By Omar Saeed
On a recent trip to the Middle East, I was looking to purchase a laptop to bring back to the UK in order to use it for University. At first I considered some sub-notebooks such as the Sony TR and Fujitsu-Siemens Lifebook. After discovering that all of the sub-notebook options had integrated graphics, I decided to sacrifice some portability for power and started looking around for what may be classed as a DTR (desktop replacement) laptop.
Acer Aspire 2012 front-view, yes that is Sony VAIO wallpaper on an Acer laptop! (view larger image)
The selection of laptops available which met my requirements was limited at the time. (Pentium-M CPU, 15.4" widescreen and at least a Mobility Radeon 9600). The Acer Aspire 2012WLMi emerged as a good choice with a significant advantage in that it came with a one year international warranty as standard. Another option open to me was a similarly configured Acer M6N (with 64MB Mobility Radeon 9600). However, in the end I went for the Acer due to the fact that for the same price as the M6N, I was getting a 64MB Radeon 9700 and a DVD-Burner (the M6N was a fixed configuration with a DVD/CDRW combo drive)
There has been a lot of interest in the 2012WLMi recently due to its affordable pricing in North America and Europe.
Left-side view of Acer Aspire 2012 (view larger image)
Acer Aspire 2012WLCi vs. Acer Aspire 2012WLMi
rear-view of Aspire 2012 WLMi (view larger image)
In North America, the Acer Aspire 2012 currently comes in two configurations, the Aspire WLCi and Aspire WLMi models. The difference being that the WLCi has a 40GB hard drive, integrated Intel Extreme graphics and a DVD/CDRW combo drive while the WLMi model has a 60GB hard drive, 64MB Mobility Radeon 9700 and a DVD-dual drive (more about this later).
Right-side view of Acer Aspire 2012 (view larger image)
In Europe, both the WLCi and WLMi models come with the Mobility 9700 and only differ in hard drive capacity and optical drive as noted above.
With both models (WLCi and WLMi) there is a choice of operating system; either Windows XP Home or Professional.
Specification (as tested)
* Note that as standard, the 2012WLMi comes configured with two sticks of 256mb PC2700 (333 Mhz DDR) memory.
** The purchased model came with XP Home but I fresh installed XP Professional.
Design, Build and Weight
The 2012 WLMi has quite a nice clean design, the lid is grey/silver and the rest of the unit is black with some silver around the sides.
There is a "lip" which sticks out at the front of the laptop when the screen is closed, this houses the built-in microphone and indicator LEDs for: power (green), hard drive activity (blue) and finally battery status (blue when battery is fully charged and orange while charging)
Acer Aspire 2012 WLMi (view larger image)
The construction is all plastic, apart from the small metal Acer logo on the lid; however the laptop feels very solid overall despite this.
My only minor complaint about the build quality is that the screen latches are also made of plastic, I would have preferred these to have been metal even if only to reassure the user of their durability.
Acer Aspire 2012 Screen latch (view larger image)
The 2012 WLMi provides easy access to the mini-PCI slot, hard drive and one of the two RAM slots all on the bottom of the laptop and accessible by removing some covers. The second RAM slot is located underneath the keyboard and requires a little more disassembly to get to.
The weight of the 2012 WLMi (with battery) is around 3 kilograms which is reasonable considering the screen size and specification. The power adaptor is quite compact and adds about an extra 300-500 grams to the traveling weight of the laptop.
There is not much that can be said about the speakers, they are about average for a laptop. Sound from the speakers lacks bass; however the volume can be turned up pretty high compared to other laptops I have used.
The 2012WLMi is advertised as having a DVD-Dual drive (this usually means it supports both the DVD+ and DVD¡V standards), however I was curious as to why Windows XP identified it as a DVD-RAM drive.
The optical drive is in fact a Matsushita (aka Panasonic) UJ-820S which is a 4x DVD burner, but it also supports writing to DVD-RAM disks, thus making it a DVD-Multi-drive. This particular drive is tray loading and is also used in some current Toshiba laptops. I have not burnt a DVD-RAM disk myself; however I am confident that the drive will have no problems with the task.
Optical drive tray open (view larger image)
I have not had much past experience with notebook CD/DVD burners, however performance seems adequate for this type of drive. Burning a full 700MB CD took 7:17 at 16x which is a little slow, however it is bearable. DVD burning with the drive set to 4x was disappointing with a 4.3GB burn taking over 27 minutes, this is usually how long desktop drives take to burn at 2x.
Unfortunately, there are two other downsides to the drive. The first being that the drive is a little on the noisy side when spinning up and operating at full speed (this can be solved by using a utility such as Nero DriveSpeed to limit the maximum read speeds in order to reduce noise)
The second downside is that Acer has implemented it as a fixed optical drive, meaning that it cannot be removed in order to save a little bit of weight. However, this is a very minor fault because most people would use the drive on a regular basis and the weight saving would only be around 250-300 grams.
Ports and Connectivity
The 2012WLMi provides an array of ports for connecting peripherals and for networking:
The wi-fi functionality is supplied via an Intel Pro Wireless 2200BG mini-PCI card. The card is easily accessible by removing a cover at the bottom of the laptop, allowing for easy upgrading/replacement in the future.
Access to the internal wi-fi card is easy on the Aspire 2012 (view larger image)
There are two buttons on the front of the laptop, one of which lights up orange and allows for easy control of the wi-fi card and the other is marked as Bluetooth. However please note that the 2012 series of laptops do not offer any integrated Bluetooth functionality.
UFO? No, just the Acer Aspire 2012 wireless lights (view larger image)
Wi-Fi performance is good, I am currently using a Linksys 54G broadband router and the signal reception around my house is better than I expected.
The laptop comes pre-installed with Windows XP as well as the following applications and utilities:
The strange thing about the default setup is that the hard drive is split into two partitions, both of which are FAT32. There also exists a small hidden Acer partition. Initially I managed to easily combine the two user partitions using Partition Magic and then convert the resulting single partition into NTFS. I later decided to perform a fresh install of Windows XP Professional (free student license provided by the University I attend).
Acer supplies four recovery CDs with an instruction booklet as well as Norton Antivirus 2004 on a separate CD. Unfortunately the recovery CDs do not allow the user to customize the Windows XP installation much at all, it is a simple restoration of a pre-made drive image. This does have the advantage of making the system restore process faster (drivers and such are already included as part of the system image).
An upside is that on the first recovery CD, Acer has conveniently provided separate drivers for all of the system components, so users who wish to perform a fresh installation of the operating system do not have to hunt around the internet to find drivers.
Keyboard and Touchpad
I could only detect very slight flexing of the keyboard if the keys are pressed down very hard, with normal usage I think it would be extremely difficult to detect.
The Synaptics touchpad is comfortable to use and has a nice scroll feature which allows the user to scroll a page by using the right-hand side of the touchpad, however it does tend to attract dust. The mouse buttons are the main problem, they are quite stiff although they do loosen up a little to a more comfortable level after some use.
A view of the Aspire 2012 keyboard (view larger image)
The 2012 includes and integrated 4-in-1 card reader located on the front of the laptop.
A view of the Acer Aspire 2012 card reader port (view larger image)
The card reader supports the Secure Digital, MultiMedia Card, SmartMedia and MemoryStick formats. I have been using a Secure Digital memory card without any problems.
Heat and Noise
The laptop in general runs pretty cool, although lots of disk activity or gaming can push up the temperature significantly. I find it quite acceptable to use on my lap for non-gaming use.
The 2012WLMi has a single main air vent at the rear, there are a couple of vents on the bottom, however these do not have any fans and are thus passively cooling the underside of the laptop.
The laptop is pretty quiet during normal use (i.e web surfing and word processing), however the regular clicking of the hard drive can be heard if you are in very quiet surroundings.
When the temperature starts to rise (i.e when gaming or compressing/uncompressing large files) the fan kicks in and has two modes, low and high. The fan very rarely kicks into the highest mode and doesn¡¦t usually stay in that state for long at all.
The screen is fantastic, out of the box I did not have a single dead pixel and I still do not have any after over a month. However, I have read that others who have purchased the 2012WLMi have experienced one or two dead pixels so my advice is to check your laptop supplier's dead pixel policy if ordering online.
A look at the nice screen for the Aspire 2012 (view larger image)
Back to the screen, I have played quite a few games and movies and could not easily notice any ghosting. The screen has ten brightness settings, and I find a setting of five or six to be more than sufficient for everyday use.
With the "Maximum Battery" power profile, the 2012WLMi manages over four hours of battery life with wi-fi being used for downloading and the screen brightness set to 5/10. I think this is a very respectable battery life.
Battery life while gaming is also very reasonable. Using the "Always On" power profile which runs the processor at 1.5 Ghz all of the time results in between 1:30 and 2:00 of solid gaming.
The Aspire 2012 battery is a removable Li-Ion with good life (view larger image)
Gaming and Benchmarks
In general, I have found that the laptop handles the current generation of games, including Unreal Tournament 2004 and Far Cry very well.
UT 2004 on the Aspire 2012 (view larger image)
In addition, I have run a variety of benchmarks on the laptop, configured as shown above.
All of the benchmarks were with the Mobility 9700 at stock speeds (392MHz GPU and 202MHz memory). I do not count the 64MB of graphics memory as a major flaw as it is good enough for the current crop of games, however future games may benefit more from 128MB of memory.
Summary (4 / 5 stars)
Pricing and Availability
The Aspire 2012 WLMi is available now in both Europe and North Amercia. In North America the WLMi can be picked up for $1,500 or less. Use the NotebookReview.com price comparison to find the online store with the best price for the Aspire 2012 WLMi.
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