Never one to rest on its laurels, Acer is one of the first system builders to release an entire laptop range based on Intel's new Core Duo processors and third-generation Centrino technology. It has much to live up to following Apple's claims that these processors do "a whole lot more" in an Apple MacBook Pro than they do in a PC, but Acer remains bullish, claiming that the 8204WLMi is the "ultimate instrument to enhance mobile performance".
On the outside, the Travelmate 8204WLMi is what you'd get if you applied nail-varnish remover to one of Acer's Ferrari-branded laptops. The red livery is missing, but it has the same dimensions and unmistakable carbon-fibre lid as its sports-car-inspired brethren. The carbon-fibre section looks somewhat out of place here, but the chassis again proves itself to be one of the most solidly built we've seen.
Opening the screen requires you to slide a latch, but unlike the locks on some laptops, the mechanism is smooth and requires only one hand to operate. Flipping the screen open reveals few surprises. The mouse touchpad is a wide rectangle shape (to match the screen's widescreen aspect ratio), and the keyboard curves upwards at the edges slightly, in a sort of smile. Acer says this aids comfortable typing and we're inclined to agree. The keyboard is very well constructed, shows little sign of flexing, and is complemented by three shortcut keys for one-touch access to an email client, Web browser and one user-programmable application.
Many laptops have a very scattered distribution of ports, but most of the 8204WLMi's ports can be found at its front edge. There's a memory card reader that accepts SD, xD and Sony Memory Stick formats, and to its right, three audio ports, a pair of sliding switches for activating and deactivating the Bluetooth and wireless LAN functions. To the right of these is a 4-pin FireWire port and an infrared port, which could come in useful for transferring data to and from a mobile phone or handheld organiser.
Whereas some similar laptops have just three, or even two USB ports, the Travelmate 8204WLMi has a total of four -- two on each side. One pair of USB ports is arranged in a column orientation, one above the other, while the other pair sit side by side. This is a thoughtful arrangement which minimises the chances of large USB devices obscuring adjacent ports.
To the rear, you'll find S-Video and DVI ports for connecting the laptop to an external monitor, and an ezDock port for linking up to a docking station. On the right, there's an analogue D-sub video port, and a gigabit Ethernet port. The 8204WLMi's healthy collection of input/output ports is rounded off with PC Card and ExpressCard slots, so there's almost nothing this laptop won't connect to.
The Acer Travelmate 8204WLMi is a third-generation Centrino laptop. Centrino technology first began as a way of pairing laptops with wireless connectivity, but Intel says this latest iteration, codenamed 'Napa', can provide over 68 per cent better performance and and 28 per cent longer battery life than the previous 'Sonoma' platform.
To explot Napa to its fullest, Acer has chosen to equip the 8204WLMi with the Intel Core Duo T2600 processor, the second-fastest CPU in the range. It's a dual-core CPU, meaning it has two processing cores that are capable of tackling separate tasks concurrently -- which is ideal for multitasking. There's also a whopping 2GB of DDR2 memory, and unusually for a business-oriented laptop, a discrete graphics adaptor. This takes the form of a Mobility Radeon X1600 -- a mid-range graphics solution from ATI.
The 8204WLMi has an impressive display. Its 15.4-inch TFT runs at a very high native resolution of 1,680x1,050 pixels, which provides plenty of desktop space for working in multiple application windows. The panel has some difficulty differentiating between solid white and near-white and solid black or near-black tones, but its colour reproduction is commendable despite a slightly saturated overall look.
The laptop's 120GB Seagate hard drive offers a good deal of space for storing ordinary text documents and a healthy collection of audio, video and image files. We were slightly disappointed that it doesn't use the newly announced 160GB Seagate laptop drive, but Acer has fitted the laptop with Disc Anti-Shock Protection (DSAP), which protects the hard drive in case of sudden shocks or vibration. There's also a multi-format DVD writer that's compatible with DVD± (plus and minus) and DVD-RAM discs.
We expect a plethora of external connectivity options from a Centrino laptop, and the Travelmate 8204WLMi doesn't disappoint. As well as offering Wi-Fi connectivity over 802.11a/b/g networks, it has Bluetooth, a front-facing infrared port and a gigabit Ethernet adaptor offering a theoretical maximum network throughput of 1,000Mbps -- ten times faster than standard 10/100 Ethernet adaptors.
The Travelmate 8204WLMi also includes a VOIP telephone handset for making phone calls routed over the Internet. This innovative unit charges itself via the laptop's PC Card slot, and can be used to make wireless voice calls when the 8204WLMi is in close proximity.
Impressively, the Travelmate 8204WLMi's Core Duo CPU and Napa backbone help it achieve desktop-standard performance without sacrificing battery life. It racked up a PCMark 2004 score of 4,236, which makes it the fastest laptop we've ever seen. It also manages to beat the vast majority of desktop PCs at their own game, clocking up a much higher score than the Dell Dimension 5150c, which uses a desktop-specific dual-core CPU.
Its gaming abilities are also commendable given it's primarily aimed at business users. The 8204WLMi achieved a relatively average score of 1,999 in the hugely demanding 3DMark 2006 graphics benchmark suite, but achieved a very strong 56.6fps in Doom 3, and 69.6fps in Far Cry.
The Travelmate 8204WLMi also has very good battery life. Despite its abundance of power, it lasted 231 minutes in our MobileMark 2002 tests, which is absolutely unheard-of in laptops this fast. In comparison, the similarly quick rockdirect Xtreme 64 has a battery life of only 15 minutes.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide