Acer TravelMate 3004WTMi

  • Editors' rating
    8.1 Excellent

Pros

  • Excellent performance
  • good battery life with the larger 6-cell unit
  • businesslike design

Cons

  • External optical drive adds to bulk and weight
  • can't hot-swap batteries without mains power

Acer’s TravelMate range of notebooks is designed to deliver portability without sacrificing performance. In the case of the new ultraportable TravelMate 3000, special attention has also been paid to battery life. Two configurations are available in the UK, with the 3002WTMi model costing £949 (ex. VAT) and offering slightly lower specifications than our review model, the £1199 (ex. VAT) 3004WTMi.

Design
Acer's latest 'Folio' design clads the system primarily in silver, with the odd stripe of black on the sides and front and back of the lid. There is nothing remarkable about this notebook’s looks, but it's certainly businesslike. It is exceptionally small, though, measuring 29.7cm wide by 21cm deep and 3.5cm high at the back, tapering to 2.5cm at the front. You get two batteries, of which more later, the lighter of the two results in a system weight of 1.46kg, the heavier 1.61kg. The increased thickness at the back of the TravelMate 3004WTMi ensures that the keyboard is tilted slightly towards the user. This is generally a good thing, although it would be even better if there was some way to adjust the tilt angle -- with extendable feet at the back, for example. The keys themselves are necessarily small, but not overly so. Above the number row is a row of half-sized function keys, while the cursor keys are arranged as an inverted ‘T’ at the bottom right. The Enter key is a bit small, but generally we were able to use the keyboard easily. It is a little springy, but we found it perfectly responsive to work with. There is a quartet of tiny keys just below the left clamshell hinge. These can be configured to quick-launch applications of your choice; by default, one of these buttons starts up the software you need to make the configurations. The touchpad beneath the screen is also small, and allows for travel across about two-thirds of the wide-aspect display in a single sweep across it. Beneath the touchpad sit left and right selection buttons and, between them, a four-way scroller. Like the quick-launch buttons, the scroller is petite -- anyone with large fingers may find these undersized keys troublesome to locate and press. The display on our review model was excellent. At 12.1in. across the diagonal, its widescreen format delivers a native resolution of 1,280 by 800 pixels. This makes it possible to have two documents open at once --something that's difficult on non-widescreen ultraportables.

Features
Models in the TravelMate 3000 series are built on Intel’s latest Sonoma platform. Our review unit was the higher-spec 3004WTMi model, which features a 2GHz Pentium M 760 processor, a PRO/Wireless 2200BG wireless networking module and Intel's 915GM chipset with integrated Graphics Media Accelerator 900. The graphics subsystem can dynamically commandeer up to 128MB of system memory. Our review model was supplied with just 512MB of DDR2 RAM and an 80GB hard drive, although these specifications more properly belong to the lower-spec 3002WTMi model; shipping versions of the 3004WTMi come with 1,024MB of memory and a 100GB hard drive. Business users need plenty of opportunity to connect to other systems as required. Acer offers an optional docking station, the ezDock, which might be useful for desk-bound locations and using legacy devices. All ports on the TravelMate 3004WTMi itself, apart from those for mains power and the docking station, are located on the left, right or front edges, as the back is occupied by the removable battery. The range of integrated connectors is limited but adequate. There are three USB 2.0 ports (two on the left edge, one on the right), a FireWire (IEEE 1394) connector, Ethernet (RJ-45) and modem (RJ-11), and a VGA-out connector. A single PC card slot is joined by a card reader that handles SD, MMC, Memory Stick and Memory Stick Pro media. Hardly a vast selection, but a PC Card adapter could add CompactFlash at minimal cost. The front edge offers headphone (with S/PDIF) and microphone jacks, the infrared port and indicators for the built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi (802.11b/g) wireless functionality. To keep the TravelMate 3004WTMi as compact and lightweight as possible, the optical drive -- a DVD-R/W Dual Double Layer drive in our review model -- is external, attached via a FireWire (IEEE 1394) connection. Some users will find this inconvenient: for all this machine’s ability to read flash media, and the increasing popularity of USB keydrives, optical media are still a ‘must have’ for many business users. For battery power, Acer provides a small three-cell unit that clips flush to the back of the system and a larger six-cell battery that protrudes slightly. We were able to hot-swap batteries with mains power connected with no ill-effects, although hot-swapping is not possible without a mains power connection. You can only charge the batteries in situ, so to make best use of them you’ll need to remember to charge up the spare before you travel. If you have to carry the optical drive -- which is nearly half the size of the TravelMate 3004WTMi itself -- plus the spare battery, much of this notebook's 'ultraportable' appeal is lost. Acer’s software bundle includes its eManager group of utilities. These comprise eSettings (a route into various system configurations such as boot options, BIOS settings and security), ePresentation (allowing you to shift between 1024 by 760 and 800 by 600 screen resolutions on both the TravelMate and an external digital projector), ePowerManagement (a comprehensive suite of power management tools) and eRecovery (for backup and restore). You also get Acer’s GridVista utility, which is designed to make the most of available screen space by forcing opened applications into quadrants of the screen. It comes into its own on large-screen notebooks, where having up to four applications in different quadrants is perfectly feasible in many cases. We found it less useful on the TravelMate 3004WTMi simply because it's not feasible to have more than two applications open at once on the 12.1in. display.

Performance & battery life
Despite the fact that our 2GHz Pentium M 760-based review unit shipped with 512MB rather than the advertised 1024MB, we got excellent performance from the TravelMate 3004WTMi. In fact, its MobileMark 2002 scores of 246 (with the standard battery) and 256 (with the extended battery) are the fastest we've recorded on any notebook to date. This is something of a surprise, but is testament to the increasing maturity of the Sonoma platform, and Acer's ability to get the most from it. Battery life was a more mixed story. With the smaller, lighter three-cell unit fitted, the system gave up the ghost in 1 hour 43 minutes, which is not especially impressive. However, we got a very respectable 4 hours' life from the larger, heavier six-cell battery. If you're prepared to carry both batteries (and remember to charge them before you travel), you should be able to get nearly 8 hours' life -- a full day's work -- if you also tweak the power management settings (we tested with the system in full-power, 'desktop' mode to ensure maximum performance).

Service & support
Acer provides a moderate one-year warranty on the TravelMate 3004WTMi, which is extendable -- at a price -- via the AcerAdvantage program. Free phone support is available for within-warranty products; if it's out of warranty you'll have to pay 50p per minute. Email support is available, and Acer's support pages host a good selection of downloads, utilities and guides.

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