The Acer TravelMate 290 series is one of the most handsome, versatile, and long-lasting budget laptops on the market. It comes with Intel Centrino technology and costs as little as $999 for the bare-bones configuration, though we recommend a few upgrades; after all, no one should have only 128MB of RAM. And while the price may say mainstream notebook, many of the features scream thin-and-light laptop. For instance, you can swap media modules in the TravelMate 290 series, which you can't do with most mainstream notebooks. It also achieved extralong battery life in CNET Labs' . Despite a few design letdowns, students and families on tight budgets should give it serious consideration.
Although the Acer TravelMate 290 series falls into the mainstream category, the laptop's case measures a trim 1.26 inches thick and weighs 6.2 pounds (7 pounds with the AC adapter). The chassis is 13.1 inches wide by 10.8 inches deep, making room for a 15-inch screen in a purplish-silvery, titanium-alloy lid. The dark-gray, plastic base features a rubber shock absorber directly under the hard drive. The well-designed lid latch opens easily with one hand.
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|The keyboard sags under pressure.|
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|The touchpad is spacious and smooth.|
Acer's big keyboard is a letdown. Unlike the mildly U-shaped, hand-friendly keyboards found on other Acer notebooks, the TravelMate 290 series features a straight one. It operates quietly, but it sags under pressure and gives poor feedback. The important keys are large, as you'd expect for the chassis size, and the touchpad is also spacious and smooth, with two mouse buttons below it. (There's no pointing stick.)
Icons and text appeared nice and big when displayed at the screen's native resolution of 1,024x768, but colors looked a bit washed out, especially reds and yellows. DVD movies surprised us when they made a slightly jerky start, even at two-thirds screen. Speaking of DVD movies, they load easily into the front-loading DVD drive. The swappable media bay can also hold a DVD-R/-RW burner, a rare option on a budget notebook. Stereo speakers at the left and right corners of the front edge sound raspy when turned up high, but at a reasonable office volume, they play speech and music clearly.
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There are several options for the front-loading media bay.
Acer offers four preconfigured systems in the TravelMate 290 series; you can upgrade most of the components by contacting an Acer reseller. All models come with a 1.3GHz to 1.7GHz Pentium M processor and integrated 802.11b wireless networking. You can also opt for the 2100A card, which gives you 802.11a/b wireless networking. Memory ranges from 128MB to 2GB of DDR 266 SDRAM, while media bay options include DVD/CD-RW, DVD-R/-RW, or a plain-Jane CD-ROM drive. Hard drives range from 20GB to 40GB. Unlike more expensive Acer laptops, however, you won't find slots for flash memory cards.
The TravelMate 290 offers plenty of ports and slots for the average user. It features three USB 2.0 ports, a single Type II PC Card slot, four-pin FireWire, parallel, Ethernet, modem, VGA/video-out, and S-Video-out ports. There's no built-in floppy drive, but you can attach an external floppy ($79 from Acer) via USB.
The notebook ships with either the Windows XP Home or the XP Professional operating system. You also get a healthy mix of additional software, including , Adobe Acrobat Reader, , and NTI CD-Maker 6.0.
Mobile application performance
The Acer TravelMate 290LMi is the fastest 1.3GHz Pentium M-based system we've tested yet, easily beating its closest competitor by 17 points in our small roundup of systems. The Intel 82852 GME Extreme Graphics Controller shares system memory, but surprisingly, this architecture did not hurt performance as much as we've seen in the past. Acer configured the TravelMate 290LMi so that its processor would not throttle down too much, giving it a performance edge. When it comes to office and content-creation apps, the TravelMate 290LMi is one of the best mobile performers in its class.
Mobile application performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure mobile application performance and battery life, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's MobileMark2002. MobileMark measures both application performance and battery life concurrently using a number of popular applications (Microsoft Word 2002, Microsoft Excel 2002, Microsoft PowerPoint 2002, Microsoft Outlook 2002, Netscape Communicator 6.0, WinZip Computing WinZip 8.0, McAfee VirusScan 5.13, Adobe Photoshop 6.0.1, and Macromedia Flash 5.0).
Find out more about how we test notebooks.System configurations:
Acer TravelMate 290LMi
Windows XP Home; 1.3GHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Intel 82852/82855GM/GME Extreme Graphics Controller (up to 64MB); Toshiba MK4021GAS 40GB 4,200rpm
Dell Inspiron 500m
Windows XP Home; 1.4GHz Intel Pentium M; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Intel 82852/82855GM/GME Extreme Graphics Controller (up to 64MB); Hitachi DK23EA-30 30GB 4,200rpm