by David Koo
Like most of the readers of NotebookReview.com, I have been eagerly awaiting the launch of laptops based on the new Intel Sonoma platform for many months. During that time, I have had ample time to consider various Centrino laptops and read the numerous informative reviews on this site. However, as my intended purpose of the laptop was for personal use, I have had the leeway to hold off until now and was certainly expecting (and begrudgingly willing) to pay a premium for a new Sonoma laptop as an early adopter. Fortunately, my concerns were allayed as I found a model manufactured by Acer that exceeded the requirements I was looking for in a laptop (1GB RAM, 80GB 5400rpm HD, under 7lbs., built-in 802.11 B/G wireless, dedicated high performance graphics card) at a price that was lower than Dell (perhaps comparable once their ubiquitous online coupons are applied) and certainly much lower than Sony, Voodoo, and other customizable models from high end laptop manufacturers. Acer currently sells two models of the TravelMate 8100 in the USA with different specs – the TravelMate 8103WLMi and the TravelMate 8104WLMi. I purchased the 8104WLMi model for $2182.49 with free shipping.
Acer TravelMate 8100 (view larger image)
Here are the specs for the Acer TravelMate 8104WLMi:
- Intel Pentium M 760 (2GHz, 2MB L2 cache, 533MHz FSB)
- 1GB DDR2 533mhz SRAM (2x512MB)
- 15.4″ WSXGA+ widescreen display (maximum resolution 1680×1050@60Hz)
- 100GB Seagate Momentus 5400rpm PATA HD (model ST9100823A)
- ATI Mobility Radeon X700 128MB DDR VRAM graphics card w/ DVI and VGA out
- DVD+/-RW double layer optical drive (Panasonic UJ-831S)
- Intel PRO/Wireless 2915ABG (supports 802.11 A/B/G)
- Broadcom NetXtreme Gigabit Ethernet
- Broadcom 2035 Bluetooth
- IEEE 1394 FireWire
- 5-in-1 card reader
- Acer SmartCard – enables secure access to laptop with supplied credit card sized ID card
- 56k ITU V.92 modem with Wake-on-Ring capability
- Windows XP Professional w/ SP2
For a standard factory model, there certainly didn’t appear to be many compromises made in outfitting the laptop. The only features that are exceeded on systems at this size made by other manufacturers are maximum screen resolution (Dell and HP among others offer 1920×1200 as an option on their 15.4″ widescreen displays), a slot loading optical drive (of course Apple leads the way on this one), and dedicated audio/video playback buttons (Dell 6000 offers this). There is also a faster Sonoma processor running at 2.13GHz (Pentium M 770) but not currently available on any models from Acer. Also if one wants to nitpick among the similar screen-sized laptops, the 15.2″ widescreen Apple Powerbook has slightly smaller dimensions (1.1″ high vs. 1.2″ (front) – 1.35″ (back) for the Acer). For comparison, the Dell 8600 and 6000 are 1.52″ high and the upcoming Sony FS series is 1″ (front) – 1.41″ (back). To settle some uncertainty that I have read on the forums, the 100GB hard drive is a Seagate model with 5400rpm rotational speed (the fastest available currently at this capacity) and Bluetooth capability is built-in. The Seagate Momentus drive is not SATA; there are no small form factor 100GB SATA drives available currently. There is no support for the new ExpressCard specification.
View of keyboard (view larger image)
Bottom view (view larger image)
Closeup of laptop casing and Acer logo button (view larger image)
Closeup of touchpad and scroll buttons (view larger image)
The overall build of the laptop is very good. The display has dual latches that closes it securely without movement and there is very little flex anywhere on the computer itself. The battery attaches itself very snugly and there is no sign of any wiggle or movement. The case is silver with a greenish tint and has a high quality sheen to it which I found to be attractive and it contrasts well with the black trim on the keyboard and around the screen. The touchpad incorporates a 4-way rocker pad for scrolling that I found useful. The keyboard is curved 5 degrees which Acer in their brochures optimises the typing angle. However, the curvature seemed to bring the keys closer together resulting in frequent typos by way of pressing multiple keys simultaneously.
Left view (view larger image)
Right view (view larger image)
Rear view (view larger image)
Headphone jack, S/PDIF out, Bluetooth on/off, and Wireless on/off (view larger image)
5-in-1 card reader and IR port (view larger image)
Power button, CAPS Lock, NUM Lock, and HD activity indicators (view larger image)
User customizable buttons (view larger image)
Here are the built-in ports and their locations.
- one 5-in-1 card reader – supports Secure Digital, Multimedia Card (MMC), Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, and xD cards (front)
- one speaker/headphone-out jack with S/PDIF (front)
- one microphone-in jack (front)
- one IR (front)
- three USB 2.0 (right)
- one USB 2.0 (left)
- one RJ-45 gigabit ethernet (right)
- one RJ-11 (right)
- one Type II PC Card slot (right)
- one Acer SmartCard slot (right)
- one IEEE 1394 FireWire (right)
- one VGA (right)
- one DVI-D (rear)
- one S-Video (rear)
Note both VGA and DVI-D ports are standard which is a huge plus for me (I am able to connect to my large screen TV without buying a VGA to DVI adapter). It would be interesting to know if it’s possible to drive dual external displays simultaneously (ie. being able to show a display on one monitor connected to the VGA port and another connected to the DVI port). The inclusion of these ports and the availability of virtually every connectivity method in this laptop eliminates the need to purchase a docking station. Also included are a very useful 5 in 1 media slot and dedicated Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on/off buttons with LED indicators. There are also 4 customizable activity buttons that can be set through the provided Acer utility. There are no covers for any of the ports except the PC Card slot making the buildup of dust inevitable.
Here are the stuff included in the box (view larger image)
- Acer recovery CD’s
- Media bay placeholder (in case you want to travel without the optical drive)
- RJ-11 phone cable
- two Acer SmartCards
- user guide
- Acer branded Norton AntiVirus CD
Acer throws in recovery discs which was a nice touch; however, like most OEM’s they do not provide a separate Windows XP CD. Despite including recovery discs, the software installed by Acer prompted me to burn the recovery image on the first boot up into Windows. The HD was partitioned into 2 volumes which for the sake of recovery is useful (OS can be safely restored in the first partition without losing personal data in the other). The puzzling thing was that the volumes were formatted in FAT32 a la Windows 98. A little poking around revealed that this is due to the Acer recovery software (eRecovery) which is basically an Acer rebranded version of an older Norton Ghost release running on a hidden Win 98 partition – hence the need for FAT32. The manual states that while the first can be converted to NTFS, the second partition needs to be FAT32 for eRecovery to work. Along with the fact that both partitions are the same size (it would be much more useful if the OS partition was smaller), the need to keep at least one partition in FAT32 instead of NTFS underscores the usefulness of the default setup and the recovery mechanism.
Overall, I was impressed by the inclusion of virtually every connectivity option and the specifications of the laptop. Despite the presence of these features, the laptop does not look cluttered and Acer has to be commended for their design especially considering that this is one of the first available laptops based on the Sonoma platform.
Hope you found the first impressions useful and stay tuned for more observations on the laptop including heat, noise, battery life, screen and sound quality, and overall performance.
Pricing and Availability