Acer TravelMate 4011WLCi Review (pics, specs)

by heov Reads (94,908)

Introduction

The Acer TravelMate 4010 (4011WLCi) is a mid-range Intel Centrino laptop with a budget price. It sports a 15.4″ widescreen WXGA LCD and weighs just under 6.2lbs.

 

Acer TravelMate 4011 (view larger image)
 
 Acer TravelMate 4010 (4011WLCi configuration):

  • Intel Centrino Certified
  • Processor: Intel Pentium M 725 (1.60GHz, 2MB L2 Cache, 400MHz FSB, Dothan core)
  • Chipset: Intel 855GM/GME
  • Wireless: Intel PRO 2200BG Chipset 802.11b/g mini-PCI
  • Screen: 15.4″ WXGA+ (1280 x 800) CrystalClear TFT
  • RAM: 2x 256MB DDR333 (Hynix ICs, 2.5-3-3-7 timings)
  • Hard Drive: 1.8″ 60GB 4200RPM 2MB Cache Hitachi
  • Battery: 6-Cell 30000mWh
  • Optical Bay: DVD/CD-RW Combo Drive, 24x CD-R
  • Audio: Conexant AMC chipset
  • Graphics: Intel Extreme Graphics 2 for Mobile (64MB Shared RAM)
  • Installed Operating System: Windows XP Home Edition
  • Ports and Slots: 3x USB2.0, 1x RJ45 LAN, 1x RJ11 modem, 1x PCMCIA Type II PC Card slot, 1x AC adapter, 1x VGA out, 1x Security slot, 1x Optical Bay, 1x Line In, 1x Mic In, 1x Line Out/Head Phone
  • Dimensions: 1.5″ X 14.3″ X 11.0″ (H X W X D)
  • Weight: 6.2lbs
  • Warranty: 1 Year Parts and Labor; Acer International Warranty

Reasons for Buying
 
I bought this laptop for class and general wireless use. Having a laptop in class allows me to type out all of my notes and stay connected wherever I am on campus. I needed a budget laptop, and this fit the bill quite nicely. I also wanted a laptop that I could use around the apartment so I wouldn’t be tied to my desktop all the time. However, I quickly realized I began using my laptop quite a bit more than my desktop, and it eventually turned into my desktop replacement.

I take the laptop to campus everyday, and there are some shortcomings. Because the laptop has a 15.4″ screen, it’s relatively large. Unless you’re sitting at a table, don’t expect to have any room atop of your desk for anything other than your laptop.

Purchasing

My Acer TravelMate 4010 (4011WLCi) was purchased locally at Circuit City for $650 after rebate ($750 – $100 rebate) in the last week of August 2005. It was quite the deal at the time- as there are hardly other Centrino laptops under 700 dollars that could match the specs of this TravelMate. I also went through 3 of the laptops due to quality issues, as discussed in the build quality section.

Design

The TravelMate is designed just like the many other laptops Acer produces. It features the 5 degree angled curve keyboard that the Acer Ferrari line possesses, which I find to be exceptional; however, the overall feel of the typing is not noticeably different than conventional laptop keyboards. It’s two toned- silver and black.

Acer TravelMate 4011 open (view larger image)

When closed, the laptop is fairly flush. The screen turns on when the panel is raised about 20 degrees up and can open to about 190 degrees. The LCD “turn off” button is located on the upper right side between 2 of the hinges, and it is not easily accessible by the finger (although it is possible to press it down with skinny fingers).

Beneath the laptop, the end user has access to the Battery, RAM, HDD, CPU and HSF, and the mini-PCI slot.

Acer TravelMate 4011 underside (view larger image)

There are 4 launch buttons above and to the right of the keyboard: E-Mail, WWW, Empowering Technology (Acer settings), and Launch Manager. All 4 launch buttons can be customized to run any application, file, or web address, along with custom OSD labels.

To the right of the launch buttons is the power button, which lights up green when the system is on. To the left of the launch buttons are 3 status LEDs. The left most is Caps Lock, the middle is Num Lock, and the right most is HDD activity.

Launch buttons on the top right side of the keyboard area (view larger image)

The touchpad is centered on the bottom edge of the laptop and has a 4-way scroll button, along with equally sized left and right click buttons.

Above and to the left of the keyboard is the onboard microphone, which works well.

On the front end of the laptop, you have the left and right speakers on the left and right most edges, respectively.

Moving inward from the left, you have a blocked of infrared port. Yes, that’s right. There is no actual IR Receiver, but the cutout is there. This is because Acer uses the same chassis for higher end models, which have an IR receiver. It is quite annoying.

Further left, we have 2 LEDs. The first is the power status LED, which is green when on and red when in standby, and the second is the charging status LED, which lights up yellow when charging and green when fully charged.

Continuing left, we have 2 button/LEDs. The left is to toggle the power of the Bluetooth chip, which does not exist in the laptop. But once again, since this chassis is used in other models, they left it in. Pressing the button actually results in saying “No Device” on the OSD, so the button is wired in correctly. One would assume if they added in Bluetooth via the mini-PCI slot, it would begin to function, and presumably light up blue. The other LED, which lights up red, toggles the WiFi power. It blinks red when connecting, and stays red when connected, and off otherwise.

Moving along, we have 3 audio ports. The first is the Line In, second is Mic In, and third is the Line Out/Head Phone.

Finally, we end on a single USB 2.0 port.

Front view of laptop (view larger image)

The left side of the laptop houses the “removable” optical bay. At first glance, one would assume it’s removable, since it looks like it could easily slide out, but on second glance, one will see that once again, we have a cut out for a place where one could release the optical bay. So the only way to remove it is to take apart the laptop (not completely, of course).

Left view of laptop (view larger image)

On the right side of the laptop, starting from the left, we see another cutout for a mini FireWire port that does not exist. Moving along, we see the Type II PCMCIA PC Card Slot. Above that, we see a nice place for say, a multimedia card reader! But once again, we only see a blocked off piece of plastic. Moving along we have twin USB 2.0 ports, followed by a cutout of what you would presume to be an S-Video port. That’s right; this has no TV-out. Further along, we have the RJ45 LAN jack and the RJ11 Modem jack. We finish with the HSF vent, which blows out warm air whenever the fan is on.

Right side view of laptop (view larger image)

The back side of the laptop houses the battery, VGA out, and security lock. The battery has both a release and lock lever, and feels very secure in place when locked. (And in case you’re interested, when you take apart the area around the VGA port, you guessed it, there’s a cutout for a DVI port!).

Laptop view of back (view larger image)

Build Quality

Before I continue, let me tell you I’m on my third TravelMate, and this is the best in terms of quality. My first one I picked up was faulty. When I closed the screen, it would BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) and the picture would scramble (and if anyone cares, it had Samsung ICs on the RAM). Also, the screen hinge wasn’t as tight as my current one is.

After exchanging it for a new one the problem was fixed, and over all, the laptop wasn’t bad. But after about 3 days, my space bar started “squeaking.” I popped it off, put it back, and the problem was fixed, until the next day when it squeaked again. I once again popped it off, tried putting it back on, and noticed one of the plastics tabs had broken, so although the space bar could go back on, it was a lot more “wobbly.” Now I’m not going blame this one on Acer- but I can tell you I’ve popped off a lot of space bars, and this is the first one to go.

After convincing Circuit City to give me another one, I noticed something pleasantly odd about the third one. The palm rest area (left and right side of the touch pad) was quite a bit sturdier. Before, I could flex that area down quite a bit, but now I can’t. To my surprise, there is a layer of thick foam under the palm rest- something that wasn’t there in my previous two TravelMates. How did I find this out, you ask? The PC Card slot “flap” would not go down! I had to exert quite a bit of force to make it go down (as if I was inserting a card), and when I finally got it down, you can clearly see the foam above it. Then as I release the flap, you guessed it, it would not return all the way up because it was stuck on foam. I kid you not. Of course I was able to finally force it up, but I was ready to go back to Circuit City, but I was reluctant because I would never be able to find a deal like this again. Plus, the palm rests are a lot sturdier now.

With that being said, this laptop is both a “flexer” and a “wobbler.” Yes, the screen wobbles like no other. Now the hinges them self don’t move- in fact, you need to exert quite a bit of force to change the overall tilt of the panel, but give it a slight push on the top center part of the screen, and watch it yo-yo back and forth slower and slower over a period of 5 seconds.

The keyboard has a slight flex to I when pressed down, but nothing that would affect your typing, but annoying none the less. The black area above the keyboard (in line with the launch buttons) flexes down quite a bit with some pressure. As mentioned, the palm rest area is quite sturdy. Beneath the laptop, you can easily flex it some areas, mainly the removable compartments.

The hinges are made of cheap plastic, and they feel the same way. They can move vertically quite a bit, and if your shirt gets stuck on it, chances are the hinge will break off before your laptop moves with it.

When closed, you can press down the front screen edges to make it touch the bottom portion of the laptop, but the center is firmly touching. On the back end where the hinges are, you can press down that area as well, because the hinges have some give. I don’t know if this is due to poor build quality or if it’s a feature. The hinges are surrounded by plastic. I will also say the screws around the hinges could be screwed in quite a bit more than how they were shipped.

Twisting the screen does not produce any ripples and neither does putting pressure on the back side of the panel (however, with a reasonable amount of force, you can make it happen, but nothing like some HPs and Dells I’ve seen, where you can make the entire screen ripple).

However, one thing that doesn’t seem too well designed is the back side of the LCD panel. Although it’s difficult to get ripples to show, due to its slight convex shape, you can flex down the outer plastic. I’ve purposely sat on the laptop closed, and nothing broke, so you shouldn’t be too worried.

Holding the laptop by one of the corners produces no creaks or flex, but you can really tell the laptop is under a lot of tension in this position.

The touchpad and respective buttons are all fine.

Keyboard and Touchpad

As mentioned above, the keyboard has the 5 degree tilt to it that many other Acer notebooks have. Overall, this doesn’t make any difference in my typing than a conventional laptop keyboard. The rest of it is basically standard, with the exception of the Euro and Dollar symbol to the left and right of the up arrow key, respectively.

Keyboard and touchpad view (view larger image)

The touch pad feel quite nice: smooth enough to flow easily, but it has enough friction for precise control. The left and right mouse buttons are pretty standard as well, and they produce a noticeable click when pressed. The four way scroll button works as expected as well, also producing a noticeable click sound when pressed (and thus causes annoyances in class- but don’t get me wrong, it’s not that loud; it’s about the same as a normal mouse click sound). The touchpad is built by Synaptics, and through the drivers, you can configure many settings, including a virtual side and virtual scroll area.

Screen and Speakers

The screen is a 15.4″ Widescreen WXGA+ LCD at resolution of 1280 x 800. Although I could not find the exact specs for this LCD panel, I can tell you that the response time isn’t bad, as “ghosting” is on par with my 16ms Acer LCD. Contrast and brightness are all acceptable by today’s standards, and it is even through out, with no apparent “bleeding” on the edges. However, the viewing angle isn’t that great, but on par with most other current (non “bright view”) laptops. My laptop came with no dead pixels.

Screen off (view larger image)

Screen displaying all white (view larger image)

Screen displaying all black (view larger image)

Screen displaying color (view larger image)

Above you can compare the contrast when the screen is off, black, white, or colorful.

Audio is powered by the popular Conexant AMC chipset, which serves its purpose. The over all quality is once again on par with most other laptop speakers, and it can get loud enough to fill a small room. Overall, they’re not bad. Sound from the headphone jack is about the same as from the headphone jack on my external USB SoundBlaster Live and rotating the plug around does not produce any static.

Performance
 
The laptop is Centrino certified, meaning it includes the Intel i855 (GM/GME) chipset, along with the Intel Pentium M 725 1.60GHz 400MHz FSB 2MB Cache Dothan core processor. The hard drive is only 4200RPM with 2MB cache, and it really degrades the overall system performance, and it is quite clear from my tests that it is the limiting factor in boot and application load times. 512MB of RAM comes equipped at the timings of CAS 2.5 — 3 — 3 — 7. It also comes with Mobile Intel Extreme 2 Graphics, which dynamically shares 64MB of memory.

The overall video performance is what you’d expect from an Intel Extreme graphics chipsets. It’s fine for everyday work and photo editing, but don’t expect to play anything more demanding than the Quake III Arena engine. This laptop can play Quake III Arena at all the lowest quality settings, but at its native resolution of WXGA+ at around an average of 100FPS. At XGA resolutions, a constant 125FPS can be achieved, even at medium quality settings.

System boot time will vary from system from system, but from power on to getting to Google takes my system 33 seconds. The ACER POST takes about 2 seconds, which is followed by the Windows XP boot process.

CPU performance is excellent, as are all Dothan based Pentium M’s. Best way to describe it is by giving you the numbers. On battery power, you can configure it to run at 600MHz or 1600MHz.

Overclocking

Although laptop overclocking isn’t very popular, this TravelMate can overclock quite nicely. Laptop overclocking is just like desktop overclocking, except we are much more limited in the variables we can change. On most Centrino laptops, you only have access to adjust the FSB, multiplier (lower only), and occasionally, the RAM Timings. You have no control over the CPU VCore or VDimm.

The RAM:FSB ratio is locked at 5:3, and the AGP/PCI clock can not be locked at 66/33MHz. Therefore, increasing the FSB will overclock both the RAM and the AGP/PCI clock.

My RAM won’t go any lower than 2.5-3-3-7 at the stock 166MHz (DDR333) speed, so I left it as that. We can only lower the multiplier, so initially I left it at the stock 16x.

So that leaves us with traditional FSB overclocking. The stock FSB on this Centrino laptop is 100MHz. First I had to find out what clock generator I had so I could download the right Clockgen (which I did by trial and error, and whichever gave me the correct initial readings). I have the CG-CY28346 clock generator, and I used SetFSB (ClockGen would always cause BSODs at higher FSBs for some strange reason), the ThinkPad X31 version.

So now the process is quite simple; just increase the FSB and measure stability. Since the AGP/PCI clock isn’t locked, when you hit around 115MHz, you lose onboard sound. Simply restoring the FSB back to 100MHz will restore the sound, and if it doesn’t, a simpl reboot will (I have an external USB Sound Blaster which continues to work). My laptop is prime stable for over 8hrs (no errors/warnings, stopped at 8hrs) at 127MHz FSB, which results in a 16x127MHz = 2.032GHz CPU, and a RAM speed of 208MHz (DDR416).

The load temperature increased from 61 degrees to about 68 degrees Celsius, while the idle temp stayed consistent around 51 degrees. Below are the benchmarks at 2.032GHz.

Increasing the FSB to 128MHz will result in the LCD to flicker, and going to 129MHz dramatically decreases its stability and 130MHz and on will usually result it distorted display followed by a BSOD.

I always have my laptop overclocked when on AC power, and it’s but doing quite nicely. You can run it overclocked in battery mode without problems, both at 16x and 6x multipliers. However, the battery drains about 20% faster compared to 100MHz FSB.

Wireless

The TravelMate comes with the Intel PROSet 2200BG 802.11b/g compliant mini-PCI wireless card. Acer cleverly located the antenna behind the LCD so that it’s not blocked off by any components. Acer calls this their BLALHALAH. I would say it gets only a slightly stronger signal than my friends who have the same chipset in their Toshiba or HP, but in practical use, you will probably not be able to get a usable signal if other WiFi devices can’t.

Battery life

Battery life of the TravelMate is quite good, and the best way to describe is to simply give you the numbers. All of these numbers are while the laptop is in use, either typing on MS Word or surfing the net if connected.

Lowest Brightness, 600MHz, LAN OFF, WiFi OFF, CardBus OFF: 3h 04m
Lowest Brightness, 600MHz, LAN OFF, WiFi ON, CardBus OFF: 2h 38m

Medium Brightness, 600MHz, LAN OFF, WiFi ON, CardBus OFF: 2h 19m
Medium Brightness, 1600MHz, LAN OFF, WiFi ON, CardBus OFF: 1h 48m
Medium Brightness, 1600MHz, LAN ON, WiFi OFF, CardBus OFF: 1h 49m

High Brightness, 1600MHz, LAN OFF, WiFi ON, CardBus OFF: 1h 36m
High Brightness, 1600MHz, LAN ON, WiFi OFF, CardBus OFF: 1h 38m

Leaving the system on standby takes about 5% battery life for every hour.

Operating System and Software

The system comes preinstalled with Windows XP Home Edition with Service Pack 2, along with all the necessary drivers and Acer software. Upon turning it on and setting it up, it prompts you to burn a Backup Recovery CD. However, there is a 3GB hidden partition which can be activated via the POST process to restore the system to factory defaults. The system comes formatted with 3 partitions: 1 hidden Acer recovery partition and 2 equal FAT32 partitions, one for the OS (C:) and one for storage (D:).

The Acer software is among the best I’ve seen for any laptop and desktop for that matter. The Empowering Technology suite has a host of power management features. You can create custom profiles that control the delays for screen off, hard disk off, stand by, brightness, and CPU speed. It also reports an accurate reading for percentage and time left of the battery on power and with Standby time left.

Acer Software power management application (view larger image)

Along with power management settings, you have all the system information you would want, along with all the BIOS options readily available to read and alter in Windows. There is also a Multi-monitor (projector) settings program.

Customer Support

I have yet to experience Acer Technical Support, as any problems I had initially were resolved with the retailer. I have, however, read on the forums that they do provide exceptional support. The Acer’s International Traveler’s Warranty should also be a plus for those who need support out of the country.

Conclusion

All in all, this is a fine laptop for the price. Despite some of the issues I have with the build quality and the initial problems I had when purchasing the laptop, it seems to be worth every dollar, and I love the overclock abilities this laptop possesses.

Pros:

  • Great Price
  • Great overclocking
  • Nice screen
  • Decent battery life

Cons:

  • Mediocre build quality
  • 4200RPM Hard Drive
  • “Blocked” out ports

Pricing and Availability

The Acer 4011WLCi is currently available at CircuitCity.com for $699.99




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