Acer – TravelMate 8104WLMi review

Sonoma Centrino widescreen laptop
Photo of Acer – TravelMate 8104WLMi
£1,290 + VAT

Not so long ago the trend from notebook manufacturers was to make them as small and light as possible, as the only people who seemingly used laptops were travelling corporate warriors. Times have changed and now notebooks are seen by many home and business users as a sleek and compact alternative to the once mighty desktop PC.

Acer’s TravelMate 8104WLMi is the current flagship model of the 8100 series and manages to do both jobs. It’s a powerful desktop replacement and it’s a powerful tool for the mobile user, although weighing in at 2.85kg it takes a bit of lugging around. Either way it’s a stylish-looking, slim-line notebook, measuring 36.3cm by 26.5cm (width by depth) and a mere 3cm high with the lid closed, clothed in a metallic grey finish.

It runs on Intel’s latest mobile technology, the second generation of Centrino, code-named Sonoma, which, in case you get a question about it in the pub quiz, is named after a Californian wine-growing region. As with the previous version, only a notebook which has all three Intel elements – Pentium M processor, 915 chipset and WLAN (Wireless LAN) – can be labelled a Centrino product.

At the heart of the notebook sits an Intel Pentium M 760 which, for those not used to Intel’s new numbering system, is a 2GHz Dothan Pentium M. The Dothan is the latest version of the Pentium M and comes with an increased FSB speed of 533MHz, 2MB of L2 cache and Enhanced Speedstep technology.

This is backed by an i915PM chipset and 512MB of DDRII memory running in dual channel operation, so the 8104WLMi is no slouch performance-wise, as the Sysmark 04 score of 175 proves. If 512MB of memory isn’t sufficient for your needs, then the two SO-DIMM slots can accept up to a maximum of 2GB.

The reason for the 8104WLMi’s 36cm width soon becomes apparent when you open the lid. The screen is a 15.4-inch WideScreen TFT panel with a native resolution of 1,680 by 1,050 pixels, just right for watching DVDs on. However you may be disappointed with the sound quality, which is a little tinny with hardly any bass response (a familiar problem with notebooks), but to overcome this the 8104WLMi has Intel High Definition Audio and S/PDIF support, so you could output the audio to a 7.1-channel speaker system, for example.

Graphics are provided by a 128MB ATI Mobility Radeon X700, so this is one laptop you can play games on, especially if you reduce the resolution. When tested with FarCry, it gave a playable 32fps at 1,024 by 768 pixels, with all details set at maximum; pretty astonishing for a laptop. Not only does the 8104WLMi have the usual VGA output for an external monitor, there are also DVI/I and S-video output ports.

While the battery life of one hour and 45 minutes seems disappointing, it was tested with all power conservation except SpeedStep turned off, so the figure is very much a worst case scenario. A more realistic figure would be somewhere around two and a half hours; still pretty low, but enough to get some work done on a train.

One of the best things about the TravelMate series is the FineTouch curved keyboard. Instead of the usual straight keyboard, the FineTouch has a 5-degree curve which makes typing a joy, with the keys feeling nice and responsive to the touch.

To connect to the outside world, the 8104WLMi offers you a choice of Ethernet, modem or WLAN as well as built-in Bluetooth capability. The integrated Ethernet offers 10/100/1000Mbps support while the modem is a V92 unit. The integrated Intel PRO/Wireless networking supports 802.11a/b/g modes.

For storage there is a 100GB ATA/100 hard drive, while sitting in the Acer MediaBay is a Panasonic Dual Layer, Dual Format DVD burner. Housed in the front of the chassis is a 5-in-1 memory card reader which supports SD, MMC, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro and xD-Picture Cards.

The software bundle includes Norton Anti-Virus, Cyberlink’s PowerDVD and PlatinumSecret suite for extra security, and Acer backs the 8104WLMi with year’s warranty.

Company: Acer

Contact: 01753 699 200

It's not as cheap as some laptops, but there are good reasons for that. The wide screen, the comfortable keyboard and the Sonoma certification are probably the key points, although the battery life isn't as impressive as we would have liked. Still, it's a good all-rounder for business and home users alike.