The Acer TravelMate 8215WLMi model is available in two versions, with exactly the same specifications -- bar one. Our review sample ships with a Blu-ray drive that can be used to play the latest high-definition movies. The other version ships with an ordinary DVD super-multi drive and is available for £300 less.
The words 'latest' and 'high-end' aren't terms that spring to mind on first inspection of the 8215WLMi. The lid of the laptop is finished with a glossy, mottled, carbon-fibre effect that while certainly not ugly, did remind us a little of granddad's old corduroys.
When opened up you'll notice that the keyboard and control design is very basic, barring the peculiar banana-shaped key layout, which is designed to ensure a comfortable and more ergonomic typing position. Above the keyboard you'll find an Acer hotkey that acts like your own personal Superman, rushing a range of preloaded support, performance and recovery tools to the fore for instant system management.
There are shortcut buttons for launching email and Internet applications, plus a third shortcut key for an application of your choice. Sadly, there's no dedicated multimedia controls, which is particularly strange considering Acer is encouraging users to watch Blu-ray movies on the laptop.
Along the front of the case are line-in and microphone ports along with, thankfully, an S/PDIF connection for outputting high-quality digital audio. There are also handy on/off switches for the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, along with an infrared port and 5-in-1 card reader. Importantly, there's a DVI port for getting high-definition video to a screen that'll make the most of it.
Despite a rather bland opening scene, Acer warms up for act two with some pretty nifty components. The 8215WLMi sports an Intel Core 2 Duo T7200 CPU that runs at 2GHz, along with a generous 2GB of RAM. No shirking here -- while not Intel's fastest current mobile processor, it's not far off the flagship 2.33GHz version.
Unfortunately, the graphics power isn't quite in the same league. ATI's X1600 may be perfectly suitable for most users, but if you're planning on getting the most from the latest games you'll find it somewhat lacking. Hardcore gamers are clearly not Acer's target audience with this Blu-ray machine, so we're not too surprised to see a mid-range card here.
You'll find 160GB of SATA hard drive running at a modest spin speed of 5,400rpm. This includes Acer's DASP (disc anti-shock protection) GraviSense system, which parks the drive heads to protect against damage when it senses a jolt. Give the laptop a bit of a nudge and a system tray icon shows the drive is being protected.
The 15.4-inch WSXGA+ LCD is capable of 1,680x1,050-pixel resolution, which is good enough to get some pretty good results from DVD movies but not quite up to the job when it comes to watching 1080p Blu-ray flicks. This is a shame, especially considering Sony's excellent 17-inch
Acer has missed a trick by using Windows XP Professional Edition instead of the more suitable Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE). They have pretty-much identical features, but MCE would have enabled users to get easier access to their multimedia files. However, there is some consolation in the fact you get a free upgrade to Windows Vista Business when it becomes available.
Other notable features include a bundled VoIP phone. This is tucked away inside the ExpressCard slot on the laptop's left side and can either be removed and used just like an ordinary handset, or act as a speakerphone for conference calling. With it, you can make free or super-cheap voice calls via the Internet -- a nice touch.
The most important question people are probably asking here is 'what's the Blu-ray performance like?' Since you're spending £300 for the technology it's a perfectly fair question -- and the answer is... not bad. But it's not perfect either. Our review sample seemed to struggle, occasionally dropping frames. Acer says this shouldn't happen, and it'll be sending us a replacement 8215WLMi for evaluation. We'll update this review as soon as we complete secondary tests.
Elsewhere it's worth noting that the combination of a power processor combined with a mid-range graphics card did rear its head with the benchmarking. The 8215WLMi scored just 2,058 in 3DMark 2006 at 1,280x1,024-pixel resolution, which is nearly 30 per cent slower than Sony's VGN-AR11S. PC Mark 05 hit a very respectable 4,630 though, so you'll have few worries about feeding the laptop complicated (non-gaming) tasks.
It's worth noting here that the PCMark component scores confirmed that the rip-roaring CPU was more than holding up to its end of the bargain, supported ably by the memory, but unfortunately let down primarily by the graphics card and a rather average hard drive speed.
Edited by Rory Reid
Additional editing by Nick Hide