The 17-inch Toshiba Satellite L350-17P shows one manufacturer's approach to building a big laptop on a budget, but the Acer Aspire 6530 couldn't be more different. The smaller, 16-inch screen doesn't make much difference to the overall size and the laptop's actually a few hundred grams heavier than the L350-17P, but it's a much better-looking machine.
Little touches count
Small touches like the glossy dark blue lid, and contrasting glossy black and textured, matte grey interior help make the 6530-623G25Mn look less like the enormous slab of plastic that it is, as do the gentle curves on the front of the case. The illuminated Acer logo on the lid may not appeal to everyone, but it's subtly done, and you can't see it when the laptop's in use.
Although the 6530-623G25Mn sports a full-size keyboard with a separate numeric keypad, the keys are more closely packed than on the L350-17P. There's little else to distinguish the two keyboards, though. There's a surprising amount of flex towards the right-hand side of the 6530-623G25Mn's keyboard, but it feels solid enough when typing.
We have a quibble with the trackpad, attractive though it is. It's simply a sculpted area in the middle of the seamless, textured, grey wrist rest, with two large, flush-fitting buttons. The problem is that, with no lip or other tactile division for the touch-sensitive part, it's easy for a button-pressing finger to stray onto it, leading to the mouse cursor jumping around. There's a narrow ridge to distinguish the right side of the trackpad, which is used for scrolling, so it's a pity that Acer didn't use the same idea along the bottom edge.
Most widescreen laptops have displays with a 16:10 aspect ratio, but Acer makes much of the fact that its laptops have 16:9 displays. The supposed benefit is that this eliminates the black borders when watching widescreen movies. It's important to note, however, that this only applies to movies presented in a 16:9 aspect ratio. Many movies are presented in the even wider 2.20:1 aspect ratio, and these will still have black borders at both the top and bottom.
The downside of the 6530-623G25Mn's 'movie-friendly' screen size is its native resolution. For a display with a 16-inch diagonal measurement, 1,366x768 pixels is disappointingly low, at least vertically. Given that the lighter L350-17P has a 17-inch screen with a 1,440x900 resolution, the 6530-623G25Mn loses points.
The 6530-623G25Mn's entertainment credentials are further cemented by its 'Dolby Home Theater' branding. This covers a range of audio enhancements, from true 5.1-channel audio output when external speakers are connected, to an on-board 'Tuba' bass booster for when they're not. The latter consists of just a tube at the rear of the laptop, but adds some much needed depth to music and movie soundtracks. The bass is a little muddy, though.
It's rare to find an Intel Core 2 Duo processor in a laptop of this size at this price, and, indeed, the 6530-623G25Mn makes do with an AMD Athlon 64 X2 QL-64 CPU. Despite being dual-core, it simply isn't as powerful as Intel's offerings. It was outperformed by the same-speed, 2.16GHz Intel Pentium T3400 in the L350-17P, scoring 3,715 in the PCMark05 benchmark test, compared to the L350-17P's 4,161.
On the other hand, the 6530-623G25Mn's 3D graphics performance is better than the L350-17P's, thanks to its ATI Radeon HD 3200 chip. Even so, it still leaves much to be desired when it comes to gaming. A 3DMark06 score of 1,329 means that this laptop isn't up to playing demanding 3D games at much above low resolutions and basic detail settings.
There's seldom much point in worrying about battery life with laptops that are designed to replace a desktop PC, but some stamina away from the mains is useful for the odd spot of outdoor working. The 6530-623G25Mn's battery lasted for 50 minutes in Battery Eater's intensive Classic test, which means you won't get much heavy use out of it away from the mains. In the less intensive Reader's test, it lasted 2 hours and 21 minutes, suggesting that the laptop should be good for a couple of hours' word processing and Web browsing on battery power.
The ATI GPU makes the Acer Aspire 6530-623G25Mn a better all-rounder than the Toshiba Satellite L350-17P, but you'll pay about £50 more for the privilege and get a smaller, lower-resolution screen into the bargain. It is better-looking, though.
Edited by Charles Kloet