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on October 13, 2010
My first Acer (owned IBM, Dell, HP). Decided to go big with a desktop replacement laptop and use something else for mobile needs. Amazon delivered it fairly quickly given it was free delivery and it was re-packaged and camouflaged in an Amazon box which made me feel a bit better. Acer does a good job of packaging (box inside box for 3 boxes in total) and everything is well covered to avoid scratches. When it was finally unpacked, my first impression was "my ain't she shiny and pretty" which was followed by "my ain't she heavy and bulky." This isn't a slim, petite machine. It has a BIG footprint as the dimensions imply and after installing the battery (which seems mighty small in comparison), the entire thing is...well...a beast. But so far, this beast is super fast and super quiet (kinda of like a strong, stealthy vampire if I can use a contemporary cliche). Okay, let's go to the evaluation list...

Features' evaluation:

* Attractive package. Piano black outer top-shell and screen frame with faint lines on the outside piece. Yeah, it's plastic unlike some that are using metal these days but you have to try to keep the weight within reason. But the downside is of course fingerprints all over the case. I'm not crazy fussy about such things so I can ignore it.

* Nice keyboard. Though not back-lit, the keys are nicely arranged and have a very good feel to them. As a long-time Windows user, I appreciate that the function keys and arrow keys (wish they were bigger) are the dominant named/colored keys in their rightful places and the little special functions (like turning features on and off) are the subsidiary keys.

* Beautiful, big screen. The 17.3" screen is a very nice size and I really like the 1600x900 resolution which is better than many laptops of a similar size. There's a small issue with the vertical viewing angle which is very narrow. You will find yourself adjusting the screen a bit back and forth each time you start it up to get the right viewing angle depending on how you're sitting.

* Decent sound. I wouldn't rave about the external sound but it's not horrible. It required some tweaking in the settings to get a reasonable, non-muffled quality. Granted, we usually use headphones when playing music or games so the external sound is not the primary way we experience it. When cranked up, there's plenty of external volume (even a sub-woofer that fires out the bottom) to watch video or play basic games but you'll want to use headphones to fully experience richer, more complex sound.

* Ports aplenty. For my own purposes, there's enough ports. HDMI and VGA are available on the left along with the sound related jacks (kind of prefer these on the front edge but still better than on the right). Only one USB 2.0 port on the left and the other 3 are on the right. This is a tiny bit problematic in that if you use an external mouse (like I do) and are right-handed (like me) then you'll ideally want the IR transmitter in the left port. Then if you want digital sound and go with a USB headset, where do you go? Right side where you mouse? Hmm. Well I solved the problem by getting a mouse with a mini IR port plug and put it in a right-side USB jack freeing up the left one for USB headphones. And use the left side analog sound jack for basic listening. And of course, I wish the USB ports were 3.0 compliant but that's really future-proofing beyond what I think is truly necessary (you'll probably need a new laptop for other reasons by the time 3.0 is the dominant standard).

* Blu-Ray is the way. Great having a BD combo drive and everything so far has worked perfectly. Watched a B-R disc (Terminator TV show which looked and sounded terrific) and it came out in a beautiful 720p resolution (which given the size of this screen is just fine). I outputted the video to my 42" 1080p TV and that came out beautiful (in 1080p too!) without any tweaking (ATI is getting better at this). Burned some DVD backup discs and loaded some software. All without a hitch. I'm not crazy about the tray popping out as it's a bit flimsy hanging out there and would have preferred a slot loader like how the Macs do it but it works.

* Battery life? Given it's a 6 cell battery, you can't stray too far from an outlet. If I wanted to take this on the road, I'd look to upgrade to at least a 9 cell. You can barely squeak 60-90 minutes out of this tiny little battery (more if you dial way back on the brightness). Also, the power brick is a decent size but not what I would call mammoth. There is a strange aspect to the power port which makes for plugging and unplugging a bit tricky. It fits kind of like a key in that there's little slots that have to line up as well as connecting to the pin. Why Acer chose this type of connection is beyond me.

* Heat dissipation & Quiet! Probably the two biggest "positive" surprises are how well this machine handles heat and how amazingly quiet it is. There's a nice sized blower vent and fan on the left side actively gets rid of most of the heat and it is extremely (scary) quiet especially given that there's an i7 chip and a decent 1 GB ATI graphics card inside. Some machines can be hard to even talk over or the external sound gets muffled by fan noise which is simply not the case here. I've never once had this machine lock up while running and I play some MMO's like Lord of the Rings Online and Guild Wars.

* Graphics power horse. The 1 GB ATI 5650 is really a sweet-spot card. Big enough to run most games on high settings while dialing back just a bit for only the MOST graphically intensive, new stuff. Yeah, it isn't a 58xx card but it doesn't take a massive cooling fan to cool the thing either. And laptops with the 58xx cards are even bigger and heavier than this machine. I think it's a highly functional (DX 11 compatible) card for a high-end laptop.

* Miscellaneous. The web cam is pretty good and I actually had a reasonable conversation using the built-in microphone over a Steam module connection. The touch pad has a kind of Teflon coating like on a Calphalon pan and is pretty easy to use in comparison to other pads. A single larger rocker button on the touch pad works well. There's some bloatware installed (McAfee trial the most annoying) but it's not hard to uninstall what bothers you. Windows 7 64-bit is snappy on this machine given its 8 GB of RAM. 500 GB of hard disk space is more than enough for my needs and though maybe the 5400rpm HD is slower than some, it also consumes less energy than the speedier 7200rpm drives. But there's plenty of guts-access easily available under the machine if you want to put in a bigger, faster HD. I'd like to go solid-state in the future and I don't see a problem making that upgrade after pricing and disk size reach my buy-point. Haven't used it's Bluetooth ability yet but I don't have any of those devices. It has strong and fast wi-fi signal acquisition.

Finally, I'd rate her 4.5 stars if I had that option as there's a few small quirks preventing me from going all the way to 5 stars. The price was right here (below $1200) and the 12 month financing was a real bonus and what kicked me to the buy point. So overall, I'm extremely pleased with this purchase and expect years of good use from it.
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