So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Acer TravelMate 8100 Series
- Crisp 15.4' widescreen
- Shorter battery life than predecessor
Sleek, powerful, well-equipped portable computing for a fair price.
Price$ 3,699.00 (AUD)
Wider screen. Sleeker case. Easier upgrades. The Acer TravelMate 8100 offers several advantages over its predecessor, the impressive TravelMate 8000.
The 8100 weighs about 2.86kg--including an integrated DVD burner--yet boasts an impressively large 15.4" wide-aspect screen for working on documents side by side more easily. The native 1680 x 1050-pixel resolution renders screen elements slightly small but crisp and perfectly readable.
The unit slopes to a slim 1.3" in front, and the lower case is slightly deeper than the closed screen to protect it from bumps and to leave exposed the front ports. Those connections include microphone and headphone jacks in addition to a five-in-one card reader and handy Bluetooth and Wi-Fi buttons that both control wireless communications and serve as glowing status indicators. Three of the four USB 2.0 ports now sit on the right-hand side of the case instead of the left, a welcome change for right-handed folks like me.
The 8100 is fully user-upgradeable: you can access both RAM slots, and the hard drive is easy to reach in a compartment on the bottom.
The 8100 lasted a little over 4 hours on one charge in our tests. That's well above average.
On our test bench, the 8100 performed well, doing better than the 8000. It pulled down a WorldBench 5 score of 94, about what I would expect from a 2GHz Pentium M 760-equipped laptop loaded with 1GB of RAM. A Toshiba Portege S100 with the same processor but only half the RAM earned a score of 83.
Although Acer calls the 8100 a mainstream laptop, it's loaded, with a capital L. It has a removable right-side double-layer DVD burner that swaps out for a second hard drive or a second battery; it has a FireWire port; and it offers three ways to connect an external monitor (via VGA, S-Video, and DVI-D). Those who prefer key cards to fingerprint readers for thwarting break-ins at the BIOS, password, and file levels will appreciate the 8100's smartcard slot, stacked atop a standard PC Card slot on the left side of the case. You get two cards with your purchase, including one that can be set up as a one-time-use emergency card. (After that, you have to return the laptop to a dealer for resetting, which is one reason I slightly favour a biometric security solution.)
The TravelMate's ergonomic keyboard curves 5 degrees upward on the ends so you end up positioning your elbows in a way that experts say helps prevent carpal tunnel syndrome. It's an acquired taste. Besides that, I liked everything else about the keyboard, including its short, hard 2.7mm key depression (rather than the standard 3mm) and handy set of four user-programmable shortcut buttons.
Acer includes some nice software extras. For instance, the proprietary power management utility makes it extremely easy to specify customised power schemes, including whether the FireWire port and wireless scanning are enabled. Acer's GridVista, based on Dritek System's utility for dragging and dropping applications into preset windows on the extrawide screen, looked worthwhile, but I couldn't get it to work on our unit.
The only area in which the 8100 stumbles is entertainment. Letterboxed DVD movies looked fine on the wide-aspect screen, but sound from the front-mounted stereo speakers was too faint. Hardware volume control is limited to annoying combination keystrokes. Looking up information in the user manuals could be easier, too. The Acrobat manual preinstalled on the hard drive is more detailed than the basic printed manual, but it has no index. At first, I thought that it also lacked a contents page, but that page simply turned out not to be bookmarked.
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