This Acer Aspires to Adequacy
The Good: Convenient USB, headphone, and speaker connections
The Bad: Dull screen display, short battery life, clunky build
The Bottom Line: O.K. for basic computing at a low price, but look elsewhere for rich multimedia
Let's face it: As far as personal computers are concerned, notebooks are hot and desktops are not. In May, notebooks outsold desktop PCs for the first time in a single 30-day period, says market researcher Current Analysis. At least part of the reason for notebooks' increasing popularity is that their price differential with desktops is shrinking. You can get a desktop PC for as low as $350, while Dell (DELL), the world's largest PC maker, sells notebooks for as low as $499.
Caveat emptor: Not all low-priced notebooks are created equal. For the last several weeks I've been testing some of the cheapest offerings and am kicking off a series of reviews for those of you hoping to snap one up for a bargain -- and not end up with a lemon. The first of that group is Taiwanese vendor Acer's Aspire 3000, with a starting price of $699.
Even at its lowest price, it includes most of the features you'd expect from a notebook, such as Wi-Fi, which allows for wireless networking. It also has a DVD/CD-RW drive suitable for burning CDs and reading -- though not burning -- DVDs. The system, which ships with a Sempron processor from Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), has a 15.4-inch screen with a wide-aspect ratio and a resolution of 1,024 pixels by 768.
My first disappointment came with the screen. Both during normal use -- like typing up a Microsoft Word document -- and while watching a DVD movie, I kept trying to make the screen brighter, only to find it was on the brightest setting.
Maybe I've been spoiled by screens on more expensive machines, or by the bright flat screen on my desk to which I'm accustomed, but I found this screen simply too dark. Later, after I tooled around inside the video software settings and discovered the "vivid" mode, its appearance improved, but finding the place to adjust this setting wasn't easy.
Also lacking was battery life. I like to put laptop batteries through a rough test by seeing how long they last on full blast. I put a DVD of Rocky in the drive, turned the screen up to maximum brightness, and disconnected the AC power cord.
The movie played for 53 minutes before giving out, as the machine went into sleep mode to run on reserve power. Others notebooks I tested for this series fared much better.
The Aspire 3000 is also relatively big and heavy at a time when thinner, lighter notebooks are in demand. It weighs a tad more than 6 pounds -- not terribly briefcase-friendly -- and thus would make more sense for someone who doesn't plan to carry it around much. It's a little less than an inch and a half thick, about 14 inches wide, and nearly 11 inches deep.
MEDIOCRE AT BEST.
The system does, however, have a few nice touches. There are three USB 2.0 ports: two on the right side and one directly at the front, providing easy access. Headphone, microphone, and speaker connections are located on the front of the body as well, which I found convenient. On other machines, these hook-ups are hidden out of the way.
Overall, if you're in desperate need of an entry-level PC and are particularly price-conscious, you may find the Aspire 3000 worthy of attention. But be sure to temper your expectations.
If you're going to want a multimedia-heavy experience, you'll probably feel disappointed, despite the low price. If you're in the market for a PC that will meet basic computing needs -- and you can tolerate a screen that looks a little dull -- you may find this machine satisfactory. I didn't.