Acer Aspire 7520 review
Regardless of chinese tradition, we're thinking of declaring 2008 the Year of the Affordable 17 Inch Laptop.
They're so plentiful at the moment that after accepting two to represent their breed in our group test of affordable portables, we still had two left over, and here they are.
We remember the days when Apple's introduction of a 17 inch PowerBook seemed like wanton extravagance, and here we are testing laptops not only with 17 inch screens, but widescreeens, and glossy ones at that, selling for around £500 or even less. The Acer here is currently being discounted by Tesco Direct to a gobsmacking £399.
But first, Toshiba's Satellite P200-10O, which sells for around £555 including VAT and delivery. Outwardly, it looks a lot like Toshiba's more expensive laptops. The screen is as bright and colourful as their top-of-the-range models, and the distinctive silver-coloured keyboard feels every bit as well-made, though, as with most Toshibas, slightly springy. While the company's pricier models bear the Harman Kardon hi-fi logo, the speakers here are unbranded, but we still found them loud and clear, if lacking in bass. Add a fast dual-layer DVD writer, 1.3 megapixel webcam, multi-format card reader and Windows Vista Home Premium, and you could easily mistake the P200-10O for a notebook costing twice as much.
Inside the case you can see where the budget's been trimmed, but performance hasn't been forgotten. Though it isn't as mighty as a Core 2 Duo, the dual-core Pentium 4 processor, coupled with 2GB of RAM, powered the Satellite to a general (2D) benchmark score of 98%. Bearing in mind that 100% was the score achieved by a pretty decent desktop PC not long ago, that's respectable, and you'll have no problem with Internet and office programs, even using several at once. The 120GB hard disk is a fair compromise: big enough for most purposes, without being too expensive.
What you do miss out on is gaming. While more expensive laptops use dedicated 3D graphics accelerators, the Satellite's display is driven by a lightweight Intel chip. This can manage Vista's fancy transparent windows, but can't cope with 3D games: our 3D test wouldn't even run. That's not unusual in an affordable laptop.
Another shortcoming is battery life. In our light usage test the P200's battery kept it alive for just over an hour and a half. Even budget laptops usually manage well over two hours. Still, this won't be a big problem if you principally plan to use it plugged in, and this is how we'd expect most people to use the P200. While it's not the heaviest laptop we've seen, 17-inchers are never light, and the Toshiba's 3.3kg is a far from negligible load.
A final consideration is networking: though the P200 is well-equipped with both wired and wireless Ethernet, these only support 100Mbit/sec and the 802.11g standard, respectively, not the newer, faster Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11 draft n.
Still, if all you want is a space-saving PC with a great screen and enough oomph for everyday applications, the Satellite P200 is a very attractive deal, with looks and performance far beyond what its price would suggest. We call that Top Value.
Lower and lower
But what happens if you squeeze the budget even tighter? You get the Acer Aspire 7520, available from Tesco for under £400. For a 17 inch laptop it's a preposterous price tag, especially since the screen is one of the more bright and vibrant we've seen. The 7520 is part of Acer's Gemstone series, which means it has a slightly rounded case, distinctive stylings, and ergonomics which you might love or hate. We found the keys a little light and insubstantial, but what's beyond question is that the 7520 looks a lot more expensive than it is. It doesn't sound bad either, with Dolby-certified speakers that are a bit tinny but go nice and loud.