Acer TravelMate 4501WLMi review
On the desk this is a crisp performer, and you're buying lots of features for the price. Battery life is good, but longevity on the road is limited by a lack of chassis strength.
Not everyone is willing to forego desktop features or usability in a notebook that can be taken on the road. With the TravelMate 4501WLMi, Acer is attempting to package a desktop machine in a case that's thin and light enough to remain portable. Naturally, it isn't the lightest of travelling companions, but anyone who values the extra features is sure to find the 2.99kg weight acceptable. It's also reasonably thin at 363 x 280 x 42mm.
It's clear the new model has taken tips from some of its older brethren such as the TravelMate 8006LMi), with the gently curved keyboard being a prime example. Touch-typists will find the unusual layout strange at first, but a little perseverance reveals this to be a sensible and comfortable arrangement. However, in a departure from some previous implementations, this board has page-navigation keys on the right edge. While they're a welcome feature in themselves, they leave less room for the Enter and Shift keys, which are smaller and trickier to use than on Acer's previous curved keyboards. We've no complaints over the feel though, with a good depth of travel and minimal rattle.
Lurking underneath is an Intel Pentium M 715. That's a Dothan chip running at 1.5GHz and, with the benefit of 2MB of Level 2 cache, it overcomes the modest clock rate to perform office duties with aplomb. The 2D score of 1.66 is a good showing, meaning the TravelMate will make short work of most tasks. In particular, the Word Processor/Spreadsheet score of 1.93 is its area of strength, which is only added to by the widescreen display. Its standard memory complement is 512MB of PC2700 DDR SDRAM, but the two slots can accommodate a maximum of 2GB of RAM; just note that both SODIMM sockets are filled.
Storage is looked after by the 60GB Hitachi hard disk: a 2.5in unit spinning at a modest 4,200rpm. If you need extra storage space or want to create backups, the QSI multiformat DVD writer will be handy, burning DVD-RW and DVD+RW media as well as creating CDs.
Most of the notebooks in Acer's 4500 range come with a 15in display, but this top-of-the-line 4501WLMi is one of two variants sporting a 15.4in widescreen panel with a native 1,280 x 800-pixel resolution (if you just want a standard 15in XGA screen, the 4501CMi is available for £747). Although the text and images it produces are clear enough, there are several disappointments. It isn't particularly bright at maximum setting, which might be a problem in sun-lit rooms, and the general level of robustness is poor. In particular, there's little protection behind the panel, so you should avoid cramming the notebook in a full bag. We're also concerned with the chassis' robustness, with a join just above the keyboard flexing notably when the screen is opened and closed.
That's a shame because this machine is a useful companion on the road, lasting 2 hours, 1 minute in our battery tests on a heavy workload, and stretching to 5 hours, 16 minutes with a light workload. That's enough for day-to-day travel, and impressive considering the screen size and the two spindle configuration.
On a positive note, an ATi Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics card drives the display, offering scope to handle light gaming relief. The 64MB card running at our standard test resolution of 1,280 x 1,024 reached a not-quite-fast-enough 19fps with Halo but rose to a more playable 39fps with Unreal Tournament 2004. You'll get good frame rates on all but the most demanding titles, and in what's ostensibly a business machine, that's more than enough to please.