Pros: Fast; Blu-ray enabled; excellent screen with superb colour reproduction
Cons: High keyboard lip; battery life; average speaker sound
Bottomline: An excellent screen and a huge feature list
We’ve been impatiently waiting for Acer’s new Gemstone ‘Blue’ laptop since the original Gemstone won numerous awards for its feature-packed design and affordable price. It won no awards for its looks, though, which were some of the ugliest we’ve seen on a laptop.
The headline features on the new Gemstone Blue, officially known as the Aspire 8920G, is its 18.4in display (its cheaper sister model, the Aspire 6920G, has a 16in display) with a 16:9, rather than 16:10, aspect ratio. The resolution is ‘full HD’ (1,920x1,080 rather than 1,920x1,200 on 16:10 laptops), which makes it more suitable for films or viewing two documents side by side.
Acer claims that not only are its screens bigger but also brighter, and the 18.4in version is supposed to display 90 per cent of NTSC colour gamut, which means it should be able to show clearer and more accurate colours than other notebooks.
According to Acer, the 18.4in screen is rated at 300cd/m2, but our Spyder3Elite calibrator measured just 154.3cd/m2, which is still an excellent result for a laptop screen. We also calculated that the screen was capable of 93.1 per cent of NTSC gamut, better than Acer’s claims and an outstanding result.
The chassis is a completely new design, with a sturdy dark blue LCD backing, black underside and a textured silver wristrest. Touch-sensitive media controls that light up are to the left of the keyboard and are the most striking inclusion. The keyboard is glossy black and can be a slippery affair when typing on it. One big flaw with its design, which is also present on a handful of other notebooks, is that your thumb consistently hits the chassis curb when you use the spacebar.
Other features include a dual-speed Blu-ray reader, which will also write to DVDs at eight-speed, and six speakers - five tweeters and a subwoofer for surround sound - which are Dolby Home Theatre certified. They sounded a little flat compared with those on Toshiba’s P200 and X200 notebooks, confirming our experience that a Dolby-optimised driver (and Dolby sticker) doesn’t necessarily ensure top sound quality from built-in speakers.
Inside there’s a Penryn-based Core 2 Duo T9300 running at 2.5GHz with 6MB of L2 cache - one of Intel’s fastest mobile dual-cores - two 667MHz Dimms providing 4GB of Ram and two 320GB hard drives.
The 8920G is the first we’ve seen with Nvidia’s Geforce 9650M GS mobile graphics card, the midrange for its new 9000-series. It has 32 stream processors and 512MB of GDDR3 memory, which is enough to cope with games a couple of years old, reflected by a respectable 3Dmark06 score of 5,859. However, our World in Conflict test could only muster 13fps on high settings at its native resolution, so new DirectX 10 games will need you to turn the resolution down.
The 8920G’s 4,800mAh battery limped to one hour, 46 minutes in our DVD playback test. When we enabled hardware MPEG acceleration on the graphics card, which improves playback quality, the battery life dropped to one hour, 22 minutes.
This result, combined with its 4.7kg weight, means the 8920G is truly a desktop replacement. It runs quietly, is great for Blu-ray playback and looks good compared with older Gemstone notebooks. Vista Ultimate completes a good-value package, but the high keyboard curb and average speakers pull it back from a perfect score.