June 07, 2011, 9:17 PM — When I first hauled out the Acer Aspire 8950G from the backpack, I almost dropped it--not because it was that heavy, but because it was lighter than expected. This massive (I hesitate to say "notebook") desktop replacement system sports an 18.4-inch, true 1080p LCD panel. At 8 pounds, 5 ounces without the power brick, it's lighter than some smaller systems that have been through the lab here. Even with the 120-watt power supply, the weight falls just a little short of 10 pounds.
It's still too big to carry around, but it could make for a useful living room PC. The system includes an Intel Core i7 2630M quad-core CPU clocking in at 2GHz and maxing out at a Turbo Boost clock of 2.9GHz. The CPU is complemented by 8GB of DDR3 DRAM and 64-bit Windows Home Premium. Driving that big, bright LCD panel is an AMD Radeon HD Mobility 6850M discrete GPU with 2GB of GDDR5 video RAM. Given the GPU's pedigree, I expected greatness when it comes to gaming performance as well as reasonably good video playback quality.
The game tests brought me back to earth, however. The Aspire 8950G is a cut above many laptops when it comes to overall gaming performance, but you'll still need to dial back graphics settings to about "medium" to get good frame rates in current-generation games. Far Cry 2 ran at 44 frames per second (DX10, "optimal" settings), while the recently released DiRT3 mustered 20 fps, and Total War: Shogun 2 eked out only 16 fps. (These tests were run with all graphics settings maxed out, but antialiasing disabled.)
Performance in desktop applications proved robust, however, with the unit earning a strong WorldBench 6 score of 128. The battery life of this massive unit was a surprisingly good at 4 hours, 41 minutes. The 750GB, 5400-rpm Toshiba hard drive is capacious, but seems a little slow on bootup. A system like this deserves a Blu-ray drive, and Acer delivers one, in the form of a Panasonic unit that doesn't generate a lot of distracting seek noise.
The keyboard has a good feel, with nicely done tactile feedback, but the layout could be better. The arrow navigation keys are tiny and clustered tightly together. The dedicated numeric keypad, however, offers widely separated keys, making its use as a 10-key pad easy.
While the keyboard is mostly good, the trackpad is mostly bad. It's extremely sensitive, and you'll often see the mouse cursor flying wildly across the screen. That's partially curable via some control-panel settings. However, someone at Acer decided that building media control keys into the glass surface of the trackpad is a good idea.