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Acer Aspire 5920 review: Acer Aspire 5920

Acer Aspire 5920

Michelle Thatcher Former Senior Associate Editor, Laptops
Tech expert Michelle Thatcher grew up surrounded by gadgets and sustained by Tex-Mex cuisine. Life in two major cities--first Chicago, then San Francisco--broadened her culinary horizons beyond meat and cheese, and she's since enjoyed nearly a decade of wining, dining, and cooking up and down the California coast. Though her gadget lust remains, the practicalities of her small kitchen dictate that single-function geegaws never stay around for long.
Michelle Thatcher
6 min read

When we reviewed the Blu-ray-equipped Sony VAIO FZ180 a few months ago, we wondered how big the market for 15.4-inch, high-def laptop could really be. Apparently, the market is big enough to warrant an entry from the other side of the fence: the Acer Aspire 5920 incorporates an HD DVD drive into its bulky midsize case. Differing HD formats aside, the two systems are remarkably similar. Both include HDMI support for easy integration to home theaters. Both incorporate Intel Core 2 Duo T7300 processors on the latest Centrino Duo platform. And both cost $1,999. The Sony offers the advantage of a sleeker design and lighter weight, while the Acer offers the advantage of a few extra features (S/PDIF audio, full Dolby Surround, Bluetooth connectivity) and a longer battery life. For the most part, though, the choice between these very similar systems will depend on your format preference. Appreciated on its own merits, the Acer Aspire 5920 makes a decent choice for buyers who want both a media-friendly laptop and a portable HD DVD player that they can connect to their home theater for big-screen viewing.


Acer Aspire 5920

The Good

High-end features, including HD DVD drive, HDMI-out, S/PDIF, and Dolby Home Theater sound; handy media controls; decent speakers; lengthy battery life; comfortable keyboard; easy-to-use system management software.

The Bad

Heavy; native resolution not as high as we'd like; display wobbles easily; glossy screen finish results in distracting reflections; lacks a fingerprint reader.

The Bottom Line

Though it's bulky, the Acer Aspire 5920 makes a great choice for buyers who want both a media-friendly laptop and a portable HD DVD player that plugs into their home theater.

The Aspire 5920 features Acer's new Gemstone design, which includes a glossy black lid, a light-gray interior, and blue LEDs on the media controls. The case's rounded corners and beveled edges give the laptop a soft look that's somewhat like the design found on the HP Pavilion dv6500t. Despite its soft looks, the Aspire 5920 feels pretty solid, though the screen did wobble a bit on its hinges when we accidentally bumped our desk. Screen wobbles aside, the laptop seems likely to withstand a few hard knocks; however, with a 7-pound weight that nearly qualifies it for the desktop replacement category, the laptop isn't likely to encounter anything more treacherous than your living room and the occasional stint in a laptop bag.

Acer designed the Aspire 5920 for media hounds, and the laptop's 15.4-inch display is sure to please. The fairly average 1,280x800 native resolution gets a boost from Acer's CrystalBrite technology, which results in deeper colors and sharper contrast. Unfortunately, the screen's glossy finish is among the most reflective 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. High-definition content looks excellent on the Aspire 5920's display, though it's not really true 1080p resolution (for that you'll have to connect the laptop to an HDTV or larger LCD). Above the display sit a Webcam and dual-microphone array for video chats.

We enjoyed typing on the Acer Aspire 5920's full-size keyboard. The keys provided plenty of travel and were remarkably quiet. Our palms did frequently graze the laptop's sizable 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. We like how Acer has incorporated quick-launch buttons and media controls on the keyboard deck. A vertical row on the left side of the board contains on/off buttons for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi plus two programmable application-launch buttons that default to the Web browser and e-mail. A similar row of controls on the right side includes a button to launch Acer's Arcade media management application, which looks remarkably similar to Windows Media Center but lets you play CDs, DVDs, and media files without booting Windows. There are also buttons for play/pause, track forward, and track back; 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 such quick access to this information and enjoyed the design of the Empower suite, which looks very much like the Dashboard in Mac OS X. We were surprised that Acer didn't include a fingerprint reader on the Aspire 5920; though it's hardly a necessity, it is a convenience that's becoming increasingly common on midsize systems.

For a midsize laptop, the fixed-configuration Acer Aspire 5920 carries some pretty sweet entertainment features, starting with an HD DVD drive. Movie lovers who want to get the most out of their HD content will appreciate the HDMI-out port, which will allow them to watch high-definition movies on their home theater system; S/PDIF audio-out lets you run the Aspire 5920's Dolby Surround sound through your stereo. The sound on the built-in speakers, while not quite as stunning as the Toshiba Qosmio G35-AV660 and other high-end desktop replacements, is pretty good: while we normally assess a laptop's speakers by listening to a few songs from different genres, we found ourselves enjoying whole CDs worth of music on the Aspire 5920 while writing this review. 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.

The Aspire 5920's performance on CNET Labs' mobile benchmarks was nearly identical to that of the $1,999 Sony VAIO FZ180--not surprising, given that the Sony includes almost identical components, excepting its faster hard drive speed. The $1,769 HP Pavilion dv6500t outfitted with the slightly faster Core 2 Duo T7500 processor, outpaced the Aspire 5920 by a small margin, though the distinction is likely to be imperceptible. On our 3D games tests, the Aspire 5920's Nvidia GeForce graphics card gave it enough speed for casual gaming--49.6 frames per second on Quake 4 at 1,024x768--but its 27fps on F.E.A.R. at the same resolution is likely to disappoint those who want to play the latest games at the highest settings.

We were pleased with the Aspire 5920's battery, which lasted 2 hours, 49 minutes, on our taxing DVD drain test. That's above average for a midsize laptop and certainly longer than we'd expect to see on an entertainment-oriented desktop replacement. The Sony VAIO FZ180, which includes a high-def drive with a slightly faster rotational speed, lasted only two hours. Of course you can expect longer life from casual Web surfing and productivity work.

Acer backs the 5920 with an industry-standard, one-year parts and labor warranty. Adding two years of additional coverage runs $99. 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. On Acer's support Web site users will an e-mail form, some basic FAQs, and driver downloads.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Acer Aspire 5920G

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Acer Aspire 5920G

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Acer Aspire 5920G

3D gaming performance (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
'Quake 4' 1,024x768, 4xAA 8xAF  
'F.E.A.R.' 1024x768, SS:on, AA:off, 8X AF  
Acer Aspire 5920G

DVD battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Acer Aspire 5920G

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System configurations:

Acer Aspire 5920G
Windows Vista Ultimate Edition; 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB NVIDIA GeForce 8400M GT; 200GB Toshiba 4,200rpm

HP Pavilion dv6500t
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.2GHz Intel Core Duo T7500; 2048MB DDR2 SDRAM; 128MB Nvidia 8400M GS; 200GB Toshiba 4,200rpm

Fujitsu Lifebook A6030
Windows Vista Home Premium Edition; 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 128MB Mobile Intel 965GM Express; 120GB Fujitsu 5,400rpm

Sony VAIO FZ180
Windows Vista Home Premium Edition; 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB NVIDIA GeForce 8400M GT; 160GB Hitachi 5,400rpm


Acer Aspire 5920

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 8Battery 7Support 5