capsule review

Acer Aspire AS1712SMi

At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Acer Aspire 1712SMi LX.A1506.003 Notebook

Acer Aspire AS1712SMi
Artwork: Rick Rizner, John Goddard

Most notebooks seem to keep getting smaller, but a few are growing bigger and bigger. Take the mammoth Acer Aspire AS1712SMi, the new size king among desktop replacement notebooks. Designed to appeal to notebook buyers who want portables that can do everything a desktop PC can do--and who don't mind sacrificing their backs for the privilege of ownership--the Aspire weighs 14.6 pounds. And that's without the accessories, which bring its weight to a whopping 17.6 pounds. The towering case measures 2.8 inches tall at the hinges, sloping to 2.2 inches at the front.

This Aspire fulfills some of its promise to be a portable desktop. The handsome, dark unit has a 120GB hard drive, 40GB more than most other notebooks we've tested. The unit comes with a full set of connections, including both types of FireWire ports--not only the standard four-pin but also a powered six-pin connection, so that many external drives or other FireWire devices won't need their own power sources when connected. Also offered are a 17-inch screen, a dual-format DVD writer, a six-in-one media card reader, and 802.11g Wi-Fi. But many notebooks that weigh a lot less also provide such features.

The Aspire AS1712SMi is CPU-upgrade friendly: The user manual fully documents how to remove the 3-GHz Pentium 4 (or 2.8-GHz, depending on your model) desktop processor in case you want to switch to a faster chip. It's not hard; once inside the notebook's bottom compartment, you remove a heat sink, lift a plastic locking bar to free the old CPU, and position the new one so that a triangle on the corner of the socket aligns with the triangle on the processor. However, replacing the CPU voids the warranty, something the manual fails to mention.

There are a few other problems. Most desktop replacement notebooks have desktop-like keyboards--as well they should, considering their size. Acer muffs it badly with the Aspire AS1712SMi's keyboard, which is perhaps the worst we have ever encountered on a notebook, big or small. Not quite wide enough at 15.3 inches to accommodate a separate numerical keypad, the Aspire crams one in anyway--with unfortunate results. With the keyboard and number pad cheek by jowl and several important keys repositioned or made half-size to compensate, touch-typing can be rough going. We tended to hit an arrow key every time instead of the right Shift key, and PgUp or PgDn when we wanted an arrow key. We came to a full and complete stop in our typing each time we hunted for the Delete key, way over in the number pad. As if typing weren't difficult enough, the audio buttons mounted in the wrist rest got in the way; several times we accidentally started a CD with the palms of our hands. After a long frustrating day typing on the Aspire, we were actually relieved to switch to an ultraportable notebook.

Another gripe: The Aspire AS1712SMi makes it too hard to access parts. To reach the hard drive, memory slots, CPU, and battery, you must first remove the entire bottom of the notebook by taking out a half-dozen screws. To finish freeing the battery, you have to remove another five screws. That's too bad because Acer allows you to swap the battery for a weight-saving module. The module is a fine idea. Big notebooks typically have poor battery life anyway; why not lighten the load when traveling between locations that have power adapters, such as home and work? The Aspire's battery lasted just 1.3 hours in our tests, and the weight saver shaves off 1.2 pounds. The swap is such a hassle, however, that users either will never use the weight saver or will leave the battery out, which means powering down the notebook every time they want to move between rooms.

The Aspire AS1712SMi turned in typical performance for a 3-GHz Pentium 4 notebook, earning a WorldBench 5 score of 82, 5 percent faster than the Toshiba Satellite P25-S670, another big desktop replacement system.

A poorly laid-out keyboard and unusually heavy weight diminish the attraction of this otherwise well-equipped desktop replacement. The Aspire AS1712SMi is less expensive than the $2699 Satellite P25-S670, but Acer's $1999 price tag does not include productivity applications.

Carla Thornton

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At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Acer Aspire 1712SMi LX.A1506.003 Notebook

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