Acer Aspire 1363WLMi review
A notebook with the right mix of features and affordability to appeal to small businesses or anyone setting up a home office.
Intel's Centrino has stolen much of the limelight from AMD's mobile chips over the last year, and the launch of the new Sonoma platform (see p54) looks set to keep the momentum going. But AMD does have a trick or two up its sleeve, such as its low-cost Sempron processors, lined up in direct competition with Intel's Celeron M range.
Acer's Aspire 1363WLMi is the first notebook we've tested with one of these new chips onboard. Being the top-spec model from the 1360 range, it uses the fastest Mobile Sempron currently available: the 3000+. This runs at 1.8GHz and carries a modest 128KB of Level 2 cache.
There's still ample power to cope with its intended duties, though. Acer is targeting self-employed and small-business workers who need to run standard office applications during the day on a computer that's transportable - rather than fully mobile - but with enough 3D power for a spot of home entertainment in the evening.
An overall 2D benchmark result of 1.38 certainly matches this target, and it will happily crunch through any small business tasks. The widescreen 15.4in TFT helps with spreadsheets too, comprising 1,280 x 800 pixels, a resolution that makes a good compromise between onscreen real estate and readable text size. Setting it to your preferred brightness should be easy with 15 levels of adjustment, and it's built strongly enough to stand up to those times when you do take the 1363WLMi out and about. And, considering the budget price tag, the screen is well protected too - that's important to prevent it being crushed in a full notebook bag.
We weren't as impressed with the keyboard, though. It has a typical budget feel, with shallow key travel and a bouncy board underneath. Having said that, the layout and spacing of the keys themselves is fine, so there are few unwanted errors attributable to the board. Control is on the outside of the bottom row on the left, and Delete is equally handy on the top-right above the numbers. The only awkward aspect is that Home and End are Function key combinations. Unusually, the touchpad is centred on the chassis rather than under the main section of the keyboard, but this makes only a slight difference.
We were initially concerned by the fan grille directly above the keyboard, but we're pleased to say that the Aspire had heat generation under control. The fan emitted only a gentle whisper while we worked on office tasks, and although it got louder when the system was busy with 3D tests it was never overbearing.
The 64MB nVidia GeForce FX Go5200 offers some modest gaming potential too. It managed 22fps in our standard Unreal Tournament 2004 test at 1,280 x 1,024 with high-quality settings, so it should competently handle most earlier games. However, it won't cope with any of the more strenuous recent titles, dropping right down to 8fps in our standard Halo test.
Although mobility is a secondary concern for this 3.5kg notebook, good battery life is definitely a bonus. This was initially erratic in our tests, but after treating our machine to several complete charge-discharge cycles it settled down to last just over an hour with an intensive load and two-and-a-half hours while idle. It's enough for a spot of web-surfing or watching a film in bed, but you'll find yourself nervously eyeing the clock before the end credits roll.
The DVD drive is also a dual-format burner that will make data backups a simple task, and the 60GB 4,200rpm hard disk should provide ample storage for most people. There's also a total of 512MB of DDR SDRAM fitted in two sticks of 256MB PC2700 memory, and you can upgrade to a maximum of 2GB.