Acer TravelMate 8104WLMi review
Capable of rivalling many desktops in 2D and 3D performance, this widescreen notebook still keeps weight to an acceptable 3kg.
Acer's TravelMate 8000 series has frequently visited our A List, and the launch of Intel's Sonoma Centrino platform has provided an opportunity to refresh the range. Acer's new Sonoma line-up appears in four different series. Starting with the Aspire 1690 at the low end, the new technology rises through the TravelMate 4100 and 4600 models before arriving at the top of the tree with the TravelMate 8100. There are three different 8100s, but the best components are reserved for the 8104WLMi model on review here.
With a 2GHz Pentium M processor and 1GB of dual-channel 533MHz DDR2 SDRAM to go along with Sonoma's 915PM Express chipset, it scorched through our 2D benchmarks with a score of 2.04. Any laptop with the potential to break 2.00 is impressive, outrunning many standard desktop PCs.
Storage options are just as good. The hard disk is a huge 100GB Seagate Momentus unit with an 8MB cache buffer and a spin speed of 5,400rpm. On the right of the casing there's a Matsushita Super Multi drive that handles everything you could want: DVD+/- formats, dual-layer and DVD-RAM. Not only that, but the optical drive can be quickly removed from the AcerMedia Bay should you want the flexibility to add a second hard disk or battery instead.
The power theme continues on to the graphics, since there's a 128MB ATi Mobility Radeon X700 card inside, and that allows for good gaming options when your work is done for the day. Our standard tests of Unreal Tournament 2004 and Halo at 1,280 x 1,024 returned satisfying frame rates of 59fps and 34fps respectively. Giving it harder work found the playable limits, with Doom 3 reaching 26fps at the same resolution with high-quality settings. These are very similar results to the Evesham Voyager C510 with its GeForce Go 6600 graphics.
Acer hasn't forgotten about this notebook's corporate aspirations, though, and business buyers keen on data security will appreciate the integrated smart card reader. After the contents of a notebook have been encrypted with the accompanying Platinum Secret software, no-one can access data without the correct smart card. Lose both cards and you're in for a complete motherboard swap and low-level drive format, so you'll need to make sure one of the two supplied cards is safely stored. Acer sells extra cards should you need spares.
A design touch Acer often employs is to put a gentle curve in the alignment of the keyboard, giving the chassis a decided grin. The theory is that it's easier to type on because it matches the natural angle of your arms/hands. The whole assembly is solidly supported underneath, and although the keys are shallow - which can result in a finger getting hooked underneath a neighbouring key now and then - it's comfortable to use. It's nice to see the keys are in the right places too, such as Delete top-right and Control bottom-left. There's even room down the outside right edge for page control keys, rather than cramming them in elsewhere.
The 15.4in screen has a reasonable level of protection inside the lid, but it just squeezes into the critical 2.5kg to 3kg weight range that makes it relatively portable when it needs to be. Despite its name, this TravelMate isn't for the frequent traveller. The panel's native resolution is 1,680 x 1,050, and it suits the 15.4in proportions extremely well, packing in as much detail as possible. If you find it's too small to read, you can always scale up the font or DPI settings, improving readability but retaining photographic detail.