Acer TravelMate 8100
The Acer TravelMate 8100 is a textbook example of a good mainstream laptop. It offers an exceptionally well-designed case that's loaded with impressive parts--a fast Intel Pentium M processor, a wide-aspect display, and a DVD burner, to name a few. The TravelMate 8100 makes quick work of basic computing tasks and has respectable battery life. At $1,999 (as of August 2005), its somewhat high price is the single chink in its otherwise solid armor, but we think it's a smart buy if you can afford it (or find it for less money). If you're looking for a less expensive mainstream laptop, check out the Dell Latitude D510.
The TravelMate 8100's 6.6-pound, 14.3-inch wide, 10.5-inch deep case is built of the magnesium alloy and black plastic seen on most mainstream laptops. The case measures 1.4 inches thick at the back and tapers to 1.2 inches in front, which gives the big machine a sleeker look. The laptop's considerable dimensions are on a par with those of other mainstream systems, such as the HP Compaq Presario V4000 and Toshiba Satellite M45, and its three-pronged AC adapter weighs an average 0.8 pound.
Acer gave the TravelMate 8100 some excellent design features. Your fingers will enjoy the expansive, curved, ergonomically friendly keyboard. The touch pad, mouse buttons, and extra scroll button are all unusually big--a boon for broad hands. The front edge features two handy on/off buttons for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi hardware. The system lacks buttons for manipulating disc play, but it does offer four convenient, programmable buttons for launching your favorite programs. Last but not least, the broad, 15.4-inch display offers a high 1,680x1,050 native resolution that renders graphics in fine detail.
A couple of cool ports that are uncommon among laptops--DVI and a headphone jack with S/PDIF support--make an appearance here. The remaining lineup of ports and jacks is impressive, as well: four USB 2.0, four-pin FireWire, S-Video out, infrared, modem, Gigabit Ethernet, VGA, microphone, and a docking connector. Along with the standard Type II PC Card slot, the TravelMate 8100 includes a handy 5-in-1 card reader that supports Secure Digital, Memory Stick/Pro, MultiMediaCard, and xD flash memory cards.
Besides the Windows XP Professional operating system, the TravelMate 8100, like many mainstream laptops, comes with a sparse selection of software. You get CyberLink's PowerDVD player, NTI's CD Maker disc-burning app, and Acer's eManager utility for establishing passwords and other system settings. For a $2,000 laptop, we think Acer should have at least thrown the productivity suite, too.
We tested the TravelMate 8104WLMi, which is one of two prebuilt systems in the TravelMate 8100 series. At $1,999 (as of August 2005), the system costs more than most mainstream laptops, but it also offers higher-end parts. Its components include a fast, 2GHz Intel Pentium M 760 processor; a hefty 1GB of quick, 533MHz memory; a huge 100GB, 5,400rpm hard drive; a cutting-edge, 128MB ATI Mobility Radeon X700 graphics chip; a sweet, single-layer, multiformat DVD burner; 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi; and Bluetooth. The $1,579 HP Compaq Presario V4000 and the $1,249 Toshiba Satellite M45 both cost significantly less than the TravelMate 8104WLMi, but they also carry less powerful parts. For example, the Toshiba's Pentium M processor runs at a slower 1.73GHz, and the HP has an integrated graphics engine that's less powerful than the TravelMate's discrete GPU.