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Acer Aspire Ethos 8951G review: Acer Aspire Ethos 8951G

Vexatious touch pad and limp speakers aside, the 8951G is rather good. As long as you stay away from Acer's Clear.fi software, you'll likely get some enjoyment out of this laptop.

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Craig Simms
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Craig Simms

Special to CNET News

Craig was sucked into the endless vortex of tech at an early age, only to be spat back out babbling things like "phase-locked-loop crystal oscillators!". Mostly this receives a pat on the head from the listener, followed closely by a question about what laptop they should buy.

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4 min read

Just when we'd thought multimedia laptops had lost traction, in comes the positively giant Acer Aspire Ethos 8951G.

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7.5

Acer Aspire Ethos 8951G

The Good

Touch pad can be removed and used as media remote. Battery life is very good for a laptop of this size. Great performance.

The Bad

Speakers aren't that great. Touch pad lags even when connected to laptop. Non-removable battery.

The Bottom Line

Vexatious touch pad and limp speakers aside, the 8951G is rather good. As long as you stay away from Acer's Clear Fi software, you'll likely get some enjoyment out of this laptop.

This 18.4-inch, 1920x1080 monster's major unique selling point is that you can pop the touch pad out to become a remote control, allowing you to watch movies at a comfortable distance, but still have control.

Press a button on the top right of the touch pad and logos light up on the right-hand side, giving you shortcuts to the music and video players in Acer's included Clear.fi software. At this stage, you still have some space to mouse around, but press it again, and your touch pad becomes a full media remote, lighting up play, fast forward buttons and the like, while taking up the entire space.

It's a great idea in theory, not so much in practice. The cursor is a little laggy when the touch pad is used as a wireless remote, which is fine and to be expected. What's not so great is that when you plug it back into the laptop, the lag still exists, which suggests the touch pad is permanently wireless, with the metal contacts that the touch pad connects with in the base is used purely for charging its battery.

There are also no options for the touch-pad driver, the clearly unfinished software making us suspicious that it might be a Sentelic pad. At the time of writing, Acer had also failed to put touch-pad drivers on its website.

Acer's Clear.fi software is a decent effort at a media centre, but is ruined by the software forcing the touch pad into media mode every time you play something, neglecting to take into account users who just want to use the touch pad as a mouse.

Despite a battery-style hump at the back, the battery pack isn't removable. Even if you open the laptop up, it's barely accessible, meaning that this will absolutely have to go back to a service centre should your battery fail. This is a serious downside for such a large, high-power laptop — the most likely candidate for purchasing a spare battery.

If you do open up the laptop, you'll find two spare DIMM slots for expanding memory, along with an empty mini-PCIe slot to do with whatever you please, one of the bonuses of having extra room to play with.

Audio is helped by an included subwoofer, something that's always welcome. Sadly, the speakers attenuate if volume gets too loud, killing any dramatic effect dynamics may have in music. The included Dolby software goes some way to dialling down this attenuation, but it never really goes away. We found turning off all the options in the Dolby panel improved sound quality markedly, but then we lost a lot of volume. We'd prefer vendors to put in good speakers rather than look to software to fill the hole.

The included Dolby software allows the user to change the level of attenuation, but it never really goes away, leaving crashing rock to sound distant and limp — it's best just to turn everything off in the Dolby panel that way the sound isn't screwed with. Sadly, this also means volume is lost. We'd love for vendors to stop screwing with licensed software solutions, and just put in good speakers already.

Connectivity is plentiful as one would expect for a laptop of this size: four USB 2.0 ports, one USB 2.0 + eSATA port, HDMI, VGA, 5.1 sound out, FireWire 400, gigabit Ethernet, an SD card reader, Blu-ray writer, and the typical Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

Internally, things are quite powerful, with a Core i7 2630QM, GeForce GT 555M, 120GB Intel X-25M G2 SSD, a secondary 750GB HDD and 8GB RAM. This isn't a laptop to be trifled with.

Performance

Handbrake encoding (in seconds)

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

iTunes encoding (in seconds)

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Photoshop CS5 benchmark (in seconds)

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Metro 2033 (in FPS)

  • Max FPS
  • Average FPS
  • Min FPS

(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Batman: Arkham Asylum (in FPS)

  • Max FPS
  • Average FPS
  • Min FPS

(Longer bars indicate better performance)


Despite having near identical specs, the N55 outdoes the Aspire on a few benchmarks. Technically, Acer should have the advantage here with its SSD, but the laptops trade advantages over our battery of tests. Speaking of battery...

Battery life (time)

  • Heavy battery test
  • Light battery test

(Longer bars indicate better performance)


Considering the size and performance of the 8951G, Acer's battery does very, very well. This is one monster than can actually survive being away from the wall.

Vexatious touch pad and limp speakers aside, the 8951G is rather good. As long as you stay away from Acer's Clear.fi software, you'll likely get some enjoyment out of this one.