Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi Review (pics, specs)

by artem1985il Reads (102,474)

Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi Review (compared to Sager 5720)


Acer 8204 WLMi (view large image)

The notebook reviewed is one of the most popular laptops of the season — Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi. This business desktop replacement houses the latest components — from Intel’s new Core Duo processor to ATi’s Mobility Radeon X1600 GPU — in a sleek and sexy case.

Here’s the specifications of the 8204 reviewed:

  • Intel Core Duo 2.0GHz
  • 15.4″ WSXGA+ LCD (1680×1050, non-glossy)
  • ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 256MB GDDR3
  • 2GB PC4200 533DDR2 RAM
  • 120GB 5400RPM SATA HD
  • 8x Combo with DVD+R DL
  • Windows XP Professional SP2
  • Lithium Ion 9-Cell battery
  • Intel PRO Wireless a/b/g
  • Built-in Bluetooth
  • 1 Year Acer Warranty


The Ferrari logo is just an emblem I stuck on the back to go with the carbon fiber, it does not come with the notebook (view large image)

Reasons for Buying

I was looking for a notebook under $3000 with the following qualities: good design and build quality, good gaming performance, WSXGA+ resolution screen, and something that would be able to run the upcoming Vista. I also wanted something that looked professional rather than a laptop with a car paint finish in lime green.

I was set on buying the 8204 when it was announced and resolved to sit tight until it is released. One day I ran across a PC Gamer issue which had a Sager ad. I immediately noticed the 5720 due to the slim look and the holy grail of mobile video cards — nVidia’s 7800 GTX! I ran home to research the model as I didn’t know anything about Sager. After looking at the comments about the 5720 and awing over the gaming benchmarks, I decided to order one that night.

I received my 5720 in a few days and I loved everything about it — the looks, the quality, the screen, and the performance (My review is posted here: http://forum.notebookreview.com/showthread.php?p=1250232). One thing that bothered me was the size and weight of the notebook, as well as the low battery life. I knew I was going back to school in March and it would be very inconvenient. So, as hard as it was to let it go, I talked myself into sending it back to Sager for a refund and ordering Acer’s 8204.
Where and How Purchased

I ordered my 8204 from TigerDirect as they were the only store that had them in stock that night. I called about 4:30 to place the order with a live person to make sure there are no mistakes. The salesperson was very helpful and the order was a breeze…until I was transferred to Credit Card Authorizations to complete the order. I spent 42min on the call, 35 of which was on hold. But after talking to the rep and doing a 3-way with my bank, the order was complete.

I had to pay the highest price for the 8204 – $2499 plus $87 for overnight shipping. I wasn’t very happy about laying out MSRP but I didn’t have a choice unless I wanted to wait another week.

Build & Design

When I put the TM 8204 in my hands for the first time, I was surprised how light it is after handling my 5720, which was about 3.5 lbs heavier. The case is definitely the best I have seen due to the carbon fiber lid. The overall feel of the closed notebook was a little unsettling — it didn’t have that rock-solid feel of the Sager 5720 that I got used to. Not to imply that it was bending and crackling in my hand, but it does seem fragile.


Carbon fiber lid of the 8204 (view large image)

The screen shows quite a bit of rippling when pressing on the back of the lid, which I did not expect with carbon fiber in place. The hinges look fine but could be stronger.


Top view of 8204 (view large image)

The overall build quality of the 8204 would get nothing more than a 8/10 from me. 


Back left corner (view large image)

Screen

I loved the glossy screen on the 5720 in most cases, but the glare was killing me in a bright room. The LCD on the Acer is decent, but is not nearly as bright as the 5720 or my brother’s DELL. Even with brightness on max and some tweaks with desktop overlay in Catalyst control panel, the display is quite dim. Also, you have to face the screen directly to get the best brightness.

The light leakage from the bottom of the LCD is also disappointing. I did not know what screen leakage was with my 5720, but I do now. Not only is it noticeable on black backgrounds on boot-up, it’s also visible with regular usage.


Light leakage on 8204 WLMi screen (view large image)

The 1.3MP camera above the screen is a plus though. The software package it comes with tops that of Sager. You can use animated avatars that mimic your facial expressions. Facial tracking is also a unique feature. Too bad I will probably never use it.


Camera at top of screen (view large image)

The screen gets a 7/10 on this notebook.

Speakers

The sound out of the speakers is really weak without any base or surround effect. I was really pleased with the SRS WoW on the 5720, and once again, Acer lets me down.

Processor and Performance

Intel’s Core Duo + 2GB RAM + X1600 are a good mix for good performance. Windows boots up about 200% faster than it did on my Sager 5720, applications start-up quickly, and multi-tasking is a bit easier with the dual core CPU.


(view large image)

As far as gaming performance — it’s actually pretty good! I was able to play Counter-Strike: Source at native resolution with everything set to high, 4XAF, and no AA. There was occasional lag but that went away with the ~20 extra fps with Shaders set to low. Battlefield 2 was ok too: I was able to run it at 1440×1050 with most settings to high and 3-4 on Medium at around 35-45fps. I am all about visuals, so I would not tolerate the textures on Med or Low, so I was pleased to find out that I could keep them at high. The 5400RPM hard drive is noticeably slower when it comes to game load times than the 7200RPM in my Sager 5720, but it’s not too bad.

Benchmarks

The benchmark scores were ran without any tweaking or overclocking.

Below are the results gained from running Super Pi (ftp://pi.super-computing.org/windows/super_pi.zip), a program that forces the laptop’s processor to calculate Pi to 2 million digits of accuracy.

Notebook Time
Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi (2.0GHz Core Duo)  1m 14s
Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Core Duo)  1m 16s
 Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)  1m 18s
 IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 45s
 IBM ThinkPad Z60m (2.0 GHz Pentium M)  1m 36s
 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
 HP Pavilion dv4000 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 39s
 HP DV4170us (Pentium M 1.73 GHz)  1m 53s
 Sony VAIO S380 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 45s

3DMark05 results for Acer 8204 WLMi compared to other notebooks:

Notebook  3DMark 05 Results
 Acer TravelMate 8204 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 256MB)  4236 3DMarks / NA
 Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB  2092 3D Marks / 4462 CPUMarks
ThinkPad T43 (1.86GHz, ATI X300 64MB graphics)  727 3DMarks / 3414 CPUMarks
 Asus V6Va (2.13 GHz Pentium M, ATI Radeon Mobility x700 128 MB)  2530 3D Marks / 3749 CPU Marks
 Quanta KN1 (1.86 GHz Pentium M, NVIDIA GeForce Go 6600 128mb)  2,486 3DMarks / 4106 CPUMarks
 HP dv4000 (1.86GHz Pentium M, ATI X700 128MB)  2536 3D Marks / 3557 CPU Marks
 Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB)  4157 3DMarks / 4812 CPU Marks

Keyboard and Touchpad


Keyboard and touchpad view (view large image)

The keyboard is one of the things I like about the Acer. The curved layout works great and was very easy to get used to. The keys are smooth and feel nice to the touch. I don’t really need a num pad on the laptop, so that’s one thing I don’t miss about my Sager.

I almost never use the touchpad but it was smooth an easy to use the couple times I played with it.

One thing I really don’t like is the lack of hardware volume controls. There is no way to adjust volume in-game without minimizing to desktop — the function key combo does not work when I am playing games.

There are two switches on the front of the notebook — for Bluetooth and wireless. Personally, I don’t think they are practical as I never enable Bluetooth or disable wireless. They might be useful for someone, but I don’t think I will ever use them.


Power button and programmable quick launch keys (view large image)

Also, there are four programmable launch buttons above the keyboard. I don’t use them as it is easier to move the cursor over to the icon in my quicklaunch than to take my hand off the mouse and reach over to press one of those buttons.

Input and Output Ports:


Side views (view large image)

  • DC-in
  • RJ-11 modem
  • RJ-45 LAN
  • VGA
  • DVI (digital visual interface)
  • Headphones/speakers/line-out with SPDIF support
  • Microphone
  • Line-in
  • S-video TV-out
  • FireWire (IEEE 1394)
  • FIR (fast infrared)
  • Four USB 2.0
  • Connector for optional ezDock Docking Station


Back right side view (view large image)


Multi card reader (view large image)

Wireless

The 8204 uses Intel’s PRO Wirless card, which supports a/b/g networks. The speed is excellent with my LinkSys router that sits downstairs from my location when using the Sager 5270. IR is also included as well as the standard Bluetooth module.

Battery

The TravelMate 8204 came with a 9-cell removable battery. The low-consumption CPU and video card will allow you to get up to 3.5 hours on the battery, which is almost twice of what the Sager 5720 would sustain.

Operating System and Software

The system comes pre-loaded with Windows XP Professional SP2 with Acer’s Empowering Framework suite, which includes a number of utilities to control the notebooks settings for security, network, performance and others. I uninstalled all of that because I did not find any of it essential. The power management utility was the one I kept the longest, but I uninstalled it as well to shorten Windows boot time. I use Notebook Hardware Control to adjust the CPU clock speed when unplugged.

There was also a trial from Norton and a couple other value-added software, but I got rid of all of it…

Other

The notebook also comes with a couple extras you won’t usually see in a laptop bundle.


Smart Card (view large image)

The Acer comes with a security card system (with 2 cards), which will add more protection to the data stored on your notebook. Also, there is a Bluetooth VoIP phone. I have not tried either and uninstalled the necessary software, so I cannot provide more info.


VoIP Phone included with Acer 8204 (view large image)

Customer Support

I have only dealt with TigerDirect so far, and there were no complications. One thing I don’t like is that there is no return policy for a refund, otherwise I would have sent it back by now.

Complaints

  • So-so build quality
  • Mediocre dim screen with major light leakage
  • Heat vent is facing right hand on the mouse
  • No external volume control
  • Poor sound quality
  • Unable to return
  • Overpriced (compare to their 5672)

Praises

  • Good looks
  • Comfortable keyboard
  • Fast performance
  • Best 15.4″ notebook for gaming
  • Good feature-set
  • Battery life

Conclusion

If I take everything into consideration, I am not happy with this notebook. It has too many faults for a $2500 price tag. I wish I could return it for a refund so I could buy my Sager back, but unfortunately it’s not possible. I will keep it for a while and see if I learn to like it’s good points, otherwise I will sell it on eBay with a $500 loss….

I would only recommend this notebook if you are looking for a light, business-like notebook that will support your games. If gaming is your main concern, go for the Sager 5720; if you want something with a dual core notebook in a fairly light package, avoid the 8204 and get something cheaper.

Pricing and Availability: Acer 8204 WLMi




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