Desktop replacement laptops generally fall into two categories, ones that genuinely are credible replacements for desktop computers, and ones that fall some way short. In recent months I’ve reviewed two desktop replacements, the Samsung RF711 gaming laptop and the Dell M6600 which is so good I now use it as my own machine.
These two machines are for very different markets however, the Dell weighs in at around $4,000 but includes every bell and whistle it’s possible to throw at a laptop. The Samsung is a sub $1,000 Core-i7 powerhouse.
Now though I’ve been sent the brand new Acer Aspire Ethos 8951G which, at $1,400, is a bit pricier than the Samsung but offers a lot more for it. For starters it has a proper 1920 x 1080 full HD screen at a massive 18.4 inches. Acer is really pushing the boundaries of laptop size with this machine. You also get extras such as a blu-ray player.
Inside it’s more standard powerhouse fare with a 2.2GHz Core-i7 processor, 8Gb of DDR3 ram (expandable to up to 16Gb), twin 500 or 750Gb hard disks (depending on the model you choose) and nVidia GeForce GT 555M graphics with its own 2Gb of dedicated memory.
Then there is 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 2.1 (but not Bluetooth 3 oddly) and Gigabit Ethernet, and the outside is littered with ports including a 6 in 1 card reader, three USB 2 and one USB 3 ports, eSata, VGA, full HDMI, Firewire and so on. There’s a webcam built into the bezel and a fingerprint reader below the keyboard.
The keyboard looks a bit small in the mammoth case but it’s a full-size scrabble-tile affair. I’d have preferred to see full size cursor keys and separate media and volume keys on a machine this large but the keyboard is well-spaced and the keys are of a good size to make typing comfortable. An added extra is that it’s backlit, though sadly with only two brightness settings, on and off.
The case, while weighing in at a hefty 4Kg, is gloriously finished in jet black brushed metal and matching high-quality plastics. It’s a very lovely machine and I suspect that few would criticise its styling. There are a few small touches of silver trim, the main one being above the huge speaker grille. It’s a solid case too with no hint of bleed when poking the back of the screen.
Those speakers are punchy and loud but, sadly, lacking in range. There’s a sub-woofer on the underside of the machine too.
Battery life is average for a desktop replacement. Acer claim up to 5.5 hours under light use, but in general usage you’d probably get 3.5 to 4.5 hours out of its 6000 mAh battery and only about 45 minutes if pushing it with gaming or intensive processing work. This is the same as the Samsung.
The 8951G’s party piece is the trackpad though. A latch on the front allows it to pop out of the laptop to be used wirelessly. Press a button in the top right and media controls appear. Press it again and playback controls appear, all lit up on the trackpad’s surface. It’s a very nice way to get the best out of that huge glorious screen from a distance.
Sadly though it’s as a trackpad that the novelty soon wears off. The slightly sticky surface makes it feel like you’re physically shoving the cursor around the screen. It takes some effort and it’s not fun. You’ll definitely want to use a mouse with this laptop but as it’s a desktop replacement, that’s probably what you’ll be doing anyway.
This removable trackpad, which is clickable but not multi-touch, pushes the case buttons to the very front edge of the laptop, which feels odd and uncomfortable.
Elsewhere I’m curious about the addition of a fingerprint reader but not a TPM chip, a bit of an oversight for any serious machine these days. The machine also comes with more pre-loaded bloatware than I think I’ve ever seen anywhere. With this removed however it blasts through everyday tasks with ease and is every bit a desktop replacement powerhouse.
All in all though the 8951G represents quite reasonable value for money given all that’s on offer, and that a comparable desktop wouldn’t come in at much less. It looks fantastic too which is always a bonus. Overall, I’ll give it 7/10