- Review Price: £700.00
Acer has always been pretty aggressive with its pricing but even we had to take notice when we found out that the Acer TravelMate 4400LMi could be picked up for less than £700. Yes you can buy cheaper laptops, but will they boast a large 15in screen and ATI Radeon X700 graphics? Not only that but it’s the first notebook we’ve seen to feature AMD’s Turion processor. This is AMD’s long awaited competitor to Intel’s very successful Pentium M. While AMD has been able to consistently match and outperform Intel on the desktop, Intel has pretty much had the mobile market to itself. And at the rate that the portable market is growing that isn’t good news for AMD. The key advantage that Turion offers over Pentium M is that in keeping with AMD’s strategy over recent years, the chip is 64-bit, though you’ll need a new operating system, new drivers and supporting applications to make any use of that.
Taking the Acer out of the box I was immediately impressed by the sleek smooth lines of the chassis. The TravelMate line is aimed at the business user and this notebook will help project a suitable business-like image. Acer places its logo at the top right rather than the centre and very smart it is too. A single sliding hook opens up the laptop to reveal the large screen, and Acer’s trademark curved keyboard. This dips slightly in the middle and tapers upwards with the intention that the keys fall more easily under your fingers. It was indeed pleasant to type on, and the large area under the keyboard means that there’s somewhere to rest your palms. This is pretty firm to the touch and offers full size keys, which makes typing easier. A function key at the bottom left enables the arrow keys at the bottom right to double up as volume and brightness settings. Squeezed in above the left arrow key is a dedicated Euro key, which is useful and above the right hand key, a dollar sign. Above the keyboard are four shortcut button that can be programmed to the applications of your choice but default to email and your web browser. Beneath the keyboard is a square track pad and Acer supplies software to fine-tune how it behaves. In between the two selector buttons is Acer’s own four way rocker pad enabling you to scroll up and down and left to right in web pages. It’s useful but a little awkward to use.
The TravelMate is relatively large and weighs in at 2.84Kg, so it’s no ultra-portable. The main reason for this is because it’s carrying a very large 15in display. This is a standard 4:3 ratio and at the rate things are moving this is going to be the exception rather than the norm before long – though as far as the notebooks in our labs it’s about 50:50 at the moment. However I have to say that I was disappointed to find that the screen is only 1,024 x 768 resolution. On a screen this large I would have hoped for considerably more. While it might make sense for a desktop TFT to run at this resolution your sitting much closer when typing on a notebook, which is why notebook native resolutions tend to be higher.
This resolution inevitably makes icons and text quite large and necessitates a lot more scrolling in web pages and long text documents. Personally I can’t abide low resolution screens though there are some who might prefer them as the larger fonts and icons means that everything is easy to see. Ultimately, at the price you’re paying for the notebook, a low resolution panel is inevitable. It’s also not surprising that there’s no high contrast reflective coating – such luxuries add cost and are largely unwarranted on a business tool. What is disappointing though are the viewing angles, which are poor. Even moving your head slightly sees the colours shift and it’s a problem vertically too. This is a shame as a large screen like this would lend itself for giving presentations.
There is however a VGA port on the back, which makes it easy to hook up to any external monitor or suitably equipped projector. In general, connectivity is very good. Round the back, along with the VGA port is a USB 2.0 connector, a modem and a Fast Ethernet (10/100) connector. There are three more USB 2.0 connectors on the left hand side and a mini four-pin Firewire port. There’s also an S-Video output, so you can hook up to a TV, useful for large screen DVD viewing. The DVD drive is a ‘Super-Multi’ which means that it will burn and read pretty much anything, including, DVD+/-R and RW. It will also burn dual-layer DVD+R discs.
Permanent storage is by way of a 60GB Seagate Momentus 4200.2 drive. This is spins at 4,200 rpm, which is on the low side for a hard disk. It has to be said that in use, the notebook did feel somewhat sluggish at times despite the good benchmark score and that can indeed be put down to the hard disk, which is becoming an increasingly noticeable bottleneck in PC and notebook performance. Interestingly the notebook failed to complete hard disk test in PC Mark ’04, which could indicate some kind of issue.
A card reader is integrated offering support for Smart Media, SD, XD, MMC and Memory Stick. Above this sits a Type I PC Card slot which just to the left is an infra-red port. 54G Wi-Fi is integrated and a button to activate it is conventiently located at the front. There’s also a button for Bluetooth to the left of this, but it’s completely redundant as there’s no integrated Bluetooth. Headphone and microphone ports are also located at the front, along with a perfectly reasonable pair of speakers.
So onto the processor – a 1.6GHz Turion. The unit we were supplied with actually shipped with a ML30 variant, equipped with 1MB of cache. However, the model shipping actually is the ML28 – with 512Kb of cache, and inevitably our benchmark scores will reflect this difference.
This is placed in a Radeon RS480 ATI chipset, which support ATI’s PowerPlay 5.0 power conservation system. In our MobileMark battery tests though the results weren’t stunning with a time of only 168 minutes. Compared to many recent Centrino based machines that last well over 200 minutes, this is disappointing. That said actually doing light word processing and web browsing on this machine saw it last about four hours before giving me a power warning. There’s 512MB of RAM fitted in the notebook and opening up the expansion slot with some screws reveals that it has been supplied on two sticks, leaving no room for expansion. The Turion doesn’t have a dual-channel memory controller so there’s no real need for two sticks. Therefore this is a cost cutting but restrictive measure. Additionally, Acer has also only supplied 266MHz (PC2700) memory rather than the PC3200 that the chipset supports.
In terms of performance the Turion, running at 1.6GHz kept up AMD’s habit of beating Intel, scoring 220 in SYSmark 2002, ahead of the Sonoma based AJP we looked at recently, though we have to bear in mind that shipping models will only half half a Meg of Level 2 cache. Due to the presence of a Radeon X700 we also ran a set of 3D benchmarks and got some very playable scores at the native resolution, hitting over 40 frames per second. However, during testing I did noticed some artifacts in Half-Life 2, which spoilt things a little. In general use, the system fan occasionally fired up but the noise was fairly innocuous so wasn’t a problem.
The Acer 4401LMi is as we’ve grown accustomed to from Acer, a well put together notebook with a decent amount of connectivity. The X700 makes for a solid gaming machine, and the Turion processor impresses with its speed, but not with its battery performance. Ultimately, though it’s the screen that disappoints slightly, with only average resolution and quality. With that in mind, I’d still recommend going for a Centrino based machine for work and something with a better screen for play.
Score in detail
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