If you thought powerful laptops all have to look like they've been hewn from stone by a drunk man in the dark, think again -- the Acer Aspire Ethos 5951G provides some serious performance in a stylish black metal suit. It may not have the best screen we've ever laid our peepers on and it's far from light, but you're definitely getting a lot of laptop for your lolly.
Our review sample came from Save On Laptops, which is selling the 5951G for £893, and it's also available elsewhere online.
The name's Ethos. Aspire Ethos
There's no denying the Aspire Ethos is a good-looking hunk of minerals. Acer describes its aesthetics as 'black tuxedo design' and for once we see what it's getting at. The black, brushed metal finish is very stylish and would certainly fit in at even the swankiest of awards ceremonies -- although questions may be raised as to why you've brought a computer to an awards do.
The Acer logo is carefully embossed on the shell, a premium touch. Be careful of that lid though -- it may look like a Monte Carlo casino when it's clean, but get your fingerprints all over it and it quickly becomes a bingo hall in Bognor Regis.
It feels as though it could take a Bond-level beating too. The metal casing feels sturdy, although there's a fair bit of flex if you push down on the closed lid. At 3.3kg, it's definitely not the daintiest dancer in the disco, so you may want to travel with it on the passenger seat of your sports car. The girl can ride in the boot.
Under the lid is an equally good-looking keyboard. The isolated keys are separated by more brushed metal, which offered zero flex beneath our merciless poking, making it feel very comfortable to type on. The keyboard is backlit too, so you can keep working even if Odd Job cuts your power.
The speakers proudly display their Dolby-tuned credentials so we hoped for some good sound out of them. They did provide bright and clear audio, but, like most laptops, it was lacking in bass and wasn't particularly loud -- you certainly wouldn't fill a room full of people with music. They'll do the job adequately if you're just watching some TV shows though.
Acer's own Q Branch has given the Aspire Ethos a nifty trick to keep up its sleeve. When you don't want to be sat at your desk with your laptop, you can pop out the trackpad and use it lying in bed as a remote control. At the click of a little button, fancy looking media controls light up and work in tandem with Acer's Clear.fi software, or other media players.
Clear.fi comes pre-installed on the Ethos and organises all your media -- videos, photos, music -- into one hub that can be shared across other computers across your home network. It's a fine idea in principle, but not one we really think we'd use all that much. The one downside to the removable trackpad is there's no way to right-click. If you need to do that, you're going to have to get up and do it on the computer.
There's a smorgasbord of ports on offer too -- VGA and HDMI out, one combined eSATA/USB port, two USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0 port, FireWire, Ethernet, a multi-format card reader, an audio-in jack, a headphone jack and a microphone jack. There's a DVD writer too -- sadly, Blu-ray isn't on offer on this model.
Other helpful extras include an HD webcam, a fingerprint scanner and a set of hotkeys controlling the keyboard backlight or for you to programme to your heart's content.
We're definitely not keen on the amount of software that comes preloaded on the Ethos. We were plagued with prompts to install various anti-virus and back-up programmes and left somewhat frustrated by the mass of games, news readers and other pointless bloatware we found in Windows 7's Start menu. We suggest going on a mass uninstall session when you boot this up for the first time.
No secret agent can possibly hope to infiltrate and bring down an evil corporation if he's as weak as a kitten with the flu. Thankfully, Acer has packed the Aspire Ethos with a powerful arsenal of components.
It's running on a 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-2410M processor teamed up with a rather pleasing 8GB of DDR3 RAM. That's enough to make even the most ruthless Latin American drug lord quake in his boots.
Running the PCMark05 benchmark test, the Aspire Ethos returned an impressive score of 8,103. With a number like that, we can safely assume the Aspire Ethos will laugh in the face of multi-tasking, tweak the nipples of video editing and pour ice cubes down the shirt of high-definition content streaming.
There's a dedicated graphics chip in there too -- a 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT540M. When we threw the 3DMark06 benchmark at it, we were given a score of 8,750. That's a very impressive mark for a machine that doesn't specialise in gaming. We reckon it can easily handle older titles on high settings and even take a good stab at the more recent releases too if you keep the settings dialled down a notch.
The 15.6-inch screen is acceptable, but we've seen better. It's pretty bright, but the contrast isn't too good, so pictures can sometimes lack the punch you see on better displays. It's not a bad screen by any means, so you'll still find watching movies on it perfectly enjoyable. Unless you're watching Twilight.
Battery life is pretty decent too on a machine of this power. We ran the CPU at 100 per cent and it managed to last 2 hours 7 minutes. It's a brutal test, so you'll achieve a much better time with more reasonable use.
The Acer Aspire Ethos provides serious computing power and impressive gaming performance. With some MI5-style extras hidden up its stylish sleeve, this thing certainly wouldn't look out of place driving round Barbados in an Aston Martin. It may not have the best screen in the industry, but for under £900 you're still getting a whole lot of pow for your pound.
Edited by Nick Hide