by David Koo
After having spent some time and putting the new Acer TravelMate 8100 through extensive use, I have written a more in-depth review regarding aspects of the laptop that cannot be determined just by looking at the spec sheet. If you want to get a description of the specifications and to look at more detailed photographs of the laptop, please go and check out the Acer Travelmate 8104WLMi First Thoughts.
Acer 8104WLMi Specs
- 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
Acer 8104WLMi Overview
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.
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.
Design and Build
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.
Input and Output Ports
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.
Acer TravelMate 8100 Display (view larger image)
The Acer laptop comes with a 15.4″, 16:10 aspect ratio LCD that supports a maximum resolution of 1680×1050 @ 60Hz. In addition to this setting, here are the other resolutions and maximum refresh rates that this laptop supports:
- 1400×1050 @ 60Hz
- 1280×1024 @ 180Hz
- 1280×768 @ 60Hz
- 1152×864 @ 100Hz
- 1024×768 @ 200Hz
- 800×600 @ 200Hz
The TravelMate 8100 has a wide viewing angle (view larger image)Like most other 15.4″ displays, this LCD has a very wide viewing angle. I was able to watch videos and play games on it without noticing any latency. The screen, while not as bright as the reflective screens sported by Sony and other laptop manufacturers, is more than sufficient.
Noise and Heat
The sound generated by the principal sources of noise in a laptop – the cooling fan and hard drive – are minimized in this computer. The hard drive is virtually silent. Even during activities where hard drive use is prevalent such as installing applications, there is no audible sound. The fan, while it is active, does not emit any pitch or whine – it merely sounds like blowing air. However, the fan is active more often than not. If the laptop is running on AC power and using the default power configuration (maximum brightness, CPU speed, etc), the fan will be on constantly, mostly at low speed depending on usage. On battery power, regardless of the power settings, the fan will turn off for about 5 minutes then be on for approximately 3 minutes subsequently at high speed. For the most part in an environment with ambient noise, however, you will not notice any sound emanating from the laptop.
The fan is located on the left-rear side of the laptop and while it is not an ideal location, the inclusion of the various ports on this laptop does not leave much room for its placement anywhere else. I would have preferred to see that the fan was located in the rear of the chassis. The bottom of the case does not get hot. In some areas, it does get lukewarm but even this varies on use. The only area that does get consistently warm is the area below where the fan is located. Since the fan is active most of the time, this is certainly expected. I have read other reviews where they state that the bottom of the case gets very hot in multiple locations but in my experience even with heavy usage, the warmness was not noticeable unless explicitly checked for by placing my hands on the bottom and was certainly not felt through clothing (ie. by placing it on my lap).
Sound and Speaker Quality
The Acer TravelMate 8100 Speakers are located at the front of the notebook (view larger image)
The laptop has two speakers located on the front of the case. The negative thing about their placement is that while typing, the user’s wrists will be almost perfectly in line with the speakers, thereby blocking the sound that comes out. It is certainly debatable where the ideal location for laptop speakers may be – there are drawbacks to being on the side (the sound will be dispersed) or around the keyboard (the lid cannot be closed while listening to music) – but if you plan on listening to music while typing, I would recommend using headphones. The sound quality of the speakers are very good for ones that come with a laptop. However, the volume level of the audio system is not all that high and while listening on headphones, I could comfortably listen to music with both Windows Volume and Media Player volume at max setting. The RealTek high definition audio codec comes with a utility that provides a graphical equalizer and various audio effects.
RealTek audio utility (view larger image)
Acer provided ePowerManagement utility (view larger image)
Here are the results I got from the laptop running on battery power:
- With CPU Speed setting at maximum, LCD Brightness at 100% and Wi/Fi on, the laptop lasted about 2 hours and 40 minutes with normal usage (web browsing, typing, and listening to music about half the time).
- With CPU Speed setting at lowest, LCD Brightness at 40% and Wi/Fi on, the laptop lasted about 3 hours and 25 minutes with normal usage (web browsing, typing, and listening to music about half the time).
- With CPU Speed setting at lowest, LCD Brightness at 73% and Wi/Fi off, after the completion of a 110 minute film on DVD with all volume controls set to maximum, there was 26% (46min) left in the battery.
I measured the frame rates for some popular 3D games available. During testing, I noticed that frame rates vary widely during game playing – while playing Half Life 2, sometimes a variance of 100+ FPS was observed even in a single level – which led to me to wonder about how review sites come up with a single number for FPS. I am providing ranges that I observed most frequently while playing the stated map or level in the game. You can safely assume that the maximum observed FPS is 10-20 higher than the ranges I listed below. I checked the Acer website to see if there were updated ATI drivers for this laptop, but unfortunately Acer did not even have a download category for the TravelMate 8100 listed yet. Let’s get a move on it Acer!
The benchmarks were tested with v.220.127.116.1197 ATI drivers released on 12/7/2004.
Unreal Tournament 2004 v3334
Tested ‘Assault’ mode on the ‘Convoy’ map
‘World Texture’ set to high
AF level 2x
AA level 2x
1024×768 – 55-65fps
1280×1024 – 40-50fps
1680×1050 – 27-35fps
AA level 6x
1280×1024 – 33-38fps
1680×1050 – 18-22 fps
Far Cry v.18.104.22.1680
Tested ‘Fort’ level
AA level low (I assume this is 2x)
All ‘Advanced Settings’ turned to Very High
1024×768 – 30-40fps
1280×1024 – 22-27fps
1680×1050 – 16-18fps
All ‘Advanced Settings’ turned to Medium
1024×768 – 55-60fps
1280×1024 – 32-37fps
1680×1050 – 22fps
I didn’t bother testing Far Cry with higher AA levels since the FPS at the low level were not that high to start with at the Very High detail setting.
Half Life 2 (whatever the latest version is since Steam goes and updates it automatically)
Tested ‘Point Insertion’ Level
All detail settings set to High
NOTE: These frame rates were measured in an outdoor environment area with multiple textures and lighting effects. In indoor areas with similar textures, I observed FPS that approached 200 at 1024×768 with AA 2x. Turning on AF 2x decreased FPS only by 2-3 from what was measured below.
1024×768 – 55-60fps
1280×1024 – 35-40fps
1680×1050 – 23-24fps
1024×768 – 45-50fps
1280×1024 – 25-30fps
1680×1050 – 15-20fps
3DMark 2005 v1.2.0
This being the latest version of 3DMark, the demos looked very demanding with lots of cool lighting effects, textures, etc. The frame rates for the 3 demo games stayed around 10 or lower FPS at 1024×768 and were significantly worse at higher resolutions.
PCMark 2004 v1.3.0
I left the setup similar to the state in which the laptop arrived in before I ran this test. Anti-virus and firewall software as well as Wi/Fi were disabled. The hard drives were left in FAT32 partitions (as the laptop came with) which probably impacted the results.
PCMark Score – 4009
CPU Score – 3864
Memory Score – 3343
Graphics Score – 3069
HDD Score – 3009
In my first thoughts article, I recommended the Acer TravelMate 8104 based on the specifications that came with the system as well as my first hand impressions of the design and build quality. Based on the additional time I have spent with the laptop and having put it through daily usage, I have experienced nothing that have detracted from the reasons that brought about my initial recommendation. The list of features that come included with this laptop at this price level is certainly hard to beat when compared against systems from other manufacturers. That being said, form factor has to be the number one consideration when deciding on which laptop to purchase and the primary intended use of the computer might make laptops with larger or smaller screens more ideal for others. Acer TravelMate 8104WLMi is an excellent middle form factor system offering capable computing power with the 15.4″ widescreen and a dedicated 128MB graphics card in addition to having smaller than average dimensions and weight, which allows for portability when needed.
Pricing and Availability