Acer TravelMate 3004WTMi review
This attractive notebook is bursting with power, but it would benefit from a lower-spec processor to avoid the heat and battery-life issues.
Everyone in the PC Pro office is in unanimous agreement: the Acer TravelMate 3000 series looks stunning. At first, it seems to be finished in silver, but Acer adds a touch of green to create a cool metallic sheen that provides a stylish contrast with the darker trim and keyboard.
The TM3000 has a slinky form factor too: the widescreen 12.1in display creates sufficient room for the keyboard while still keeping the overall weight in check. Some people might be disappointed that the optical drive isn't built in - it means you'll have to carry extra clutter if you need the drive - but it brings down the weight to an impressive 1.5kg when it isn't needed.
For an ultraportable, the TM3004WTMi model has bags of power, with a 2GHz Pentium M 760 CPU under the hood. With 512MB of PC4300 DDR2 RAM on board (production models will ship with 1GB), it flashed through our benchmarks to an overall 2D score of 1.99. In fact, it borders on the gratuitous: it's doubtful that anyone needs that kind of performance in such a small chassis and, while it may sound reassuring, there's a very real hit when it comes to battery life.
The 2GHz chip generates a lot of heat for such a confined space: the thermal design power (TDP) is a not insignificant 27W. It's no coincidence that the right side of the notebook feels very warm after a while, and it soon gets uncomfortably hot on your lap. It's all too much for the tiny three-cell battery, which fed the furnace for just one hour, 42 minutes under light use. Constant fan activity under intensive loads exacerbates the situation, with the battery quitting after just 34 minutes. That's simply not enough in such a portable machine.
There are two positives, however. Acer is following a growing trend in small systems by supplying two batteries. The larger six-cell unit lasted four hours, seven minutes and one hour, 37 minutes in our light and intensive tests respectively. This is more in the zone we'd expect of an ultraportable, and it's the battery you'll use most often, even though it adds 20mm to the chassis depth and brings the weight to 1.6kg. Acer also supplies software called ePowerManager, which gives extensive control over power-draining components, refining the settings to stretch the battery a bit further.
Continuing on from the choice of processor, other specifications are also at the high end. The generous 1GB SDRAM is fitted in dual-channel mode, plugged into a 915GM-equipped motherboard, and there's permanent storage aplenty with a huge 100GB 4,200rpm Seagate Momentus hard disk. Removable storage is a dual-format, dual-layer DVD burner, connecting via FireWire to the right side of the notebook. Add that to the larger battery, and it bumps the weight up to 2kg.
But again, we need to avert our eyes from impressive facts and figures and instead consider usability. It's a critical factor for notebooks, because you can't change the display, keyboard or touchpad as you can with a desktop PC. And, here again, the TM3000 has more room for improvement. Of the two pre-production samples we saw, both shared the same shortcomings. The keyboard is generally well laid out, with Delete at the top right and Control at the bottom left. But punctuation keys around the Enter key are tiny, making you pause before striking an apostrophe, question mark or similar. Key travel is fine, although the boards are a little too bouncy and lack the feeling of support underneath.
Alas, the top 25 per cent of the touchpad surface didn't respond on both machines either. We're sure Acer will attend to these issues as production gets into full swing, but, if you can, try one personally before buying to ensure you're happy with it.