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Acer Aspire 5920 review:

Acer Aspire 5920

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The Good Specification; performance; screen.

The Bad Grey colouring; misplaced USB port; overall design.

The Bottom Line The Aspire 5920 is a candidate for the ugliest laptop of the year. It's smeared in enough grey to put British skies to shame, and has some absolutely awful design touches. But the rest of the laptop is a very good one. It's fast, feature-packed and is excellent value for money

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6.5 Overall

The Acer Aspire 5920's biggest selling point is its looks -- or so Acer would have you believe. It was crafted with the assistance of over 100 designers and engineers from BMW Designworks -- the folks behind the gorgeous BMW Z07 concept car. We thought it looked pretty sexy in pictures, but is it as impressive in the flesh?

We're not afraid to say Acer (or BMW Designworks) got it wrong with the Aspire 5920 -- it's hideous. We couldn't find a soul in our office who thought it was attractive. The glossy, slightly curved screen lid is trendy enough, but glossy screen lids are the laptop equivalent of jeans and a t-shirt -- nothing special. Having said that, the car door handle-style screen opening mechanism, which doubles as a webcam, looks the business.

The car door handle-style opening mechanism is a nice, BMW-inspired touch

If you thought the outside was bad, just wait until you see the inside. Don't let the white-looking pictures fool you -- it's beiger than John Major. Sure, beige is inoffensive, but it makes this laptop look like it was crafted from leftover Amiga bits.

BMW Designworks has attempted to make it resemble a centre console from one of their cars by incorporating shortcut keys on either side of the main keyboard. The left-most ones are for launching, activating and deactivating Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and launching a browser and email client. These sit next to a blank button at the bottom left -- which is reminiscent of those dummy 'buttons' you'd find on a car that doesn't have all the optional extras. It looks silly.

The dummy button on the left reminds us of cars that don't have all the optional extras

What's more infuriating is that the shortcut buttons on the left are mechanical, while those on the right (for controlling media playback) are touch-sensitive. We'd have preferred an all-mechanical design as it's incredibly easy to touch the buttons by accident. Doing so causes the laptop to emit an incredibly obnoxious beeping noise like a supermarket checkout. The hugely unresponsive mouse trackpad is almost as annoying.

The evidence suggests the designers know much more about designing cars than they do about designing laptops. Why else would the lone USB port on the right side sit about 1mm away from the DVD-ROM drive? Once you connect a standard-sized USB device, it physically blocks the drive bay, preventing it from opening. What's more, the logo showing the location of the USB port sits above the optical drive, and not the USB port. The word 'wrong' doesn't do it justice.

Connecting a USB device here blocks the DVD drive tray, infuriatingly

Our final design gripe is with the mouse trackpad -- it's too wide. Perhaps it's our bucket-like hands that cause the problem, but the ball of our right hand would often stray on to the mouse trackpad, causing the cursor to move around the screen just when you least want it to. This wouldn't be so much of a problem were there a button to temporarily disable the mouse -- but there isn't.

The Aspire 5920 has plenty of substance to make up for its questionable style. It's a next-generation Centrino Duo, or Santa Rosa, laptop that uses a 2GHz Intel T5300 CPU and an ample 2GB of RAM. The memory runs at 667MHz and not the full 800MHz supported by the motherboard, but we expect Acer will switch to faster memory as it becomes more widely available.

The Aspire 5920 ships with 512MB of Intel Turbo Memory -- the first laptop we've seen to do so. Also known as Robson Flash memory, this dedicated memory module is designed to reduce the amount of time it takes for the laptop to power up, access programs and read/write data.

It works by reducing the laptop's reliance on the hard drive, which can be a bottleneck in many cases.  It didn't seem to make much of a difference for our model though -- it took 59 seconds to boot up from the moment we hit the power button.

Acer has positioned the Aspire 5920 primarily as a Media Center laptop. It has 'Dolby Home Theater' and 'Virtual Surround Sound' scrawled across the top of the keyboard, just above a silver panel housing the speakers. A subwoofer is mounted on the underside of the laptop to provide extra bass. It'll never replace a decent set of dedicated speakers, but the audio sounds surprisingly good. The laptop features 7.1-channel audio capability, so you can connect it to a set of external speakers.

The bottom-mounted subwoofer in all its glory

The laptop's media capabilities are helped by a lovely 15.4-inch screen. It looks fabulous in use and is ideal for watching movies, or browsing pictures on. Our only qualms are that its reflective CrystalBrite coating renders it nearly unusable in direct sunlight, and that the hinge is quite unstable. It wobbles noticeably even sitting on a desk and even more so when being used on a train or plane.

Acer supplies a 160GB hard drive, which is on the small size for a media laptop. The Vista Ultimate edition operating system and pre-installed programs occupy about 40GB, leaving you with approximately 120GB to play with. The DVD rewriter drive lets you create backups or watch DVDs, but if you really want to push the boat out you can opt for the version with an HD DVD drive, which'll set you back an extra £200.

The mouse trackpad on our review sample was often very unresponsive

If you're more of a gamer than a movie buff you'll appreciate the Nvidia GeForce 8600GT graphics card. It's quick enough to run most modern games. It has 256MB of dedicated memory, and if you need extra juice it can borrow up to 512MB from the main system memory. It can't compete with the dual graphics card-wielding Alienware laptops, but it won't shy away from a little 3D carnage.

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