Of late, many retailers have been offering basic notebooks that are very attractively priced. The Acer Extensa 4420, which retails for between $399 and $699, is one such notebook that I recently purchased for my wife to surf the internet, check emails, and manage her recipes.
The Acer Extensa 4420 has the following specifications:
- Processor: AMD Athlon 64 X2 dual-core processor TK-57
- Operating System: Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium Edition operating system
- Memory: 2GB PC2-5300 DDR2 SDRAM
- Optical Drive: Multiformat DVD±RW/CD-RW drive with double-layer support
- Screen: 14.1″ WXGA TFT-LCD CrystalBrite widescreen display
- Hard drive: Hitachi 160GB 5400rpm SATA hard drive
- Graphics: ATI Radeon Xpress X1250 graphics with 256MB dedicated memory
- Audio: Acer 3DSonic stereo speakers with high-definition audio support
- Wireless: Acer InviLink wireless LAN (802.11b/g)
- Ports: 5-in-1 media card reader, Ethernet LAN with RJ-45 connector; V.92 high-speed modem
- Weight: 5.3 lbs
- Dimensions: 13.03″ x 9.76″ x 1.17 / 1.61″
Prior to purchase, I had considered the 14-inch HP Pavilion dv2910 and the Toshiba Satellite M305, as well as the Gateway T6836. The HP Pavilion dv2910, at one point, was being sold for $549 after rebate, which made it very tempting since it was a Core 2 Duo machine. But I decided to wait and go for a notebook for as low as I could find, preferably $400 or less, without compromising too much on the specifications.
I purchased this notebook from Best Buy when they were running a special for this notebook. At that time, this notebook was on sale for $399, which is not too bad for a thin and light notebook, considering the specs. In my opinion, this machine offers tremendous value for money, especially in these difficult economic times.
Office Depot also recently sold a variant of this notebook at the same price. The Office Depot model featured bluetooth and a webcam, both of which are conspicuous by their absence on this particular model.
Build and Design
This is my first Acer product, so I was initially a little apprehensive about the build quality of this notebook. When I played around with the notebook at Best Buy, I was taken aback at how solid this little notebook felt. Build quality is pretty decent. Acer’s Extensa line of notebooks features magnesium alloy casing which is tough yet lightweight. The screen lid has rounded edges and does flex a bit, but nothing to worry about too much. Also, I find that if strong pressure is applied on top of the lid, one can notice small ripples on the screen. I would say the overall design is rather bland, certainly not eye-catching, but not downright ugly either. Weight, as mentioned earlier, is 5.3 lbs. This makes it really convenient to carry around the house, or on a plane.
The 14 inch screen is glossy and reflective, with a maximum resolution of 1280 x 800. It is very clear and bright with no dead pixels. Watching movies is generally an enjoyable experience. Backlighting appears to be even and I cannot notice any light leaks anywhere on the screen. The screen can be quite grainy and colors may appear distorted if you’re viewing the screen from an angle, as opposed to viewing the screen from directly in front.
This notebook features Acer’s GridVista technology, which splits the screen into up to four sections, allowing more efficient multi-tasking. For a 14-inch notebook, though, I wonder how productive one can get with several tiny windows open at once. However, GridVista can be used on a second monitor simultaneously. The picture below shows how GridVista works.
This notebook has two speakers located at the front, and angled downwards. This rather poor design means that sound is delivered downwards. Speaker performance is exactly as one would expect for a low-priced 14 inch notebook. Sound is not loud at all. You are better off using headphones. According to the User Manual, this notebook features speakers with 32-bit High Definition Audio, but I suspect this to be more of a software function.
Processor and Performance
Having never worked extensively with an AMD based machine before, I was quite apprehensive about the performance of the Acer. For general tasks such as surfing the internet, listening to music, watching a movie or using MS Office, this notebook performs flawlessly. It is fast, and can handle multiple programs simultaneously with little to no lag.
The machines comes with 2GB of RAM, and although this is sufficient, it might be a good idea to upgrade to 3GB, since the graphics card borrows up to 640MB of memory, and could bog down the system, especially when running CPU-intensive applications.
I have not installed any games on this machine, but I would imagine that the X1250 graphics card should be capable enough to handle quite a few games at medium to low settings. I read a review about how one user was able to get Crysis running at low resolution on this laptop.
In this section, we’ll compare the performance of this notebook with other notebooks.
PCMark05 comparison results (Higher scores indicate better performance):
|Acer Extensa 4420 (1.9GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 TK-57, ATI Radeon X1250)||2,960 PCMarks|
|Apple MacBook (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7350, Nvidia GeForce 9400M)||3,961 PCMarks|
|Dell Inspiron 13 (1.86GHz Intel T2390, Intel X3100)
|Lenovo ThinkPad X301 (1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400, Intel 4500MHD)||4,457 PCMarks|
|Sony VAIO NR (1.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5250, Intel X3100)||3,283 PCMarks|
|Sony VAIO CR (1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7100, Intel X3100)||3,612 PCMarks|
|Sony VAIO TZ (1.20GHz Core 2 Duo U7600, Intel GMA 950)||2,446 PCMarks|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100)||4,153 PCMarks|
|Lenovo 3000 V200 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100)||3,987 PCMarks|
|Lenovo T60 Widescreen (2.0GHz Intel T7200, ATI X1400 128MB)||4,189 PCMarks|
|HP dv6000t (2.16GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400)||4,234 PCMarks|
|Fujitsu N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400)||3,487 PCMarks|
|Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60, Nvidia Go 7800GTX)||5,597 PCMarks|
|Sony VAIO SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400)||3,637 PCMarks|
|Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400, Nvidia Go 7400)||3,646 PCMarks|
3DMark06 comparison results (Higher scores indicate better performance):
|Acer Extensa 4420 (1.9GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 TK-57, ATI Radeon X1250)||304 3DMarks|
|Apple MacBook (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7350, Nvidia GeForce 9400M)
|Dell Inspiron 13 (1.86GHz Intel T2390, Intel X3100)
|Lenovo ThinkPad X301 (1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400, Intel 4500MHD)||712 3DMarks|
|Sony VAIO NR (1.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5250, Intel X3100)||504 3DMarks|
|Toshiba Tecra A9 (2.20GHz Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA Quadro NVS 130M 256MB)||932 3DMarks|
|Toshiba Tecra M9 (2.20GHz Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA Quadro NVS 130M 128MB)||1,115 3DMarks|
|Sony VAIO TZ (1.20GHz Core 2 Duo U7600, Intel GMA 950)||122 3DMarks|
|LG R500 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GS 256MB)||2,776 3DMarks|
|HP dv2500t (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB)||1,055 3DMarks|
|Dell Inspiron 1420 (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB)||1,329 3DMarks|
|Sony VAIO FZ (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100)||532 3DMarks|
|Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB)||1,408 3DMarks|
|Samsung Q70 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7300 and nVidia 8400M G GPU)||1,069 3DMarks|
|Asus F3sv-A1 (Core 2 Duo T7300 2.0GHz, Nvidia 8600M GS 256MB)||2,344 3DMarks|
|Alienware Area 51 m5550 (2.33GHz Core 2 Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7600 256MB||2,183 3DMarks|
|HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400)||827 3DMarks|
Keyboard and Touchpad
As with many Acer notebooks, this one features a keyboard with a gently curved layout, allowing the keys to be full size. The keys feel quite solid and travel just right. I was amazed to find little to no keyboard flex on this machine. I do notice, however, that there is a large space between the keys and the edge of the keyboard. I’m pretty sure, after several months of use, there will be large quantities of dust and other stuff, trapped in that space.
The Power button is located on the top right, above the keyboard, along with a set of programmable Quick Launch Buttons. These buttons include:
- Empowering button – launches Acer Empowering Technology tools (refer to the Operating System and Software section)
- Windows Lock button – locks Windows
- Presentation button – for presentations
- Sync button – synchronizes the notebook with another device.
- Internet Browser launch button – launches Firefox (or other Internet browser).
- Email client launch button – launches Outlook (or other email client)
- User Programmable button – can be programmed to launch a program
Refer to the picture below for more details. Although these buttons are a tad smaller than I would have liked, I find them to be extremely useful, especially the Internet Browser button, which I use all the time.
One useful feature is the inclusion of separate € and $ keys positioned just above the arrow keys. Anyone dealing with currencies and spreadsheets would find this to be really useful.
The Synaptics touchpad is located below the keyboard, centered under the space bar. Although it is rather small, I find it to be very responsive. Located immediately below the touchpad, we can find the left-click and right-click keys, separated by a 4-way scroll button, which allows the user to scroll up or down, left or right of a page.
Input and Output Ports
For a budget notebook, this machine features a pretty decent selection of ports. Even though this is a 14 inch notebook, it has four USB ports, one on the front, one on the left side, and two on the right side. Headphone and microphone jacks are conveniently located on the front side as well. A complete list of ports is given below:
- Four USB 2.0 ports
- PC Card slot (Type II)
- IEEE 1394 port
- 5-in-1 multi-card reader
- Headphone jack
- Microphone jack
- Line-In jack
- S-Video out
- VGA port
The wireless card (Broadcom 802.11 b/g) on this notebook has been impressive. It has been able to hold a consistently strong signal. A Wireless Toggle switch is conveniently located at the front, along with a Bluetooth Toggle switch, even though this model does not feature Bluetooth.
The 160GB, 5400 rpm hard disk drive is made by Hitachi, and runs fast and quiet. The hard drive is already partitioned into three parts, the smallest of which is a hidden partition that contains the OS recovery data. This notebook also features Acer DASP (Disk Anti-Shock Protection) technology, which protects the hard drive from shocks, by absorbing the impact from a bump or a drop. I have not tested this feature, and do not plan to.
This notebook features a 6-cell Lithium-ion battery pack. Battery life has been quite impressive without being outstanding. Under Power Saver mode, the notebook averages almost 2 hours with a few open programs and wireless running.
This notebook comes with a 65 W power adapter that is lightweight and easy to carry around.
Heat and Noise
When using the notebook continuously on one’s lap, it gets unusually hot after more than a half hour. The single fan that is provided, is located at the bottom, near the back right corner of the notebook. The fan kicks in frequently and can be a little distracting, especially if you’re concentrating really hard or trying to do some really serious work. However, if located on a desk or table, with proper ventilation, heat is minimal, and the fan is not required at all.
Operating System and Software
As mentioned above, this notebook comes with Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium Edition (32-bit) with Service Pack 1 (SP1) preinstalled, meaning this notebook was up and running straight out the box. An Operating System DVD is not provided. Instead, the pre-installed Acer eRecovery Management tool prompted me to burn a couple of System Restore DVDs, as well as another DVD containing all the requisite drivers.
Acer includes a suite of tools (Acer Empowering Technology) that may prove to be useful to many users:
- Acer eNet Management – a tool for managing network connections (wired and wireless)
- Acer ePower Management – a power management tool
- Acer ePresentation Management – a tool used for connecting the notebook to a projector
- Acer eDataSecurity Management – an encryption software to protect the hard drive from unauthorized access
- Acer eLock Management – a software to lock external media (USB drives, optical drive)
- Acer eRecovery Management – a backup / recovery software
- Acer eSettings Management – a utility to access and/or modify system BIOS settings
Some people may find these software programs to be useless, or may prefer to use some other programs, and thus may consider this software suite to be bloatware. I find the software to be rather useful, and not intrusive or resource-hungry.
This notebook does not have much bloatware. 60-day trial versions of Microsoft Office 2007 and McAfee Internet Security 2008 are also included, both of which I immediately uninstalled.
I have not had an opportunity to use Acer’s Customer Service till date, so I cannot comment on their efficiency. A 1-year International Travelers Warranty is included with the purchase.
For years, I have never recommended Acer notebooks primarily due to their relatively mediocre build quality. After using the Acer Extensa 4420, I find that I am going to have to revise my opinion about Acer notebooks in general. Sure, it is not a ThinkPad or a Pavilion, but at its price point, you’ll be hard pressed to find a sturdier notebook. This notebook has indeed lived up to my expectations. I anticipate strong sales for this notebook during the upcoming holiday season. It is not the latest, greatest or fastest out there, but it will suit the needs for the majority of buyers out there.
- Terrific price / value for money, especially in these difficult economic times.
- Light and portable.
- Very nice screen.
- Adequate performance.
- Not a whole lot of bloatware.
- No built-in webcam.
- No built-in bluetooth.
- Gets very hot.
- Power and Quick Launch buttons are a little small.
- OS Recovery DVD not included.