So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Acer Aspire E700 Model S
- CPU heatsink, wireless USB adapter, tool-less upgrading
- 300-watt power supply, only has single digital TV tuner
The Acer Aspire E700 Model S manages to work on both levels, as a PC and as a media centre. It has some upgrade potential, but the configuration we tested will easily handle a wide variety of functions.
Price$ 2,499.00 (AUD)
Although it's less likely to appeal to lounge room users, where the media centre is the primary function, the Acer Aspire E700 Model S should appeal to those who wish to use it as a PC half the time, and as a media centre the rest of the time. It has all the essential elements of a media centre, but it also functions well as a desktop computer, with some upgrade potential as well.
The Aspire E700 uses some good components to meet the balance between PC and set-top media centre, which keep it quiet and cool, without impeding performance. The Intel Core 2 Duo E6300 1.83GHz CPU is a good performer, but also produces less heat and can subsequently run with much reduced fan noise. We tested out this CPUs ability by encoding 53 minutes of WAV files to 192Kbps MP3 files, which it completed in two minutes and seven seconds. This is what can be expected from the CPU and a single 1GB of DDR2 533MHz RAM installed.
At the time of testing, this machine had Windows XP Media Centre Edition installed, though it currently ships with Windows Vista Home Premium for the price of $2499. The installed Radeon X1300 graphics card meets the requirements to run Vista's flashy Aero interface and will even play some older games as indicated by a score of 10833 in 3DMark 2001 SE.
The system comes with a 22in widescreen LCD, so watching movies and TV will be a pleasure. A single digital TV-tuner is installed, which allows one channel to be recorded or watched at a time. We were able to pick up and record standard definition and high definition TV channels cleanly. Time-shift recording worked smoothly in our tests and recording was also smooth, with no image or audio problems during playback.
The TV tuner occupies one of the two PCI slots leaving room for one extra PCI device, though the most commonly used PCI devices, such as a sound card or a wireless network card have already been accounted for. The motherboard comes equipped with onboard 7.1 channel sound that provides analogue outputs as well as coaxial and optical outputs for digital audio. An 802.11g USB wireless network adapter is also provided for wireless networking.
For storing any recorded media there's a 320GB (7200rpm) hard drive and a DVD re-writer with dual layer support. Installing additional hard drives or optical drives is easy with the tool free clip-in system. Three of the four hard drive bays are free for adding new drives and one optical drive bay is free.
The front panel has a sliding plate that reveals quick-access audio ports, four USB 2.0 ports and a 9-in-1 media card reader, supporting CF (Type I and II), Microdrive, MMC, SD, SmartMedia, xD-Picture Card, MS and MS-Pro.
Overall the system runs fairly quietly. The Radeon X1300 graphics card has a tiny fan that omits very little noise and the CPU fan is mounted on a large heatsink that keeps the CPU cool without much active cooling from the fan. Often when the system was idle the CPU fan stopped running altogether and the only noise present was coming from the 80mm rear-mounted extraction fan.
With only one RAM slot used, there's room for an upgrade, and the graphics card can also easily be replaced as it resides in a PCI Express slot. The only real limit on upgrading will be the 300watt power supply, which may not be enough to cover any serious hardware (such as a high-end graphics card).
Apart from the front access ports and the audio ports there's both DVI and VGA output depending on your needs. There's also serial and parallel ports for older devices, PS2 ports for a mouse and keyboard, and four USB 2.0 ports on the rear. A FireWire port is also available on the rear panel as is a Gigabit Ethernet port. A pair of small speakers is also in the package, as well as a media remote and a wireless keyboard and mouse.
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