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When you buy an $800 laptop, you can't expect perfection, but increasingly, you can get a pretty decent machine. Case in point: the Acer TravelMate 2355LCi. This inexpensive mainstream laptop delivers ample performance, a big screen, and a comfortable keyboard and touch pad. Of course, it has some considerable drawbacks, particularly extrashort battery life and spotty tech support. But if you're content to stay close to an outlet and can handle limited tech-support hours, the Acer TravelMate 2355LCi is hard to beat.
Weighing an even six pounds and measuring 13.2 inches wide, 11.1 inches deep, and 1.4 inches thick, the TravelMate 2355LCi is average size for a mainstream laptop. The $999 HP Compaq nx6110 and $1,049 Toshiba Satellite M45 weigh within one-tenth of a pound of the 2355LCi. Both laptops are also a bit shallower than the TravelMate 2355LCi, and the Satellite M45's broad 15.4-inch display makes it a tad wider than the others. The TravelMate 2355LCi's AC adapter adds 0.84 pound to its total travel weight.
The TravelMate 2355LCi's no-frills design matches its price: the case's sober, dark-silver-and-black plastics are a far cry from the sophisticated colors found in some other laptops, such as the HP Compaq Presario V4000. The TravelMate 2355LCi's large 15-inch display with a standard 1,024x768 native resolution provides more than enough room and resolution for average productivity tasks. The keyboard, the touch pad, and the two mouse buttons are all agreeably wide, though we wish that the hollow-feeling keys were more solid. Aside from two handy programmable application-launch buttons that sit beneath the screen, the TravelMate 2355LCi lacks any external controls for disc play or volume. And while we appreciate the wireless on/off switch, it's not labeled with the words on and off--you have to look at the status light on the front of the machine to tell which way is which.
The TravelMate 2355LCi is merely adequate in the connector department: it squeaks by with three USB ports, one VGA port, one Type II PC Card slot, and one jack each for 56K modem, Ethernet, headphone, and microphone. More expensive laptops, such as the Compaq Presario V2000Z, often provide other cool connectors, such as FireWire ports and a flash-memory card slot.
Acer loads the Windows XP Professional operating system onto every TravelMate 2355LCi and includes a few standard multimedia programs: NTI CD & DVD Maker 6.7 for burning CDs, CyberLink PowerDVD for viewing the videos you've stored to disc, and Acer eManager for adjusting system passwords, default presentation settings, power-management schemes, and more system essentials.
You can buy the TravelMate 2355LCi through local computer stores and online resellers for a very low $799. But you get the components you pay for, including an economical 1.4GHz Celeron M 360 processor, 512MB of slow 266MHz RAM, a prior-generation Intel 852GM graphics chip that uses up to 64MB of main memory for VRAM, a midsize 60GB hard drive that spins at a lethargic 4,200rpm, a DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive that can burn and play CDs and play DVDs, and an Acer 802.11b/g wireless card.
Based on its performance in CNET Labs' mobile benchmarks, the TravelMate 2355LCi will probably prove adequate for basic users; it beat the $1,045 Satellite M45 configuration we tested, which carried a faster 1.5GHz processor, by 7 percent and finished 4 percent ahead of the $999 HP Compaq nx6110, which offers a faster 1.6GHz Pentium M processor. If you need a laptop for travel, though, you should look elsewhere: the TravelMate 2355LCi's small battery lasted only 2 hours, 1 minute in our drain tests. Though the Satellite M45's even smaller cell held on for just 1 hour, 31 minutes, the HP Compaq nx6110's battery lasted 3 hours, 48 minutes. Most mainstream laptops, including the HP Compaq Presario V2000Z and the Acer TravelMate 8104WLMi, last at least 2 hours, 30 minutes.
Acer offers a typical one-year warranty with the TravelMate 2355LCi, which includes free parts and labor when you mail or take the laptop to an authorized service center. The company claims that this notebook comes with 24/7, toll-free tech support, but when we called for service at 8 p.m. PT on a Saturday evening, we encountered a recording that instructed us to leave a message and promised we would receive a callback. We never heard from them. Acer's reps claim that when customers place tech-support calls outside of "live" hours (Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and weekends from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CT), they will typically receive a callback within one hour. We tried again on a Wednesday night at 8 p.m. PT and again received no callback. In light of this spotty phone support, Acer should (but doesn't) provide convenient electronic support options, such as real-time chatting with a tech-support rep.
|BAPCo's MobileMark 2002 performance rating|
|BAPCo's MobileMark 2002 battery-life minutes|
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Acer TravelMate 2355LCi
Windows XP Pro; 1.4GHz Celeron M 360; 512MB DDR SDRAM PC2700 333MHz; Intel 82852/82855 64MB; Hitachi Travelstar 80GN 60GB 4,200rpm
HP Compaq nx6110
Windows XP Pro; 1.6GHz Pentium M 730; 512MB DDR SDRAM PC2700 333MHz; Intel 915GM/GMS; 910GML Express 128MB; Toshiba 4026GAX 40GB 4,200rpm
Toshiba Satellite M45-S165
Windows XP Home; 1.5GHz Celeron M 370; 512MB DDR SDRAM PC2700 333MHz; ATI Radeon Xpress 200M 64MB; Toshiba MK8026GAX 80GB 5,400rpm