- Review Price: £1345.00
It was Walt Disney who once said that when you get an idea you believe in, you must stick to it despite the doubters and refine it until it works. With this in mind, it was back in early March when I reviewed a fundamentally flawed desktop replacement notebook. The Acer Aspire 1705SCi was a monstrous machine, squashing the scales at a massive 7.1kg. It was a hybrid mix of desktop and laptop components that succeeded and failed in equal measure. I doubted the logic of such a design, but Acer has clearly been listening to Disney because the refined Aspire 1714SMi really shows the value of perseverance.
Much like its forebear, the 1714SMi has clearly not been slimming for summer, given that it has lost no weight at all. It has the same colossal dimensions – 378 x 320 x 55mm (WxDxH) – as the 1705SCi and continues to test the lower vertebrae of anyone with a bad back with an identical weight of 7.1kg. In fact, at first glance very little seems to have changed at all, but what the 1714SMi lacks in good looks, it more than makes up for with personality.
For a start let’s look under the hood. Though the 1714SMi is no lighter than the 1705SCi it has certainly been working out. Gone is the P4 3.06GHz CPU, having been beefed up to a P4 3.4GHz. Likewise, the DDR SDRAM has been doubled to 1GB and Acer has finally thrown in a decent graphics chipset, replacing the SiS M650 integrated graphics with nVidia’s 128MB GeForce FX Go5700. The original 1705SCi’s stunning 1,280 x 1,024 17in TFT screen and lightening fast Seagate Barracuda 120GB, 7,200rpm Ultra ATA-100 hard drive have wisely been kept.
Elsewhere, the DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive found in the 1705SCi has been upgraded to a DVD writer. Not only will this drive write to DVD+/-R media at four-speed and DVD+RW/-RW at 2.4-speed, but it can also write to DVD-RAM discs. This is the first SuperMulti DVD writer that we’ve seen in a notebook, and Acer should be congratulated for that coup. Also, the rather bulky and unnecessary floppy drive has been canned in favour of a far more sensible 6-in-1 card reader.
Fleshing out the rest of the specs is the now almost obligatory integrated 802.11b/g wireless LAN adapter, a CardBus Type II PC Card slot, V.92 modem, a 10/100 Ethernet adapter and the same high quality stereo speakers that were one of the most surprising aspects of the 1705SCi. Confirming its desktop-like stature you don’t get infrared but you do get the full array of traditional ports: two ps2, two serial and one parallel.
Now you would expect all these improvements to come at some cost, but perhaps one of the most remarkable things about the 1714SMi is that it is actually over £40 cheaper than the original retail price of the 1705SCi back in March. Also on offer is an extended three year warranty for £99. I have to admit, this is a desktop replacement machine that is almost cheaper than a desktop with similar specifications. The price is helped due to the fact that you’re getting a number of full size desktop components in this monster, namely the hard drive, processor and memory but this should not detract from what is a seriously good value piece of kit.
Casting my mind back, however, the problems with the 1705SCi did not lie primarily with the specifications, but the implementation of the basics. The keyboard, in its attempt to squash in a full size number pad, made a number of poor layout choices which made it alien to the touch typist and the buttons with the touchpad were so unbelievably stiff that I got cramp in my index finger after just a few days. The 1714SMi has improved on both of these fundamental problems. The keyboard is still rather squashed as Acer still insists on including a full size number pad, but the spacing is far more conventional and I found I could type comfortably without having to look down from the screen. The size of the full stop key still frustrates me, being far too small for such a commonly used punctuator, but I could live with it. The touchpad buttons have also been considerably relaxed and though the feel is still not in the class of, say an IBM ThinkPad, they are functional. These two changes may be smaller steps in the right direction than some of the other more flashy technical improvements I mentioned earlier, but in day to day use they will prove to be two of the most welcome.
Of course, when it came to benchmarking I had very high hopes for this machine. Graphics and battery aside, the 1705SCi had blasted its way to some superb scores and I expected the same from the 1714SMi – it didn’t disappoint. Now, it may be unfair to compare Acer’s heaviest of heavyweights with a standard laptop with it being something of a half breed, so I compared it directly to its equally portly sibling. Quite simply, the 1714SMi blew it away.
SYSmark 2002 scores of 313, 466 and 210 for Overall Score, Internet Content Creation and Office Productivity respectively were strongly up on the 1705SCi’s 253, 360 and 178 and a long way ahead of any true laptop. Similarly, PCMark 2004 showed improvements of approximately 30 per cent on average against the 1705SCi and while MobileMark would not run on the new machine, in real world use the 1714SMi lasted roughly an hour and a quarter – inline with its predecessor – despite the more demanding hardware. Yes, 75 minutes is very low in comparison to any other laptop, but remember the quirk about a desktop replacement laptop is that it isn’t designed to be mobile but rather moved between the office and home with any off mains usage kept to a minimum. After all, it is too heavy to use on your lap anyway.
Finally, unlike the 1705SCi, with its integrated graphics we were able to get some extensive 3D benchmark results. A 3DMark 2001SE score of 12,339 at 1,024 x 768 with no FSAA and no AF is outstanding and nearly 20 per cent up on any performance laptop we have tested. Likewise, its score of 43.89fps in X2: The Threat, at 1,024 x 768 with no FSAA and no AF outstrips all the competition. Ironically, this will not be a big attraction to the 1714SMi’s target business customer, but I would argue that it adds another string to its bow because over the weekend this can now also serve as a family computer. Letting the kids play games on the 1714SMi could save your household the cost of purchasing a second machine. So it is more of a plus than first meets the eye.
Now, by this stage with the 1705SCi I was convinced that buying some cheap removable storage would be a far more effective way of sharing information between the home and the office, rather than lugging a Sumo laptop home at weekends. But with the impressive upgrades, necessary user improvements and bargain pricing, I’m no longer so sure that having one computer to do the lot is such an extravagant idea after all.
Having stuck to its guns, Acer has really pulled this monster laptop concept around and it deserves a hearty recommendation. All of which makes me think that when Disney first put forward his idea for a large theme park built around a giant mouse, he must have met some sceptics too.
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