- Large 17in. screen
- full-size keyboard with number pad
- fast desktop-class processor
- fast, high-capacity hard disk
- copious ports and connectors.
- Very bulky and very heavy
- poor 3D acceleration
- short battery life.
Acer was the first PC manufacturer to announce a notebook with a 17in. screen. Since then a number of others, including Toshiba, have followed suit, but the Aspire 1705 SCi is the first system we've had in for review. Can any computer with an integrated 17in. display really be called a notebook? Perhaps it can. However, any use of the term 'portable' with reference to this 7.1kg monster will certainly raise eyebrows.Acer was the first PC manufacturer to announce a notebook with a 17in. screen. Since then a number of others, including Toshiba, have followed suit, but the Aspire 1705 SCi is the first machine we’ve had in for review. Can any computer with an integrated 17in. display really be called a notebook? Perhaps it can. However, any use of the term ‘portable’ with reference to this 7.1kg monster will certainly raise eyebrows.
Design and features
Obviously the first thing to note about the Aspire 1705 SCi is its massive size. Although it looks about twice the size of an average notebook, this isn’t strictly true. In fact, the actual measurements of 37.8cm wide by 32cm deep by 5.5cm high aren’t enough to accommodate two tiny JVC MiniNotes. Even so, it’s a bit of a monster to look at, and at 7.1kg you certainly won’t want to carry it far. A computer for working with on the train or taking on business trips this is not. There are two likely two uses for a notebook with a 17in. display. In the office, the Aspire 1705 SCi could have a role in meetings, particularly where presentations are required. The screen delivers a huge viewing area in comparison to other portables, and if you add 802.11b wireless networking (as fitted on our review sample), you have a computer that can hook into the company LAN to download presentations and other data. In the home, the Aspire 1705 SCi could attract those who don’t have the space for a powerful desktop system, or would like to move their computer between rooms regularly. The processor, a 3.06GHz Intel Pentium 4 is accompanied by 256MB of SDRAM which you can boost to 2GB via twin 1GB modules. The hard drive, an area where desktop replacement notebooks often disappoint, is a desktop-class 120MB Maxtor unit with a rotational speed of 7,200rpm. The display itself delivers a native resolution of 1,200 by 1024 pixels (SXGA+). The image quality is clear and crisp, and working with multiple documents open should be no more or of a less of an issue than it is with a similarly sized desktop display. It is an issue, though, that it takes a while to move the cursor around the screen using the touchpad with the default settings. You may need to adjust the mouse settings in the Control Panel to get things just right. It’s a pity Acer hasn’t made this easier by supplying an applet to do the job. On the plus side, the touchpad incorporates a rather good scroll key which supports left and right movement as well as up and down. In our review system, the 17in. display was driven by an SiSM650 controller, which is integrated into the SiS 962 chipset. This commandeers up to 64MB of system RAM for its purposes, and performs fine for 2D applications. However, its 3D performance is poor (see below), so don’t look to this configuration if you’re a keen gamer. Because there’s so much width in the casing, Acer has managed to fit in a 103-key keyboard including a separate number pad. The keys have a light touch, and touch typing is no problem. Heavy spreadsheet users will find the number pad extremely useful. Acer has certainly gone to town with ports and connectivity. On the right-hand side there are two FireWire ports, one supporting miniature connectors and the other standard sized. There’s also a pair of USB 2.0 connectors on this side, plus microphone and headphone jacks, and the DC port. The left-hand side provides housing for the DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive with which our review unit was supplied. There’s also a floppy drive and a single Type II PC Card slot. All this is fine, but given the amount of space available, it should have been possible to include a CompactFlash card slot too, but Acer has not pursued this option. The back of the system is well populated with connectors, too: there’s a further two USB 2.0 ports, an RJ-11 modem jack, an S-Video connector, VGA out, a serial port, an RJ-45 Ethernet connector, a parallel port and a PS/2 connector. It’s nice to see PS/2 supported, even though there are four USB ports. Home users, in particular, may want to play high-quality audio through a computer like this, and to that end the stereo speakers on the front of the casing are supplemented by a subwoofer. A bank of buttons on the front allows you to control audio volume, the playing track, and even implement a shuffle play mode. This could prove useful in both work and home settings.
Performance & battery life
With a 3.06GHz Pentium 4 processor, 512MB of RAM and a 7,200rpm hard disk at its disposal, you’d expect the Aspire 1705 SCi to run mainstream and high-end applications pretty quick -- and you’d be right. In fact, its Business Winstone 2001 and Content Creation Winstone 2002 scores of 70.5 and 43.3 respectively are now the fastest we’ve recorded from a notebook -- although, as the specification makes clear, calling this system a ‘notebook’ is stretching things somewhat. As mentioned above, 3D graphics isn’t this system’s strong point, thanks to the limited power of the integrated SiS M650 controller: a 3DMark 2001 score of 1,134 just isn’t going to cut it games-wise. Fortunately, Acer offers a range of beefier 3D options from Nvidia, including a GeForce 4 448Go and a pair of GeForce FX Go models (5600 and 5200). Although you’d be mad to carry this 7.1kg monster anywhere beyond the reach of a desk and a mains plug, there may be times when battery powered operation is required. If so, you won’t get much work done: BatteryMark 4.01 recorded just 1 hour and 54 minutes, although you should be able to boost this to over 2 hours by dimming the screen and adjusting other power management settings.
Given its specification, the Aspire 1705 SCi makes an expensive home computer. You can get more for your money if you go for a traditional desktop replacement notebook -- and home users should bear in mind that it’s more difficult and costly to upgrade a notebook than a proper desktop system (and some upgrade options simply aren’t available). For business use, on the other hand, we can see a niche for a system like this in presentations and meetings, where the large screen and ability to connect to a wireless network are distinct advantages.