In my opinion, an ultra-portable notebook is one of the most useful IT products that you could wish for. For me, it means I can work away from the office – usually when I’m on holiday, while being small enough to accompany my camera gear when I’m on photo shoots. However, I have to admit that my current model is looking a tad long in the tooth. It is wireless-capable mind you, although the 802.11b wireless card sticking out precariously from one of the PC Card slots is not ideal. The screen is also starting to flicker, the battery lasts for under an hour and editing pictures with its non-responsive keyboard and mediocre 750MHz processor and 192MB of memory can be a real chore.
So, understandably I was quite excited to get my mittens on a brand new Acer TravelMate 382TMi notebook. By the way, that’s a TravelMate and not a “Travalmate” as the label describes – a minor oversight, and one that’s soon forgotten when you read the rest of the specifications.
A quick glance at these tells me that the 382TMi is a relatively powerful notebook. At the heart of the system lies a low power Pentium M 725 processor happily purring along at 1.6GHz. This CPU is based on the newer 90nm process technology and packs in a full 2MB of on-die Level 2 cache along with a 400MHz FSB. Backing this up is 512MB of DDR266 memory which is expandable to 2GB, although my unit came with two 256MB modules with no more room for expansion at a later date. If you want more memory I’d recommend stating that at the time of order.
Graphics are handled by Intel’s 855GM chipset which borrows up to 64MB of system memory so you can more or less forget about 3D gaming. It does, however, support DualView, which enables you to hook up a second display to the D-SUB interface situated at the rear. As it stands though, the chipset drives a small 12.1in TFT display with a 1024 x 768 native resolution. This might seem limited but if you want to go ultra-portable, then a small screen and resolution are typically par for the course. The screen itself is crisp and sharp and colours look rich head on, but be aware that the viewing angles are rather narrow. I found that a colour shift and a drop in illumination were noticeable after tilting the screen back and forth by only several degrees.
Also included is a roomy 60GB ATA100 hard disk that offers plenty of room for storing my images and general files, as well as copious amounts of music and the odd film I might want to watch while on the move. Typically, there’s minimal space for a built-in optical drive and rather than trying to squeeze one in, Acer has opted for an external drive – a Dual Layer DVD rewriter in fact, for reading DVDs and CDs and for writing CDs, DVD+, DVD- and of course larger capacity Dual Layer DVDs.
While this is impressive, there are two minor irritations. The first is the most obvious one in that you’re going to have to carry this drive if you plan on using it while on the road. And secondly, it’s a FireWire model which means the 382TMi’s single FireWire port will have to be shared with for instance, the FireWire connection on my digital SLR. Supplying a USB 2.0 optical drive that uses just one of the two USB ports would have been a more logical approach. That said, this won’t be an issue for many users but it’s worth making a note of it.
Disappointingly, Acer has left out an integrated card reader, but the rest of the ports are fairly standard. Along the left side we have the centrally mounted four-pin FireWire port, the power socket (which I'd prefer to see mounted at the rear), a 100-pin connector for the optional £116.32 EasyPort III port replicator, one Type II PC Card slot and of course the obligatory 56K V92 modem and 10/100 Mbps Ethernet for wired LAN connections. These latter two ports and the D-SUB interface mentioned earlier are all protected by rubber covers.
You should also remember that the 382TMi is a Centrino machine, and with this mobile technology you can always make use of the integrated Intel PRO/Wireless 2200BG network card. In practice, this seamlessly located and connected itself to my 802.11b wireless network at home. Those with an 802.11g network will be able to use the TravelMate 382TMi at that faster standard too.
As for the remaining connectivity options, the right side features an IrDA port and one of the USB ports. The other one can be found somewhat awkwardly located at the front of the chassis alongside the microphone/line-in jack and the headhones/lineout/SPDIF jack. The 382TMi also lacks any Bluetooth functionality despite a Bluetooth logo sitting under one of the hotkeys above the keyboard. That means if you want to communicate with your mobile phone then you’re going to have to rely on a direct cable connection or the infrared port.