lighted manufacturer logo on the lid looks good and shows an impressive 3D effect.

The case provides a solid base for daily usage, besides those optical advantages. The base unit is insensible against pressure and does not make any noise while handling. The lid is not as good as the case, because it deforms when performing pressure but most of the time the display shows pictures without transformation. This is not good, but better than average.
The processing of the Aspire 8920G is good, besides some joints of plastic parts which are too distinct. We did not recognize any weakness at the hinges.

When opening or closing the lid, then sometimes a creaking noise is audible. This refers to the display lid and not to the hinges. In some cases the lid see-saws a little bit, but this does not cause any problems. Furthermore, the display lid is not equipped with a hook to lock the display while transporting.
Ports

The opening mechanism of the display moves the screen above the backside of the case, and because of this fact it is impossible to place ports there. There are no ports on the front side of the case too, except one 6-in-1 card reader (SD, MMC, MMCplus, MS PRO, xD).

On the right side of the case there is an express card slot at the front area. After this there is the optical drive, which is a BluRay drive made by Optiarc (BD ROM BC-5500A). This drive enables the Aspire 8920G using HD content from BluRay discs. Those discs are more expensive than normal DVD’s, but they provide high definition videos. At the rear area there are two USB ports and the Kensington lock (which is hidden behind a plastic cover).

At the left side of the case there is the power connector, which is near the hinge. In front of it, there are the modem and LAN port. Furthermore, there are one analogue VGA connector and a fully digital HDMI port. Additionally, there are two USB 2.0 ports and some audio connectors on this side of the laptop. The audio ports consist of a headphone port, a microphone connector, one line in and an optical S/PDIF port which offers 5.1 surround sound.

The positions of the ports are well opted, but right handed people are favoured by their arrangement. For example: it is easy to use permanently connected USB devices on the right side (like the mouse, printer, …) and the ports on the left side are suited for short time use (i.e. by USB sticks, external hard discs, digital cameras, …). This reduces cables around the notebook. The audio connectors on the left side are not placed ideal.

Aspire 8920G provides a fast 10/100/1000 Gigabit LAN port by Atheros (AR8121/AR8113) and a wireless LAN module by Intel (4965AGN) which supports pre-n standard.

Furthermore, the Aspire 8920G is equipped with a 56k V.92 modem, which supposedly won’t be used very often, and a Bluetooth 2.0 and EDR module. This enables connecting wirelessly to external devices like a BT-mouse, BT-headset, BT-handy or BT-PDA.

The webcam (Acer Crystal Eye, resolution 640 x 480 pixels) is integrated into the display and it enables video conferences.

An integrated finger print reader increases security and it is arranged between both touch pad keys. Certainly, it is possible to use the finger print reader instead of passwords. This boosts security and operating comfort.

The Acer Aspire 8920G offers not many accessory. Besides the power pack, there is a demo BluRay disc/DVD and a manual included. The recovery disc is stored on the notebooks hard drive.
Input devices



The laptop’s display is very wide and therefore the case is wide too. The Aspire 8920G offers a number pad on the right side of the keyboard and the CineDash Media Console on its left side. The width of case measures 44 centimetres and therefore there is enough space for some additional keys for Bluetooth, wireless LAN and some quick launch buttons (mail and internet).

All keys provide a pleasing size, in spite of this massive offer of keys. Even the layout of all buttons is good. The $ and € keys are placed in the area of the smaller cursor keys and this is unusual.

The keys are plain and reflective and this fits to the notebooks design, but the feel of the surface does not convince. The plain surface of the buttons is nearly sticky and this feels not good while typing fast. Except for this stickiness the feeling while typing is acceptable and the whole keyboard easily can be impressed. Therefore, typing feels soft and springy. The keyboard got advanced compared to the Acer 6920G, because it produces less noise. It is quieter, even when writing faster.

The touch pad looks identical to the Aspire 6920G’s touch pad, except for the descent line which limits it at the upper and lower side. The touch pads surface is rough, and its responding behaviour is good. The touch pad keys work well at their outside area, but there is a dead area near the finger print reader. They work badly or they do not work at all in this area.

CineDash Media Console is identical to the Aspire 6920G ones, but it works correctly form the beginning. The responding behaviour of the Media Consoles volume control is sometimes mulish. The accurate adjusting of volume is problematical, in particular when adjusting in the area of 0% to 20%.

The hold button is not as good as it intended to be. It should prevent unwanted usage of the panel. The hold button is touch sensitive like all buttons of the CineDash Media Console, and soft contact activates and deactivates it. This happens quite often, especially when gaming. The hold button is in reach of the left hand and easily gets activated accidently. It would be better when this button is placed in another area or it is protected against unwanted usage.

Aspire 8920G offers a good looking design and acceptable processing, like its little brother the 6920G does. The notebook looks very agile, because it is equipped with a slim 16:9 display, despite its overall weight of 4 kilograms.

The laptop is equipped with a digital HDMI port, and an optical S/PDIF port with 5.1 surround sound, additionally to its BluRay drive. Those features enable multimedia usage of this laptop.

The keyboard looks good, and the CineDash Media Console does this as well. The usability of the keys is not as good as its design, because they are plain and nearly sticky. The Media Console and its volume control sometimes needs time to adjust volume.

The 18.4 inch 16:9 wide screen display is the highlight of this notebook. It offers full HD resolution (1.920 x 1.080 pixels) and good brightness values. Furthermore, it provides acceptable illumination level and an excellent contrast value. Sometimes the heavily reflecting display is problematical.

The sample notebook is equipped with the new Intel Penryn CPU and Nvidia GeForce 9650M GS graphics. This graphic card is as powerful as its predecessor Nvidia GeForce 8700M GT, but it does not provide more power. Its performance is good while using 3D applications and office applications.
The notebooks loudness and the measured surface temperature of the Aspire 8920G are low.

The maximum battery runtime of this notebook is up to 3 hours, but the laptop is made for stationary usage.


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Dell Vostro 1510 Review

Dell Vostro 1510 Review
After last year's successful launch of the new Vostro line of copmputers targeted ar small businesses, Dell made a serious effort to listen to customer feedback criticizing Dell's thick and heavy laptops. The result was a bold revision of the Vostro line with thinner and lighter chassis designs for 2008. The new Dell Vostro 1510 is a 15.4" screen notebook designed for businesses that need a budget desktop replacement. Is this the best choice for businesses or consumers looking for a value-priced notebook? Let's see.

Dell Vostro 1510 is available with a range of Intel processors (from the 1.86GHz Celeron M M540 up to the T9500 2.6GHz Core 2 Duo). There are four 15.4" screen offerings, a WXGA or WXGA+ display with matte anti-glare coating and WXGA or WXGA+ "TrueLife" glossy display. The notebook can take up to 4GB of RAM and Dell offers 32-bit versions of Microsoft Windows Vista Business or Windows XP Professional. The system is priced starting at $599 with integrated Intel X3100 graphics at the time of this writing, but is also available with nVidia 8400M GS dedicated graphics.

Our Vostro 1510 is equipped with the following specs:

* Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo T5670 (1.8GHz)
* Memory: 2GB - 2 DIMM (DDR2-667) (4GB max)
* HDD: 160GB 5400RPM HDD
* Graphics: Intel X3100 integrated graphics
* Display: 15.4" WXGA Antiglare
* Optical drive: Slot-loading 8x DVD +/- RW
* OS: XP Professional
* Software: 30-day security subscription anti-virus, No trail-ware
* Wireless: Dell 1505 Wireless-N Mini Card (802.11a/g/n)
* Battery: 6-cell battery
* Other: Webcam and fingerprint reader
* Services: Network assistant; 10GB of Datasafe online; Dell Support Center; PC Tune-up
* Dimensions (HxWxD): 1" (front)/1.5" (back) x 14.6" x 10.16"
* Weight: 5.75 lbs (with 6-cell battery) as configured

Dell received some much needed attention in 2007 with the introduction of the sleek, high performance XPS M1330 and XPS M1530 notebooks. While these more expensive notebooks in the Dell lineup were praised for their looks and low weight, the Dell Insipron and Vostro notebooks were criticized for being bulky and unattractive laptops. Dell listened closely to this criticism when they designed the refresh for the Vostro line. The Vostro 1510 is thinner and lighter than last year's Vostro 1500.

Unfortunately, the lighter weight and thinner profile come at some cost. Namely, the plastics used in the chassis feel thin and in some areas, such as above the keyboard and on the palmrests, there is a significant degree of flex. The edges of the chassis are also sharper than what we've seen on earlier Dell notebooks and these sharp edges and thin plastics make the design of the Dell Vostro 1510 feel slightly unfinished or unrefined.

Like all Vostro releases, the 1510 doesn't come in multiple colors or display lid patterns. Black is your only option. However, this year Dell decided to get rid of the matte black finish in favor of a glossy black finish with just a hint of metal flake. The black paint with the fine metal flakes is inlaid with the molds so there's no risk of the glossy finish coming off.

Although I wasn't a huge fan of the glossy black plastic lid with metal flake paint on our Vostro 1510, it does look and feel nice. Still, the new glossy lid design is a magnet for fingerprints and might not resist light scratches as well as the matte black finish on the previous generation Vostro notebooks.

Another of the new innovations for the Vostro line is the "Hyperband Multi-Antenna" housed inside the LCD lid which Dell claims "can provide excellent reception and help reduce dropped signals" for both Wi-Fi and bluetooth. I've never had serious problems with dropped signals while using older Dell notebooks so I can't speak to whether the new internal multi-antenna actually improved wireless reception ... but I can say that I never experienced dropped Wi-Fi connections during the testing period.

Display options for the Vostro 1510 include a matte finish 15.4" Widescreen XGA (1280 x 800) and a 15.4" Widescreen XGA (1280 x 800) with TrueLife (glossy finish). Dell also offers higher resolution WXGA+ (1440 x 900) displays in both matte and glossy configurations.

The screen on our review unit looks flawless from straight on and the horizontal viewing angles are great. Upper vertical viewing angles are good with just a slightly washed out look, but colors did begin to invert at lower viewing angles when the screen is tilted back.

The keyboard on the Vostro 1510 suffers from severe flex near the center of the keyboard. The keys almost "bounce" as you press them. The keys have a nice matte texture with proper spacing and each of the keys have excellent travel and cushion. There are dedicated page up and page down keys but the home and end keys require the use of the function key, so this might be a little frustrating for users who do a lot of coding.

touchpad surface utilizes the same matte texture with just a hint of metal flake that is used on the palm rest surface. The touchpad is nice and responsive but feels a little smaller than it should be. The touchpad buttons have excellent travel and cushion. Unfortunately, because of the way in which the touchpad buttons are slightly recessed the touchpad buttons are not very comfortable to use.

A series of touch-sensitive media buttons with blue LED backlights are located above the keyboard similar to the buttons on the XPS notebooks. One nice feature about the media buttons is that the blue LEDs only stay lit for a fraction of a second after being pressed, so they won't distract you by staying lit all the time. The power button also features a blue LED backlight, but this light says on whenever the notebook is on.

Conclusion

Overall, the Dell Vostro 1510 is a solid budget notebook with clean looks and acceptable performance. Whether you need a simple business notebook or a budget portable laptop with modest gaming capabilities, the Vostro 1510 makes a fine choice.

That said, the chassis isn't as nice as we hoped ... the edges are sharp and could be smoother or more rounded, the case feels hollow and flimsy compared to the earlier Vostros, the touchpad button placement is bad, keyboard suffers from significant flex.

So why buy a Vostro 1510? One huge advantage to the Vostro line is the support, lack of bloatware, and excellent return policy. Dell will let you purchase a Vostro, use it for 30 days, and if you don't like it you can send it back for a full refund without any restocking or shipping fees. That's just amazing.

In short, the Vostro 1510 is a good addition to the Vostro family and gives business professionals and consumers on a budget another alternative to the Dell Inspiron 1525. Unfortunately, the price as configured ($684) places it neck-and-neck with the Inspiron 1525. Although the Vostro has a lot to offer, the Inspiron 1525 has a better chassis design, and for roughly the same amount of money businesses can purchase a 15.4" Dell Latitude notebook or Lenovo ThinkPad R61.

Pros

* Thinner and lighter than the Vostro 1500
* Reasonable battery life
* Nice screen and easy-to-use media buttons
* Solid performance
* No bloatware
* Available with Windows XP
* Excellent return policy (NO restocking or shipping fees within 30 days!)

Cons

* Glossy LCD lid is a magnet for fingerprints
* Chassis plastics feel too thin and hollow
* Uncomfortable touchpad buttons
* No docking station port for desktop use
* No S-video or HDMI port
* Price is a little expensive compared to the Inspiron 1525, Latitude D530 or D531


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Toshiba Satellite P305D Review

Toshiba Satellite P305D Review
Satellite P305D is the latest 17-inch notebook out of Toshiba, offering the new Fusion finish. This notebook is a complete redesign of the older P205D, and gave the much needed updates that made the older notebook feel very outdated. The P305D also shares much with the slightly smaller 15-inch A305D, looking almost identical besides a few larger parts. Read on to see how well this notebook compares to its smaller siblings as well as other 17-inch notebooks.

Our Toshiba P305D review unit had the following specifications:

* Windows Vista Home Premium (SP1, 32-bit)
* AMD Turion X2 Dual-Core TL-62 (2.1GHz)
* 17.1" diagonal widescreen TruBrite TFT LCD display at 1440x900 (WXGA+)
* ATI Radeon X1250 Integrated Graphics
* Atheros Wireless 802.11a/g/n
* 2GB PC2-5300 DDR2 SDRAM (maximum capacity 4GB)
* 250GB 5400rpm Toshiba Hard Drive
* DVD SuperMulti (+/-R double layer) drive with Labelflash
* 1.3 megapixel webcam
* Harmon/Kardon stereo speakers
* Dimensions (WxDxH Front/H Rear): 15.7" x 11.3" x 1.6/1.75"
* Weight: 7 lbs 8.1oz with six-cell battery
* 75W (19V x 3.95A) 100-240V AC Adapter
* 6-cell (4000mAh) Lithium Ion battery
* 1-Year Standard Limited Warranty

First thing you will notice about the Satellite P305D is every part of this notebook is glossy, from the screen cover, to the palm rest, and even the keyboard keys. Toshiba is really showing off their new durable Fusion finish on every part of the notebook that they can, and in some ways it is a very good thing. Durability is a big thing with notebook finishes, as many glossy finishes will dull and scratch over time. The new Toshiba Fusion finish on this laptop is incredibly durable, and has yet to actually scratch throughout my testing. With multiple trips in my backpack, I can't find any visible scuffs on the cover, where other notebooks would show fine scratches almost out of the wrapper.

So what does this Fusion finish mean to you? Your keys will not go from matte to glossy over time as they wear down (they are already glossy). Every part of the notebook will get full of smudges and fingerprints, but you can always wipe it down in a couple of minutes to make it look brand new. On other notebooks you get all the smudges, but it would take some hard work with some plastic polish before you ever got it looking new again.

Build quality is excellent in most areas, giving the notebook a very solid feel. Squeaks and creaks are not present, and panel flex is at a minimum. The notebook did have one minor flaw though; just like the A305 and A305D, the P305D has rough edges around the screen frame where the two plastic pieces meet. If you can get past that (I don't see why not) you will love this notebook.

Satellite P305D changes quite a bit of its design, while still retaining some resemblance of its older P205D brother. The biggest change is the use of the new durable Fusion finish, which can be found on practically every surface of the notebook, from the top cover to the individual keyboard keys. Unlike the older glossy surface that would scuff with minimal effort, the Fusion finish holds up very well, and I have yet to find any fine scratches or other wear on it.

The keyboard and surrounding area has changed quite a bit form the older P205D, including touch sensitive multimedia keys, which are very common on most new notebooks. Another change is the flush touchpad area, which is surprisingly slick with its textured surface. It is almost too easy to slide your finger around on it, and slip off onto the palm rest. The touchpad buttons have also changed quite a bit, going from rectangular slabs to chromed ovals which are easier to trigger, as well as being more comfortable to use.

display on the P305D uses a WXGA+ glossy LCD panel, which rates about average. Vertical viewing angles are limited, with a very narrow range that gives you an optimal image. This means that if the screen is tilted slightly forward or back, the image shown goes dark and inverted or light and washed out. Even in the "sweet spot" you still have the top edge that is darker and the bottom edge that is started to get washed out. Horizontal viewing angles were much better, giving a wide enough angle that would give people sitting next to you a clear and mostly crisp view of the screen.

Screen backlight brightness was more than adequate, with my preferred brightness setting in an office environment being 75%-80%. At home or darker settings I had it around 40%-50% brightness. Backlight bleed was minimal if at all noticeable. Backlight brightness across the screen was great, with no noticeable uneven portions.

keyboard found on the P305D is very similar to the A305, just wider. With the real estate of a 17-inch notebook, they were able to fit a full-size number pad to the right of the keyboard. The keyboard surface is glossy, which goes perfectly with the Fusion finish of the rest of the notebook. I found typing to be very comfortable on this keyboard, but there was a bit of a learning curve getting used to sliding your fingertips around on the glossy texture. Key spacing was excellent, and individual key presses were soft and had just the right amount of throw.

touchpad surface on the P305D could be best described as soft and slippery sandpaper. It has a semi-rough texture that feels different from any other touchpad I have used, and it lets you finger glide over it with ease under many conditions. Whether your finger is dry from the start, or starting to sweat after hours of use the touchpad still lets your finger glide along without resistance. The large touchpad buttons are located right under the touchpad and impossible to miss. While they are rigid plastic, they feel very soft with the graceful rounded shape. Even after hours of using the notebook, they are still comfortable to click.

Conclusion

The Toshiba Satellite P305D is a great update from the older P205D notebook, giving buyers a much nicer notebook for the price, as well as a few new perks like the awesome Fusion finish. The fit and finish are excellent, and with features such as the excellent Harmon/Kardon speakers or flush mounted touchpad, users get a lot for their money.

While the budget price of $899 for the Toshiba P305D can be tempting, I would highly suggest users try to pinch together another $50-$100 to step up to the Intel-based P305, which offers users a dedicated graphics card, larger hard drive, and a few other goodies that help make the P305 notebook a much better machine. I have nothing against AMD processors, but when they are artificially crippled with low-end hardware (integrated graphics), a user would have no choice but upgrade to the Intel version to get the performance they want.

I really love the layout, solid build quality, and features of this notebook, but when only a minor price bump gets you a notebook that can play modern games, it would be wrong not to point you in that direction.

Pros

* Great keyboard
* Touch sensitive media controls
* Wonderful flush mounted touchpad
* Excellent Harmon/Kardon Speakers

Cons

* Relatively low performance for a relatively high budget price
* Warm touchpad
* Highly reflective surface


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Dell Precision M6300 Review

Dell Precision M6300 Review
Dell Precision M6300 is a 17" desktop replacement targeted towards businesses that need a full-featured workstation with exceptional build quality. This notebook competes against such notebooks as the HP Compaq 8710p, HP Compaq 8710w and Fujitsu LifeBook N6470. The M6300 offers a wide range of hardware configurations, as well as a 64GB Samsung SSD for the businesses that require extreme ruggedness and extreme performance. Processors range from the T7250 all the way up to the X9000, RAM from 1GB to 4GB, display resolutions starting at WXGA+ up to WUXGA, and either NVIDIA Quadro FX 1600M or NVIDIA Quadro FX 3600M discrete graphics.

* Windows XP SP2
* Intel Core 2 Duo Processor T7250 (2.00GHz)
* Mobile Intel P965 Express Chipset
* Intel Wireless WiFi Link 4965AGN (802.11a/g/n)
* 2GB PC2-5300 DDR2 SDRAM (maximum capacity 4GB)
* 64GB Samsung SSD
* 8x DVD (+/-R double layer) drive
* 17.0" diagonal widescreen matte TFT LCD display at 1440x 900 (WXGA+, matte)
* 256MB nVidia Quadro FX 1600M (512MB dedicated and shared memory)
* Dimensions: 1.6"(H) x 15.5(W) x 11.3"(D)
* Weight: 8.5 lbs
* 130W 100-240V AC adapter
* 9-cell (85Wh) Lithium Ion battery (1lb 1oz)
* 3-Year Basic Limited Warranty and 3-Year NBD On-Site Service

Like most of the Latitude and Precision notebooks, the Dell Precision M6300 is a simply refined "down to business" look. The chassis lacks any user configuration such as a custom top cover paint, but companies interested in outfitting their workforce with these workstations aren't concerned about attractive paint jobs. In fact "system envy" (when one employee becomes jealous of another employee's workstation) is something most companies want to avoid ... and the simple exterior of the M6300 conceals an impressive level of performance.

The simple look and feel is matched with an even stronger and more durable chassis. During testing no plastic creaks or squeaks could be heard. In fact, even with significant (excessive) force applied to the LCD lid the lid refused to flex. The entire bottom shell is a metal alloy which gives the laptop a strong footprint on your desk, and is gives enough strength to resist bending if you hold the laptop by the edge of the palm rest walking around the room. The only downside to the chassis was the lack of a second hard drive bay ... unusual for a 17-inch workstation. Overlooking that fact, the chassis is strong enough to hurt your knuckles if you try to punch it without giving up less than a millimeter of flex in the process.

One additional benefit of not having a customized paint option is long term durability. The review models of several Dell Inspiron consumer notebooks had paint defects out of the box on the customized the LCD covers. The M6300 has no such problem and the chassis will likely withstand years of significant use and abuse before showing its age.

The matte WXGA+ (1440x900) screen on the Dell Precision M6300 is absolutely beautiful. No dead pixels were found during testing, and backlight bleed while noticed on some dark screens was minimal. Colors were vibrant despite the matte screen and the additional benefit of matte screens is the lack of reflection in an office environment. Wide viewing angles made the screen look sharp even at oddly contorted angles. Backlight adjustment was very broad, allowing me to adjust low enough for darker room settings, and bright enough to still be readable in sunlight or a bright office.

Protection for the screen through the rear cover prevented any rippling when you press in the cover. The release latch was smooth and unlike most latches on budget notebooks required little effort to release.

The speakers on the M6300 were better than average for most laptops, comparable to speakers found on most midrange televisions. While lower bass was lacking, volume levels were quite loud, and distortion at peak levels was not present. Combined with the 17" display, it would not be hard at all to entertain a small group of businessmen with a multimedia presentation during a meeting.

The keyboard and palm rest structure matches the strength of the bottom panel of this laptop. Pressing down very firmly, the keyboard suffers from virtually zero flex. The palm rest is just as firm, supporting my wrists or elbows pressing down with barely a hint of flex.

The keyboard is very comfortable to type on, and gave just the right amount of response for each key press. Key travel is similar to most business notebooks with just a bit less clicking sound than what we hear on ThinkPads in our office. The keyboard layout was not cramped at all, and the control key was in the correct (outmost) position on the left-hand side.

One odd omission is the lack of a dedicated number pad. Most 17-inch notebooks make sure of the additional footprint of the larger form-factor and include a dedicated number pad. While this isn't a major problem, some corporate jobs that involve significant amounts of data entry will find the lack of a dedicated number pad quite depressing.

The touchpad is reasonably responsive, but could be improved. Lag time was minimal when starting each time, but accuracy was less than perfect. The size of the touchpad surface was large enough for comfortable control, and the surface texture had a smooth matte feel. The threes touchpad buttons spanned the full length of the touchpad, and each had a responsive click when pressed. One thing I appreciated was a third touchpad button to allow easier control of tabs during web browsing.

Dell Precision M6300 as configured has more than enough speed and storage space to handle most users needs. The base-level Intel T7250 and nVidia Quadro FX 1600M combined with a blazingly fast SSD make this laptop an excellent performer, for both multimedia uses and number crunching. Below are benchmarks to give you an idea of how this laptop might compare up against other notebooks on the market.

Conclusion

This Dell 17" laptop is a great performer and extremely well built laptop. It seems to be built well enough to be thrown around in day to day use, and hold up throughout a reasonable life cycle in a corporate environment. The SSD option, while expensive, significantly improves both durability and performance of this workstation.

The only problems I found which don't relate directly to the function of the laptop are the lack of a second hard drive bay, which would be helpful given the relatively low capacity of the SSD. Additionally, the lack of a dedicated number pad will be a issue for some users and the weight and bulk of the M6300 make it a desktop replacement workstation and not the best solution for corporate road warriors.

Pros:

* Very tough structure and rugged overall chassis design.
* Strong video editing (and gaming performance) with nVidia Quadro FX 1600M
* Excellent battery life for a 17" notebook
* Bright and Vivid LCD with excellent viewing angles
* Super fast Samsung SSD
* Remains remarkably cool even when working hard (in part thanks to SSD)

Cons:

* No dual hard drive option
* No dedicated number pad
* Thick and heavy, but that's to be expected with 17-inch workstations


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Toshiba M700-110

oshiba M700-110Since the Tablet PC (with a capital ‘T’) appeared in 2002, we’ve seen various ‘slate’ models come and go - but perhaps the more interesting version is the ‘convertible’, which can serve as a regular laptop or as a tablet PC. The Toshiba M700-110 is just such a beast, a well-specified tablet laptop that is relatively low in weight, powerful for business tasks and possessing good battery life.

With the Toshiba M700-110 used as a regular laptop, we find the usual complement of features we expect of a modern portable, including 802.11 networking (a, b, g and draft n), a dual-layer DVD-writing optical drive, Bluetooth and 5-in-1 card reader. Powering all this is an Intel Core 2 Duo processor clocked at 2GHz, supported by 2GB of RAM and a 120GB hard drive.

The screen is a 12in widescreen display, 1280x800, driven by an integrated graphics card - so many 3D games are essentially off limits. Not that that should be a problem for a machine that’s well-tuned to the needs of business users. Windows Vista Business is the OS of choice here, and other features include a fingerprint reader and hard disk lock encryption to keep data safe in the event of loss.

For use as a normal folding laptop, we find a small trackpad with two recessed mouse buttons, making this interface less ergonomic than we’d like for daily use. The screen also suffers a little from being a touchscreen type, leaving it mildly occluded and soft-focus by the extra layer of touch-sensitive clear film.

To convert the Toshiba M700-110 to tablet use, you simply set the screen to the vertical, rotate it by 180 dgrees, then lay it flat against the body. Onboard sensors mean it will sense if it’s being carried in landscape or portrait mode.

Control of the system is then entirely through the touchscreen, either by fingertips to select and double-click icons, or with the plastic stylus that tucks into the side like on a PDA. Using the stylus also simplifies right-clicking, using a button on its stem.

For text input, Microsoft’s Tablet PC software gives the option of a floating keyboard on screen, or handwriting recognition in a floating palette. And this handwriting input method works impressively well, able to intelligently read even our less than perfect scribbling skills.

In bench tests the Toshiba M700-110 acheived a WorldBench 6 score of 77, an averagely good figure for a compact laptop, but more impressive was the battery life. Using MobileMark 2007’s more strenuous ‘productivity’ setting, we acheived over three hours (185 minutes) of true wirefree use.

This earnest laptop is a jack of many trades, with a good selection of features and relatively impressive battery life for untethered productivity. The price premium over a comparably specified regular laptop will be a good investment if you need a versatile laptop-cum-tablet that works well in either guise.


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Acer Aspire 8920-6671

Acer Aspire 8920-6671Acer has always been a global powerhouse, but the company has had a relatively anemic presence in the United States. Now that it has merged with Gateway (the two brands are still being treated as separate), we are seeing some inroads from Acer in this country, starting with a particularly bold move, the launch of the first laptop we've seen with an 18.4-inch display. The display has the same native resolution as a 1080p HDTV, and coupled with a Blu-ray drive and a unique set of touch-sensitive media controls, it's an impressive package for moviewatchers.

Our review model was the more expensive of Acer's two available configurations. At $2,499, the Acer Aspire 8920-6671 is pricey choice for a nongaming machine. The lower-end version, the visually identical Aspire 8920-6048, trades the Intel Core 2 Duo T9500 CPU for a T5550, goes from 320GB of hard drive space to 250GB, drops from 4GB of RAM to 3GB (which is the maximum amount 32-bit Vista can address anyway), and features an Nvidia GeForce 9500M video card instead of a slightly faster GeForce 9650M. Important differences to be sure, but the cheaper version is available from retail stores for $1,299--less than half the suggested price of the more expensive version, and a much better overall deal.

Price as reviewed / Starting price $2,499
Processor 2.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9500
Memory 4GB, 667MHz DDR2
Hard drive 320GB 5,400rpm
Chipset Intel GM965
Graphics Nvidia GeForce 9650M GS
Operating System Windows Vista Ultimate
Dimensions (WDH) 17.4x11.9x1.5 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 15.4 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 8.9 / 10.1 pounds
Category Desktop replacement

The Acer Aspire 8920 is a boat of a laptop, and its 16:9 display makes for a chassis that is wider but shorter than a typical 17-inch model that features a 16:10 screen. To fit the new panel, the Acer Aspire 8920 is about 1.5-inches wider overall than a 17-inch Gateway P-172. Even though both of these laptops are equally deep (11.9 inches), the Acer has a hinge that pivots the entire lid back, making it about 0.75-inch shorter when you've got the screen open at a 90-degree angle.

Acer refers to the 8920 as part of the company's Gemstone Blue series, which means it has a speckled automotive-style blue/black lid, with a black and silver interior. The large chassis means there's plenty of room on the keyboard tray for a full keyboard, a large touch pad with a separate scroll zone, a sizable wrist rest, and a large speaker grille area above the keyboard.

The usual array of touch-sensitive media controls commonly found on multimedia laptops have been moved from their normal spot above the keyboard to a panel on the left side of the keyboard tray. Acer calls this the CineDash media console, but it's really just the same capacitive touch controls found on other laptops, arranged in roughly the shape of a handheld remote control. It's a clever idea, very eye-catching, and once you get used to it, works fairly well, with a volume slider, transport controls, and an iPod-like directional control for scrolling through menus. Our main complaint about it is there doesn't seem to be a way to access the pop-up menus while a Blu-ray movie is playing. Acer's proprietary media playing software, called Acer Arcade Deluxe, uses its own generic pop-up menus, but it's a clunky compromise. Plus, we always encourage PC makers to stop spending so much time and effort duplicating Windows Media Center (we're talking to you, Hewlett-Packard's QuickPlay), since proprietary media applications usually fail to exceed or even meet Media Center's mediocre standards.

The 18.4-inch wide-screen LCD display is the real star here. The native resolution of our 18-inch screen was 1,920x1,080 (you know, like Blu-ray), while a high-end 17-inch laptop is usually 1,920x1,200. That means Blu-ray or other HD content will fit the screen better. Acer claims this display has twice the color range than normal laptop screens--we're not sure about that, but in playing HD content, the picture was certainly clear, bright, and vivid, and the screen had excellent off-axis viewing--which is important unless you plan on watching all your movies alone (how sad).

We also liked the 5.1 speaker system, with two speakers above the keyboard, and two more, plus a subwoofer, on the front edge of the system. Technically, they can pump out surround sound, but it's not the same as actually having speakers behind and to the sides. There was, however, a better-than-average stereo separation and decent bass for a laptop (but it still won't get your dance tracks bumping).


Acer Aspire 8920-6671 Average for category [desktop replacement]
Video VGA-out, HDMI VGA-out, S-video, DVI or HDMI
Audio 5.1 speakers w/subwoofer, headphone/mic/line-in jacks Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 4 USB 2.0, SD memory card reader 4 USB 2.0, mini FireWire, multiformat memory card reader
Expansion ExpressCard slot PC Card and ExpressCard
Networking modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth
Optical drive Blu-ray with DVD burner DVD burner or Blu-Ray

With an 18-inch 16:9 screen, the Acer Aspire 8920 seems custom made for Blu-ray, even if there's dubious value to watching HD content on anything smaller than a 32-inch screen. The HDMI output allows you to hook the system up to a bigger display if you don't have a standalone Blu-ray player.

Intel's Core 2 Duo T9500 CPU is top of the line for Intel, unless you go all the way up to the Extreme processors (as in the Alienware Area-51 m15x). At that level, high-end systems all perform comparably in nongaming applications, and unless you plan to do some heavy video editing or other processing-intensive work, we'd even suggest trading down for the lower-end model in this line, the Acer Aspire 8920-6048, which costs about half as much.

We were perfectly happy with the cheaper model's Intel Core 2 Duo T5550 processor when we saw it in the budget Gateway P-6860FX 17-inch gaming laptop. Both the cheaper Acer and the Gateway cost roughly $1,299--but the Gateway includes Nvidia's high-end GeForce 8800 graphics chip, while the Acer delivers a Blu-ray drive; the choice depends on your preference for games or movies.

A massive laptop like the Acer will probably spend almost all its time plugged into a wall, but we were able to run it for 1 hour and 41 minutes, which is decent for a desktop replacement laptop--many run for only about an hour.

Acer includes an impressive three-year parts-and-labor warranty with the system. The technical support phone lines are open only Monday through Friday from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT and on weekends from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. PT. The company's online support offers driver and manual downloads, but lacks common features such as forums and real-time chat. Note that the cheaper 8920 model includes only a one-year warranty.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion dv9700t
759
Asus M70Sa-C1
792
Gateway P-172X FX
806
Acer Aspire 8920-6671
821

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Gateway P-172X FX
163
Acer Aspire 8920-6671
170
Asus M70Sa-C1
185
HP Pavilion dv9700t
240

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion dv9700t
139
Acer Aspire 8920-6671
141
Asus M70Sa-C1
142
Gateway P-172X FX
149

Unreal Tournament 3 (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1440x900, 4X AA, 8X AF
1280x800, 4X AA, 8X AF
Gateway P-172X FX
91.2
Acer Aspire 8920-6671
53.2
Asus M70Sa-C1
35.4
HP Pavilion dv9700t
33

DVD battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion dv9700t
156
Asus M70Sa-C1
149

115
Acer Aspire 8920-6671
111


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Toshiba Satellite A300-177

 Toshiba Satellite A300-177
When it comes to stylish laptops, Toshiba isn't at the top of the list. However, it is currently re-addressing that idea by overhauling many of its consumer notebooks with a far more appealing touch.

The Satellite A300 takes the current rounded look of the Satellite range and gives it a high-gloss finish. This looks great and certainly makes it look more appealing. However, the finish does soon attract smears and fingerprints and we found ourselves constantly having to wipe it clean.

It's the same with the keyboard, which has the same style of finish. The keys are of a good size and it is comfortable to use, but we'd have preferred a matt finish. There is even a reassuring click as you type, so you know you've struck the key correctly.

The screen is a typical 15.4-inch Super-TFT screen that is great for movies as well as surfing the web or simply getting that report or homework finished. As is common at the budget end of the market, the graphics are integrated, so you won't be able to play games but it's more than quick enough for daily tasks.

Weighing 2.9kg, this is a standard sized machine that offers a degree of portability. We managed to run it for just over 3 hours from a single charge, which is average for this class of machine.

The A300 is powered by an Intel 1.83GHz Core 2 Duo T5550 processor and is backed by 2048MB of memory. Rounded out with a 200GB hard drive, we found the base specification more than reasonable for the asking price. This chip isn't the fastest Intel release and we found the system would slow when pushed, but for every day tasks there is plenty of power to be had.

Shipping with Windows Vista Home Edition, we found it loaded quickly and performed reasonably well. If you only want to watch a movie or listen to music, you can drop into Toshiba’s own EasyMedia software, which is similar to Media Centre.

When it comes to extras, you won't find anything out of the ordinary. Wireless LAN comes in the form of 802.11g, while the Ethernet is the faster Gigabit standard. However, external monitor connections are rather basic, being a VGA-out port instead of supporting digital connections, such as HDMI or DVI-out. The four USB ports are scattered around the sides of the case and the optical drive is a DVD rewriter.


Full Review

26 May 2008 - When it comes to stylish laptops, Toshiba isn't at the top of the list. However, it is currently re-addressing that idea by overhauling many of its consumer notebooks with a far more appealing touch.

The Satellite A300 takes the current rounded look of the Satellite range and gives it a high-gloss finish. This looks great and certainly makes it look more appealing. However, the finish does soon attract smears and fingerprints and we found ourselves constantly having to wipe it clean.

It's the same with the keyboard, which has the same style of finish. The keys are of a good size and it is comfortable to use, but we'd have preferred a matt finish. There is even a reassuring click as you type, so you know you've struck the key correctly.

The screen is a typical 15.4-inch Super-TFT screen that is great for movies as well as surfing the web or simply getting that report or homework finished. As is common at the budget end of the market, the graphics are integrated, so you won't be able to play games but it's more than quick enough for daily tasks.

Weighing 2.9kg, this is a standard sized machine that offers a degree of portability. We managed to run it for just over 3 hours from a single charge, which is average for this class of machine.

The A300 is powered by an Intel 1.83GHz Core 2 Duo T5550 processor and is backed by 2048MB of memory. Rounded out with a 200GB hard drive, we found the base specification more than reasonable for the asking price. This chip isn't the fastest Intel release and we found the system would slow when pushed, but for every day tasks there is plenty of power to be had.

Shipping with Windows Vista Home Edition, we found it loaded quickly and performed reasonably well. If you only want to watch a movie or listen to music, you can drop into Toshiba’s own EasyMedia software, which is similar to Media Centre.

When it comes to extras, you won't find anything out of the ordinary. Wireless LAN comes in the form of 802.11g, while the Ethernet is the faster Gigabit standard. However, external monitor connections are rather basic, being a VGA-out port instead of supporting digital connections, such as HDMI or DVI-out. The four USB ports are scattered around the sides of the case and the optical drive is a DVD rewriter.

VERDICT
The Toshiba Satellite A300-177 is an attractive notebook and on that level, Toshiba has succeeded. However, we do feel the high-gloss finish is a little too much to live with every day. If you can overcome the finish, this is a good all-round machine that offers genuine value for money.


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Intel previews Asus Centrino 2 notebook with WiMax

As a Computex preview, Intel is showing off its "delayed" Centrino 2 platform via an Asus notebook.

A chunk of the Centrino 2 roll-out has been delayed until August 5--and WiMax even beyond that. Intel, however, is slated to do a Centrino 2 processor refresh on July 14.

"Today I've got my privileged hands on a brand spanking new Asus Centrino 2 ("Montevina" for us nerds) system," according to a pre-Computex Intel blog.

Intel, not surprisingly, is trying to build enthusiasm for Centrino 2 and WiMax. But, with chipset and WiMax delays, all this euphoria comes with qualifiers.

The Intel blogger, Craig Raymond, senior technical marketing engineer for Corporate Demonstrations at Intel, is--not surprisingly--ebullient about the "new mobile powerhouse"--An Asus M51VA with a Penryn P8600 2.4GHz processor. The P8600 is part of the upcoming Centrino 2 processor refresh.

But he quickly qualifies the euphoria with: "Oh Montevina...You broke our hearts with the launch delay."

He cites one of the best features as testing "World of Warcraft over the live Fitel WiMax here in Taipei."

"That's right. You heard me correctly. Montevina, WiMax; live in Taipei. Kind of strange to say it all in one mouthful, but it's finally here."

This statement has to be qualified too since WiMax won't ship with Centrino 2 until later this year. "When WiMax ships with Centrino 2 later this year, no add on card required, the Echo Peak mini-card hidden under the hood (like the one inside this Asus) promises the 'always on' connection we've been lusting for."

"Online gaming over a live carrier network has long been my holy grail around WiMax. Here from my outside park bench, after downloading my Warcraft client, I'm able log into the game world to slay all manner of goblins and over sized gerbils," he gushed.

Originally posted at Nanotech: The Circuits Blog


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Sony VAIO VGN-NR21Z/T

Sony VAIO VGN-NR21Z/T

Sony has been making notebooks since 1999 and until recently only played in the high-end market. Increasingly, the company is launching lower priced portables that meet the needs of the more mainstream audience.

The Sony VAIO VGN-NR21Z/T is a great example. It's not the most stylish of notebooks, being rather understated but the plastic chassis feels more than robust enough for carrying around. The palm rests and lid have a textured finish to them that give it a unique look.

Fitted with a 15.4-inch screen that comes with an X-black finish – this is Sony's name for a Super-TFT coating to make images look sharper and colours brighter. It certainly works, as we found our test DVD looked stunning on this machine. An Intel X3100 card supports the panel, which is integrated, so won't necessarily handle anything more than daily tasks.

The size of the screen limits the portability of the machine and with an overall weight of 2.9kg; you won't really want to carry this machine around all day. With a battery life of well over 3 hours, we were impressed at how well this machine coped with being away from mains power.

However, what really impresses with this machine is the keyboard. Large and well spaced, the keys have plenty of travel to them as you type and they feel reassuringly firm. Each key has a raised centre, so even if you are not the most confident of typists, you'll find it hard not to strike the right key.

It is not just the build that makes this Sony notebook a winner because when it comes to performance, this system really delivers. Powered by an Intel Core 2 Duo T8100, which runs at 2.1GHz, and fitted with 3072MB of memory, we found that applications loaded quickly and even running multiple tasks ran smoothly. The 250GB hard drive means you can store plenty of media files and is great value for the price.

Shipping with Windows Vista Home Premium Edition, we found the OS was a little slow to load but the overall performance of the system was acceptable.

If there is one area that disappoints it is in the connections Sony has opted to include. You won't find a webcam, which is rather commonplace these days and Bluetooth is lacking, so you won't be able to synchronise your mobile phone. More alarming is the choice of VGA-out port for connecting to external devices, as we were hoping for a digital port, either DVI-out or HDMI.

Sony has included support for the latest wireless LAN, as the Wi-Fi card supports 802.11n, while the fixed Ethernet is the standard 10/100 Base-T connection.


Full Review

2 June 2008 - Sony has been making notebooks since 1999 and until recently only played in the high-end market. Increasingly, the company is launching lower priced portables that meet the needs of the more mainstream audience.

The Sony VAIO VGN-NR21Z/T is a great example. It's not the most stylish of notebooks, being rather understated but the plastic chassis feels more than robust enough for carrying around. The palm rests and lid have a textured finish to them that give it a unique look.

Fitted with a 15.4-inch screen that comes with an X-black finish – this is Sony's name for a Super-TFT coating to make images look sharper and colours brighter. It certainly works, as we found our test DVD looked stunning on this machine. An Intel X3100 card supports the panel, which is integrated, so won't necessarily handle anything more than daily tasks.

The size of the screen limits the portability of the machine and with an overall weight of 2.9kg; you won't really want to carry this machine around all day. With a battery life of well over 3 hours, we were impressed at how well this machine coped with being away from mains power.

However, what really impresses with this machine is the keyboard. Large and well spaced, the keys have plenty of travel to them as you type and they feel reassuringly firm. Each key has a raised centre, so even if you are not the most confident of typists, you'll find it hard not to strike the right key.

It is not just the build that makes this Sony notebook a winner because when it comes to performance, this system really delivers. Powered by an Intel Core 2 Duo T8100, which runs at 2.1GHz, and fitted with 3072MB of memory, we found that applications loaded quickly and even running multiple tasks ran smoothly. The 250GB hard drive means you can store plenty of media files and is great value for the price.

Shipping with Windows Vista Home Premium Edition, we found the OS was a little slow to load but the overall performance of the system was acceptable.

If there is one area that disappoints it is in the connections Sony has opted to include. You won't find a webcam, which is rather commonplace these days and Bluetooth is lacking, so you won't be able to synchronise your mobile phone. More alarming is the choice of VGA-out port for connecting to external devices, as we were hoping for a digital port, either DVI-out or HDMI.

Sony has included support for the latest wireless LAN, as the Wi-Fi card supports 802.11n, while the fixed Ethernet is the standard 10/100 Base-T connection.

VERDICT
The Sony VAIO VGN-NR21Z/T is a great machine for anyone looking for a powerful notebook to replace your desktop PC. Sure, it lacks decent graphics and digital connections but for the asking price you get a great keyboard, screen and specification in return.


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