Published August 25, 2008 at 01:15:55 PM, by Thai Tan
Faster and sleeker than ever, the Acer TravelMate 8204 is a high-end laptop and one of the first to utilize Intel's next generation Centrino Duo Mobile Technology. A successor to the highly acclaimed TravelMate 8100 series, the TravelMate 8204 is designed to impress inside and out. Sporting a revamped design, it is composed of a carbon fiber chassis combined with Acer's Folio design theme, exemplifying a modern and sleek design that appears to descend from the 22nd century.
Everyone will appreciate the new features and cutting-edge technology incorporated into this sleek laptop. It is filled with a robust set of features, including the new Intel Core Duo T2500 (2.0 GHz) processor, a whopping 2GB DDR2 RAM, and a massive 120GB Serial ATA hard disk drive. Other prominent features include a high-resolution 15.4-inch widescreen display, modular DVD+RW drive, built-in rotating Web Camera, and VoIP Bluetooth phone!
Avid gamers will be very satisfied with the performance from the mid-range yet powerful ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 with 256MB DDR VRAM and AVIVO technology, while business professionals will appreciate the Smart Card feature, providing extra security from unauthorized access. The near-perfect Acer TravelMate 8204 WLMi is an attractive package: it's powerful, combines a myriad of new functions, and is just darn sexy. Of course for $2500, it's one of the more expensive laptops out there.Design
Although the Acer TravelMate 8204 WLMi possesses similar attributes to a desktop alternative notebook, this is a performance-thin laptop that won't break your back. Measuring 14.3-inches wide, 10.7-inches long and only 1-inch thick at the front section and extending 1.4-inches thick towards the back, the TravelMate 8204 is ideal for large sized cases and backpacks. I found the lightweight Samsonite L45 and the Samsonite Pro-DLX Medium laptop briefcase to be the perfect companion. I even managed to squeeze the computer on my flight to Las Vegas with just enough room to be used on the reclining table attached to the seat in front of me in economy coach.
At 6.6 pounds with the 9-cell battery (3 ounce increase from the 8100 series ), the TravelMate 8204 is not intended to accompany you everywhere you go, but is rather suited for occasional travel. It's a well-balanced machine that is feasible for moderate travel and actually more portable than other laptops in the same class, especially considering the feature-rich specs.
Case and Design
The instant appeal of the TravelMate 8200 lies in its Folio design theme, which is Acer's name for its unique design found in a number of their laptops. In addition, the two tone inverted color scheme keeps it clean and simple, with carbon fiber wrapping around the top lid while graphite grey covers the surface around the palm rest and keyboard area. There is also a touch of glossy black trim above the keyboard and at the bottom of the outside lid for added style.
Sleek and durable carbon fiber lid gives it an original style.
The edges are curvaceous and the clean surface is smooth as silk, which gives the TravelMate 8204 a refining look. Not only is the carbon fiber lid lighter and stronger than other materials, it also gives off a distinctive look with the black and grey checkered shades, derived from the Acer Ferrari 4005 WLMi . For good measures, the laptop comes with a microfibre cleaning cloth to keep the laptop looking its best.
Acer also included a cleaning cloth to help keep the laptop looking slick.
Two stiff hinges hold the LCD panel together, located near each corner of the display. The LCD panel contains dual latches that assist in keeping the lid securely closed, preventing any type of movement when shuffling the laptop around. When shut the screen hovers slightly over the keyboard and palm rest area, reinforced by eight rubber pads to prevent the screen from touching the keyboard and wrist area.
There are two sets of status indicators found on the computer, the first is located on the upper-right corner above the keyboard (below the display screen) and the second set is on the front of the computer. The upper-right corner below the display contains indicators for hard disk, caps lock, and num lock. All indicators emit a green glow when activated.
Conveniently located on the front panel are a set of highly useful indicator lights which provide a quick glance at the power, battery charge, Bluetooth, and Wireless LAN. Both the power and battery status indicators emit a green glow when active (or amber for the battery when it's charging) while the Bluetooth and Wireless LAN buttons emit a dazzling blue and amber glow, respectively. The Bluetooth and Wireless LAN are buttons used to enable or disable its associated function.
Buttons and indicators located in the front for quick & easy access.
Located on the upper right hand corner are four launch keys to instantly launch your frequently used applications. Each button is designated for Email, web browser, Acer Empowering key, and a user programmable option. The Email button is used to launch your E-mail client, such as Microsoft Outlook; however, it is also user programmable to designate other applications. The web browser key is used to launch your favorite web browser, but it is also user programmable. The Acer Empowering key ('e' symbol) is used to launch the Acer eManager application (more on this in the software section). Lastly the user programmable button is available for you to assign your favorite application via the Launch Manager software. Unfortunately there are no multimedia hot keys (i.e. volume adjustment) despite the available room around the top section of the keyboard.
Quickly launch your favorite application
Mounted in the bezel above the screen is a 1.3 megapixel swivel web camera, ideal for video conferencing with friends, family or colleagues. It is also capable of capturing photos in addition to videos.
The black, full-sized 88-key ergonomic keyboard is similar to the keyboard found on the Acer TravelMate 8100 and the Acer Ferrari 4005WLMi. The PgDn, PgUp, Home and End cursor keys are placed vertically on the right side of the keyboard. The Caps Lock, Shift, Alt, Tab, Backspace, and Enter keys are of appropriate size. Like most laptop keyboards, the numeric keypad is embedded within the keys located near the center of the keyboard and is activated with the num lock key.
In addition, there are function keys to adjust the audio volume, alter the screen brightness, put the system to sleep, disable or enable touchpad, and for switching to an external monitor when connected. When toggling one of these function keys, such as the audio for example, it will activate an on-screen volume indicator. This helps you identify exactly which volume settings you want to select. The on-screen indicator applies to other function access as well with the exception to the screen brightness, which is not available.
With respect to usage, the 'Acer FineTouch' keyboard offers decent key travel distance and excellent response. You will notice from the picture the keyboard employs a five-degree curve for a more ergonomic placement, which I find neither an advantage nor disadvantage compared to the standard arrangement keyboards. Some users may need to grow accustomed to this unusual layout while others will pick it up immediately. I picked it up almost instantly when I tested the Acer TravelMate 8100 last Fall.
On that note, I can type quickly, accurately, and comfortably with this keyboard. The keys are soft and feel light when depressing them (not as stiff as the ThinkPad T60, but just as soft as the MacBook Pro) with a minimal spring, allowing them to be quite responsive and exhibiting little noise. The keys depress at a comfortable 2.5 mm of depth which feels good to type with and actually feel very similar to the Acer Ferrari 4005WLMi. Thanks to the computer's wide frame, the keyboard is centered nicely with 1.2-inches of room on each side, allowing sufficient room around the palm rest area to ensure that your wrists enjoy a comfortable typing experience. This is certainly a solid keyboard that compares favorably to the likes of the Lenovo ThinkPads and even the Apple MacBook Pro!
To match the laptop's overall wide-aspect design, the touchpad is also wide, offering sufficient amount of surface area (measuring 3-inches wide and 1.5-inches in length) for comfortable gliding of one's finger. Like the palm rest area, the black flush surface is clean and smooth; accurately sensitive to touch and responds well to movement. As with most touch pads, it also allows for tapping to execute an action if you prefer not to use the click buttons.
To the right and bottom edge of the surface area, the touchpad has a function to scroll vertically or horizontally. This allows you to scroll in applications like Internet Explorer when sliding your finger in the appropriate direction. For added convenience, there is a useful center click button that serves as a four-way scroll button to scroll up or down and move left or right within a page. The left and right click buttons are brushed in silver metallic for added elegance.
Reinforced by its wide frame, the TravelMate 8204 is loaded with a multitude of connectivity options, surrounding all sides of the computer. Since the cables are spread out on all sides of the machine, there are no protruding parts that can accidentally break off during transit. In addition, cable clutter is greatly reduced. The computer offers a whopping four USB 2.0 ports instead of the common two or three ports found on most laptops. For users who prefer to connect their laptop to an external monitor, television or projector, the TravelMate 8204 supplies all available video outputs, including DVI-D, VGA, and S-Video. DVI is an option not commonly found in your average consumer notebooks, but is a must for anyone planning to use an LCD monitor or digital projector nowadays.
VGA, DVI-D, and S-Video outputs!
On the front panel, you will immediately notice the left and right speaker grilles made up of tiny hole-punches that gives the laptop a very distinctive look. There is a 5-in-1 card reader that is protected by a plastic cover and is capable of reading SD, MMC, Memory Stick, Memory Stick PRO, and xD-Picture cards, allowing the transfer of files from a majority of digital cameras. Next to the 5-in-1 card reader slot is a line-in jack that accepts audio devices like an audio CD player. Then you have the microphone jack and a headphones/speaker/line-out jack with S/PDIF support. As mentioned in the preceding section, there are two backlit buttons for activating Bluetooth and Wireless LAN. Both can be disabled when not in use in order to conserve battery power.
Next to the Wireless LAN switch is a 4-pin 1394 FireWire port and an infrared port for short range wireless IR devices such as PDAs and printers.
On the rear, there is a DVI-D port that supports digital video connections like modern LCD flat panel monitors. We also have the requisite S-Video port to connect to a television or display device with S-Video input. Then we have the huge 124-pin Acer ezDock connector that connects to the Acer ezDocking station for expandability. On the opposite end is where the DC-in jack is to connect the AC adapter.
The battery pack fits nicely without protruding and is made to offer hand grip when carrying the laptop.
On the left-side are a Kensington lock to connect a Kensington-compatible security lock slot, two USB 2.0 ports stacked on top of each other, modem port, the hot-swappable Super-Multi DVD+RW drive, and finally a PC Card/ExpressCard34 slot.
On the right-side you will find a SmartCard slot (more on this in the features section of this review), the remaining two USB 2.0 ports, large ventilation port, Gigabit Ethernet port, and VGA port.
Heat and Noise
Re-engineered from the previous Travemate 8100 series, the cooling system on the TravelMate 8204 keeps the noise level down while offering better ventilation and cooling. There are two vents and a cooling fan, all operating continuously yet very silently. During general usage, like web browsing, email, and word processing, the fan and the vents create a low-pitched whooshing sound as the air passes through the system's vents in the bottom and right side - yet never really distracting you from your work.
Air vent makes a low-pitched whooshing sound.
During heavier use, such as playing games or using it for extended periods, the fan operates faster; however, noise generated from the fan is still kept to a minimum. Overall, I found the fan noise generated from the 8204 to be very quiet, a vast improvement from the 8100 series and Acer Ferrari.
Mobile meter reported the computer to run around 46-56 degrees Celsius depending on usage. With the ventilation slots located on the right-side and bottom section, heat build-up is minimal. The system becomes warm, but never reaching uncomfortable levels. The touchpad and right palm rest can become lukewarm, while the bottom of the case can get quite warm during extensive use. However, the 8204 never reaches the hot levels observed on the TravelMate 8100 series.
Upgrading and Expansion
Upgrading components of the TravelMate 8204 is simple, thanks to the accessible compartments located on the bottom side of the machine, only requiring a standard Philips screwdriver. The user-friendly upgradeable components include the hard drive, Wi-Fi mini-PCI adapter, and SODIMM memory. As depicted in the picture below, the hard drive is enclosed in a shock mount cage and opening the large compartment door reveals the cooling fan & heatsink.
The AcerMedia Bay that currently houses the optical drive module allows the option to swap another drive bay, such as secondary battery or hard disc drive. Simply release the latch located at the bottom to detach the optical drive. Although the TravelMate 8204 series contains a wide-array of connectivity options, the optional Acer ezDock is available to transform the notebook into a true desktop computer, with extra connectivity options.
The optical drive bay can be swapped out for another drive bay.
Acer's TravelMate 8204 utilizes the latest mobile technology from Intel, the Centrino Duo platform, codenamed Napa. At the heart of this system is the Core Duo processor, codenamed Yonah, and Intel's new 945 chipset. You can't have the Centrino moniker without the wireless card, so our test unit also came with the new 3945ABG wireless card. The Core Duo processor, successor to the Pentium M 'Dothan,' has had a lot of updates since the last platform. Yonah is a dual core processor, incorporating two physical CPU cores onto a single chip for increased performance and multitasking. A common misconception had with dual core systems is that performance should double, or something near it. Unfortunately this is just not true, as the software you are using must be written to take advantage of the two cores. The average consumer's software suit of office applications and internet/e-mail usage won't see a huge performance increase from dual core alone. The performance of those applications is still primarily dictated by the CPU architecture and its clock speed.