Starting at less than $600, the Acer Aspire 3000 is one of the least expensive laptops on the market. Though it has an unremarkable design, the Aspire 3000 features a big 15-inch standard-aspect display and weighs right around six pounds--too heavy for regular travel but fairly lightweight for a laptop of this size and price. That said, the Aspire 3000's measly specs aren't going to set any records, and this machine delivers absolutely terrible battery life; furthermore, it lacks some basic ports and connections. If you're looking for a laptop that's portable enough to move around the house for lightweight computing tasks--e-mail, Web surfing, and word processing--the Aspire 3000 may fit the bill. Still, we recommend that you consider shelling out a few hundred more for one of the stronger systems we profiled in our $1,000 roundup a few months back.
The Aspire 3000 sits right on the edge between thin-and-light and midsize. It weighs 6 pounds and measures 14.3 inches wide, 11 inches deep, and 1.5 inches thick, so it's a bit bulky for regular travel. It's a smidge larger than two other inexpensive laptops--the 6-pound Acer TravelMate 2350 and the 5.7-pound Toshiba Satellite L25. The Aspire 3000's AC adapter weighs 0.8 pound, which is about average for an adapter on a laptop in this category.
Designwise, the Aspire 3003LCi is a dead ringer for the Acer TravelMate 4060 save for its keyboard: the TravelMate's is curved and the Aspire's is rectangular, and we like both just fine. The Aspire 3000 features a nice wide touch pad, two big mouse buttons, and a convenient rocker button for scrolling through documents or Web pages. It doesn't incorporate multimedia controls or external volume buttons, though it has four programmable application buttons and a Wi-Fi on/off button. The system's 15-inch display has a standard 1,024x768 native resolution and is plenty clear and bright, but it doesn't have the wide-screen dimensions you find on more and more laptop displays. The two speakers deliver mediocre sound. For a better multimedia experience, check out the Dell XPS M140, which starts at $999.
The Aspire 3000's limited group of ports, jacks, and connections reflects its rock-bottom price. It offers one VGA port, one Type II PC Card slot, 56Kbps modem and Ethernet jacks, three USB 2.0 ports, and three audio jacks (headphone, microphone, and line-in). Also onboard is a cost-cutting DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive. Absent from this group are common connections such as FireWire and S-Video as well as a flash-media card reader--a key feature for digital-photo enthusiasts.
Microsoft Windows XP Home comes preloaded on the Aspire 3000, though other configurations in the Aspire 3000 series ship with Windows XP Professional. Acer bundles very little software with the system. For viewing and burning discs, Acer includes CyberLink PowerProducer and NTI CD and DVD Maker; it also provides its own utility for managing core system settings, such as passwords. Starting at $989, the Sony VAIO FS series provides a more palatable software package.