Core 2 Duo has been around for several months now, at least on paper, and notebooks featuring the technology are now starting to proliferate. The Acer 5634WLMi is the company's first with the new chipset.
The 15.4-inch transflective LCD screen is fairly sturdy, with only a minimum of flex. Transflective screens are designed to give you the maximum colour and contrast indoors with their glossy coating, but are also able to be viewed in direct sunlight due to a mirror mounted under the panel. And in the blinding November sun, we were able to view the LCD perfectly, though the experience was nowhere as pleasant as it was indoors.
Keyboard action is fairly standard if a little too soft, while the trackpad, mousing buttons and four-way scroll bar are pleasant to use.
Of course, there is a benefit to the manufacturer - it's cheaper than Windows XP Professional. Plus, it looks nice. And so, it's not very surprising to find the Acer has MCE onboard, and the only disappointing exclusion on the features list is a TV tuner.
We're also impressed that the notebook ships with a full GB of RAM, which will help once Vista is released in the coming months. And to hammer home this fact, there is a "Windows Vista Premium Ready" sticker attached to the screen.
Being a multimedia-skewed machine, the laptop also features side-mounted media controls, but they're quite small and labelled from bottom to top, which makes them hard to read. But sound through the headphone jack is quite clear, with none of the poor shielding problems that plagues some competitors' notebooks.
Connectivity is fairly standard with four USB ports, Ethernet, Bluetooth, 802.11 a/b/g and modem. There is also a 5-in-1 memory card reader on board. For camcorder enthusiasts, though, there is some bad news, with no FireWire port included.
The OrbiCam is quite functional, with a maximum 1.3-megapixel resolution. Yet, while static images show quite a bit of detail, movement is very blurred and laggy. But, given the terrible bandwidth afforded to most video conversations, you probably wouldn't notice during use. And the face-recognition applications are also quite entertaining. Be a dinosaur! Or a stick figure! Hours of fun!
It even managed to outperform its stablemate the Acer Aspire 5675WLHi which is over twice the price. Of course, the price differential is mostly due to the included HD-DVD drive on the latter, but for pure "bang for buck" the 5634WLMi has the definite edge here.
In our MobileMark2005 performance benchmark, the notebook managed a performance rating of 221, which is an excellent score for a notebook under $2000.
But in terms of battery life, the two laptops were almost identical. For a 6-cell battery, the resultant life was still fairly disappointing, at two hours 38 minutes in the MobileMark battery test. Given that the Core 2 Duo processors are quite economical, the naturally bright screen would have a lot to do with this low score.
While MobileMark2005 is a "real-world" test and uses applications such as Photoshop and Excel to determine the score, it is also out of the reach of most users due to its $1000 price tag. The synthetic benchmark PCMark05 is also a good barometer of system performance. It managed a decent, if not thrilling score of 3674 PCMarks in this test.