Getting a laptop's price down to $999 seems to be the magic number for many shoppers, and the Acer Aspire 9300-5005 is one of the few 17-inch desktop replacements to slide in under that wire. This $999 laptop serves up plenty of extras you wouldn't expect in a budget system, including a built-in Web cam and a separate number pad, but the plodding AMD processor and a mere 1GB of RAM keep it from being suitable for gamers. Still, for a big screen without the big bucks, the Aspire 9300-5005 delivers. The 17-inch Dell Inspiron E1705 is also a good choice in this category; it starts at the same price but lacks amenities such as the number pad and the Web cam.
Measuring a massive 15.8 inches wide, 11.6 inches deep, and 1.5 inches high, the Acer Aspire 9300-5005 is big, even for a desktop replacement system. Despite the large footprint, it weighs only 8 pounds (9.6 pounds with the AC adapter), which is not as heavy as the Dell Inspiron E1705 or the Alienware Area-51 m5790 Special Edition. Still, this is not a light system by any means, and you won't want to do more than move it from room to room occasionally.
The main attraction of this $999 laptop is its 17-inch wide-screen LCD display, offering a 1,400x900 native resolution, which is the same resolution as the HP dv9000z's but less than the Dell E1705's 1,900x1,200 resolution. Since you won't be playing back Blu-ray movies or playing games at superhigh resolutions on this system, the lower resolution is fine, and it keeps Web-based text and onscreen icons from being too tiny. The screen is very glossy--Acer calls it Crystalbrite, which is what you want for multimedia playback, but it's also easy to see a reflection of yourself, your surroundings, the keyboard, and so forth.
We liked the full keyboard with a separate number pad, as well as the handy buttons on the left side of the keyboard for controlling the wireless LAN and Bluetooth. There's a built-in Web cam above the screen, and like the Web cam on the Dell XPS M1210, it rotates about 180 degrees, allowing you to shoot something--or someone--behind the computer's lid. The large mousepad has a four-way rocker switch between its mouse buttons that can be used to scroll through Web pages--a nice touch. Unfortunately, the system lacks the media transport buttons commonly found on most 17-inch laptops--the Dell E1705 and the Toshiba Satellite P100, to name two.
The system has a somewhat stingy set of connections, including four USB 2.0 jacks, a PC Card slot, a media card reader, and VGA and S-Video outputs for hooking up an external monitor. There are no FireWire jacks--a big negative--but the headphone and mic jacks are joined by a third S/PDIF audio jack, which can act as a second headphone jack. Networking connections include a modem and Gigabit Ethernet jacks, as well as integrated 802.11a/b/g wireless.
Components in this fixed-configuration system include 1.6GHz Turion 64 X2 TL-50 processor, 1GB of DDR2 RAM, a 120GB hard drive, and an Nvidia GeForce Go 7300 graphics card. While this GeForce card is far from the top of Nvidia's mobile GPU line, it's still a slight step above the integrated graphics found in many budget systems. By way of comparison, the $999 default configuration of the Dell Inspiron E1705 (currently on special for $899), has a reasonably similar low-end Intel Core Duo CPU and 1GB of RAM, but knocks the hard drive down to 80GB and the graphics to Intel's integrated 950 GPU.
Performance-wise, the Acer Aspire 9300-5005 is firmly at the back of the pack compared to the first wave of Windows Vista desktop replacement systems we've looked at. That's to be expected, as even our Dell E1705 was configured to cost twice as much, with a high-end 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7200 CPU. Another 17-inch AMD system, the HP Pavilion dv9000z, stepped up to a 2.2GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 Mobile TL-64, outperforming both other systems on our iTunes encoding and Photoshop CS2 tests. Despite the Acer's low benchmark scores, we didn't experience any issues with the Acer Aspire 9300-5005 while performing casual tasks such as Web surfing or playing music or movie files.
While the Nvidia GeForce Go 7300 isn't going to give you high frame rates on the latest games, and playing Quake 4 at 1,024x768, we only got 12.2 frames-per-second. However, that was with high-end features such as antialiasing turned on. Dialing down these extras will get you past the magic 30fps mark in many older games.
The system ran for two hours and 16 minutes on our DVD battery drain test, which is impressive for a huge desktop replacement system. High-powered gaming laptops such as the HP Pavilion dv9000z use a lot more juice, and that one lasted only 90 minutes on the same test. While it's not enough for a full day of semiportable computing, the included battery should get you through a single DVD movie just fine.
Acer backs the system with an industry-standard one-year parts and labor warranty. Telephone support is toll-free and runs Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. CST. Good luck, however, navigating Acer's confusing and often nonfunctioning support Web site. We were able to find an e-mail form for contacting customer support, but the actual support Web site timed out every time we tried to access it. A page on the Acer Web site listing various part and service plan upgrades just led to PDF pages of generic part numbers.