Review Acer Aspire 8943G-728G1.28TWn Notebook
A great entertainer
Acer is refreshing its range of 18.4-inch multimedia notebooks with the Aspire 8943G. The hardware is the same for the most part, but there have been some changes on the outside. Is it enough to set the new Aspire 8943G apart from the previous models?
Those of you interested in an Aspire 8943G are spoilt for choice, with three different versions currently available. The base model is the 8943G-434G32Mn for around €1,000; this gets you an Intel Core i5-430M (2 x 2.26 GHz), an ATI Radeon HD 5650, 4 GB of DDR3-RAM, a 320 GB, 5,400 rpm hard drive and a DVD burner. Discerning gamers and film buffs should skip straight on to the €1,400 model, the 8943G-724G1TBn, which is equipped with a Core i7-720QM (4 x 1.60 GHz), a Radeon HD 5850 (but sadly only DDR3-VRAM), 4 GB of memory, two HDDs (each with 500 GB), and a Blu-Ray player (which burns CDs and DVDs).
The model we reviewed is the top model, the 8943G-728G1.28TWn, which costs an additional €200. While the processor and graphics card are the same, the hard drive capacity goes from 1,000 to 1,280 GB, while the memory doubles from 4 to 8 GB. A Blu-Ray burner is also included rather than just a Blu-Ray player, although getting blank recordable Blu-Ray disks is still disproportionately expensive at the moment. Common to all the models is the glossy, 18.4-inch display with FullHD resolution (1920 x 1080). Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit is also the operating system on all three.
The Aspire 8943G's design differs from its predecessors the 8940G and 8942G in several respects. Instead of a dark, glossy finish, the look is now dominated by matt, silvery aluminium surfaces. This gives it a high-class look and also makes it more resistant to dirt and smudges. So why Acer decided on a sensitive high-gloss finish for the display bezel and touchpad is beyond us; it doesn't take long before they are covered in fingerprints. Nevertheless we approve of the overall design and find it to be a definite step in the right direction. Nice features like the large loudspeaker grilles above the keyboard or the matt black palm rest contribute to this positive impression.
The workmanship is fine, with everything fitting together just as it should do. But in terms of robustness, the Aspire 8943G has to accept some criticism. The areas above the optical drive and near the battery flex a little under heavy pressure. Meanwhile the lid is not especially robust, as it can be noticeably twisted and flexed, although screen contents are not distorted by this. The hinges, however, do their job perfectly apart from a little noise when they move. When you open the lid, the base unit only moves a small amount along with it.
The range of ports is everything you could wish for, with only one exception: Acer has decided against an Express Card slot. So anyone hoping to fit the Aspire 8943G with expansion cards (e.g. for USB 3.0) in the future will be sorely disappointed. But let's focus on the ports that the Aspire 8943G does have. On the left side there are three audio ports, a FireWire and USB 2.0 port as well as an eSATA/USB 2.0 combo port. This is followed by HDMI and VGA ports, allowing you to connect to external monitors. As you can see, the left-hand side is packed full of ports, with the possible consequence that left-handers will have difficulty controlling the mouse when lots of cables are attached on that side.
The right-hand side has three more USB 2.0 ports, somewhat awkwardly positioned near the front of the machine. Near the back is the RJ-45 gigabit LAN and the power socket. On the front edge of the notebook is a card reader and also an infrared receiver for a remote control. As for wireless connectivity, there is no cause for complaint as Acer have included both WLAN and Bluetooth.
Software and accessories
Acer may be making a fresh start with the Aspire 8943G, but it has remained true to its old policy of pre-installing a comprehensive array of bloatware. In the state that it's delivered in, the Aspire 8943G takes an annoyingly long time to boot, and is surprisingly slow to respond to commands, particularly just after start-up. Users who don't want to put up with this will have to set about removing dozens of largely superfluous programs and tools like the BackUp Manager.
However, we were slightly mollified by the generous accessories. You get a Blu-Ray disk of various film trailers, which is a nice gimmick, if perhaps a little pointless. Even better, a remote control is included, making it easier to watch films from the comfort of your couch. Our only complaint is that the remote control buttons are a little spongy.
The keyboard was not wholly convincing, despite its free-standing (chiclet-style) keys, good tactile feedback and firm point of impact. For one thing, it does not feel especially robust. You can feel the separate number pad flexing even under a normal amount of pressure; and while the keys are a good size for the most part, the left-hand shift key is not wide enough and the arrow keys not tall enough. Other shortcomings include the loud, rattly noise made by the keys, and the pale lettering on them which can be difficult to make out, depending on the light and your seating position. Acer has also decided against keyboard backlighting, much to our disappointment.
The touchpad is a real step backwards compared to the previous models. Acer has jettisoned the fairly smooth feel of the old touchpad, and replaced it with a high-gloss but somehow stickier surface; it is certainly more difficult for the finger to slide across it, and you have to readjust frequently. The touchpad is a good size; it also supports multi-touch gestures and can be deactivated at will. However, the positioning is not ideal in our opinion (too far to the left); it is easy to make mistakes with it, particularly when playing games.
The best thing about the touchpad is the 'media console', a set of touch-sensitive multimedia controls which appear when you press the dedicated button. Amongst other things you can use this to open the multimedia application 'Arcade Deluxe', which allows you to play Blu-Ray disks straight off the bat, instead of the user having to buy expensive additional software.
The 18.4-inch display has a resolution of 1920 x 1080. This means that you don't need to fear any reduction in quality when watching FullHD content, and also the 16:9 aspect ratio minimises the black strips that you typically get at the top and bottom of films. With a diagonal length of 46.74 cm, the screen is a tremendous size; this does restrict the notebook's portability but on the other hand it should greatly enhance your enjoyment of films and games.
With a €1,600 price tag you might expect the screen to be of an excellent quality, but in fact the Aspire 8943G falls down in this area. The CMO1807 display is not new to us, as it was used in the previous models; so the readings we took were not really a surprise. The screen disappoints with its low average brightness of 151.9 cd/m². The black level is rather high at 0.87 cd/m², which means that dark scenes tend to look rather grey. And the contrast ratio of 204:1 is also badly in need of improvement. Our only positive observation is that the colours appear very vibrant and natural.
You would be better off avoiding outdoor use altogether - the glossy display reflects its surroundings very strongly. You can also get unwanted reflections indoors, unless you happen to be sitting in a dark basement, and this makes every task a little harder and stains the eyes unnecessarily.
Lastly, the range of viewing angles is small. Vertically, it only takes a minor change in angle to give the picture a greyish tinge. Sitting directly in front of the monitor it was often impossible to find an angle which did not show half the picture in a greyish light.
The Aspire 8943G is equipped with an Intel quad-core processor. The Core i7-720QM has a standard clock speed of 1.60 GHz. The speed can be increased automatically to as high as 2.80 GHz using Turbo Boost technology, as long as the cooling system cooperates. The energy consumption is relatively high at 45 Watts, but then the Core i7-720QM does have 1 MB of L2 and 6 MB of L3 cache. With the help of hyperthreading technology the quad-core can even process up to eight threads simultaneously, though the games are yet to be written that will benefit from this. Nonetheless, the Core i7-720QM is one of the fastest mobile processors around at the moment, and with its additional features this should ensure that it is future-proof to a certain extent.
To avoid bottlenecks, Acer has also fitted the Aspire 8943G with a generous 8 GB of DDR3-RAM, divided into four modules each with 2,048 MB. Since the operating system is the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium, it should be able to utilise the entire system memory.
The graphics card is an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5850, whose performance ranks above the mid-range Radeon HD 5650 and below the top model, the Radeon HD 5870; it is a good compromise between price and power. Sadly Acer has used 1,024 MB of DDR3 video memory, which in combination with the narrow 128-bit memory bandwidth can lead to bottlenecks. This is in contrast to some manufacturers such as MSI (see the GX640) who have used GDDR5-VRAM, which is really the least that should be used with a 128-bit memory bandwidth if you don't want the performance to suffer. The Aspire 8943G's DDR3-VRAM also only has a speed of 800 MHz rather than 1,000 MHz, which is a further hindrance. We will examine in more detail what effect all this has on the performance overall.
Happily, Acer have set the core speed at 625 MHz, at the top of the 500-625 MHz range recommended by ATI. The HD 5850 also has a respectable 800 unified shaders like the HD 5870 top model, and supports the latest DirectX 11 technology. Another feature worth mentioning is the Eyefinity multi-monitor system which we tested briefly on two games. It worked perfectly with two monitors (see pictures above) but we were not able to connect three displays simultaneously. Finally, the energy consumption is quite high, but still reasonable, at a maximum of 39 Watts.
In the single-core rendering part of the Cinebench R10 (64 bit) test, the Intel Core i7-720QM achieved a good score of 3,737. For example the fastest dual-core processor at the moment, the Intel Core i7-620M, scores 4,261 because of its faster speed (2.66 GHz). The tables turned in the multi-core rendering, the Core i7-720QM winning comfortably by 9,725 points to 9,033.
|PCMark Vantage Result||5717 points|
The graphics-intensive 3DMark tests provide a good opportunity to compare DDR3 and GDDR5-VRAM. While a Radeon HD 5850 with DDR3-VRAM gets 25,872 points in the 3DMark 03 test, GDDR5-VRAM (in the MSI GX640) scores a significantly higher 35,948 (39% more). In the 3DMark 05, the difference shrinks, with 15,063 (DDR3) to 17,072 (GDDR5), a difference of 13%. But the gap appears again in the 3DMark 06 test, with the Radeon HD 5850 with GDDR5-VRAM scoring 11,530 points, 35% more than its DDR3-VRAM counterpart with 8,529 points. Finally, in the most recent 3DMark Vantage benchmark, the GDDR5-VRAM (7,147 points) surpassed the DDR3-VRAM (5,691 points) by 26%.
|3DMark 03 Standard||25872 points|
|3DMark 05 Standard||15063 points|
|3DMark 06 Standard||8529 points|
|3DMark Vantage P Result||5691 points|
In the large 18-inch case there is room for two hard drives. An upgrade in the next few years will probably not be necessary, since the two HDDs each have 640 GB of storage, giving the Aspire 8943G a massive total capacity of 1.28 TB. Although the hard drives don't have the fastest 7,200 rpm, their average data transfer rate is 65.5 MB/s (HDD1) and 68.8 MB/s (HDD 2) which is very good.
Performance - summary
The Intel Core i7-720QM guarantees a very high-powered CPU performance, which the user should find to be more than adequate to face the challenges of the next few years. The ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5850 also puts in a similarly good performance, but it would have been significantly better with GDDR5-VRAM. The application benchmarks showed that the difference in performance between DDR3 and GDDR5-VRAM is a substantial 28%.
With demanding settings like very high details and 4 x AA in FullHD resolution, the Radeon HD 5850 DDR3 is very overstretched, with a low frame rate of 18.6 fps. The Radeon HD 5650 was a little slower at 14 fps, but the Radeon HD 5850 GDDR5 and GeForce GTX 260M were far superior with 31.8 fps (71% better). If you want the game to play smoothly on the 5850 DDR3, you have to make do with the details on high, 2 x AA and a 1600 x 900 resolution.
|Colin McRae: DIRT 2|
|1920x1080||Ultra Preset, 4xAA||18.6 fps|
|1360x768||High Preset, 2xAA||35 fps|
|1024x768||Medium Preset, 0xAA||69.5 fps|
Bad Company 2
Bad Company 2 on high details, 4 x AA and 8 x AF takes everything out of the Radeon 5850 DDR3, and with a 1920 x 1080 resolution it can only achieve an unplayable 18.6 fps. The juddering is even worse with the Radeon HD 5650 (15 fps), and a little less with the GeForce GTX 260M (23 fps). Meanwhile the Radeon HD 5850 GDDR5 on the same settings is significantly more fluid but still not ideal, at 30.8 fps (a 66% improvement).
|Battlefield: Bad Company 2|
|1920x1080||high, HBAO on, 4xAA, 8xAF||18.6 fps|
|1366x768||high, HBAO on, 1xAA, 4xAF||40.1 fps|
|1366x768||medium, HBAO off, 1xAA, 1xAF||55.5 fps|
Modern Warfare 2
This much talked about shooter is far less demanding in terms of hardware, and so it is still playable with the Radeon HD 5850 DDR3 at 30.8 fps in the FullHD resolution, with very high detail settings and 4 x AA. Those of you looking for a smoother gaming experience should reduce the settings to high details and 2 x AA. The Radeon HD 5650 is only marginally slower at 28 fps, with the GeForce GTX 260M pulling away with 40 fps. However, the Radeon HD 5850 GDDR5 is top of the heap once again, with 46.7 fps, a 51% improvement on the DDR3.
|CoD Modern Warfare 2|
|1920x1080||all on/max vsync off, textures extra, 4xAA||30.9 fps|
|1366x768||all on/high vsync off, high textures, 4xAA||47.8 fps|
|1024x768||all on/med vsync off, normal textures, 2xAA||56.5 fps|
Role playing games don't require as much in the way of refresh rates as shooters, but the 22.4 fps we measured with a 1920 x 1080 resolution, high details and 4 x AF is still rather low. It places the Radeon HD 5850 DDR3 in the middle between the Radeon HD 5650 (17 fps) and the GeForce GTX 260M (27 fps). Again, the Radeon HD 5850 GDDR5 is fastest of all with 29.1 fps.
|1920x1080||high/all on, 0xAA, 4xAF||22.4 fps|
|1366x768||all on/high, 4xAF||30.6 fps|
|1024x768||all on/med, 2xAF||42 fps|
This is the second racing game in our battery of tests, and the Radeon HD 5850 DDR3 had as many problems with it as the first. In FullHD resolution, with high detail settings and 4 x AA, it just managed to reach 23.8 fps. It was a familiar story with the other graphics cards too: the Radeon 5650 was beaten with 19 fps, whereas the GeForce GTX 260M (39 fps) and Radeon HD 5850 GDDR5 (40.1 fps, up 68%) came out on top.
|Need for Speed Shift|
|1920x1080||all on/high, 4xAA, triliniarAF||23.8 fps|
|1366x768||all on/high, 4xAA, triliniarAF||38.6 fps|
|1024x768||all on/med, 2xAA, triliniarAF||49.8 fps|
Fear 2 has been on the market for a while now, and so it didn't give the Radeon HD 5850 DDR3 quite as many headaches. At a 1920 x 1080 resolution and with maximum details and 4 x AA, we measured a frame rate of 32.3 fps. The Radeon HD 5650 lagged behind with 27 fps, while the GeForce GTX 260M (42 fps) and the Radeon HD 5850 GDDR5 (56.6 fps, 75% better) stormed ahead.
|1920x1080||high, all on, 4xAA, biliniarAF||32.3 fps|
|1280x1024||high, all on, 4xAA, biliniarAF||62.6 fps|
|1024x768||medium, all on, 2xAA, biliniarAF||84.9 fps|
This city-building strategy game provides first-class entertainment and can keep you busy for months. The good news: with the Radeon HD 5850 DDR3 you can enjoy it in FullHD resolution and and with nearly all the settings as high as they will go. We measured 29.7 fps with very high details and 4 x AF. The Radeon HD 5850 GDDR5 is once more significantly better with 43.1 fps (45% increase).
|1280x1024||very high, 0AA, 4AF||40.8 fps|
It will probably be several years before notebooks priced at under €2,000 can do justice to Crysis on its very high detail settings. The Radeon HD 5850 DDR3 chugs along at 10.7 fps at a resolution of 1920 x 1080. The Radeon HD 5650 is positioned slightly behind (8 fps), with the GeForce GTX 260M slightly in front (12 fps). The Radeon HD 5850 GDDR5 puts in the best performance yet again with 16.2 fps (51% better).
|Crysis - GPU Benchmark|
|1920x1080||Very High, 0xAA, 0xAF||10.7 fps|
|1024x768||Medium, 0xAA, 0xAF||65.1 fps|
Gaming performance - summary
The Radeon HD 5850 DDR3 is without doubt a great graphics card, which provides above-average performance and can handle most games on their high detail settings and with resolutions up to 1600 x 900, as long as you do without quality enhancements like AA and AF. But at the screen's native FullHD resolution of 1920 x 1080, the Radeon HD 5850 DDR3 is mostly overtaxed by newer games. The reason for this more than anything else is the combination of a 128-bit memory bandwidth and DDR3-VRAM, which is just not sufficient these days.
This is made especially clear when you compare the Radeon HD 5850 DDR3 with its GDDR5 counterpart. While the graphics cards perform quite similarly on a lower resolution (1024 x 768) and medium detail settings (~9%), a 'normal' resolution (1366 x 768) with high detail settings already shows larger differences (~31%). In FullHD resolution (1920 x 1080) and high or very high details, the two graphics cards are worlds apart (~58%). To conclude: the higher the resolution and the more demanding the detail settings, the more apparent is the difference between DDR3 and GDDR5-VRAM.
|Crysis - GPU Benchmark (2007)||65.1||39.8||10.7||fps|
|Crysis - CPU Benchmark (2007)||60.8||32.4||9.5||fps|
|F.E.A.R. 2 (2009)||84.9||62.6||32.3||fps|
|Anno 1404 (2009)||40.8||fps|
|Colin McRae: DIRT 2 (2009)||69.5||35||18.6||fps|
|Need for Speed Shift (2009)||49.8||38.6||23.8||fps|
|CoD Modern Warfare 2 (2009)||56.5||47.8||30.9||fps|
|Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (2010)||55.5||40.1||18.6||fps|
The fan, positioned to the left of the machine, is always audible. Even in idle we could measure 30.2-31.8 dB(A) from a distance of 15cm. Annoyingly the fan also runs at a louder 36.6 dB(A) from time to time, often for no apparent reason. Under heavy use the volume increases to a loud but just about acceptable 40.5-41.6 dB(A). So while the Aspire 8943G is never truly quiet, there are plenty of gaming notebooks like the Deviltech Devil 9700 DTX which are much noisier.
30.2 / 31.8 / 36.6 dB(A)
||38.8 / dB(A)|
||40.5 / 41.6 dB(A)|
min: , med: , max: (15 cm distance)
As long as the Aspire 8943G is not under stress, the CPU and GPU temperatures stay within acceptable bounds at around 43°C. If you subject the notebook to a full workload using Prime and Furmark, the temperatures rise dramatically; the graphics card can get as hot as 93°C, while the processor can even go as high as 98°C. But despite these high temperatures, we did not see any anomalies during our gaming sessions or endurance tests; no crashes and no throttling of any of the components.
The Aspire 8943G's surfaces tend to overheat, and this is one of its major weak points. In idle, both the top and the bottom stay relatively cool (maximum 29.1°C and 31.5°C respectively), but under heavy use they can get as hot as 46.8°C. You could practically fry an egg on the area around the keyboard. Meanwhile the palm rest area reaches a temperature of 36.5°C, which can get a little uncomfortable over time.
Acer has splashed out on a 5.1 sound system for its 18-inch notebook. Two loudspeakers are positioned above the keyboard, with two others on the underside, near the front. A small subwoofer completes the outfit, placed near the back of the underside. The overall sound quality produced by this system is impressive. Voices sound a little muted and hollow, but the subwoofer provides an excellent deep bass sound (particularly during games and films). Explosions and gunfire sounds have are very powerful and cinematic by notebook standards.
The high maximum volume is a further point in the laptop's favour; though you should not overdo it, as you will start to get breaks in sound and a tinny sound quality. Despite activating the Surround Sound option, we could not really detect any such effect. To summarize: unlike most notebooks, external loudspeakers are not required here, as you should get along fine with the integrated system.
Because a desktop replacement notebook has limited portability in any case, it will probably not make much difference to the average user if the battery life is mediocre. Nevertheless, Acer have generously fitted the Aspire 8943G with a powerful 88 Wh battery, which takes up most of the back of the machine. In idle (Battery Eater Readers Test) the notebook lasted a respectable time of just over four hours, with minimum screen brightness and maximum energy-saving measures.
If you increase the brightness to maximum and rein in the energy-saving options to a moderate level, the battery life declines noticeably. For example, when web surfing over WLAN the laptop gave up in under 3 and a half hours. During Blu-Ray playback the Aspire 8943G ran out of steam after around two hours, which is a shame seeing as many films are longer than that. Under heavy use (Battery Eater Classic Test) and with no energy-saving options, the battery life was only one hour.
In idle the Aspire 8943G is relatively frugal in its energy needs, at 17.8-32.8 Watts. Notebooks with similar hardware like the aforementioned MSI GX640 can draw as much as double the power under the same conditions. Under heavy use the energy consumption rises to an acceptable 75.9 Watts. Only when running flat out under a full system workload does the Aspire 8493G go over 100 Watts.
|Off / Standby||0 / 0.5 Watt|
|Idle|| 17.8 / 22.5 / 32.8 Watt|
75.9 / 113.7 Watt|
Key: min: , med: , max:
The Aspire 8943G has changed for the better in many ways compared to its predecessors the 8940G and 8942G. The design is now sophisticated, with predominantly matt surfaces and some nice accents; the materials used give it a high-quality, robust appearance, and the workmanship is flawless. The notebook is also equipped with 8 GB of RAM and a 1,280 GB hard drive capacity, which is exceedingly generous. The quad-core processor should please professional users, and film fans will be delighted by the integrated the Blu-Ray burner. On top of all this is the surprisingly good sound quality (by notebook standards) provided by the 5.1 sound system. Gamers should also get their money's worth, although Acer would have been better off giving the Radeon HD 5850 GDDR5-VRAM rather than DDR3, as the notebook struggles with games on the higher resolutions.
One of the biggest disappointments is the 18.4-inch display; the screen is too reflective, the brightness average, the contrast weak and the viewing angles badly limited, particularly vertically. The notebook's temperatures, inside and out, could also be improved; under heavy use it gets extremely warm. Finally, we felt that Acer could have put more thought into the port layout, and the touchpad is annoyingly not as smooth as before.
Overall the Aspire 8943G is a good notebook, but despite numerous improvements on the previous models, it does not get quite as high a rating because of its excessive temperatures. All we can say is that if you are looking for a generously equipped entertainment system and are not too demanding when it comes to screen quality, then the Aspire 8943G could be a good match for you.