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Acer Aspire 2020 review: Acer Aspire 2020


Below the touch pad sits the Aspire 2020's unique Arcade button--its ace in the entertainment hole. The Arcade button launches an excellent entertainment-software interface that lets you choose whether you want to watch a movie, create a CD, listen to music, or view photos. It can play content from the system's hard drive, the CD/DVD player, or a flash memory card, but it can't tune in a favorite Internet radio station.

8.0

Acer Aspire 2020

The Good

Refined design; top-notch performance; good battery life; no-tray DVD Multi drive; good multimedia software and controls.

The Bad

Expensive; lacks a TV tuner; three-prong AC adapter.

The Bottom Line

Acer's exceptional entertainment system squeezes excellent performance and nearly five hours of battery life out of a thin, sophisticated laptop.
Intro
The Acer Aspire 2020 excels in just about every category, delivering high-performance gaming, a wide screen for movie viewing, and nearly five hours of battery life. Along with a stylish, reflective design, the Aspire 2020 is equipped with high-end mobile technology that includes a 1.8GHz Pentium M processor, 512MB of memory, an 80GB hard drive, and a DVD burner. To top it off, the machine is about as light and thin as it gets for a laptop of this caliber, although its wide-body dimensions might stretch the seams of a notebook bag. The Aspire 2020 also has most of the entertainment angles covered, with a top-notch graphics card, a bright wide-screen display, and an excellent three-way sound system. Still, the Aspire 2020 lacks a TV tuner, which stops it short of recreation powerhouse supremacy. It's not a cheap laptop, either--at $2,300 (as of September 2004), it's a few hundred dollars more than competitive but lesser systems, such as the HP Pavilion zt3000. The Acer Aspire 2020 has all the right stuff for demanding work at home or on the go--no need to leave behind your computing performance, high-end graphics, or wide screen. With mirrored accents, the black-and-silver laptop has a refined appearance, although the mirror portion looks crudely cut. The Aspire 2020 weighs in at 6.8 pounds, making it about as heavy as the HP Pavilion zt3000; the 9-ounce AC adapter pushes its travel weight to a tolerable 7.3 pounds. (The power brick's three-prong plug may prove an inconvenience in two-prong environments, unfortunately.) Less than 1.5 inches thick, the Aspire 2020's footprint is 14.1 by 10.6 inches--larger than a legal pad but smaller than the Dell Inspiron 8600. And because the Aspire 2020 is wider than most laptops, it has room for a big keyboard with 19.3mm keys that have 2mm of depth. It also has a set of high-quality speakers and a subwoofer that sounds loud and clear--unusual for a laptop. We like the Aspire 2020's ingenious four-way control pad, useful for adjusting the volume and controlling CD or DVD playback. As of September 2004, the Acer Aspire 2020 is available in only one configuration, but it's a solid one, featuring a second-generation 1.8GHz Pentium M processor, an 80GB hard drive, and 512MB of 333MHz DDR memory. While Acer currently doesn't offer higher-speed drives, the company is planning to introduce a wider variety of options and configurations in the future. The Aspire 2020's tray-less DVD Super Multi drive, which sucks discs in and can play or burn CDs as well as all of the major DVD formats, is a nice touch. Unfortunately, both of the laptop's RAM sockets come filled with chips, so to upgrade memory, you'll have to remove one (the system can hold a maximum of 2GB). As is, these components add up to one of the fastest notebooks yet, outdone only by bulky and expensive Pentium 4 EE-based systems, such as the Dell Inspiron XPS Extreme Edition.

With a 15.4-inch wide-aspect screen powered by ATI's mobility Radeon 9700 graphics processor with 128MB of dedicated video memory, the Aspire 2020 has 20/20 vision. It's equally good for watching DVDs as it is for running the demanding Trainz railroad simulation game or editing video clips. About the only thing the Aspire 2020 lacks entertainmentwise is a built-in TV tuner, but not many laptops have one. You can easily add an external tuner, however, as the Aspire 2020 has three USB 2.0 ports, as well as connectors for FireWire, external monitor, S-Video out, and audio, including an optical S/PDIF plug for a digital sound link.

In addition to standard modem and Gigabit Ethernet connections, the Aspire 2020 can connect with Bluetooth devices, and its Intel 802.11b/g data radio has an exceptional 125-foot range. You also get a mixture of old and new ports, including a Type II PC Card slot; a stodgy parallel port; an infrared transfer window; and a four-in-one flash slot that works with Secure Digital, Memory Stick, MultiMediaCard, and SmartMedia modules. The machine comes with Windows XP Professional and a decent software package, including CyberLink PowerProducer 2.0 Gold for creating multimedia discs and NTI DVD and CD Maker for writing discs. Unfortunately, there's no productivity suite included.

Mobile application performance
The Acer Aspire 2020 achieves superior mobile performance, thanks to its Pentium M 745-1.8GHz processor. A Dothan-class Pentium M, this processor has twice as much cache memory as the Dell Inspiron 8600 and the HP Pavilion zt3000, as well as the advantage of a 100MHz clock speed. As a result, the Aspire 2020 outscored the Dell and HP systems by 13 and 24 percent, respectively. The best-performing Pentium M system we've seen to date, the Acer Aspire 2020 is an excellent system for office and content-creation apps.

Mobile application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo MobileMark 2002 performance rating  

To measure maximum notebook application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark 2004, an industry-standard benchmark. Find out more about how we test notebooks.

Performance analysis written by CNET Labs assistant lab manager Eric Franklin.

Intel's new Dothan Pentium M processor marks a great improvement over the older Banias Pentium M architecture. Working to reduce the chip's power consumption, Intel ended up also improving its efficiency, resulting in a fast processor with a long battery life. The Acer Aspire 2020, running a Pentium M 745 processor with a 14.8V, 4,300mAh (64WHr) battery, scored extremely well in CNET Labs' performance and battery life tests. With more than four and a half hours of battery life when running office and content-creation apps, the Acer Aspire 2020 is geared for long-lasting mobile use.

Battery life  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo MobileMark 2002 battery life in minutes  

Battery life analysis written by CNET Labs assistant lab manager Eric Franklin.

To measure mobile application performance and battery life, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's MobileMark 2002. MobileMark measures both application performance and battery life concurrently using a number of popular applications (Microsoft Word 2002, Microsoft Excel 2002, Microsoft PowerPoint 2002, Microsoft Outlook 2002, Netscape Communicator 6.0, WinZip Computing WinZip 8.0, McAfee VirusScan 5.13, Adobe Photoshop 6.0.1, and Macromedia Flash 5.0).

System configurations

Acer Aspire 2020
Windows XP Professional; 1.8GHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 128MB; Hitachi Travelstar 80GN 80GB 4,200rpm

Dell Inspiron 8600
Windows XP Home; 1.7GHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 9600 Pro 128MB; Hitachi Travelstar 7K60 60GB 7,200rpm

HP Pavilion zt3000
Windows XP Home; 1.7GHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 9200 64MB; Fujitsu MHT2080AT 80GB 4,200rpm

Acer backs the Aspire 2020 with a one-year warranty, standard for the industry. Upping the coverage to three years costs a reasonable $109, much less than equivalent upgrades with other vendors. Acer's Web site, a wonderful mix of information for novices and notebook geeks, offers a wide-ranging database of problems and solutions, guidebooks and specs, and downloads of firmware, drivers, and utilities. However, unlike HP, Dell, and others, there's no chat forum for discussing problems or quirks and no single place to go for everything having to do with your system.

Acer provides support for the machine for as long as you own it, with a direct e-mail link for service as well as a toll-free hotline that's open 24/7. When we gave Acer's tech support a call, a technician was on the line in just less than two minutes and correctly answered our test question.

8.0

Acer Aspire 2020

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 8Battery 8Support 7