The fast and the furious
Armed with an 800MHz Pentium III, 128MB of RAM, and Windows 2000, the $2,099 TravelMate 610TXVi rocked CNET Labs' performance tests, surpassing all similarly configured machines by 12 percent or more. Even when we used SpeedStep--Intel's technology for lowering processor speed, thereby achieving longer battery life--the Acer's score was still a tad better than those of the more expensive Toshiba Satellite 2805-S402 and the Sceptre Soundx S69502. (Both come with faster 850HMz PIII processors, but both also run the slower Windows 98 SE operating system.)
Unfortunately, the fast TravelMate 610TXVi dies young. In battery-optimized mode, it survived only 139 minutes, compared to 215 minutes and 170 minutes from the Sceptre and the Toshiba, respectively. The only consolation is the TravelMate's rapid-charge feature, which is capable of fully recharging the machine's battery within 90 minutes. But if battery life matters, snap up a second cell for $180.
Light but heavily equipped
At 6 pounds (with power adapter) and with a footprint of 12.2 by 9.8 by 1.0 inches, the TravelMate 610TXVi is one of the thinnest and lightest machines CNET's tested, yet it still packs plenty of features. Most notably, it's the first machine we've seen that offers all of the communication methods available to notebooks: built-in 10/100 Ethernet, V.90 data/fax modem, infrared, and one Type II PC Card slot. It also features Bluetooth wireless networking capabilities.
But the most interesting feature is the integrated Acer InviLink IEEE 802.11b wireless LAN. You can now access a local network wirelessly at a top (and rarely reached) speed of 1.1MB per second without adding any device to your notebook. During tests, InviLink worked gracefully. No setup was required; we just put the machine in the range of any wireless accessing point and let it do its thing. This feature readies the machine for wireless home networking or for shared broadband connections such as DSL or cable. It is also useful while traveling, as wireless Net access services are increasingly available in public places and airports.
Another notable features is the 8X DVD-ROM drive that's installed in the Acer Media Bay. Ironically, the notebook's multimedia capabilities are limited by its integrated Intel 815 chipset. The chipset displays resolutions up to 1,024x768--a good match for the 14.1-inch TFT display--but its maximum color depth is just 24 bits (as opposed to 32 bits in most high-end notebooks). This, along with a mere 4MB of video RAM, means that games and other graphics-intensive applications will look mediocre on this system. Another drawback: The built-in speakers are so tiny that, in a noisy environment, you'll need headphones. Nevertheless, the system's still able to deliver decent DVD playback.
Multimedia limitations aside, the TravelMate 610TXVi has plenty to recommend it. The Acer Media Bay, in which the DVD-ROM drive is installed, can hot-swap several other devices, including the aforementioned second battery, a combo DVD/CD-R/CD-RW ($500), or a CD-R/RW ($406). You can also install a bootable second hard drive. Not everyone will use this feature, but IS folks will appreciate the potential. If your system goes down, for instance, IS staff could shove in another hard drive, boot from there, and recover data from the failed drive. Although there are other ways to do this, this is a handy alternative. The TravelMate 610TXVi already comes with a roomy 20GB hard drive and a good selection of ports, including two USB, PS/2, VGA, a headphone jack, and a microphone jack. On the display's side edge is a camera connector similar to that of the IBM ThinkPad T20, for direct transfer of digital photos to your system.
To serve and protect
The TravelMate 610TXVi also features the same smart-card security feature as its predecessor. Along with its included software, the smart card protects the system against unauthorized access. Insert the card into the laptop's smart-card slot and boot up; firmware will verify the card's security information before running the system BIOS. The security software, which lets you set the security level and add new users, also makes it impossible to read the hard drive if it's put into another machine. Acer ships the TravelMate 610TXVi with the smart card disabled; you can enable and customize it according to your needs. Each system includes two smart cards: one for regular use, the other for backup.