Invasion of the large-screen notebooks: Bigger really can be better

Entertainment and business multimedia go hand in hand with these three big notebooks, but which one is a true blockbuster?

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How we tested

On top of the usual array of benchmarks, I added several tests to gauge the multimedia and entertainment abilities of these notebooks. After measuring, weighing and examining every nook and cranny of each system, each was given a thorough workout.

Tests included:

Overall performance: PassMark Performance Test 6.1 exercises every major component.

Battery life: With the system's Wi-Fi radio tuned to an Internet radio station and the audio set to three-fourths of full volume, each system was run down as PassMark's BatteryMon software charted the battery's capacity and recorded the time it shut down.

TV: I watched a lot of TV (someone had to), movies, online videos and several presentations, as well as high-resolution graphics, animation and CAD drawings. After measuring the remote control's range, I timed how long it took to go from the desktop to a TV station. For the Aspire and HDX, it's a two-step process that stops at the Media Center interface, so I timed both. Then, I timed how long it took to move up 10 channels; I divided this figure by 10 to get the average time it takes to go one channel.

Wi-Fi: Using a Linksys WRT54GS router and the PassMark Advanced Network Test, I measured each notebook's wireless throughput with a Dell server via a Wi-Fi wireless link at 15 feet. Next, I started up an Internet radio station and walked away from the Wi-Fi router while holding the laptop. I measured the spot farthest from the router where it still remained connected.

Power use: Finally, I measured the electrical current draw for each system as it performed typical business tasks and showed a TV show. Using the assumption that the typical system will be used for work eight hours a day and for watching TV four hours a day, I calculated how much power is required over a year. I used the Energy Information Administration's national average of 10 cents per kilowatt hour to estimate the system's power bill.

Performance test results

Acer Aspire 8920-6671 Eurocom M590KE Emperor-X HP Pavilion HDX
Passmark Performance 6.1 732.3 578.9 749.5
Wi-Fi throughput (per second)/range 13.9MB/100 feet 15.9MB/110 feet 13.6MB/105 feet
Battery life (hours:minutes) 1:50 0:50 2:40
Time to start TV/tune station (in seconds) 12.7/1.0 11.9/0.75 17.2/1.3
Remote control range 17 ft. 1 in. 16 ft. 3 in. 10 ft. 8 in.
Peak power use/est. annual cost 73 watts/$49.50 102 watts/$80.74 68 watts/$51.40

Conclusion

As good as they are at crossing over between work and play, each of these notebook monsters fell short in one area or another. I'd love to make a dream machine out of the best qualities of each: the size and weight of the Aspire 8920, the sound system and control panel of the HDX 9203, and the ports and connections of the M590KE.

If I needed to get one right away, I'd have no problem buying the HDX as my entertainment PC. It offers a great many features, has excellent performance and battery life, and -- most of all -- doesn't break the bank.

Brian Nadel is a freelance writer based near New York and is the former editor in chief of Mobile Computing & Communications magazine.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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