This is a review of (and a meditation inspired by) the Acer Aspire 5733Z-4816notebook computer.
I like to tell myself that I make my computers earn their purchase price, and then some. My chief working computer for nearly the past six years has been a Dell Vostro laptop. When I bought it (if I’m not mistaken) George W. Bush was in the White House and Dennis Hastert was still Speaker of the House. (“You don’t say, Grandpa! And the wolves in Wales?”) I never upgraded the operating system from XP or even boosted the 1 GB RAM with which it came. The machine served me very well, frankly. Any significant problems I had while using it were always software-based. Until, that is, the most recent problem, when it abruptly shut off while I was doing nothing in particular. It just went “pfft,” like an old TV set being turned off. It wouldn’t go back on, then, but it did some hours later, as if nothing had happened. Still, I had to believe that the old boy was telling me to prepare for the day when he just wouldn’t be able to spin that hard disk anymore. It was clearly time.
I’ve used Dell personal computers for a long, long time, and similarly have never had a major complaint about the hardware. That’s why I’ve kept using them. If it works, why mess around? (You might call it the essence of the conservative ethos.) However, times and circumstances change no matter how you might try to keep them static. Money being an issue, it seemed like a wise juncture at which to see if more could be had at my preferred-price-point from a different manufacturer.
I eventually concluded that this was indeed the case. Looking at the lowest priced 15.6″ laptops, Acer seemed to be offering the most bang for the buck, and getting (generally) favorable reviews while doing it. I could get a 2.13 GHz (Pentium) machine with 4 GB of RAM from Acer for significantly less than a machine with those same properties would cost from Dell. So, in the end, that is what I did.
The specific model I purchased was the Acer Aspire 5733Z-4816, 15.6″ screen, in mesh-gray, with Windows 7. On arrival it was certainly easy to set up and it was pleasing to see how hardware had advanced since the earlier part of this century. The screen seemed brilliantly sharp. The speed of boot-up and shut-down and everything else was terrific. One aspect of progress, however, immediately dismayed me. There were no discs enclosed with the computer, of the kind one would use to reinstall Windows and the various device drivers in a crisis.
This picked at an old scab for me, which requires a bit of elucidation. I entered the computer and the internet age around 1996, when I bought a used computer from a guy who was working temporarily at the company I then worked for. He was moving and selling a lot of his belongings, including a desktop PC. I’d heard about the internet thing, even been on it briefly at a library, but with this computer and its amazing 2.4 kbps modem I could soon be sailing the web myself! The possibilities seemed endless. With a used computer, however, I soon found out that the problems were endless. When I bought it, kicking the case to make sure it was solid, I asked the guy if he had the discs that came with it. He said, “Uh, yeah, I have to dig them out—I’ll mail them to you.” I gave him $600 (in 1990′s cash money!) and lugged the massive computer and monitor home. (It may have required two cab-rides.)
That guy who sold me that computer may be the only person I can think of, who, if I ran into him again on the street, would simply receive from me a punch in the face, no questions asked.
The discs naturally never came. The guy had escaped to no-forwarding-address-ville. The computer almost immediately sprouted all kinds of problems, and everything I could figure out to try to fix them ended up demanding the Windows installation discs. I was a miserable, crippled, self-hating human being until the day—which was a long time coming—when I was able to buy a new computer and throw that one in the trash. Lessons learned: (1) Never buy a used computer. (2) Especially never ever ever buy any computer without installation and recovery discs.
Which brings me back to the Acer Aspire 5733Z-4816, which arrived without same in the year 2012. True, there were instructions on making one’s own, but not finding any actually in the box made me pull at my phantom hair and violently rend some of the bubble wrap strewn around. How could this happen? How could I spend real money on a new computer and not be provided with installation discs, but only directions on how to make some myself with string and glue? Selling a computer without discs is like selling a car without wheels! It’s an affront, an offense, a fraud! I yearned for someone I could punch in the face.
And then I exhaled and followed the directions to burn recovery DVDs, and also to set up a system back-up on an external hard drive. It was not too hard, although it was a little time-consuming to complete it all (like an hour or two).
However, what really calmed me down in the end was doing a bit of reflection on how much better this computer was as compared to that one I bought in 1996, although costing about $200 less than that one had cost me used (and less still, considering inflation). I think that computer had 32 megabytes of RAM. This one has 4 gigabytes. That’s 125 times as much! The hard drive space is greater by an even larger factor. Actually, making any comparison of numbers is something of a waste of time. There is no comparison. My new machine, pretty much a bargain-basement notebook computer in 2012, weighing just over 5 lbs with the battery installed, is an inconceivably more advanced and powerful computer than the large, heavy desktops that cost several times as much to buy brand new in the mid-1990s. It’s also far more powerful than the last big desktop computer I purchased as recently as 2003, and substanially less expensive at the same time. Just to be able to own such a marvelous piece of engineering and technology is a pretty astounding thing, all in all. And I’m getting mad because I have to burn some recovery discs?
And I remembered that I’d had a related reflection during the process of shopping for a new laptop. I would go from website to website, looking at computers in my price-range and reading reviews. Again and again I would see statements like the following attached to the kinds of laptops I was considering: “Good purchase. Fine for web browsing and email.” What?! The tone of dismissiveness amazed me. The idea that a computer with all of these resources and features is merely “fine for web browsing and email” but otherwise unworthy of note is rather mind-boggling, when you look at it with a little perspective. The richest man in the world could not have owned a computer anything like this a mere fifteen or twenty years ago. Now you can slip this marvel of human ingenuity in a bag and carry it with you everywhere you go. While it may not easily handle the very highest-end contemporary software for video editing and super-advanced “gaming” and such, the fact is that what you can achieve with a computer like this one is truly only limited by your own creativity. It’s human nature, of-course: We so quickly take for granted these life-changing technological marvels which we can purchase at such relatively low prices, and focus instead on whatever small inadequacies or imperfections we can find in them.
Oh well; that is in a certain sense what makes the world go round.
So, before I disappear into a puff of philosophical bliss while contemplating this nirvana of low-cost laptops, let me take on a few specifics of this particular Acer Aspire notebook computer.
As mentioned, I chose it because it seemed at that point the lowest-cost laptop around which came with 4 GB of RAM and a comparable processor (Intel Pentium dual-core, 2.13 GHz). It seemed accepted wisdom that Windows 7 would run most smoothly with 4 GB of RAM, although many “entry-level” laptops come only with 2 GB. Both the RAM and processor speed promised the ability to multi-task without strain, and I’ve found this to be the case. I can have web browser open, be doing a little audio editing, maybe editing a photo too, have a word processor open, and have not noticed any significant slow-down or hanging, and that’s very nice indeed.
A concern of mine in advance was how new computers come loaded with junkware: i.e. free trial offers of software you probably neither want nor need, many of which programs will load automatically when you turn the PC on. I was relieved that my particular model was not unduly clogged with such things. I just manually uninstalled two or three programs of that nature (while installing my favorite free antivirus program) and everything then seemed quite clean and wonderful.
The screen was sharp and clear—a huge improvement over my old Dell, and with better visibility from off-center angles.
No complaints from me about the keyboard, and I like having the number-pad which is enabled by the new style of “widescreen” 15.6″ laptops.
The battery, a 6-cell lithium-ion, supposedly offers up to five hours per charge. Obviously user experience will vary, but I’ve found it fine for the type of use I put it through at about three and a half hours anyway. (By the way, investigating how to prolong the life-expectancy of one’s battery, I found that it is apparently best to remove it when running the laptop off of the power grid and store it—somewhat less than fully charged—in the proverbial cool, dry place. Keeping a battery both hot and fully charged—as it would generally be while in one’s laptop—apparently helps degrade its long-term ability to hold a charge. And relevant to all this, the battery in this Acer laptop is quite small and light and easy to pop in and out, so I’ve been following that those recommendations.)
Complaints: there are a few. I found the touchpad to be way too sensitive for my liking, with the merest of accidental brushes resulting in strange activities on the screen and even hang-ups. Going into the settings, I was amazed (and not a little dismayed) at how many different qualities there are which can be adjusted. I got it set more to my liking, but still not perfect. I became resigned to adjusting my own behavior to a certain degree rather than perfectly regimenting the behavior of the touchpad. (So does technology inevitably alter our humanity.)
The built-in speakers are notably unimpressive to me. Merely to listen casually to something on YouTube I now will often use earphones or plug in some portable computer speakers, whereas on my old Dell I could generally get by with the built-in speakers.
The mesh-gray case is, I suppose, somewhat “cheap-looking,” but, let’s face it, the computer is cheap.
There are various other features, e.g. the webcam, which I’ve had no cause to put through any paces as yet.
In summary, however, this Acer Aspire 5733Z-4816laptop computer seems to have the goods where it really counts and, at the price I paid, seems to offer very good value.
Durability is another question, and one which is yet to be resolved. Check back here in six years.
Addendum 12/6/2012: A couple of caveats to add to this (and I’m moving my rating down one notch). First, there is no HDMI port. You’ll know what this is if you need it, especially if you want to connect the computer to a TV monitor. Also no DVI; there is VGA (and of-course the USB ports).
Secondly: if you know what “Line-In” is, as opposed to just a “microphone” input, be warned that you don’t have that option on this laptop. My old laptop would ask, whenever I plugged something into the “mic” input, whether I wanted to treat it as “microphone” or “line-in.” I would choose “line-in” for such things as making digital recordings of my long-playing vinyl records, because using “microphone” resulted in distorted noisy recordings. All I can get with this laptop are horrible noisy recordings. I have searched for workarounds at length with no success. This bothers me more than the lack of an HDMI port, because “line-in” is very basic, old and yet-still-necessary technology, and really ought to be standard. Boo indeed to Acer on this.
RATING: Seven out of ten lead pipes.