Aspire Gemstone Blue (8920G)
The Gemstone Blue is large and useful, both as a desktop computer and a media centre. It sports a 16:9 widescreen LCD, as well as a Blu-ray drive and HDMI, so it's primed for high-definition content playback. In fact, the Gemstone Blue is an entire home theatre in one device.
- Big screen, Blu-ray player, HDMI, digital TV tuner, space for a second hard drive
- HDMI output can't be scaled by the graphics card, CineDash panel is awkward to use, bright power LEDs cannot be dimmed, no FireWire
With an 18.4in high-definition screen, a 5.1 speaker configuration, a digital TV tuner and a Blu-ray player built-in, the Gemstone Blue is almost like a complete home theatre setup. It's fairly easy to use and it's a good performer, so it's a good choice for anyone after a desktop replacement.
Price$ 2,699.00 (AUD)
With its 18.4in screen, which has a native resolution of 1920x1080, and its six built-in speakers, the Gemstone can be placed on a coffee table while you (or even you and a couple of mates) sit on the couch watching the latest flicks or TV shows. It has good contrast, although you need to get its angle just right, and reflections can be a problem due to its glossy screen. The blue LEDs for the power button might also be a distraction, and there is no way to dim or disable them.
The speakers provide surround sound, and they provide good all-round frequency response once you disable the filters in the audio driver's configuration. In movies, explosions and environmental sounds will still take precedence over voice, so plugging the notebook in to an external receiver is still recommended — for this, it has S/PDIF output.
A built-in digital TV tuner allows the notebook to be used for watching, time-shifting and recording TV programs. It found all the local stations in our area without any problems and playback was smooth for standard- and high-definition channels. It has a long recording time thanks to the installed 320GB hard drive, which is formatted into two equal partitions. The Gemstone Blue's chassis also has space (and a Serial ATA connector) for a second hard drive, so you could equip it with up to 640GB of internal storage.
If you want to watch movies on a big-screen TV, you can use the Gemstone's HDMI output port. However, how good it looks will depend on the scaling ability of your TV as the notebook's NVIDIA GeForce 9500M GS graphics adapter can't be used to scale the desktop so that it fits perfectly on your TV. There is a D-Sub port if you want to connect the notebook to a monitor without HDMI, but S-Video is not present.
Acer ships the Gemstone Blue with Windows Vista Home Premium and its Media Centre component can be used to display your media files and movies. Acer also provides Acer Arcade Deluxe interface for accessing your files. You can control both Media Centre and Arcade Deluxe by using the built-in, backlit touch-panel (Acer calls it the CineDash Media Console) that resides to the left of the full-sized keyboard; or you can use the supplied remote control. The touch-panel is an odd inclusion, as the remote control is more convenient to use.
For running productivity programs, the Gemstone Blue is perfect. Its Intel Core 2 Duo T8300 and 3GB of RAM propelled it to a score of 96 in WorldBench 6, which means you can do a little bit of everything with this notebook. Its big screen is suitable for editing photos and there is plenty of space to line up two windows side-by-side for comfortable multitasking. The notebook will also be swift when ripping CDs; it only took 1min 12sec to convert 53min worth of WAV files to 192Kbps MP3 files in our tests. This is a fast result.
The Gemstone Blue's score of 3163 in 3DMark06 indicates that you can also play games on this system with relative ease, but not at high resolutions and not with high image-detail enabled.
Physically, the notebook is 44.5cm wide and weighs 4.1kg. It's not one that you would want to carry around with you — even if you have a big enough bag to fit it in — but its size does make it comfortable to use as a desktop replacement. When it's not plugged in, the eight-cell battery will last about 1hr 47min in a worst-case scenario (watching a movie), but much longer if you enable power management.
The Gemstone Blue ships with a lot of useful features: it has a built-in webcam, four USB 2.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11 draft-N wireless networking, an SD memory card slot and an ExpressCard/54 slot. You also get a VoIP handset, which connects to the notebook using Bluetooth. Unfortunately, it doesn't have FireWire, but it does have an unnecessary modem jack.
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