- Review Price: £586.00
It wasn’t so long ago that the PC industry made a big fuss about sub £1,000 desktops – machines deemed to be affordable without too much compromise. More recently, we hit the sub £1,000 laptop market, and again these machines were deemed “affordable” yet powerful. But £1,000, or even close to that figure is still a lot of money for the average person to spend on a computer. In real world terms, you can pay less for a second hand car. Thankfully, for those on a tighter budget, desktop bundles are now regularly advertised for less than £500, and laptops are feeling the squeeze too, even if the quality of many of these machines has left a lot to be desired. But is the situation improving? Based on our testing of the Acer Aspire 1355XC, which is available for just under £600, it most certainly is.
Now, because this is a budget machine, I’m going to start off by telling you what you don’t get. This should draw some boundaries, and help us be realistic from the start. Perhaps the first and most obvious omission from the Aspire 1355XC is built in wireless. Wireless technology has really taken off in the last year and, thanks largely to Intel’s Centrino platform, it has become a standard feature on most £1,000+ machines; it is however absent here. As the 1355XC uses the same chassis as some of Acer’s more expensive models there is actually a wireless button positioned above the keys, but don’t let that fool you.
The second omission is that of a separate graphics card. Playing sophisticated 3D games is becoming a reality with a lot of the latest mobile chipsets, but certainly not yet for people on a budget, those days are still some way off. Instead, what Acer has supplied is an integrated S3 Savage 8 graphics core, which shares 64MB of the system memory.
The final compromise at this price bracket is size. You simply are not going to get a thin and light system at this price. The reduced size components required for such a machine are still too expensive and consequently the Aspire 1355XC measures up at a rather hefty 334 x 49 x 286mm (WxHxD) but despite its large frame it weighs little more than your average desktop replacement at 3.6kg. The 1355XC will still sit comfortably on the knee, which is where I am typing this review right now.
So, having cleaned the skeletons from the cupboard, lets move onto the more positive elements because there are quite a few, and the big news is that £586.33 buys you a lot of laptop. At the heart of the Aspire 1355XC is an AMD Athlon XP-M 2600+ which is supported by 256MB of DDR333 SDRAM. You also get a 30GB ATA100 hard disk, and a 14.1in screen. Yes, there could perhaps be a little more RAM, but extra modules are fairly cheap these days if you wish to upgrade. A further bonus is the inclusion of a DVD/CD-RW combo drive that reads DVDs at eight-speed, reads CDs at 24-speed, writes CD-Rs at 16-speed, and rewrites CD-RW discs at 12-speed. A two-speed DVD writer is available at extra cost, but for the money the supplied drive is excellent value and because of the size of the 1355XC’s chassis, you also get a built in floppy drive.
In fact, the size of the machine in general actually proves to be a big plus because, as I explained earlier, the Aspire 1355XC uses the same chassis as more expensive models and consequently you reap the benefits of a well designed and well equipped layout. For instance you get four USB 2.0 ports instead of the two that are normally allocated on budget machines. You get the usual modem, headphone socket, microphone socket, infrared port, serial and parallel ports but you also get 10/100 Ethernet, FireWire, S-Video out and one Type III/two Type II PC Card slots.
But the most impressive feature is the keyboard. Laptops in general can suffer from poor keyboards, that’s no secret. So to get a tactile, responsive keyboard on such an inexpensive system is a major bonus. In fact, I have experienced far worse keyboards on laptops costing over twice this much. I simply enjoyed typing on it. Supporting this is a touchpad which seems little different from any of Acer’s more expensive laptops. Below the touchpad you’ll find the familiar four way rocker button, while the left and right selector buttons have a solid feel.
The 14.1in screen is more standard, supporting a maximum resolution of 1,024 x 768, but it is bright and clear and not something I would feel justified in complaining about. The display isn’t hard on the eyes even after longer periods, and gets the job done. A more pleasant surprise was the speakers. A few months back, I tested the enormous Acer Aspire 1705SCi and found it a disappointment overall, but its speakers were excellent. Acer seems to have implanted the same speakers here, so even though the sound is still in mono, the volume is satisfyingly loud and the quality crisp. Given that most laptops still don’t sound much better than a digital watch, admitting that I could happily listen to music on this notebook seems like an achievement in itself.
Acer has also done a fantastic job of keeping the noise down. Despite an initial roar when the machine boots, the fans are quiet and only flare up when the system is being worked hard. Which brings me along nicely to the benchmarking.
As a means for comparison, last December we tested Acer’s Aspire 2003WLMI which at the time cost just short of £1,500 yet the Aspire 1355XC beats it comfortably in most respects. In SYSmark 2002, the 1355XC scored an impressive 167 overall with 240 for Internet Content Creation and 116 for Office Productivity; while the 2003WLMI managed just 141, 179 and 111 respectively. This is an important real world test because it gives you an idea how the PC will perform in general Windows and Internet use, which is pretty much where a budget machine is aimed.
Less importantly, the 3DMark 2001SE score of 960 for the 1355XC is fairly poor, but for a machine with integrated graphics this is not surprising. The massive Aspire 1705SCi was in the same situation and similarly only managed 1,136 despite costing over twice the price.
One disappointment, though perhaps not something that was entirely unexpected, was the battery score. The 1355XC only managed to last for 122 minutes in Mobile Mark 2002 with a performance rating of 113. Because the rest of the machine had exceeded my expectations, this did feel like a let down, but thinking realistically, it was never designed for the workaholic road warrior anyway. So, to simplify the statistics, the 1355XC will do everything you expect it do very well, but little else. That said, a good two hours on battery power is reasonable enough for a machine at this price.
Finally, the software bundle. Being a budget laptop, to be honest I was surprised it came with anything. But unlike our review machine, which was installed with Windows XP Professional, you will get Windows XP Home, a copy of Norton Antivirus, PowerDVD and Adobe Acrobat Reader which is better than nothing.
As a package, I have to admit that I am very impressed with the 1355XC. It achieves exactly what it sets out to do – bringing fast, user friendly laptop computing to those on a budget and overall it overachieves this goal. Down the line, you may want to put in another 256MB of RAM, but at this price you really can’t go wrong.
The 1355XC is one of the best low cost laptops around. Some higher-end features have obviously been sacrificed but what is left is still one hell of a bargain for the money. If you are looking for a new laptop and don’t want to spend a fortune, I heartily recommend the Acer Aspire 1355XC.
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