Acer Aspire 9114WLMi review
A great choice if entertainment is a priority, but it's expensive, especially considering the short warranty
After unpacking the Aspire 9114WLMi, you're left in no doubt that its main aim is to keep you entertained. The remote control, TV aerial and playback controls on the notebook itself are all complementary to Arcade, Acer's own version of XP Media Center Edition. It's a surprisingly good package, although the interface isn't quite as polished as MCE.
The 15.4in TFT has a widescreen resolution of 1,280 x 800, and the glossy coating makes colours look more saturated than on a standard screen. It's more reflective than the Sony, but almost as bright and with wide viewing angles.
DVI-D, VGA and S-Video outputs give flexibility, and there's S-Video in for capturing analog sources. The 120GB hard disk provides enough storage for at least 60 hours of TV recording, and if you run out of room the DVD writer will handle any type of DVD media.
There's also a 1.3-megapixel webcam and built-in microphone, plus a Bluetooth VoIP phone that can be stored (and recharged) in the PC Card slot. The 9114WLMi also has an ExpressCard/34 slot, four USB 2 ports and mini-FireWire. At the front are line-in, microphone and headphone/S/PDIF mini-jacks and an infrared receiver for the remote control.
A row of playback buttons grace the front, but it's too easy to knock them when you're using the touchpad. Only the touchpad can be disabled using a function-key combination. The keyboard layout isn't the best either. Several keys are moved to awkward places, and the Enter key is half height.
At least there are separate buttons to turn the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios on and off independently, and four more quick-access buttons. One launches Empowering Technology, where you can control power management, external monitors, security and backup/recovery. Security is software based, consisting of a password-protected hard disk partition.
While there's no Core 2 Duo CPU, the Core Duo T2500 is partnered with 2GB of RAM. In our benchmarks, the Aspire managed 1.08 overall - a great performance. With an Nvidia GeForce Go 7600 onboard, gaming is a possibility - it will happily play Far Cry at 1,024 x 768.
All this hardware makes the price more bearable, but the one-year return-to-base warranty is stingy. The Sony's warranty is equally meagre, but the FE31H is £414 cheaper and has better ergonomics, longer battery life and the "real" Media Center Edition. For £685, it's the better choice.