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Acer Aspire M7720
Acer kicks off Core i7.
- Ports, slots and external drive bays are easy to access; Intel Core i7 CPU and 3GB of RAM; conservative power consumption
- This configuration doesn't have a digital TV tuner, nor more than 750GB of hard drive space, but these options are available; no optical audio output; micro-ATX-sized motherboard, no PCI slots
This PC has a user-friendly case and the latest CPU technology, and it doesn't look too bad. It's aimed at gamers, content creators, video editors and just about anyone who has demanding uses for their PC.
Price$ 3,699.00 (AUD)
Acer is one of the first to market with an Intel Core i7-based machine, which means that if you want to buy the absolute latest in PC technology right now, then you have to check it out. It's called the Aspire M7720, and not only does it have some of the most advanced components on the market, it also features a functional and feature-rich case design.
But it's the inside of the case where the magic happens, and the main acts are the great Core i7 920 CPU and X58 chipset. They represent a huge shift away from previous Intel technology: there is no front side bus anymore, as Intel now uses its QuickPath Interconnect; the memory controller is built in to the CPU, and it uses triple channel memory rather than dual channel.
The Core i7 920 CPU is a quad-core CPU with Hyper-Threading enabled, which means that you virtually have up to eight cores at your disposal at any one time. These will only be of benefit if you do a lot of multitasking or if you use multi-threaded applications, but they still make the machine super-responsive during regular usage. Each core runs at 2.66GHz, but the CPU can clock down each core, and even shut down cores that aren't needed. It all adds up to a machine that's fast, yet doesn't consume an obscene amount of power.
When measured, the machine's power consumption while using all of its threads was 189W, which is low for such a powerful machine. While it was idle, the machine consumed only 107W. The CPU ran very cool, too, with the reported temperature hovering between the 20-30 degree mark depending on our usage patterns.
The M7720's benchmark results aren't impressive when comparing against past systems we have looked at, but you have to bear in mind that it runs at 2.6GHz, whereas most Core 2 Duo-based PCs we see these days are 3GHz, and that the real benefits of the CPU come into effect while heavily multi-tasking or running software that can use multiple CPU cores.
It recorded 104 in our WorldBench 6 benchmark suite. On the surface, this doesn't compare favourably, even against a modest, energy-efficient PC, but it is a solid score. The benefits of its multiple cores and Hyper-Threading were shown in the Blender 3D test, which completed an eight-thread workload in only 30sec. The Core i7-965 Extreme Edition, running at 3.2GHz, completed this test in 24sec. In iTunes, which can only use two threads, the M7720 took 1min 1sec to encode 53min worth of WAV files to 192Kbps MP3s.
For gaming, the machine's ATI Radeon HD4850-based graphics card is a power-house. It scored 12977 in 3DMark06, which means it should handle most games at high resolutions without too much hassle. If you want more power to run Crysis, you can always opt for the configuration that includes CrossFire.
The rest of the M7720's configuration includes 3GB of DDR3 RAM in a triple-channel configuration, and the motherboard has six DIMM slots altogether for upgrades. When upgrading, you'll get the best performance if you populate all slots, instead of only four or five of them. It ships with the 64-bit version of Windows Vista Home Premium, which will be able to see and use all the memory you install. For storage, you get a 750GB Seagate hard drive, and a DVD burner. There is an option for a Blu-ray drive should you want to use the machine as your entertainment centre.
Even with the quad-core, eight-thread CPU, the powerful graphics card, and a case without any sound-proofing, the machine doesn't make too much noise. You can still hear its CPU, graphics, power supply and case fans, but they don't spin fast and therefore only make a slight whirr. If the case didn't have so many openings, then it would be even quieter.
The side panel has vent holes to supply the CPU shroud with cool external air, and the front of the case has a sliding door that opens downward to expose two external SATA, 3.5in drive bays. We love this feature as it means you can expand your storage without even having to pop open the side panel. Likewise, if you have many SATA hard drives lying around, these bays make it easy to swap them over at any time.
Concealed ports at the front of the case, and a pop-up memory card reader on the roof of the case, make it very convenient to plug in your USB sticks, DV camcorder and digital camera memory cards, among other things. There is a 'backup' button on the case, too, which will only work if the 'SmartCopy' application is running in the background, and it will bring up the Windows Backup and Restore utility when it's pressed.
What's interesting is that the machine only has one light, which is the power light. It's a comfortable-looking amber light, so if you use the machine at night, it won't be distracting. There also isn't a flickering hard drive light to annoy you -- or, conversely, you might be annoyed that you can't see when your hard drive is working.
Touch-button controls on the front of the case let you navigate through movies and music quite easily, but this panel doesn't illuminate until you touch one of its buttons, so it's of no use if you use it in a dark environment.
At the end, what you get with the M7720 is a PC that is rich in user-friendliness, as well as one that is equipped with plenty of horsepower. It's ideally suited to anyone who needs plenty of overhead for video editing, content creation, gaming, and extensive multitasking. It's also upgradeable, so you will be able to stick in more RAM and hard drive space when you feel bogged down.
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Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.
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