Acer Aspire 4710
Whenever someone asks us if you can really get a decent laptop for $600, we're going to offer up the Acer Aspire 4710 as evidence. Here you've got a thin-and-light laptop with an attractive, 14.1-inch display, a solid keyboard, and all the ports and connections a home user could need, for just $599. The catch, if you consider it one, is that inside the case you'll find a dual-core Pentium processor which, though it has multiple processing cores, isn't enough to keep up with Core Duo and Core 2 Duo systems. No one expects a cheap laptop to win any speed contests, though. Many home users just want a machine for checking e-mail, typing documents, and watching DVDs, so for those users, we recommend the Acer Aspire 4710.
|Price as reviewed/starting price||$599|
|Processor||1.73GHz Intel Pentium dual-core T2080|
|Memory||1GB of 533MHz|
|Hard drive||120GB at 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 950 (integrated)|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel 945GM Express|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Home Premium|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14.1 inches|
|System weight/weight with AC adapter||5.6/6.4 pounds|
Like its larger and more-expensive sibling, the Aspire 5920, the Aspire 4710 features Acer's new Gemstone design, which includes a matte-black lid and a light-gray interior. The case's rounded corners and beveled edges give the laptop a soft look that, in this smaller form, reminds us of the original clamshell Mac iBooks. Despite its soft looks, the Aspire 4710 feels pretty solid, though the screen did wobble a bit on its hinges when we accidentally bumped our desk.
The Aspire 4710's display is great for watching movies and working with images, thanks to its sharp 1,280x800 native resolution. Though not a deal-breaker, it's worth noting that colors tended to look particularly washed out at the highest brightness level. Also, the screen's glossy finish is among the more reflective ones that we've seen lately; the reflections were manageable in a typical office environment but intolerable when we were seated with our backs to an outside window. While higher-end configurations of the Aspire 4710 include a Webcam in the display bezel, the baseline configuration we reviewed does not.
We enjoyed typing on the Acer Aspire 4710's sturdy, full-size keyboard. The keys provided plenty of travel and were remarkably quiet. Our palms did frequently graze the laptop's touch pad while typing, but the sensitivity of the pad was such that doing so did not misplace the cursor. Between the two standard mouse buttons sits a four-way scroll key that's particularly handy for reading Web pages and scrolling through long documents. A vertical row of controls on the left side of the keyboard include a convenient Wi-Fi on/off button as well as two programmable application-launch buttons that default to the Web browser and e-mail. The last button in the row is designed to turn the Bluetooth radio on and off; pressing it on this budget configuration only calls up a message declaring "No Bluetooth device." Given the Aspire 4710's movie-friendly display we wish Acer had found room on the keyboard deck for media controls; volume is controlled by a wheel on the laptop's front edge. Above the keyboard, next to the Dolby surround speakers, sits the triangular Empower key, which launches a suite of utilities for managing battery life, network, and sound settings. We loved having quick access to this information and enjoyed the design of the Empower suite, which looks very much like the Dashboard in Mac OS X.
|Acer Aspire 4710||Average for thin-and-light category|
|Video||VGA-out, S-Video||VGA-out, S-Video|
|Audio||Dolby surround speakers, headphone/microphone jacks, S/PDIF out||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||Four USB 2.0 ports, a mini-FireWire, and a multiformat memory card reader||Three USB 2.0 ports, a mini-FireWire, and a multiformat memory card reader|
|Expansion||ExpressCard/54 slot||PC Card or ExpressCard slot|
|Networking||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
We expected the Aspire 4710's low price to come from small economies on its features, but Acer has packed the laptop with all the ports and connections you'd expect on a thin-and-light laptop, including an ExpressCard/54 slot that should make it easy to add WWAN or a TV tuner. There are also two USB ports on each side of the laptop's base, which makes it easier to plug in lots of peripherals without getting cords tangled. The sound on the built-in Dolby digital speakers was decent, if a little tinny at high volumes; fortunately the S/PDIF audio-out jack lets you connect the Aspire 4710 to external stereo speakers for better sound quality. We like that Acer provides a software tool to quickly choose among multiple sound settings (music, movies, and games) so you get the best sound possible.
With all these great features, the Aspire 4710 achieves its remarkably low $599 price in part by incorporating a budget dual-core Pentium processor (built on the Pentium architecture rather than the Core architecture that's been the standard for more than 18 months) and a single gigabyte of slow, 533MHz RAM. It was no surprise, then, that the laptop displayed pokey performance on CNET Labs' benchmark tests, falling in line with another Pentium dual-core system, the $999 Toshiba Satellite P205-S6237. What surprised us was that the Aspire 4710's performance came close to matching that of the $899 Gateway T-6815, which included a more recent (but still not latest-generation) 1.5GHz Core 2 Duo T5250 processor. In addition, the Aspire 4710 performed well beyond the single-core Celeron processor found on Gateway's budget system, the $699 NX270S, and light years ahead of the $498 Celeron-based Everex StepNote VA4101M. That's not to say that the Aspire 4710 will set any speed records; in fact, it will feel sluggish to anyone accustomed to Core 2 Duo-based systems. But for the money, it's definitely speedy enough for the productivity programs, media playback, and Web surfing that constitute most home computer use.
The Aspire 4710's battery held out for 1 hour, 59 minutes on our taxing DVD drain test; the Gateway T-6815, by comparison, dropped out just four minutes earlier. While we always welcome lengthier battery life, we consider the two-hour mark within the acceptable range for a thin-and-light laptop. Of course you can expect longer life from casual Web surfing and productivity work.