by Charles Jefferies, Philadelphia Pennsylvania USA
Overview + Intro
The Acer TravelMate 4400 series notebook is a thin and light notebook, designed for the person seeking desktop power in a portable package. It encompasses many features that a desktop has, including a variety of ports, a large screen and hard drive, and a powerful graphics card.
The notebook I am reviewing for you here is the TravelMate 4402WLMi. Acer notebooks are non-configurable, so what you see is what you get. That’s a good thing in a way, because it helps keep the price down. Mine came with the following:
- Microsoft Windows XP Professional w/SP2
- AMD Turion 64 ML-30 (1.6GHz, 1MB L2)
- 512MB (1 DIMM) DDR SDRAM PC2700
- 100GB 5400RPM Hard Drive, ATA-100
- ATI Mobility Radeon X700, 64MB VRAM
- 15.4″ WXGA Display
- DVD Super Multi Drive
- 8 cell Li-Ion battery
- ATI Radeon Xpress 200 Chipset
- 6 in 1 card reader
- 802.11b/g WLAN
- 1 yr Ltd. Warranty
I was in the notebook market for quite a while. I needed the notebook to have a 64-bit processor, a fast 3D graphics card, and plenty of storage for my digital photos. I considered all of the following notebooks:
I dismissed the zv6000 because it had a weak graphics card, and I also dismissed the Ferrari 4000 because it was simply too expensive. I also got rid of the zd8000 because it was 10 lbs and not practical to bring to work everyday. That left me with the Gateway and the Acer 4400. The two had very similar specs, but the Gateway had a better screen and the Acer had a better video card. So, I went to Best Buy to see the Gateway. I found that it was merely a rebadged emachines, with plain-Jane styling, plus it was a bit on the heavy side as well. So, that left me with the Acer, and that is what I bought.
I did a quick Internet search for the Acer 4400, and I found that it was cheapest at www.zipzoomfly.com. I paid USD $1,269 for this notebook. What a deal! It is hard to find a desktop with those specs for that price! For $1,269, I couldn’t resist. I don’t know why I even considered the other notebooks.
Zipzoomfly provided excellent service. The notebook was well packaged, came in a very short period of time, and I was told about its progress via email — very convenient. I would definitely order from them again in the future.
Build Quality and Design
The Acer 4400 has a very pleasing design. It has a sort of understated elegance, with the light silver case, black trim around the display, and the metal-color silver running around the touchpad. And it is none too busy either, has just the right amount of lights and buttons. Very clean and refreshing.
Overall build quality is superb. It feels very solid, made from high-strength plastic that doesn’t flex or bend. For a notebook with a lot of power like this one, it doesn’t seem too heavy at 6.6lbs. I don’t like using this on my lap however, because my knee would block the fan. But it is entirely possible to use it on your lap if you want to — just don’t block the fan. I suggest getting a lapdesk or something to put it on, because the bottom tends to get hot after a while.
The screen has a little flex to it, but that is understandable because this is a fairly large screen at 15.4″. And the screen doesn’t wobble when I push it, the hinges are very solid and hold it in any position very well.
See for yourself
Keyboard: notice the 5-degree curve in the keyboard
Acer 4400 keyboard (view larger image)
3/4 view (view larger image)
Left Side: Vent, S-video, Firewire, 3x USB, IR, Card Reader, PC Card slot (view larger image)
Top view (view larger image)
Front: Wireless indicator light, microphone port and headphone jack, battery light, on indicator (view larger image)
Back: AC in, Ethernet, 56K, USB port, ezDock connector, VGA, vent (view larger image)
The 15.4″ widescreen WXGA display is very bright. In fact, I use it at half brightness most of the time. Acer ships it with half brightness; use the eManager to bring it up to full. I compared this side by side with my HP, which has a Brightview screen, and it was very similar in brightness levels. I found no dead pixels on the entire screen. The WXGA (1280×800) resolution is perfect for me; anything else would be a strain on my eyes. This is a typical non-glare TFT LCD, but I have no regrets for not getting one of the extra-bright glossy displays. The backlighting is very good: an even amount of light gets to all areas of the screen.
However, compared to my desktop monitor, which is a standard 17″ flat panel, the widescreen is not nearly as vibrant. The colors seem a bit dull, but not washed out. Still, it is a very good screen.
The speakers in this notebook are typical: tinny and no bass whatsoever. Interesting enough though, they don’t distort at high volume. Definitely go out and get a nice pair of headphones like I did or a pair of external speakers. Think about it: who buys a notebook for speakers?
Processor and Performance
Equipped with the AMD Turion 64 ML-30, clocked at 1.6GHz and utilizing a 1MB L2 cache, this notebook is very quick indeed. It rips through basic productivity and virus scans, and has no problem playing Counter-Strike: Source or Far Cry either. I clocked the boot up time to the logon screen at 21.2 seconds, and the shutdown at 10.1 seconds. That is even faster than my 7200RPM SATA desktop!
Acer put a great hard drive in the Acer 4400. It is a 100GB 5400RPM Ultra ATA-100 drive. Very nice! It is quiet too, and the clicking noise when the hard drive is being used is audible but subtle and not very noticeable.
The specs said this notebook would have 2x 256MB DIMMs installed; however, I was pleasantly surprised to find that mine had a single 512MB DIMM. I added another 512 and now I have 1GB. It is very easy to access both the hard drive and the RAM slots; they are located in a single compartment on the bottom of the notebook, right underneath the touchpad area and to the left of it.
When I open multiple applications at once, they are all opened very quickly. When I do a virus or anti-spyware scan, it completes very quickly, faster than my Pentium 4 3.2GHz desktop. Even if the processor is running at 100%, I can still do stuff without a problem.
I play a variety of games on this notebook: Far Cry, Half Life 2, Counter Strike: Source, Knights of the Old Republic II, Star Wars Battlefront, and a little of DOOM3 (just the demo — I play the game for the graphics).
I found that I could run Far Cry very smoothly in “High” quality mode, keeping the textures on medium and the filtering on “Bilinear” for best performance. Battlefront runs at the highest setting beautifully as well. I use the recommended settings for HL2 and CS: S, as they seem to work the best. It auto-selects “High” for all of the options except for Anti Aliasing and Antistrophic Filtering. You can enable AF in CS: S if you want though, I haven’t had any problems. In the source video stress test, at a WXGA resolution and 8X AF enabled, I got an average of 56.7FPS!
DOOM3 is breathtaking on this notebook. I run it at “High” with no problems. This notebook has no problem playing the latest games, and the ATI Mobility Radeon X700 does a wonderful job of rendering the reflections, shadows, and lighting effects.
We use Super Pi to get a benchmark of processor speed. The Super Pi program simply forces the processor to calculate Pi to a selected number of digits of accuracy. Calculating to 2 million digits is our benchmark:
Comparison of notebooks using Super Pi to calculate Pi to 2 million digits (plugged in):
|Notebook||Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits|
|Acer TravelMate 4400 (AMD Turion ML-30, 1.6GHz)||2m 11s|
|Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m 48s|
|IBM ThinkPad T41 (1.6GHz Banias Pentium M)||2m 23s|
|Compaq R3000T (Celeron 2.8GHz)||3m 3s|
|Dell Inspiron 600m (1.6 GHz Dothan Pentium M)||2m 10s|
|Dell Inspiron 8600 (1.7GHz Banias Pentium M)||2m 28s|
PCMark04: 3104 PCmarks
PCMark05: 2457 PCmarks
3Dmark03: 4383 3Dmarks
Min Transfer: 27.9MB/s
Max Transfer: 41.5MB/s
Temperature: 59 degrees Centigrade
Comments: 3Dmark03 ran smoothly, even the CPU tests, and I am quite impressed. PCMark05 also ran pretty well too. Minimal processes were running in the background, and the hard drive was defragmented before hand. I had the notebook running all the other benchmarks before I ran HDTune, so that might explain the high temperature.
Keyboard and touchpad
The keyboard is particularly interesting. It has a 5-degree curve to it, making it more ergonomic and easy to use. It puts your hands in a more natural position. You can tell this is a European notebook because it has a dedicated euro key. I love the keyboard, it is really attractive and has a nice touch to it, not too soft, but it isn’t that firm either. There are 4 media buttons next to the power button at the top, all user-programmable. They have a nice feel to them and don’t make any noise when you press them. I do wish that there were dedicated volume control buttons, but it’s not a big deal. You can use the Fn key + arrow keys to adjust the sound, and F8 to toggle the sound on and off.
The keyboard does not flex in any place, not even in the corners, and I found typing on it very enjoyable.
The touchpad has a good feel to it as well, although I think the mouse buttons are a bit loud and could have had a better feel. I found them a bit mushy. In-between the two mouse buttons is a 4-way scroll pad, although I haven’t been able to get this to work. Perhaps I’m missing something.
This notebook has a variety of ports, almost as many as a desktop!
- USB 2.0 (4)
- Firewire, 4-pin
- PC Card Slot
- Acer EZ dock connector
- Gigabit Ethernet
- 56k modem
- 6-in-1 media card reader
There is no parallel port for printers, but most new printers use a USB connection, so I don’t view this as a problem. And you can always buy a Parallel to USB converter cable.
This computer came with a Broadcom 802.1b/g mini-PCI wireless card. The Acer SignalUp technology works well, and maintains the wireless connection, even through walls.
Acer claims that the Acer TravelMate 4400 has a battery life of 3 to 3.5 hours depending upon configuration. Lets see if that claim is valid: Doing nothing, with the laptop on “portable/laptop” mode, and the screen at 40% brightness (set to shut off after 5 min), I clocked the battery life a little after 3 hours. This is pretty close to Acer’s claim, so I’d say it’s valid.
It is interesting to note that the fan was on most of the time when it was on battery at medium or low speed — I thought it would go off because of the reduced power usage, but I guess not.
Operating System and Software
This notebook came with Microsoft Windows XP Professional with SP2 installed. It is the full version, and not altered by the manufacturer in any way. I very much appreciate this — I don’t like when manufacturers send their computers with all the so-called operating system “enhancements”. I was also very happy to see that no free Internet sign-ups, free music downloads, or trial software came preinstalled. Normally, if you buy an HP or a Dell, it is preloaded with all that and it’s really annoying. This came preinstalled with a small but very useful software bundle: CyberLink PowerDVD, NTI DVD Maker 7, and a 3-month subscription to Norton Antivirus 2005. Acer also includes its eManager program, which can be used to adjust the screen brightness, put it in presentation mode, or launch the Acer eRecovery program. I found that to be quite useful, a nice touch.
A recovery disk is included, along with the Windows CD and the included software CD’s.
Some people might think Acer skimped on the software, but I like how they sent it with only a few applications that are actually useful. I don’t want a whole bunch of software I don’t need.
I sent an email to Acer, and I got a response back 2 days later. But an actual person wrote the email, and it wasn’t just copied and pasted, so that was nice to have personal attention. The representative also included their full name, not just their first, so it would be easy to get in contact with them.
I have not yet called them on the phone, but I am a bit disappointed to see that their technical support is not available 24/7.
The warranty on this laptop is a 1-year limited international traveler’s warranty. That means that if you go to another country and it breaks, you can get it fixed there. That is nice if you travel a lot (hence the name TravelMate).
When I ordered my Acer from Zipzoomfly, there was no option to upgrade the warranty. However, I noticed that a few other vendors, such as Newegg, offered extended manufacturer warranty options. On www.newegg.com, the extended warranty pricing is as follows:
- 2 yr extended warranty: $349 USD
- 3 yr extended warranty: $399 USD
That sounds a bit steep to me, but if you want the extra protection you have to pay for it, no way around that.
No notebook is perfect, no matter where you got it or how much you paid for it. This one is no exception.
My first complaint is that it came with the hard drive divided into two 50GB partitions. I want the whole 100GB avaliable, not just half! Also, it came with a FAT32 filing system on both partitions as well. FAT32 is not efficient and it has security flaws, and shouldn’t be used on a volume as large as 50GB. Before you put anything on it, convert the FAT32 to NTFS — it will speed up the computers performance.
What else I don’t like about the notebook is that it runs quite warm. The hard drive and memory are located right under the touchpad and to the left of it, and that causes the whole area to get hot enough that it is bordering on uncomfortable. The CPU and GPU sit right under the keyboard on the left side as well, so that area gets warm (but not hot like the touchpad) as well. I think this has to do with the fact that the notebook is only 1.3″ thin, so there are not many places for the heat to go.
Also, the fan is always on, and isn’t that quiet. Although it expels a good deal of heat from the notebook, it could definitely be quieter. It is noticeable even when there is a fair amount of noise in the room (TV on, people talking, etc). When you start doing CPU intensive apps, it gets noisier. Even at idle, the fan noise is noticeable from any part of the room. Using any sort of general application causes the fan to spool up to a higher speed. In case you are wondering, the fan has a low-pitched whine to it, in addition to the sound of the air rushing out of it. The whine increases with it’s speed.
The display needs to show colors more vibrantly. They aren’t washed out, but the screen would definitely benefit from a higher contrast ratio.
I really don’t care about the battery life, but I must say, that for a thin and light laptop with a mobile processor, I thought it would get better than 3 hours. I think 4 or 4 would be ideal. Intel Centrino notebooks seem to have better battery life, but keep in mind that this notebook has the Turion ML-30 processor, which uses 35W of power. The Turion MT class processors use 25W, considerably less than the ML class. For comparison purposes, the Intel Pentium M uses 27W. If you require longer battery life, look for a Turion notebook with an MT class processor.
My final complaint would be the speakers. Nobody buys a laptop for speakers, but I think Acer could have at least put in better ones.
- Low price
- Styling is beautiful — very clean and refreshing look
- Awesome keyboard
- Powerful Graphics card for 3D gaming
- Fast and efficient Turion 64 processor
- Large and fast Hard Drive
- XP Professional
- Easy to access RAM and Hard Drive
- Solidly built; high quality plastic
- Sturdy display/keyboard doesn’t flex
- Lots of connectivity options
- No junk software included
The Acer TravelMate 4400 is an excellent notebook, encompassing desktop power into a beautiful thin-and-light design that won’t break the bank. The ATI Mobility Radeon X700 does a wonderful job at rendering 3D graphics, and the Turion 64 breezes through CPU intensive applications without a hitch. Granted, it has its shortcomings – the fan could be quieter, and the battery life could be better, but you can’t have everything, and no amount of money will buy you that. But if you’re looking for a powerful computer that stands out from the crowd, take a look at the Acer TravelMate 4400, it won’t disappoint.
Pricing and Availability