Acer 3935 – Two years on

Alo alo!

This is almost a review of a product, but from a perspective two years after purchase. Since you can never give fully accurate views just a few days/weeks after purchase (as many do) this is probably going to sound aggressive – but I’ve had 2 years to find the bad bits!

The problem

First of all, every 3935 notebook Acer made seems to have the same fault, mainly affecting WiFi by turning it on and off randomly and repeatedly. Many of the initial 3935 owners sent their notebooks back to Acer for repair, who basically sent it back to the customer saying ‘provide more evidence’. I suspect 2 years later, owners have managed to ‘fix’ the problem that Acer couldn’t.

The fault is with the ‘Touch Board’ at the top of the laptop, just above the keyboard. It seems that the panel is heat-sensitive, and it’s placed directly above the power board (creates heat) and close to the CPU /northbridge / southbridge heatsink which also creates heat. The end result is a messy inconvenience of the touch board thinking all of its buttons are being pressed continuously, thus launching Acer Backup Manager, and enabling/disabling the WiFi & Bluetooth. To try and fix this, Acer replace the material underneath the board to try and stop heat – but of course this doesn’t work. The only way I’ve found to ‘fix’ the fault is to remove the part of the casing the touch board is attached to and pull out the ribbon that connects it to the motherboard. The downside is that you can no longer enable or disable your WiFi or Bluetooth so it’s constantly on – not so much a problem.

The Good and Bad

The second flaw of this notebook is heat. Acer haven’t been ideal with their heat removal strategy, and though the (shared) heatpipes cover CPU, northbridge and southbridge, the fan and heatsink that expels the hot air isn’t really big enough for these components, and can quite easily let the CPU reach 80°C + when loaded. To combat this, I’ve used a small utility called ThrottleStop which allows you to undervolt the CPU to create less heat. Since undervolting, I can run the CPU flat out at 0.925v without it exceeding 62°C. Pretty happy with that 🙂

Style & Build

A major plus point is the style and build quality. I bought this notebook, a 2.13GHz Core2 Duo with 250GB HDD, 4GB DDRIII and WiFi-N two years ago for £399. It’s still decent spec, albeit not quite as fast as the new 32nm ranges of Intel CPU’s, but for day-to-day tasks it’s still more than ideal. Style-wise, the visible areas of the chassis (and the lid) are made of lightly textured aluminium of a kinda coffee-chocolate colour. It looks very nice, and feels very robust. The screen has edge-to-edge glass giving the notebook a very premium, classy and business feel. Chic.

An upgrade, sir?

In terms of upgradability, this is where Acer wins and fails at the same time. The underside of the notebook has a very large access panel so you can get to the RAM to upgrade it – though Acer say the maximum memory this model will take is 4GB, so how you can “upgrade” your RAM when it’s already full is beyond me. Also underneath the large panel is access to the northbridge, southbridge and CPU – but these are covered by a very large interconnected heatsink which you can’t remove without taking the whole notebook to bits – so the large panel is seemlessly pointless. There is a 1.8″ SATA drive bay for SSD’s under the panel too, though this is disabled if you have the model with a 2.5″ HDD – this is where it gets complex.

Some Acer 3935 models shipped with integral optical drives; mine didn’t. I have the model with a 2.5″ HDD in its place, however this HDD is inaccessible because of its location in the chassis and no access panels for it. Clearly an afterthought, Acer. So I have a 1.8″ SSD SATA bay that I can’t use and a 2.5″ bay that I can’t easily access if the HDD fails. Sigh.

On the plus side, I’ve recently upgraded this laptop to 8GB DDRIII 1333MHz RAM. Yes, it can be done, and it works great – despite Acer saying the notebook will only accept half of this capacity. For those of you who run lots of applications simultaneously and constantly go above 50% of utilised RAM (in Win 7 or Vista) you could benefit from a RAM upgrade. It’s not that expensive; I bought a Corsair 8GB DDRIII 1333MHz kit for £38!

Overview

The Acer 3935 notebook has great aesthetics, professional grade build quality, is slim and light, has (up to) 4 hours battery life and can accept up to 8GB DDRIII RAM. For a road warrior, or for those who like smaller notebooks for everyday use, this notebook is ideal. Unfortunately the 3935 is no longer in production, but has been replaced by the awesome Acer TimelineX 3820 range of notebooks.

I also have a 3820, with a Core i7 640m 2.8GHz (3.46GHz turbo), 8GB DDRIII RAM and 640GB HDD in it, which is very similar in style and principal to the 3935 though clearly outperforms the 3935 under load. I’d happily recommend the Acer 3820 range notebooks to anyone looking for a thin and light but powerful notebook, both for those who travel and those who’ll use it in-home or office.