by Edwin Ling, Malaysia
I was recently shopping for a notebook to replace my existing Dell laptop and finally decided on the Acer TravelMate 4000LCi. Having previously used Acer, Compaq, Toshiba, & Dell during the last 5-years I knew I wanted to avoid certain pitfalls of my previous notebooks. However, due to budget constraints the 'ideal' notebook fell beyond my limited means. After much research among these brands and comparing of specifications and prices I settled for the Acer 4000LCi as it seemed to offer the best money for value.
Acer TravelMate 4000LCi (view large image)
So how did this Acer perform? Did I make the right decision and was it really value for my money? As they say, the taste of the pie is in the eating! On to the review, and let's first look at the specifications.
The TM4000 was purchased for $1180 complete with a 3 year-extended warranty from a computer store rather than online as this store had immediate stock and furthermore they gave me a free 128 MB thumb drive. There are slightly lower prices to be obtained online, but I prefer buying from a store where you are able to interact with the salesperson and actually examine the product firsthand before handing over your money. No hassle of waiting for the courier and arguing with the distant store later should it turn out to be scratched, used, or worse damaged.
Look, Design and Pictures
At first sight the Acer TravelMate 4000LCi comes across as sleek and slim with a pleasing matt metallic silver greenish hue cover. This notebook incorporates Acer's latest folio design and SignalUp Technology for enhanced WiFi reception and transmission in fringe areas. This belies the hefty 2.9 kilograms that it packs with a 60 watts battery. This notebook is a compromise between a desktop while affording the owner the mobility of a notebook.
Back left-side view of TravelMate (view larger image)
Right-side profile view of TravelMate (view larger image)
Above view of Acer TravelMate (view larger image)
Front side profile of Acer TravelMate (view larger image)
Left-side profile of Acer TravelMate (view larger image)
Bottom-side view of Acer TravelMate (view larger image)
This is a 2 spindle notebook with a 40 GB ATA/100 Hard Drive Disk (HDD) and removable DVD/CD-RW combo drive; the slot can be used for other optional equipment. The hinges look sturdy and a sliding latch locks the front in place. Unlatching the front reveals two plasticky' latches and you will have to hold down the keyboard while pushing up the screen to open it. The 15-inch screen opens fully 180-degrees to the flat position.
Keyboard and Input
The keyboard is curved somewhat like a banana, it looks almost as if it is smiling, and the palm rests are sufficiently wide to fit the palms pretty well. The keys feel light with little resistance; I prefer slightly more travel and tactile firmness. The touchpad seems to be mite larger than normal, could be my imagination, but it is responsive and worked pretty well. On top of the normal left and right click buttons, there is an additional toggle for use on web browsers but there were certain WebPages where it was utterly useless but still a useful device for the times when it does work.
On the right corner next to the power button are 4 short cut buttons, user configurable with defaults for e-mail, browser, power management, and display resolution for presentation. I find the buttons to be too small and there are times when I depressed the wrong buttons inadvertently. On the same row are 3 LEDs for the HDD, Numeric keypad, and Caps lock indicators. The DVD/CD combo drive is located on the left side.
Ports and Outputs
The best things about this notebook are the ports. On the front are two LED buttons for the WiFi, and optional Bluetooth., earphones plug, USB, and Microphone. The IrDA is also located up front. On the right side are 2 USB ports, Network, IEEE1394 firewire, and telephone socket. On the rear, right corner, is a parallel port for the printer. Placing all the ports at the front and to the side makes access user friendly and convenient, something I had always griped about on my previous notebooks.
Processor and Performance
Booting up with 256MB RAM took ages, but I had 512MB RAM installed and it does make a remarkable difference. One advantage I found by making a purchase in store -- I was able to compare both setups. I bet that if I were able to rid it of the Acer image file on boot up it would be even faster! The Intel Centrino M 710 1.4 GHz comes with 2MB of cache memory and 400Hz front side bus mated to the Intel 855GME chipset. The 40 GB ATA/100 HDD is smallish in terms of capacity, guess an upgrade is inevitable in the near future. It is partitioned into two parts of equal capacity with program files on C drive and data on D drive.
Graphics and Performance
The Intel Extreme Graphics is built in and uses up 64 MB of RAM. The 15" XGA TFT LCD is a pleasure to use and brightness is good with the controls giving sufficient brightness control. There is a function switch to turn off the backlights while running a task to avoid battery drain. I regret that I am unable to provide a run down on gaming as I do not play games on it, but I would reckon that gamers would likely be better off with another model with a dedicated graphics card and better speakers. Videos seemed pretty washed out where there are plenty of action and the speakers leave much to be desired. It sounded like the old mono speakers of old; a set of good earphones does the trick for better audio though.
On first boot up of the machine the setting up and registration was a breeze. Preinstalled software includes Windows XP Home Edition and a trial version of Norton Antivirus with 3 months update. Installing new software was similarly simple with XP doing most of the work intuitively. So far after 3 weeks of usage there has only been one occasion when the notebook hung. This happened during the initial of Java virtual machine on the laptop, midway through installing Java. I had to use the power switch to force a shutdown, subsequent attempts to reinstall Java resulted in an error message about an incomplete installation and thus no further installation is possible. Deleting the files and folders didn't work either, end result, having to reformat and reinstall using the supplied installation discs. Simple enough and to date everything seems to be working properly.
Power and Battery
Working on graphics files while on battery power is slightly slower due to the lower preset processing speed, but once you are on external power things speeds up. Though you can re-configure the processing speed to the highest level while on battery power, it is not advisable as battery power drains pretty quickly. On a full charge the battery will last about 4.5 hours without too much DVD/CD access or playing music. The long battery life is extremely useful as it means I don't have to worry about running out of juice in a prolonged meeting or presentation. Charging takes about 2.5 hours and seemed to be timer based. I find the charger to be less of a heavy weight in comparison to my Dell's, I still don't understand why they [manufacturers] are unable to reduce the size and weight of chargers for notebooks whereas mobile phone chargers are getting smaller and lighter everyday.
After about an hour of use, the left palm pad heats up a fair bit as do the keys on the left side of the keyboard. The fan comes on intermittently and is quite quiet; it is certainly not much of a disturbance. Certainly don't use this notebook or any other notebook for long amounts of time in your lap if you are of the male gender -- recent reports from the medical fraternity indicate the male reproductive organs are adversely affected due to heat generated by laptops in the lap.
The Wi-Fi connectivity is dual mode allowing for use on 802.11b or the newer 802.11g frequency that has a faster data transfer rate. The front Wi-Fi button blinks while scanning for access and glows stealthily upon connection, pressing the button once will disable wireless connectivity. Scanning and connection is automatic once the proper SSID had been registered. I did not find much difference in reception between this model's antennae system, purportedly better, than my previous ones.
Installing and synchronizing both my personal organizer and telephone via the IrDA was simple and done without any hassle. Detection and handshake was quick, recognizing each device almost immediately.
So far I have not called customer service, but with one year international warranty and an extended local warranty for 3-years at an additional cost of only $80.00, these coverages do represent good value for money.
I would like to say that this notebook has performed better than expected for my budget. On the plus side the widescreen is a joy to view and the extended battery life certainly makes lugging the heavy charger an option rather than a necessity as before.
However the weight and smallish shortcut keys are a pain. Speakers are an important part of the notebook and we can certainly use it to play music and unwind at the end of the day, but this pair of speakers fails miserably to impress.
In conclusion I would like to say that this is a well built notebook, if not for the speakers, and represents good value for money. The layout is uncluttered and the ports are very well arranged. I think I will be using this notebook for a little longer than my previous ones, why, because post purchase didn't set in as fast as my other notebook purchases.
Brickbats maybe handed out to the VultureWriter@yahoo.com
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