Like the cars on which it's based, the Acer Ferrari One is designed to be fast, fun to use and good-looking, while remaining relatively affordable. But does this £400 mini laptop, which will be available in late October, live up to the legendary Scuderia Ferrari badge, or is it just another lowly, under-performing hunk of cheap netbook plastic?
Like its road-going cousins, the Ferrari One will polarise opinion. In many respects, it's the best-looking netbook we've come across, and many will look upon its owner with an envious eye. But its bawdy, not-quite-Ferrari-red lid will attract plenty of negative attention too, and its large logo will mark you out as the sort of person that owns Ferrari key rings and baseball caps because they can't afford the real thing. You have our blessing to buy the Ferrari One, but be prepared to have people question the size of your reproductive appendages if you do.
Aside from the lid, the Ferrari One is a fabulously designed piece of kit. It's slightly larger than most netbooks, but that's actually a good thing, because its extra girth allows for a huge keyboard that's arguably easier to type on than that of almost any laptop -- of any size -- we've previously encountered. Each of its primary alphabetical and numerical keys is actually larger than you'd get on a full-sized desktop keyboard, which is nothing short of miraculous, given the Ferrari One's 1.5kg weight, and 285 by 24 by 204mm dimensions.
The mouse trackpad is good, too. Its surface isn't quite as smooth as we'd like, and applying anything other than the lightest of pressure causes your digits to skid jerkily across the surface, but it does offer support for multi-touch gesture inputs -- just like the Apple MacBook range. You can pinch your fingers together or stretch them apart to zoom, twist them to rotate, and swipe to navigate forward or backwards through documents in most applications. This dramatically speeds up use of the device, particularly when browsing the Web.
What, no HDMI?
Physical connectivity on the Ferrari One is mostly very good. It has two USB ports on the right, alongside a five-in-one memory-card reader, a mic jack and a headphone jack that also doubles as an optical digital SPDIF audio output. The left side has a third USB port, a D-Sub VGA video output port and something we've never seen before -- an ATI XGP port. This allows the Ferrari One to connect to an external graphics card, which, in turn, can power up to four separate monitors, run games and display high-definition video.
It's all very clever, but we can't remember the last time we needed to connect a netbook to more than one display, or when we last wanted to spend our extra dosh on an external graphics card. A simple HDMI port would have been far more useful, as it would have made the Ferrari One an excellent budget media-centre laptop.
The Ferrari One doesn't use an Intel Atom CPU, so it sticks out like a sore thumb next to the vast majority of netbooks -- and that's a good thing. Instead, it uses AMD's 2nd Gen Ultrathin Platform, previously known by its code name, Congo. Its advantages over AMD's first-generation platform -- and, indeed, netbooks that use Atom CPUs -- are numerous. Chiefly, it has a discrete ATI Radeon HD 3200 graphics card, which is a damn sight more powerful than the integrated Intel graphics chips that ship with most netbooks. Discrete graphics chips tend to have the disadvantage of being large and power-hungry, but AMD's engineers have managed to reduce the size of the graphics adaptor in order to place it directly onto the AMD M780G chipset, helping the Ferrari One stay trim.
A variety of CPU options are available with Congo laptops, but Acer has opted to put its new Athlon X2 L310 chip into the Ferrari One. This has a relatively modest clock speed of 1.2GHz but, as it's a dual-core offering, it promises better performance -- particularly in multitasking scenarios -- than we've seen from equivalent Intel solutions. The Ferrari One also supports up to 4GB of RAM, 320GB of storage via 2.5-inch hard drives, 802.11n Wi-Fi, and Gigabit Ethernet, all of which is considerably better than the netbook -- and, in many cases, laptop -- norm.
As seen on screen
The Ferrari One's 11.6-inch display is one of its most striking assets. Not only is it larger than the 10-inch screens you get on the majority of its rivals, but it also has a higher-than-standard resolution of 1,366x768 pixels. The additional screen real estate is a blessing, since the extra multitasking power offered by the CPU allows users to work with a higher number of application windows open. The screen's glossy finish limits the possibility of using the Ferrari One outside, but the display is noticeably brighter than that of most laptops, which helps its cause in environments where lighting isn't perfectly diffuse. The only drawback is that increasing the brightness puts extra strain on the 4,400mAh battery.
Acer has taken great pains to highlight the Ferrari One's audio-playback credentials. It ships with a pair of integrated stereo speakers, which sound pretty decent for a netbook, and its sound card can handle Dolby Home Theater v3, which features Dolby Digital Live, Dolby Pro Logic IIx and, more usefully for a netbook, Dolby Headphone. The latter produces a fairly realistic 5.1-channel surround-sound effect in any set of cans.
Acer supplies the Ferrari One with a copy of Windows 7 Home Premium, along with Microsoft Works 7, Norton Online Backup, WinDVD, a variety of Acer utilities, and a collection of Ferrari-themed wallpapers and screensavers.
The Ferrari One failed to return a result in our synthetic benchmark applications, but we don't need PCMark05 or 3DMark06 to tell you it's quick. During anecdotal tests, it felt faster and more responsive than any netbook we've previously encountered. Running multiple applications simultaneously isn't a big deal for the Ferrari One, as its plentiful RAM and dual-core CPU cope admirably with just about any sort of desktop application.
Even 3D gaming is a possibility. We threw the graphically intensive Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare at the Ferrari One and, after some admittedly dramatic reduction of graphical niceties, the game ran relatively smoothly. The same can be said for high-definition video. Frame rates judder annoyingly if your media is transcoded at too high a bit rate, as they would on almost any machine not built for viewing HD material, but the majority of our 720p movie files played immaculately. Again, it's a shame the laptop doesn't have an HDMI output port.
Acer says the Ferrari One's battery will last up to 5 hours away from the mains. We're currently in the middle of completing our independent battery test, and will update this review as soon as we get a conclusive figure.
The Acer Ferrari One is a fabulous netbook. Its bold appearance may not be to everyone's taste, but there's no denying that it's easy to use, fast and versatile. It is arguably the best netbook we've ever tested.
Edited by Charles Kloet