Acer Aspire Ethos 8951G £1499
17th Aug 2011 | 14:50
An excellent home entertainment laptop with a detachable remote
Acer Aspire Ethos 8951G review: Overview
These days we're seeing a lot more slim and light ultraportable laptops. Rising up against these size zero models is the Acer Aspire Ethos 8951G.
Like the Dell XPS 15z and the Macbook Pro 17 inch, this is all about packing in huge amounts of power, and who cares if it's on the chunky side. After all, as our mothers told us: it's not the outside, it's what's on the inside that counts.
As with the previous Ethos models, the Acer Aspire Ethos 8951G is an entertainment centre that's designed to sit on your desk at home.
Crushing the scales at 4.2kg, you wouldn't want to carry this laptop any further than the next room, to avoid popping a couple of vertebrae.
That said, we were impressed at how thin the Ethos is. Sure, 40mm can't really be described as 'thin', when you consider that the Samsung 9000 series measures just a smidgen over 10mm. But considering the girth of this machine, it's comparatively slender.
We also liked the smart design, which follows the XPS 15z's mantra of 'keep it simple'. The dark chassis has a brushed metal finish that spreads everywhere except the palmrests, and it looks as solid as it feels.
We didn't find any hint of flex no matter how hard we poked and prodded, which is to be expected at this price point.
One of the most interesting new features of the Ethos 8951G is the detachable touchpad. In previous models, the touchpad converted to a media control panel at the press of a button.
This laptop has the same gimmick. One push of the corner gives you fast access to the Clear-Fi application, which is a media hub for enjoying your photos, films and music. Another press brings up the play, skip, pause and volume controls, and a third press returns the touchpad to normal.
On the previous models this was nice, but of limited use as you had to be sat in front of the Ethos to use it. However, the Ethos 8951G lets you remove the entire touchpad by flicking a switch, so you can use it from across the room to control your media.
It's a smart idea that works well. Even when we positioned ourselves across the other side of the office, the laptop still responded perfectly to the infrared remote.
Of course, it isn't a perfect solution. You're limited to the basic pause/play/skip and volume controls, and if you wish to go full-screen or fiddle with other settings, you need to change back to touchpad mode and fiddle around.
While the touchpad works fairly well as a remote, it works rather less well as a touchpad. For some reason, the responsiveness is all over the place, with sensitivity levels dying as you slide your finger towards the edges.
In fact, swiping the right edge did nothing at all. We'd actually recommend using a USB mouse with this laptop, to avoid frustration.
Thankfully the keyboard is typically great for an Acer laptop. As usual, an isolation-style design has been used, with each key poking up through an individual hole cut in the Ethos 8951G's chassis.
It's a well laid out board and a great size for touch typing, despite the tiny left Shift key.
The arrow keys are sadly squashed beneath the right Shift key, which seems unnecessary considering the room Acer had to play with. Still, you do get a separate numeric pad, which is useful if you're a spreadsheet junkie.
Acer Aspire Ethos 8951G review: Specifications
Since the Acer Aspire Ethos 8951G is a multimedia machine at heart, we were keen to test out the huge 18.4-inch screen by kicking back with a sack of Blu-rays and a vat of popcorn.
That's right, we said Blu-rays, not crummy old DVDs. Acer has included Sony's HD technology so you can enjoy films the way they're meant to be seen, with ultra-crisp visuals.
Of course, you can still play DVDs on the drive, so you don't need to part with your collection just yet.
The Ethos 8951G's display features a sharp 1920 x 1080 WUXGA resolution, making it perfect for taking in Full HD 1080p movies and shows.
HD films really do look amazing on this machine. Contrast levels are excellent, blacks actually look black, as opposed to grey, and colours are rich and vibrant.
Viewing angles aren't too bad either, so you can happily enjoy a movie with your family, spread out on the sofa. You don't even have to get up thanks to the detachable touchpad/remote control.
A good chunk of space above the keyboard is dedicated to the built-in speakers. Although laptop speakers are usually as powerful as a gnat's fart, we were expecting great things from the Ethos 8951G. Those expectations were sadly dashed on the rocky plateau of disappointment.
The sound quality is fine, but there's a serious lack of power. Even on top volume, we were straining to hear over ambient office noise.
This is especially disappointing considering how powerful the Dell XPS 15z's speakers were. If you want to truly enjoy a movie or some bass-heavy music, you'll definitely want to attach some USB speakers.
Those with enormous media collections are well catered for by the 1.5TB hard drive, which provides enough space for hundreds of thousands of songs and photos, and hundreds of HD movies.
If you need even more space or simply wish to back up your collection, you can attach an external drive using the eSATA port, or slip a memory card into the multi-card reader.
You also get four USB ports, one of which is USB 3.0, in addition to VGA and HDMI connections for hooking up external monitors or televisions. Acer has even included mini-Firewire, which we rarely see on laptops these days.
Rounding off the features is the almost-obligatory fingerprint scanner, which provides a satisfactory alternative to remembering ridiculously complex passwords.
Acer Aspire Ethos 8951G review: Performance
When we saw the specs list for the Acer Aspire Ethos 8951G, we certainly weren't disappointed. Acer has stuffed in one of Intel's latest Sandy Bridge processors, the Core i7 2630QM, which runs at 2GHz.
Backed up by a mammoth 8GB of RAM, it was obvious that the Ethos would destroy our benchmarking tests.
And destroy it did. We didn't think the Dell XPS 15z's CineBench score of 11,474 would be beaten any time soon, but the Ethos 8951G topped it with a score of 12,633.
The Intel CPU's eight cores are perfect for multi-tasking, while software loads up almost instantly. No matter what we were doing, this laptop provided a smooth, fast experience.
Since the Ethos 8951G was built for enjoying media, Acer has included a dedicated nVidia GeForce GT 555M graphics card.
Most modern games that we tried ran fine, although we had to turn down detail levels on more demanding titles. HD films ran smoothly as expected, as well as video editing software.
The dedicated graphics make full use of nVidia's Optimus technology, powering down when you're doing basic tasks such as bashing out an email.
In these cases the basic integrated graphics on the motherboard take over, to save power. As a result, the Ethos 8951G's battery lasts for a full three hours when you aren't playing games, and even longer if you turn down brightness levels and performance settings.
This was much longer than we expected considering the high specs and huge screen. Okay, so the battery life isn't really a significant factor considering the size of this machine, but at least you won't have to drag the charger as well as the laptop when you shift to another room.
3DMark 06: 9989
Battery Eater: 185 mins
Acer Aspire Ethos 8951G review: Verdict
Acer's Ethos range are built for entertainment, and aimed squarely at those who want a smart and powerful portable for enjoying their games and media collection. We're big fans of previous Ethos models, so gleefully put the Aspire Ethos 8951G through its paces.
Featuring one of Intel's most powerful Intel Core i7 mobile processors and a mighty 8GB of memory, the Ethos 8951G is a better performer that ten Ron Jeremys. You're fully future-proofed and can multi-task to your heart's content.
You'll have no trouble running the latest games (although some detail fiddling is required on the most demanding titles), which look fantastic on the bright and vibrant 18.4-inch screen. The Full HD 1080p resolution means both games and Blu-ray films are presented at their best.
And now you can enjoy movies from the comfort of your sofa, thanks to the detachable touchpad which doubles as a remote. It's a cool gimmick, although not entirely perfect.
Finally, the generous 1.5TB hard drive means you won't have to constantly remove old films and games to add new ones.
As with previous Ethos models, this bad boy is best left at home. The 4.2kg weight will break your back if you attempt to lug it around on a regular basis, and it isn't the easiest to slip into a bag or rucksack. We were impressed by the three-hour battery life though.
The Ethos 8951G has few flaws, but we were disappointed by the rubbish touchpad. It works fairly well as a remote control, but not so well as a device for moving the mouse cursor around. We'd have also preferred more powerful built-in speakers.
As a home entertainment machine, the Acer Aspire Ethos 8951G does almost everything right. Attach a mouse and some decent speakers and you're set.