- Excellent application and 3D performance
- good combination of legacy and modern features, including 802.11g wireless
- No 64-bit version of Windows shipping yet, or any 64-bit Windows programs
- less flex in the screen would inspire more confidence
If you're looking for a powerful desktop replacement notebook, you could go the conventional route and select something like Dell's Dothan Pentium M-powered Inspiron 8600c. Nothing wrong with that -- we gave it an Editors' Choice, after all. But if you want similar power plus a degree of future-proofing, why not consider a notebook powered by a 64-bit CPU that can also run today's 32-bit operating systems and applications very speedily? Enter Acer's Aspire 1502LMi, the top-end model in a range based around AMD's Athlon 64 processor -- in this case, the 2GHz 3200+ part. With 64-bit Windows due later this year, and applications certain to follow in due course, you'll be in pole position as mainstream computing moves into a new era.
The silver and grey Aspire 1502LMi has a workmanlike look and feel, measuring 32.6cm wide by 29cm deep by 4.3cm high and weighing around 3.4kg. There's a bit of flex in the 15in. display, which has a native resolution of 1,400 by 1,050 pixels, but generally the build quality seems solid. The Aspire 1500 series is unusual among today's notebooks in featuring a built-in floppy disk drive, in addition to an integrated optical drive and an internal hard disk. Continuing the legacy theme, there's a parallel port at the back and a Fast infrared port on the left-hand side, both of which are increasingly rare sights on the modern notebook. The 85-key keyboard has a positive feel and a generally sensible layout, although the PgUp and PgDn keys are shared with Home and End, the latter being activated by holding down the Fn key. There are four quick-access keys, two of which bring up your email client and Web browser, the remaining two being user-programmable. There's also a pair buttons for turning Bluetooth and wireless networking on and off, if present (802.11g was, in our review sample).
The Aspire 1502LMi is built around the notebook version of AMD's Athlon 64 3200+ processor, which runs at 2GHz, has 1MB of Level 2 cache and talks to the rest of the system via an integrated memory controller and a HyperTransport system bus. The system comes with 512MB of DDR333 (PC2700) SDRAM, expandable to 2GB. Hard disk storage comes in the shape of a 60GB Hitachi Travelstar drive with a rotational speed of 4,200rpm. The optical drive is a fixed (as opposed to modular) Pioneer DVD-RW/+RW unit, while removable media drives comprise the aforementioned floppy drive and a combined SD/MMC-Memory Stick slot. The Aspire 1502LMi's 15in. screen is driven by ATI's Mobility Radeon 9600 chipset, which delivers full DirectX 9.0 support, complex lighting and shading effects and dual-screen desktop capability if you attach an external monitor via the VGA port. For connectivity there's Gigabit Ethernet and an integrated 56Kbps modem on the wired side, while the wireless side is represented by a 54Mbps 802.11g Mini-PCI card, along with a Fast infrared port. There's a good mix of legacy and modern ports and jacks dotted about the system. At the back you'll find parallel, S-Video out, VGA, USB 2.0 (four), RJ-45 (Ethernet), RJ-11 (modem) and audio ports, while the left-hand side is home to a 4-pin FireWire (1394) port.
Performance & battery life
One of the key questions about a 64-bit processor is: does it run 32-bit programs as fast as its 32-bit competition? After all, no-one is going to want to take a performance hit now in the hope that some blazingly fast 64-bit applications will eventually turn up. You need have no worries about the Acer Aspire 1502LMi, whose MobileMark 2002 score of 216 exactly matches that of the fastest 32-bit system we've tested to date – Dell's Inspiron 8600c. Similarly, the Aspire 1502LMi's 64MB ATI Mobility Radeon 9600 graphics chip ensures very good 3D graphics performance. It scored 2,640 under 3DMark 03 – slightly behind the Inspiron 8600c, which has the same GPU but double the video RAM. At 3.4kg, the Aspire 1502LMi is on the heavy side, but if you do need to use it on the road, you can't expect too much mobile uptime: MobileMark 2002 recorded 3 hours and 17 minutes in desktop mode from the system's hefty 6,600mAh battery. However, you should be able to get longer by applying more stringent power management settings and dimming the screen.
Service & support
The Aspire 1502LMi comes with a one-year international warranty, which isn't that generous. However, you can extend this via the AcerAdvantage program if need be – albeit at a price. Telephone support is available from 9am to 5.30pm Monday to Friday, at a cost of 50p per minute. You can also get email support, driver downloads utilities and user guides via Acer's Web site.