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Acer Extensa Laptop Review

I bought this machine so I could work on novels and short stories without leaving my bed. I really am that lazy and I make no apology for it.

To look at, it’s a totally standard laptop, the screen folds down over the keyboard with a single catch at the front. There’s one of those trackpad things which people seem to hate so much, but I’ve never had a problem with them at all. There are a few variations of this model, and some have a built-in webcam. Mine is probably the last laptop ever built that doesn’t have a built-in webcam, but I’ve seen it on other people’s, and the picture quality is good. Mine does have a built-in microphone, however, which picks up speech for Skype and things with remarkable clarity.

Pressing all the right buttons?

Down the left-hand side of the keyboard are a column of those ‘feature’ keys that offer shortcuts to email and internet browsers and things. Not only have I never used them on this machine, but I don’t know anyone who has ever used these on any computer, ever. They’re called ‘productivity keys’ on this model, apparently. Because having some buttons that you have to manually configure is so much more productive than clicking on desktop tray icons?

Finally, there are various stickers branding the machine as having Windows Vista (Basic) and Intel Celereon Inside. Quite why the obsessive attempts to build brands around things you get in your computer pretty much as a default, I’ve no idea.

My God, it’s full of holes …

The sides of the device are peppered with holes for devices of various kinds, some of which I have absolutely no idea about, if I’m being honest. For the casual user, be assured that there’s four USB sockets, which seems more than enough for a portable device (I’ve never used more than two at any one time), as well as a mouse socket and jacks for headphones, microphones and speakers.

The screen is 15.4″, which is slightly larger than any laptop screen I’ve used before. I’ve used it for well over a year now, it gives a steady display and I’ve not suffered any eyestrain to speak of.

Intel Inside, with some other stuff, hopefully …

On switching the laptop on, it chunters away for far too many minutes booting up Vista and then loading a whole bunch of trial software that they think you’re then going to be stupid enough to pay for. Probably this aspect will vary according to the exact package you buy, but in terms of software I found I didn’t even have a free word processor package, just Microsoft Office waiting for a registration key I didn’t have. Now pretty much everyone is online and can register for software, I’ve noticed the number of pre-installed packages has plummeted. On my last desktop PC (purchased in 2003), Office was an extra 150, but the basic machine came with Microsoft Works at least.

By the time everything’s finished loading and installing, you’ll probably find you’ve run out of memory and need to quit most of the programs. The computer comes with 1GB of RAM as standard, which should still be more than enough in this day and age, but it is dragged down by the memory-crunching beast that is Windows Vista. I truly loathe Windows Vista. It takes up stupid amounts of memory on computers that aren’t really up to running it, and what do you get? A sidebar with a clock on it and a picture of a waterfall?

Vista’s limitations don’t reflect on the laptop itself, but as it’s very hard to get the machine without the operating system, it has to be a consideration. The sad fact is that the Extensa 5220 isn’t really capable of running with all the stuff that comes pre-installed, and you’ll need to spend a few hours deleting stuff in order to get it running above a snail’s pace.

Hard Times …

The machine comes with an 80GB hard drive… sort of. They’ve taken the bizarre step of partitioning the hard drive into a C: and D: drive. And Vista and things take up the lion’s share of the C: drive (which is also the default drive every time you want to save something). So basically half your hard drive is a nightmare to get to, and the other half’s already full. Smooth work, lads.

Other stuff …

There’s a DVD rewriter drive, but for some reason it wouldn’t let me watch a DVD without installing hundreds of DIVx things.

The only ventilation panels are on the bottom, so it overheats if you use it in bed. Which is the only reason to have a laptop at home anyway.

The wi-fi basically works well, but if you travel with it, it picks up every single network it detects and saves it to its list, and I can’t work out how to delete them again. There’s close to a thousand now, after I used the machine on a bus from Wimbledon to Richmond one day.

The battery lasts around an hour and a half. Longer if you turn off the screen’s backlighting and stuff like that, but it’s still at least half an hour longer than any other laptop battery I’ve used in the past.

Having said all that…

This laptop has worked reliably enough for me for about 18 months now, and had proved itself to be robust and durable. It’s a cheap model, costing around 350 in shops, and I got it for 250 because I bought it on a business account through a company I worked for. It’s totally adequate for word processing, surfing the web and managing photos and music. It’s not so hot for video, but a RAM upgrade should more or less sort that out. It handles World of Warcraft cheerfully enough, but I still tend to use my desktop for most other games.

I’m scoring it low because it should never have been put on sale with Vista installed, and all those other niggling problems with software. These are all things that you can work around if you know what you’re doing, and I have, but computers are mostly sold to people who don’t know what they’re doing these days, and who might actually be stupid enough to pay to register their pre-installed Microsoft Office, instead of downloading Open Office absolutely free and legally.

So, yes, it’s a decent enough machine that’s been packaged poorly. Approach with caution.

About User Lin