Acer Aspire V3: "Budget desktop replacement" needn't be an oxymoron

It might seem as though every new Windows laptop has a bright, glossy touchscreen. After all, Windows 8 is a touch-centric operating system, and Intel requires any notebook powered by a fourth-generation Core processor to have a touchscreen. The hulking desktop-replacement models that gamers gravitate to, on the other hand, rarely have this feature. That omission has two reasons: First, gamers prefer to use wired mice or gamepads. Second, large touchscreens are expensive.

Acer's Aspire V3 (model V3-772G-9402) isn't necessarily a gaming machine, but it does have a 17.3-inch display (with resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels) and a powerful discrete graphics processor. Acer describes it as a "versatile entertainment powerhouse," and its $1100 price tag puts it in budget territory for people who don't mind lugging an 8-pound machine.

It's powered by one of Intel's fastest fourth-generation Core (aka Haswell) processors, the Core i7-4702MQ; 12GB of DDR3/1600 RAM; and Nvidia's third-fastest discrete mobile GPU, the GeForce GTX 760M. But Acer skimps on storage by equipping the machine with just a 500GB, 5400-rpm hard drive. That component choice explains the Aspire V3's somewhat unimpressive Notebook Worldbench 8.1 score of 177.

While that score marks the Aspire V3 as 77 percent faster than our reference machine, the Asus VivoBook S550CA, pricier gaming notebooks have delivered scores well north of 400. But when you look at some of the gaming benchmark results that go into that composite score, the Aspire V3 looks a little better. With Dirt Showdown and BioShock Infinite at resolution of 1024 by 768 pixels and visual quality set to low, it delivered very playable frame rates of 65.6 and 69.7 frames per second respectively.

Spend an additional $800 to buy something like Toshiba's $1900 Qosmio X75, on the other hand, and you'll experience those games at 119.7 and 165.3 frames per second respectively (and at lower--but playable--frame rates at higher resolutions).

The Aspire V3 is an attractively designed, well-built machine constructed mostly from plastic, but with a finish that looks like brushed aluminum. Its island-style keyboard is well spaced, includes a numeric keypad, and delivers very good tactile feedback. But if you like to play in the dark, you won't like the fact that it's not backlit.

Since it's not a touchscreen, the 17.3-inch display has a nonglare finish (most touchscreens are highly reflective, which can be problematic if you're using the computer near a bright light source). I didn't miss the touchscreen, because the large multitouch clickpad supports most Windows 8 gestures. You can pinch to zoom, for instance, and swipe in from the right to reveal the charms bar and in from the left to switch application windows.

The screen looks good, for the most part. It displays crisp, clean text and images with an accurate color balance. But I did notice a few issues with it: First, I saw some occasional shimmering, even in static images. Second, I had intermittent problems with the machine's brightness setting: Occasionally, when I turned the computer on, the display would be set to maximum brightness and refused respond to changes (even when I changed the power scheme). A restart resolved the problem each time it happened.

The Acer Aspire V3-772G-9402 isn't for everyone. It's big and heavy, it's a little clunky, and it doesn't deliver top-shelf performance. If you're looking for a powerful gaming laptop, or if you want to watch Blu-ray movies, Toshiba's Qosmio X75 is the better choice. But if you need an inexpensive desktop replacement with a big, high-resolution screen, the Aspire V3 is one of the better choices on the market right now.


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