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Acer must be making life very difficult for other notebook manufacturers. The company has built a solid reputation for manufacturing high quality notebooks at very attractive prices and the TravelMate 8104WLMi is no exception.
The TravelMate 8104WLMi is the first Sonoma notebook to appear from Acer, and it's a pretty good first effort. The brushed silver finish is a bit samey these days, but it still looks good - having the Acer logo placed in the corner of the lid rather than the middle is also commendably different. With dimensions of 363 x 266 x 34mm (WxDxH) and a weight of 2.8kg, the 8104WLMi just about falls into the portable notebook category. In fact, it looks a lot smaller than it is, and doesn't feel like too much of a burden when carried around.
Opening the lid of the TravelMate reveals one of Acer's trademark curved keyboards. I know that some people hate these keyboards, but I quite like the curve. The action of the keyboard is pretty good, although not up to the standard of an IBM ThinkPad (is anything?). There is a little flex in the keybaord when typing at speed, but not enough to be annoying. The travel on each key is long enough, and the break and spring back are both well weighted. To be honest though, I can't be too critical of the keyboard since this is a pre-production sample and it sports a US keyboard anyway.
Below the Spacebar is a large touchpad, presented in a widescreen aspect ratio to match the screen. There are two selector buttons below the touchpad, along with a centre scroll button. As touchpads go, there's nothing wrong with this one, although I wish that Acer would go down the trackpoint route.
Acer has pushed the boat out when it comes to the screen. The 15.4in widescreen display has a resolution of 1,680 x 1,050, which gives you more display real estate than most desktop screens. In my opinion, you can never have too much desktop real estate, and working with the Acer is a joy, especially if you need to have multiple windows open all the time like me.
Below the screen to the left is the power button, while on the right are four programable soft buttons. There are also indicator lights for Caps Lock, Num Lock and hard disk activity.
But since this is a Sonoma notebook, much of the interesting stuff is under the surface. Beating at the heart of the 8104WLMi is a 2GHz Pentium M CPU, backed up by 1GB of 533MHz DDR2 memory. The PCI Express support in Sonoma is highlighted by the inclusion of an ATI Mobility Radeon X700 graphics chipset with 128MB of memory. This is one of the fastest mobile 3D chipsets available right now that can fit into a reasonable sized notebook chassis. The top end Mobility Radeon X800 and GeForce GO 6800 chipsets require significant cooling and power, and thus only appear in large desktop replacement machines.
Acer has decided not to make use of the SATA support in Sonoma, and installed a PATA hard disk instead. That said, it is a 100GB drive, so it should keep even the most space hungry user happy. If you do want to offload some data it won't be too much a problem - Acer has also included a Super-Multi DVD writer, which will burn to DVD+R/RW, DVD-R/RW, DVD-RAM and CD-R/RW.