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Acer Ferrari 3200LMi review

Verdict

Style, power and value. Not many notebooks on test offer all three in such well-balanced quantities, making Acer's Ferrari a great choice - if you like red.

Review Date: 21 Oct 2004

Price when reviewed: (£1,299 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
4 stars out of 6

The 3200LMi won't be to everyone's taste, especially if (a) you're not a Formula 1 fan; or, (b) if you are a Formula 1 fan and have an aversion to a certain German driver. But the Ferrari branding doesn't limit the 3200LMi's appeal if you can look past the red paint and prancing horse logo on the lid. In fact, it sailed through our tests and impressed our judges thanks to some fantastic ergonomics.

The paint finish itself will impress even Ferrari owners. It's applied using a ten-step process with DuPont paint, then hand-polished to give that showroom shine. Plus, the solid build quality makes most of the other notebooks feel almost flimsy by comparison. Thankfully, the rather overpowering sea of redness disappears once you open the lid, being replaced by a more serene silver and grey livery. A nice touch is the race-car like carbon fibre strip above the sturdy and well laid-out keyboard: we found its slight curvature made touchtyping that much easier.

Even the trackpad is nice to use and it's complemented by a four-way cursor for scrolling. Gamers won't appreciate it though, so it's great to see that Acer includes a matching red optical mouse in the box, and it's small enough to fit in your bag. Acer doesn't provide a bag but, at this price, you can take your pick from the stylish offerings available on p120 and still have change from £1,200.

On the right-hand side of the 3200LMi is a neat, slot-loading, tri-format DVD writer, which can even write to DVD-RAM discs. The only possible gripe is that it doesn't write to dual-layer discs. The opposite side houses four USB 2 ports, a Type II PC Card slot, audio line-in, microphone and headphone mini-jacks and a mini-FireWire port. VGA, S-Video, parallel, Ethernet and modem connections adorn the rear, while a 5-in-1 media card reader supports all bar CompactFlash and xD-Picture cards at the front. There's also an infrared port here. Finally, it's worth noting that the Acer is the only machine on test to sport an internal microphone.

But this is a Ferrari, and its performance is ultimately more important than features and looks. On this count, the 3200LMi certainly delivers, thanks to a Mobile Athlon 64 2800+ (not the 3200+ you'd expect, given the model name) and Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics. The latter has 128MB of memory on board and is backed by 512MB of PC2700 system RAM. The resulting 1.66 score in our real-world benchmarks and 43fps in Unreal Tournament 2004 (at 1,280 x 1,024) are respectable even in this company.

As with all these notebooks, Halo proved to be too much of a strain at 1,280 x 1,024, running at just 18.2fps. Fortunately, we found that dropping down the resolution to XGA (1,024 x 768) gave frame rates of over 30fps, so action appeared smooth. We also tried Colin McRae 4 and ToCA Race Driver 2 at XGA resolution and they were both more than playable.

The output from the graphics card is fed to a bright 15in TFT, which proved to be one of the best on test. Viewing angles aren't amazing - two or three people at most can comfortably see the screen close up - but images are great quality when you're face on. Colours were vibrant too, while the native resolution of 1,400 x 1,050 offers plenty of Desktop space; you can also extend it over a second monitor thanks to the VGA and S-Video outputs.

In use, we appreciated the fact that the Mobile Athlon 64 CPU incorporates Cool'n'Quiet technology, so it can throttle both its voltage and clock speed dynamically depending on the load. This conserves battery power and functions even when running on mains power, keeping things cooler and allowing the fans to run less. But the reality is that the Ferrari ran hotter than most notebooks, with the left-hand wrist-rest being warm to the touch even when word processing. Fire up a game and things get even warmer (and noisier), but we didn't have any problems with stability.

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