We've been rather taken with some of Acer's recent laptops, especially the Blu-ray toting 6920G, so when we were offered the chance to preview its latest machine -- based on Intel's brand-spanking-new Centrino 2 platform -- we jumped at it. While the spec of our unit differs slightly from the final version that will hit the shelves in a couple of weeks, it still gives us a good idea of what to expect from the latest Centrino 2 machines.
The Acer Aspire 2930 is a relatively compact laptop and is obviously designed for life on the road. Acer says the inspiration for the design has come from its recent Gemstone range (which includes the 6920G) and the glossy lid and stylish interior section is certainly reminiscent of those attractive models.
The design isn't the most exciting aspect of the 2930. No, it's the fact that it's based on the new Centrino 2 platform. Centrino has been a massive hit for Intel and in many ways was responsible for making Wi-Fi a mandatory feature on every laptop on the market today. There have been plenty of updates to Centrino over the years, but this is the first time Intel has decided to add the magic number 2 to the end of the brand name. For a laptop to qualify as a Centrino 2 machine it needs to use a particular kind of processor and chipset.
In the case of our sample, the new chip is the Core 2 Duo T9400, which runs at 2.53GHz. Acer tells us that the final version of this laptop will use a T8400 processor ticking over at 2.64GHz, however.
There are three different chipsets in the Centrino 2 range, but for this one, Acer has gone with GM45. This has a speedy 1,066MHz front side bus, which is used for transferring data between the memory and the processor. Although the chipset supports DDR3 -- the first Centrino model to do so -- our model had DDR2 memory clocked at 667Mhz. The 2930 also uses a new Intel integrated graphics chip, although it's the 533MHz version rather than 640MHz.
The big question is how well did the laptop perform in our tests? Bearing in mind that this is a preproduction unit that has yet to be tweaked for maximum performance, the results weren't too bad. In PC Mark 05 it posted a score of 3,938, which isn't shabby for such a small machine. It wasn't bad on battery life either, managing to keep running for an hour and 59 minutes in our Battery Eater rundown test. We'd expect the final production version of this laptop to perform slightly better than this engineering sample.
Elsewhere there's plenty to like about this machine. The 12.1-inch widescreen display has a CrystalBrite coating and combined with its sharp 1,280x800-pixel resolution makes movies and pictures look great. Despite the small size of the laptop, Acer has done a good job with both the keyboard and track pad. The layout is fine and the keys are large enough to feel comfortable for long periods of typing.
Connectivity is also impressive. The new Intel WiFi Link 5300 chipset seems to do a better job of dealing with weaker Wi-Fi signals, and you also get Bluetooth for transferring files and pictures to and from devices such as mobile phones. On top of this, the 2930 offers up an ExpressCard slot and three USB ports, as well as a standard D-Sub VGA connector for hooking it up to an external monitor.
Unfortunately, although the new Intel integrated graphics chip is an improvement on previous offerings, it's still not on a par with dedicated chips from ATI and Nvidia. In 3D Mark 06 it posted a score of 719. That's fast enough to play slightly older games, but means it lacks the grunt to do justice to the latest 3D titles. Intel does have a faster version of this chip available, clocked at 640MHz, but the fact that it's not included on the faster-performing Centrino 2 chipsets tells you the company is aware this version isn't going to trouble the likes of ATI and Nvidia.
The only other real downside with this model is that it's a little thicker than some of the ultraportables we've seen recently from brands such as Fujitsu Siemens. On a very minor note, although it's branded as having Virtual Dolby surround sound, the audio quality is rather tinny and lacking in bass. That's an accusation you could throw at any number of ultraportable machines, mind you.
The Aspire 2930 looks like it's shaping up to be a very good option for those who need a powerful portable machine for life on the road. It looks stylish, uses the latest technology and has a good screen and keyboard. We'll reserve judgement as we'd like to see Acer squeeze a little more performance form the final production model -- expect a full review soon.
Edited by Nick Hide