As mobile processor performance has rocketed, the term desktop replacement has become ever fuzzier. Perhaps a new label needs coining for those top-end laptops that really do try to replace every piece of kit you own: Swiss Army laptops, such as Acer’s Aspire Ethos 8943G.
With an 18.4in Full HD display and a quad-core processor inside, you can shift your intensive daily tasks onto it with ease. Even HD video editing if you like, as the Ethos 8943G packs 8GB of DDR3 RAM. It raced to a score of 1.48 in our application benchmarks, and it can handle multiple tasks at once in a way few other laptops can match.
But it’s so much more than that. A lot of laptops now include Blu-ray readers, but the Acer’s can write as well, and when you slide a disc into the drive Acer’s Arcade Deluxe media suite plays it back without any further setup. The 5.1 Dolby Home Theater speakers whomp you with a quality and volume of audio more in line with desktop speakers, and a button on the touchpad converts it into a backlit media control pad.
Then there’s the Acer’s fine gaming ability, thanks to the 1GB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5850 graphics. It treated Crysis like it was Doom with trees: at 1280 x 1024 and Medium settings it averaged 57fps, and when we upped that to 1600 x 1200 and High settings, it remained just about playable at 25fps.
To put that into perspective, the Alienware M15x – with two high-end graphics cards inside – managed only 31fps. If you mix-and-match, playing at the native 1920 x 1080 but with Medium settings, you’ll be gaming at a comfortable 37fps.
All this power is possible due to the Acer’s huge chassis; at 440mm wide and 3.9kg, it’s a backbreaker for those few times you’ll be lumping it around the house. While the Scrabble-tile keyboard doesn’t stretch the full width, it feels spacious and well laid out. Key travel is just right, with a firm base, and there’s a numeric keypad to the right.
The touchpad is disappointing, with a glossy-black finish reminiscent of an iPhone screen. It gets smeared with grease easily, and it lacks the slight friction of a textured touchpad. The buttons share the same finish, and they don’t click with a satisfying weight at all.
But it goes with this Acer’s glossy media styling, so it’s something you’ll have to live with, and the bombardment of other features outweighs such small negatives. Around the edges you’ll find an aerial connector for the digital TV tuner, along with both D-SUB and HDMI outputs to connect to a bigger screen.
For the most part you won’t need to. The 18.4in Full HD display offers superb detail, smooth colour gradients and a decent black level. It isn’t quite as vibrant as some we’ve seen, but with its twin-lamp backlight there’s no light bleed or unevenness. There is, however, one significant flaw. We’ve seen some reflective screens in our time, but with the Acer we simply couldn’t find a comfortable angle during the daytime. A big screen and Blu-ray player lose a bit of their lustre when you need near-darkness to truly appreciate them.
That aside, you get two 640GB hard disks, a 1.3-megapixel webcam, an 802.11n wireless adapter and Gigabit Ethernet. There’s an eSATA port and four USB 2 sockets, along with fingerprint and card readers. With 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium to handle all that RAM, it’s a confident
The drawback is that astonishing price. Admittedly, this is the bells-and-whistles specification of the Aspire 8943G, but that’s still a lot of cash. The power partly justifies this and the feature set is impressive, but the issues with the screen and touchpad leave us wary about spending such a massive sum on what is still essentially a laptop, albeit a monster of a one.