- Review Price: £1269.00
Though it’s a familiar sight for PC and notebooks to be adorned with numerous logos it’s a fair bet that a yellow one featuring a prancing horse and the initials SF are not usually among them. The initials SF stand for Scuderia Ferrari, one of the most famous marques in automotive history. So what, you may ask, is it doing on an Acer notebook? The reason it’s there is that Acer is the official equipment supplier to the Ferrari Formula One racing team. As such, Acer has clearly seen a marketing opportunity. Along with Michael Schumacher, Ferrari is on top of things in the motor sport world so clearly Acer is thinking that some of that success will rub off on its machines.
So has Acer produced a machine that is good enough to take pole position in your shopping list? Well let’s start with the most obvious feature – the paint job. The whole of the lid is decked out in the trademark Ferrari red, with the colour scheme extending to the side edging as well. Buy this and you’re likely to want to hand-wax your notebook to keep it nice and shiny. It’s undoubtedly striking, but it won’t be to everyone’s taste. Acer has even gone as far as to supply a matching red mouse. This is actually quite neat looking and is comfortable to hold and use. If you want your notebook to be noticed, whether it’s in the airport lobby or at your desk in the office, the Acer makes for a decent alternative to an IBM or Sony. Along with the red Ferrari livery, you’ll be treated to such luxuries as a Ferrari wallpaper and Ferrari themed screensaver. Wow…. In a crowning touch, the Windows startup melody has even been replaced with the sound of Formula One car speeding past. Yes, it’s that classy.
Another Ferrari sponsor is AMD, so it’s no surprise that the machine is powered one of its CPUs. Of course with a name like Ferrari, nothing less than a top-of-the-line Mobile Athlon 64 CPU would do. However, despite the machine being numbered a 3200, the CPU model is actually a 2800+. And though it’s only running at 1.8GHz it’s certainly more than a match for the Pentiums of this world. The processor is a Low-Power Mobile Athlon 64 featuring 512KB of Level 2 cache. It’s easy to forget that the Athlon 64 is a next generation CPU, just waiting for Windows and applications to become 64-bit compliant. This ensures that the notebook has a degree of future proofing built-in.
Acer has backed this with 512MB of RAM, though this is supplied on two sticks so there’s no further room for expansion in the current configuration, which is a bit of a shame. It’s also only DDR333 which makes it an odd match for the Via K8T800 chipset and CPU, which runs at 400MHz.
In terms of graphics horsepower, the Acer is well equipped thanks to a Mobility Radeon 9700 GPU with a full 128MB of dedicated memory. This can’t quite claim to the be latest thing in mobile graphics since the announcement of the Mobility Radeon 9800, but in terms of what you can buy right now that 9700 is still hot stuff. The 3DMark03 score of 3,160 may not seem that high but this is genuinely a machine you can play games on. I installed Unreal Tournament 2004 and was able to set the resolution to 1,280 x 1,024 and details levels to high and play with a smooth as silk framerate.
With a diagonal of 15 inches the display is on the generous side and the native resolution of 1,400 x 1,050 fits perfectly on this size. However, the quality of the screen itself is actually fairly disappointing. Though it’s reasonably bright it’s not evenly lit even when looking at it straight on. Horizontal and vertical viewing angles are also fairly poor, with the screen looking washed out at you move up and down and going dark as you move to the side. Sound quality from the speakers located at the front of the chassis however was also poor. Maximum volume wasn’t very loud and the sound lacked bass.
Feature wise though, the Acer is very well equipped. Wireless connectivity is fully covered with 54G wireless, Bluetooth and infra red. The buttons for the the first two are easily accessible at the front so can be quickly activated or turned off as needed. There’s also a Gigabit Ethernet connection, sensibly located at the rear so you don’t have to twist your cables to get to it. Next to this is a standard 56K modem for when you need to resort to dial-up. Also at the back is a parallel port along with VGA and S-Video outputs. Down the right hand side sit four USB 2.0 connectors all in a line, along with a single Firewire connection. However, this is only a mini-four pin size, so without a suitable adaptor it’s no use for plugging in devices such as camcorders or an iPod. There’s also a single Type II PC Card slot.
The keyboard on the Acer Ferrari is comfortable and firm. The keypad is laid out with a slight curve upwards, which is intended to make the keys fall more easily under the fingers. In truth it doesn’t make much difference and adds more to the look of the machine than to its usability. The trackpad is a little on the small side but does the job. In-between the mouse buttons is a D-Pad, which is actually very useful for navigating web pages or Excel spreadsheets. Above the keypad are four shortcut keys, which can all be configured to work with the applications of your choice. Unfortunately, this has to be done manually so you’ll have to know where applications are located if you want to get quick access to items such as the Windows calculator.
At the very front of the unit is a four-in-one card reader handling SD, MMC, Smart Media and Memory Stick – for Compact Flash you’ll have to get a PC Card adaptor. More permanent storage is in the guise of an 80GB hard disk drive, which is a pretty generous amount for the money asked. Other removable storage comes in the form of a superb slot loading DVD Multi-drive, able to write to both ‘Plus’ and ‘Minus’ DVD formats and even DVD- RAM though you’ll obviously only be able to use those discs without a protective caddy.
On the software side, there’s little to get excited about, with no office suite for work and no games for play.
So the Acer is clearly well featured, but you don’t buy a Ferrari for its features, you buy it for speed. Does this Acer deliver? On the whole yes. It’s not the fastest notebook we’ve seen – the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition powered Rock Xtreme! XTR-3.4EE makes sure of that, but it is nippy. The SYSmark score of 249 is very good, outpacing the higher specced Systemax Hurricane 6000.
At SYSmark, it also beats the HP Compaq nx9100, a 3.2GHz Pentium 4 powered desktop replacement notebook, by a few points, though fails to do so in PCMark04.
However, the Acer does fine in 3D thanks to the powerful ATI graphics. That said it’s not quite as fast as the Systemax Hurricane 6000, or inevitably, the Rock. At AquaMark however, it does slightly outpace the Systemax.
The only real area of disappointment performance wise is the battery life, lasting only 149 minutes in MobileMark 2002. This is reasonable for a performance machine but if working away from a power socket is a priority, you’ll be better off with a Centrino based notebook.
So the Acer has it where it counts for looks, features and performance. So why am I not so enthralled by the package as a whole? Well, for a start, underneath the red paint job the Acer isn’t actually that solid. Underneath, it looks like a fairly generic Taiwanese laptop, with none of the solid build of the better Sonys and IBM Thinkpads. It also runs very hot and will be too hot to rest on your lap after a while. You’ll want to keep it on a table to work on for longer periods. Weight wise, it’s 3Kg is reasonable though it’s more suited to a desk than a shoulder bag.
Then there’s the whole ‘Ferrari’ concept. As a potential purchaser, you really have to ask yourself if taking out a Ferrari notebook in public will make you look good, or, to be blunt, if it will make you look like a prat. The thinking goes something like this – Ferrari sports car – very cool: Ferrari notebook – well, not quite as cool. For example, owning this Acer, won’t make you appear rich and desirable to the opposite sex. You could actually buy about 50 Acer notebooks for the price of a second hand Ferrari 360, and I know which one I’d rather have. I may be an IT journalist, but it’s not the notebook computer.
The performance is generally excellent and it’s well featured for the price. The main caveats are an average display, poor sound quality and lack-lustre battery life. At the end of the day this Acer is more hot-hatch than a super car. However, you’ll not be buying it for the spec, you’ll be buying it for its looks and if you’re comfortable with, or even possibly keen on, the whole Ferrari badged scenario, the Acer has enough substance behind it to make for a satisfying purchase.
Score in detail