Acer TravelMate 4401LMi Turion notebook
Review Acer has always priced its products aggressively, but even we were surprised when we learned the Acer TravelMate 4400LMi could be picked up for less than £700. Yes, you can buy cheaper laptops, but will they boast a 15in screen and ATI Radeon X700 graphics? asks Benny Har-Even.
The machine also features AMD's Turion processor, the chip-maker's competitor to Intel's very successful Pentium M? While AMD has been able to match and outperform Intel on the desktop, Intel has pretty much had the mobile market to itself. The key advantage that Turion offers over Pentium M is that in keeping with AMD's strategy over recent years, the chip is 64-bit, though you'll need a new operating system, new drivers and supporting applications to make full use of it.
Taking the Acer out of the box, I was immediately impressed by the sleek, smooth lines of the chassis. The TravelMate line is aimed at the business user, and this notebook will help project a suitably business-like image. A single sliding hook opens up the laptop to reveal the large screen, and Acer's trademark curved keyboard. This dips slightly in the middle and tapers upwards with the intention that the keys fall more easily under your fingers. It was indeed pleasant to type on, being pretty firm to the touch and equipped with full-size keys. A function key at the bottom left enables the arrow keys at the bottom right to double up as volume and brightness settings. Squeezed in above the left arrow key is a dedicated Euro key, and above the right hand key, a dollar sign. Above the keyboard are four shortcut buttons that can be programmed to the applications of your choice but default to email and your web browser. Beneath the keyboard is a square track pad, and Acer supplies software to tune how it behaves. In between the two selector buttons is Acer's own four way rocker pad enabling you to scroll up and down and left to right in web pages. It's useful but a little awkward to use.
The TravelMate is relatively large and weighs in at 2.84kg, so it's no ultra-portable. Its large 15in display is a standard 4:3 ratio job. I was disappointed to find that the screen's native resolution is only 1024 x 768. On a screen this large I'd have hoped for considerably more - this resolution inevitably makes icons and text quite large and necessitates a lot more scrolling in web pages and long text documents. However, at the price you're paying for the notebook, a low-resolution panel is inevitable. It's also not surprising that there's no high-contrast reflective coating - such luxuries add cost and are largely unwarranted on a business tool. What is surprising, though, are the viewing angles, which are poor. Even moving your head slightly sees the colours shift and it's a problem vertically too. This is a shame as a large screen like this would otherwise be ideal for presentations.
At least there's a VGA port on the back, which makes it easy to hook up an external monitor or projector. In general, connectivity is very good. Along with the VGA port is a USB 2.0 connector, a modem and a 10/100Mbps Ethernet connector. There are three more USB 2.0 connectors on the left-hand side, next to a mini four-pin Firewire port. There's also an S-Video output, so you can hook up to a TV, useful for large-screen DVD viewing. The DVD drive will burn and read pretty much anything, including, DVD+R/RW and DVD-R/RW. It will also burn dual-layer DVD+R discs.
Permanent storage is by way of a 60GB Seagate Momentus 4200.2 drive. This is spins at 4200 rpm, which is on the low side for a hard disk. It has to be said that in use, the notebook did feel somewhat sluggish at times despite the good benchmark score and that can be put down to the hard disk, which is becoming an increasingly noticeable bottleneck in PC and notebook performance. Interestingly the notebook failed to complete hard disk test in PC Mark 04, which could indicate some kind of issue there.
The built-in card reader supports Smart Media, SD, XD, MMC and Memory Stick. Above this sits a Type I PC Card slot, just to the left of which is an infra-red port. Wi-Fi (802.11g) is integrated and a button to activate it is conveniently located at the front. There's also a button for Bluetooth, but it's completely redundant as Bluetooth isn't included in this spec.
Onto the processor, a 1.6GHz Turion. The unit we were supplied with came with the 1MB cache variant. However, the sale model contains a processor with 512KB of cache, and inevitably our benchmark scores will reflect this difference.
The CPU connects to an ATI Radeon RS480 chipset, which supports ATI's PowerPlay 5.0 power conservation system. However, our MobileMark battery test results weren't stunning, with a time of only 168 minutes. Compared to many recent Centrino-based machines that last well over 200 minutes, this is disappointing. That said, doing light word processing and web browsing on this machine saw it last about four hours.
There's 512MB of RAM fitted in the notebook and opening up the expansion slot with some screws reveals that it has been supplied on two sticks, leaving no room for expansion. The Turion doesn't have a dual-channel memory controller so there's no real need for two sticks, it's just cheaper. Additionally, Acer has also only supplied 266MHz PC2700 memory rather than the PC3200 that the chipset supports.
The Turion kept up AMD's habit of beating Intel, scoring 220 in SYSmark 2002, ahead of a Sonoma-based AJP machine, though we have to bear in mind that shipping notebook will only have half the cache our test machine did. We also ran a set of 3D benchmarks and got some very playable scores at the native resolution, hitting over 40 frames per second. However, during testing I did noticed some artefacts in Half-Life 2. In general use, the system fan occasionally fired up but the noise was fairly innocuous so wasn't a problem.
The Acer 4401LMi is a well-assembled notebook with a decent amount of connectivity. The X700 makes for a solid gaming machine, and the Turion processor impresses with its speed, but not with its battery performance. Ultimately, though it's the screen that disappoints, with a low resolution and poor viewing quality. I'd recommend a Centrino-based machine for battery work and something with a better screen for play.
|Acer TravelMate 4401LMi|
|Price||£700 inc. VAT|
|More info||The Acer Travelmate 4400 site|