Acer Ferrari 4005 WLMi Review (pics, specs)

by lewdvig Reads (121,738)

by Perry Longinotti, Alberta Canada

Acer Ferrari 4005 WLMi

Here is an interesting question for you: How does product placement and sports sponsorship effect you? Personally, I like it. When I see a character in a movie or television show using a product I own, it validates my purchasing decision. Like in Mission Impossible when Ethan Hunt is seen using an Apple PowerBook I remember thinking how cool that was and wondering if the cool-looking Operating System he was using was Apple’s Copland (the doomed next-gen Mac OS that preceded OS X). Now, whenever a character on TV uses a computer, I have to identify what brand they are using.

Similarly, in sports I like to see the tech that I am using employed by the teams I cheer for. When I am in the market for something, if a supplier of that item sponsors a team in one of my favorite sports it makes a difference to me. I used to buy Motorola phones when they sponsored Lance Armstrong’s cycling team. When Motorola dropped out and USPS stepped in, I switched to using their services to complement my rabid eBay buy/sell addiction. Their sponsorship made it possible for me to continue watching an athlete participate in a sport I enjoyed. Yes, product placement and sponsorship influences me.

Ferrari branding (view larger image)

Sure, there is some push back on the whole branding thing. It’s been argued that we are ourselves becoming branded – but hey that is a choice we make, right? And everything else being equal, wouldn’t you rather have a branded item than a plain generic one? I would. For manufacturers this is a good way to make a commodity item into something a lot more desirable.

Having this opinion probably makes me the perfect target for an item like the Acer Ferrari 4005 WLMI. There are few brands as recognizable as Ferrari, and there are few things as hard to differentiate as computers.

Ferrari makes products that stand out, so the appeal of using the brand is understandable. In addition to making a great product in the form of performance cars, Ferrari runs a number of successful racing programs. The pinnacle of this being the Ferrari Formula One team.

I dig Formula One (F1), and I have followed it since I was a kid. I even idolized Gilles Villeneuve when I was a kid. Villeneuve was the Ferrari F1 driver whose passion and exuberance came to symbolized the team for many people in the late seventies and early eighties. Tragically, his racing career (and life) were cut short in a racing accident. There is no shortage of racing legends associated with this brand.

The Ferrari F1 racing team has a number of high-tech sponsors. AMD led the charge into F1, and they were shortly followed by Acer as an official supplier to the Ferrari team. It isn’t any surprise that Acer would make an AMD Turion-based, Ferrari-branded notebook. Why not make an Intel Centrino-based Ferrari? Intel sponsors Toyota F1.

First Impressions

Acer packages the Ferrari in a box worthy of the name. It’s black, glossy and has sexy shots of the 4005. Personally, I think the packaging should be part of the product design — the entire experience should be consistent — especially when a premium brand is involved. Acer might as well get the maximum mileage from this association.

Ferrari Box (view larger image)

When you open the box, there are unpacking instructions and a helpful getting started guide inside the flap. This is a nice touch for people who are not as comfortable with technology.

Box – unpacking

Inside you will find the usual array of manuals and disks — but with an “Ferrari: Official Licensed Product’ sticker on most of them. You will also get a Ferrari Bluetooth mouse and cleaning cloth.

I have to confess to being rather giddy when I first handled this Ferrari. It looks like no ordinary notebook. Materials used in the manufacture of the Ferrari are first-rate. From the flex-eliminating Carbon fiber lid (with visible weave), to the pleasant feeling rubberized trim finish, the impression is of a top notch product. The rubber finish is similar to that used on the Compaq 2811CA notebook I had a few years back. Red trim highlights what is a much more conservatively styled notebook than the previous Acer Ferrari’s.

Acer Ferrari 4005 lid (view larger image)

Acer Ferrari left side view (view larger image)

Acer Ferrari right side view (view larger image)

Underside of Acer Ferrari 4005

Like all recent Acers, there are lots of buttons and lights on the Ferrari. WiFi and Bluetooth buttons/lights are located on the front as are power and battery indicators. Above the keyboard are four programmable convenience buttons.

Acer Ferrari front side view (view larger image)

Weight is 6.3 pounds – a little on the heavy side for a 15″ wide screen notebook, but the benefit is that the Ferrari is quite stiff and feels well-built. Acer quotes a thickness of 1.4 inches, but it looks thinner. This is probably because of the little feet that protrude about a quarter inch from that bottom of the notebook. Underneath, the Ferrari is clean — no ugly bulges or fan vents.

A distinguishing feature of Acer notebooks is their curved ergonomic keyboard. Despite some initial concern, I found it easy to get adapted. The foundation of the keyboard is very stiff, very similar to my ThinkPad T40. Key travel is medium, and the keys themselves are light weight. While on the topic of input, another neat feature is Acer’s wide-screen touch pad. When you think of it, designing the touch pad in the same shape as the screen makes sense.

Acer Ferrari 4005 keyboard and touchpad, notice the curve to the keyboard (view larger image)

Specifications

So thorough is Intel’s domination of the mobile computing market that I can honestly say this is my first review of a non-Intel Windows based notebook! Finally, something new to talk about. When looking at Centrino-based notebooks there isn’t much variation — and that is exactly the point. Intel adopted a completely integrated approach to the mobile platform and it paid off. AMD’s answer to this is Turion which in my opinion is not remotely as fully-integrated a solution as Centrino.

AMD will tell you that this assemblage of diverse parts from an assortment of vendors is a benefit as it allows PC makers to use best-of-breed components. The irony of this statement is that many of the best-of-breed components are made by Intel.

How do the Turion specs compare to the latest Centrino? On paper, AMD’s answer to Intel’s mobility juggernaut seems to fall short.

Starting at the top, Acer’s Ferrari uses the AMD Turion 64 Mobile Technology ML-37 (1MB L2 cache, 2.0 GHz) CPU. This CPU  fully supports x86-64 (it is a 64-bit CPU) and this means it will be compatible with current and future 64-bit operating systems from Microsoft, but will run todays programs with no problem.

ATI’s RADEON Xpress 200 chipset (ATI RX480M Northbridge and ATI SB400 Southbridge) is used. It features a HyperTransport bus operating at 800 MHz, single channel DDR RAM, SATA support and PCI-Express among other things. Turion solutions can use chipsets from a variety of sources including SiS and VIA.

This is very different from what we are used to seeing in the latest Centrinos, and frankly a little lower tech. I think ATI knows that because it was almost impossible to get any reasonable amount of information on the discreet graphics version of this chipset.

Looking more closely at the CPU it has some noticeable differences from what we would see in an Intel Dothan Pentium-M. AMD’s chip has half the amount of level 2 cache (1 MB versus the Pentium-M’s 2 MB), but it compensates by including 64-bit support as well as SSE3 (relevant in multimedia applications for speeding up calculations) and a much faster bus speed. AMD offers a power saving system (AMD PowerNow!) similar to Intel’s Speed step. There are a number of free utilities you can download from AMD to monitor heat and power usage if you get turned-on by that sort of thing. This particular part consumes 35 watts, this is puzzling because there is a lower watt version of the 2 GHz Turion available that would have stretched out battery life a bit. I am not sure why Acer would forsake the more power frugal CPU.

The Turion, like the Pentium-M, is much more efficient than a Pentium 4. For this reason, AMD uses a naming convention that refers to ‘equivalent’ speed. In this case, we should expect to see performance comparable to a 3.7 GHz Pentium 4. In tests that I have read, the Turions and Pentium-Ms seem to be evenly matched when operating at the same clock speed.

Acer uses Nanya memory – 1024 MB of RAM to be exact (two 512 MB PC2700 SODIMMs). Because this is a Single Channel chipset, you do not need to match memory in the two slots. In case you are thinking that the slower memory on the Ferrari would be a disadvantage, keep in mind that unlike the Centrino’s DDR2 this RAM is low latency. The fast bus used in Turion systems and the low latency RAM makes memory performance a wash between the competing platform.

I would expect to find a 7200 RPM HDD in a Ferrari, but instead Acer spec’ ed 100 GB 5400 RPM HDD. In researching this notebook I read that some versions of the Ferrari shipped with a Seagate Momentus HDD. Mine came with a Toshiba MK1032GAX. This drive’s most notable feature is its 16 MB buffer. ATA is used in place of the newer SATA standard. A better choice would have been the Hitachi Travelstar 5400 RPM HDD in the same capacity. As a few people pointed out after our Gateway 8510GZ review, the Hitachi 5400 RPM drives perform almost as well as their premium 7200 RPM models that are widely regarded as  the best mobile drives in the industry.

Bottom line: Drives in the 100 GB capacity are common, Acer should have provided a faster or larger drive. Also disappointing is the lack of a drop protection (drive parking and/or air bag). Given the fact that this feature is available in an iBook, its exclusion is puzzling.  

It is increasingly common to see large drives split into partitions. In Ferrari’s case the drive is split into three: a small recovery partition, and two 40 GB partitions (C: drive and a storage volume).

Partitions (view larger image)

The optical drive is a DVD-Super Multi double-layer drive made by Matshita (UJ-845S). Acer spec’d a slot loading model (generally preferable to a tray loading type). This is a good quality drive.

You can’t build a high performance laptop and then hobble it with weak video capabilities, so Acer selected ATI’s RADEON X700 video chip for the Ferrari. This is a native 16x PCI-Express part. I have seen this available in 64, 128 and 256 MB versions with varying grades of video RAM. Acer chose the 128 MB model with 128-bit video RAM. In this configuration the Mobility X700 is very powerful — the Ferrari beat the benchmark scores of my Intel Pentium 4 desktop (3.2 GHz) with a RADEON 9800.

Clock speeds on the X700 are 350 MHz GPU and 330 MHz RAM. Although I have seen it listed as GDDR (GDDR = Graphics DDR — essentially really low latency and low power RAM made expressly for video cards), the Ferrari’s video memory is standard DDR according to the test utilities that I use. It is possible that the tools simply can not identify or recognize GDDR.

Acer has two trim levels available for the Ferrari 4000 series. The lower-end spec includes an Acer CrystalBrite 15″ wide screen (1280*800)  and the high-end model uses a screen in the same size but without the CrystalBrite coating (1680*1050). If there was one feature that made selecting my Ferrari difficult it was this one. I am beginning to really like these high contrast coatings for my home computer. I would avoid it if I were planning to use the Ferrari in an office setting. Let there be no doubt though, the high-end Ferrari has a great screen. It has a great refresh rate; while playing games there was no trace of ghosting.

Acer Ferrari 4005 Screen (view larger image)

If you use an external monitor you are spoiled with options. The Ferrari has DVI, VGA and S-Video ports. Knowing that the Xpress 200M typically has integrated video, I wonder if it would be possible to power four displays with the Ferrari. This would be just the ticket for any Ferrari-driving day trader out there.

Acer has a strange little utility called GridVista which is like a multi-monitor  concept on a single screen. This answers a question that I don’t think anyone was asking.

Acer changed the Ferrari’s default system font size to 120 DPI. This might be great for people with bad eyes, who might otherwise have difficulty reading text at the screens native 1680*1050 resolution, but I found that some control panels look funny with this setting so I reverted back to 90 DPI and was much happier.

Broadcom’s 802.11G wireless part handles the WiFi chores. This part features Broadcom’s ‘Afterburner’ Enhanced-G technology that claims to increase network performance by 35%. Linksys supports this feature in some of their routers. I was not able to test this feature myself, but it should come in handy if you have a router that supports the feature and you also happen to like transferring files between your notebook and another computer wirelessly. Of greater value to most people will be WPA security that the newer wireless technologies offer.

While on the topic of WiFi, I should mention the Ferrari’s antenna. It uses Acer’s SignalUp technology based on PIFA (planar inverted-F antenna). Acer claims this is the leading antenna on the market and I can’t argue with them. In my tests the Ferrari held onto a signal very well.

Wrapping up the wireless technologies on the Ferrari is Bluetooth. Acer uses the Microsoft Bluetooth stack which I prefer to the Widcomm and Toshiba implementations that I have tested in the past. Pairing the Ferrari with my Treo and the included mouse was no problem.

Sure, it paired up fine but the matching Acer/Ferrari Bluetooth mouse is rubbish. It works very badly and is too jerky – even for basic computing. In fact it is so bad that even though it is free, it detracts from the overall value of this system. Acer should remove it from the package or improve it. The mouse’s rechargeable AA batteries are OK, I suppose.

The Ferrari also includes 10/100/1000 LAN, audio in/out (supporting SPDIF), four USB 2.0 ports, an SD/MMC/MemoryStick/xD card reader, Infra Red and Firewire.

All of this is covered by a one year international warranty.

Software

Acer includes a spartan assortment of software. Just the basics here and thankfully there are no AOL offers in the box or pre-installed. Like those islands of sea gull guano in the Pacific, there must be an island made entirely of discarded AOL disks somewhere — or there will be soon. 

You get a 90 trial of Norton Antivirus (NAV). An OEM copy of NAV costs me $10 CDN so on one hand it is not a big deal for me to buy it. On the other hand, this is a $2400 CDN notebook and while Acer found room in the budget for a worse-than-useless Bluetooth mouse, they did not feel it necessary to bundle a full year NAV license.

NTI’s latest burning suite is bundled with the Ferrari so that you can have some fun with the DVD burner. In the past, NTI’s stuff has not worked well for me. Generally, I prefer the Nero burning suite. I will give NTI credit though, as the new suite that came bundled with the Ferrari was quite good. It worked well and includes a few good features such as DVD fit (shrink your DVDs and burn them onto a single layer disk) and a complete backup tool set.

PowerDVD will play your DVDs. This is a tried and true application that Acer has installed without the cripple ware that can occasionally accompany CyberLink’s software.

I am not sure how the recovery process works. When you boot for the first time you will be prompted to create a restore DVD. A complete set of factory disks is included as well.

Performance

Ferrari had a dreadful season in F1 this year. As I write this, Michael Schumacher has spun out of the Chinese Grand Prix – an ignominious end to his worse-ever season. After years of being far ahead of their rivals where-in Ferrari won both the driver and constructors championship (for 5 successive years), they trailed well off the pace most of the 2005 season. So, is the Acer Ferrari notebook more like the 2004 or the 2005 car?

Acer’s Ferrari is a competitive product. It certainly does not dominate in the fashion of the 2004 Ferrari F1 car, but it puts in a good fight and challenges for the championship. Let’s have a look at the results:

Super PI (a tool created by the University of Tokyo that is freely distributed) is a good tool to test the speed of a CPU. Sure, it is simple but it gives a pretty clear picture of CPU performance. For this test I used the version of Super PI with support for SSE3.

Notebook  Time
 Acer Ferrari 4005 WLMi (2.0GHz AMD Turion)  1m 47s
 Lenovo ThinkPad Z60t (2.0 GHz Pentium M)  1m 44s
 Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 53s
 IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 45s
 Asus Z70A (1.6GHz Pentium M)  1m 53s
 Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Pentium M)  1m 48s
 Dell Inspiron 6000D (1.6 GHz Pentium M)  1m 52s
 Dell Inspiron 600M (1.6 GHz Pentium M)  2m 10s
 Sony VAIO S360 (1.7 GHz Pentium M)  1m 57s
 HP DV4170us (Pentium M 1.73 GHz)  1m 53s
 Sony VAIO S380 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 45s

Here are the scores from PCMark04 and the ThinkPad T43 results alongside for comparison:

Futuremark PCMark04 Scores
  ThinkPad T43 (1.86GHz, ATI X300 64MB graphics) Acer Ferrari 4005 WLMi (2.0GHz AMD Turion)
 Multithreaded Test 1 / File Compression 3.33 MB/s -
 Multithreaded Test 1 / File Encryption 27.19 MB/s -
 Multithreaded Test 2 / File Decompression 23.4 MB/s 23.95 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Processing 10.88 MPixels/s 11.99 MPixels/s
 Multithreaded Test 3 / Virus Scanning 1914.17 MB/s 1533.04 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 3 / Grammar Check 2.82 KB/s 3.07 KB/s
 File Decryption 54.11 MB/s 60.97 MB/s
 Audio Conversion 2496.87 KB/s 2603.36 KB/s
 Web Page Rendering 5.27 Pages/s 4.66 Pages/s
 DivX Video Compression 51.71 FPS 45.66 FPS
 Physics Calculation and 3D 159.19 FPS 167.79 FPS
 Graphics Memory – 64 Lines 868.44 FPS 1607.5 FPS
Futuremark 3DMark05 Scores
3DMark Score 727 3DMarks 2738 3D Marks
CPU Score 3414 CPUMarks 3823 CPUMarks
Gaming Tests
GT1 – Return To Proxycon 3.3 FPS 11.9 FPS
GT2 – Firefly Forest 2.2 FPS 8.6 FPS
GT3 – Canyon Flight 3.4 FPS 12.9 FPS
CPU Tests
CPU Test 1 1.18 FPS 2.2 FPS
CPU Test 2 2.9 FPS -

Overall, the scores in synthetic benchmarks were good. I would characterize them as being in-line with results I have obtained from 2 GHz Pentium-M notebooks. It goes without saying that office applications will run great on the Ferrari, but its Turion processors also excels at encoding and compression tasks, so it would make a great mobile video editing workstation. You will see Intel winning battles in office-type applications and AMD winning in media applications. But the real world difference between Intel and AMD’s best is small.

With a 128 MB RADEON X700 the Ferrari will handle pretty much any current generation game at medium to high settings at 1024*768 resolution. A good example of this is Half Life 2 which auto-detected high video settings across the board on first run. Far Cry ran perfectly with absolutely stunning visuals. While not as powerful as a desktop replacement notebook, the Ferrari offers a very satisfying experience.

HalfLife 2 Settings (view larger image)

With an ATI chipset it would have seemed strange for Acer to spec the Nvidia GeForce Go 6600.  The 6600 and X700 are very evenly matched with the Nvidia part having the edge in OpenGL games and the ATI part winning in DirectX. This is the second X700 that I have reviewed and it continues to impress me. It is a great part for highly mobile devices like this notebook. The power you can pack into a thin and light-ish notebook is amazing.

ATI’s HYPERMEMORY, a feature that lets a video card use a hybrid of dedicated and system ram to improve game performance, continues to mystify me. With the latest CATALYST 5.10 drivers there is still no mention of HYPERMEMORY in the control panel. Yet, when I run 3DMark05 the X700 is enumerated as having 256 MB of RAM. Very strange.  I am still not sure how the technology works in practice and whether it is enabled in these tests. Feel free to shed some light on this feature in the comments area if you can enlighten me.

Things are looking good so far, but there was some concern with Acer’s choice of HDD. The Ferrari’s input/output performance was good — just good. There are better drives in the same price and class as the 100 GB Toshiba used here. And the lack of data protection features common in so many notebook HDDs accentuates the disappointment of its pedestrian performance.

HDTune Hard Drive Benchmarks

Perhaps the biggest question regarding the Turion platform (if you can call a platform) is battery life. My perception going into this review was that Centrino’s utilization of power saving technologies on almost every component — and the fact that those components are designed to be energy efficient first and foremost — makes it the better choice for people looking for true mobility.

Intel does very good work tuning performance in ways that are easily measured. AMD should learn from this. Although I had a hard time getting a proper and full result from our favorite battery life benchmark, I could sit through enough of the test to see that the Ferrari would eventually get about 90 minutes.

Sadly, Battery Eater Pro simply refused to complete a test on our Ferrari. There is a documented problem with BEP and the RADEON X700. This is puzzling because it worked OK on the Gateway 8510GZ and that also used an X700. Once the problem is fixed I will update this article with test results but I am not sure how much stock I would place on these results. 

In my tests, I found battery life to be in line with Centrino notebooks that I have tested. Most mid-sized Pentium-M notebooks achieve 2-3 hours. Using the Ferrari to surf and write I managed two and a half hours consistently. I would say that 2.5 hours from the Ferrari is a fair expectation. If his notebook used the MT37 and a higher capacity battery, it would be a mobile monster.

Conclusion

If you care how your gear looks, you will love the Acer Ferrari. Simply put, I have not seen a more desirable notebook. Pictures do not do the Ferrari justice. It is both understated and bling. The carbon weave lid looks great and is functional too. I could understand people passing on the previous generation Acer Ferrari’s based on their outrageous (bright red) looks, but I can’t see people having the same issues with this one.

The Ferrari is as well made as any ThinkPad or PowerBook that I have tested. I suspect that this isn’t the only Acer notebook that is built this well. Making a notebook like the Ferrari should bring some attention to a company that is now the 4 largest notebook maker in the world (behind Dell, HP and Toshiba).

In the build quality and looks department the Ferrari is a clear winner — well ahead of its nearest rival. Like Michael Schumacher did so many times in the 2004 F1 season, the Acer Ferrari starts the ‘build quality and aesthetics race’ in pole position and disappears into the horizon when the start light goes green. Simply put, in drives away from its rivals.

In terms of performance I would have to rate the Ferrari better than most notebooks in its class. It comes in cheaper than the similar performing Acer 8004 WLMi sporting Intel’s fastest Centrino combo. It loses ground in office applications, but the Ferrari wins in most media applications and games. People buy machines like these because they want better frame rates in games or in encoding tools, not to make MS Word operate faster. There is a better choice from AMD in terms of energy consumption, that being the lower power version of the 2 GHz Turion. Also, the HDD is not a championship winning part.

I would say that in the ‘performance race’ Acer’s Ferrari wins by having a keen pit strategy. It wins, but by a close margin.

Expandability in this class of notebook is almost unheard of. I don’t have the guts to open the Ferrari up and have look inside. It is very thin so it is pretty hard to imagine a socketed CPU or an accessible AXIOM module. This notebook could be a classic in the future. Anything that lets you keep it longer and get some use from it in the future is a plus. If any one has access to the Acer service manuals let me know.

What about the ‘bang for the buck’ race? Making a value judgment on the Ferrari is a little tougher call. In my opinion, at about $2400 CDN this Ferrari is a lot more desirable than your similarly priced high-end notebook. As mentioned earlier, Acer makes the TravelMate 8104 WLMi which packs a 2 GHz Centrino into the same chassis as the Ferrari, with the same video card, but minus the Ferrari branding. The 8104 sells for about $300 more than the Ferrari — and it is gray. Performance between the two is very close. Given the choice I would take the Ferrari.

Acer also offers a lower spec’d version of the Ferrari at what I consider to be a good price point  ($1900 CDN). You get half the RAM, a 1.6 GHz Turion rather than 2 GHz, an 80 GB HDD (5400 RPM) and the CrystalBrite screen mentioned earlier. The only question becomes can you live with the 1.6 GHz Turion? If it turns out that the Ferrari’s CPU is in a socket, this issue will be rendered moot because you will be able to upgrade it yourself.

In the final analysis, if you are looking at a high end notebook, you really should check out the Acer Ferrari. It is an excellent performer with top-notch looks. Acer has put together a premium notebook that is easily differentiated from others based on both the choice of internal components and looks.

Acer’s sponsorship of an F1 team has paid off for them. Although their other notebooks are nice, I think it is fair to say that they are not objects of desire for most people. I think that the Ferrari changes that.

Pros:

  • Gorgeous – simply beautiful to look at
  • Superior build quality and materials
  • Great performance that rivals Intel’s best
  • Decent bang for the buck (4002WLMI may be the better value)
  • Can play any current generation game with reasonable settings
  • Unique — you won’t see too many of them around
  • Will run Microsoft’s Vista OS nicely

Cons:

  • The Ferrari could have used the 25 watt version of the 2 GHz Turion
  • More cells in the battery would help
  • Ditch the crappy mouse — give us something useful

Pricing and Availability: Acer Ferrari 4005 WLMi


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