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TravelMate 8100 – Intel Sonoma, The First Contact

January 19, 2005








And so it has happened. The new mobile platform from Intel, the successor to the just cause of the first Centrino generation has been officially announced. Thanks to the Moscow representative office of Acer, we had an opportunity to lay our hands on the new platform, so we run some express tests on Sonoma-based TravelMate 8100 notebook. If you are interested in technical details, I recommend to take a look at the test results obtained in RightMark Memory Analyzer (link). In this article I'll try to show you what the notebook based on Intel Sonoma is like. Unfortunately I had little precious time to examine the notebook completely, that's why some aspects will not get the coverage they deserve. But later on, we shall certainly review the new Intel product in more detail.

There were no official specifications available at the time this article was finished, so the technical characteristics were estimated by eye. So, what do we see when we turn on the notebook?




And more details are below.

Technical characteristics of TravelMate 8100

  • Processor: Intel® Pentium® M Dothan 2 GHz (2Mb/FSB 533)
  • Chipset: Intel® 915PM
  • Memory: 1 GB DDR2 400 (our sample is equipped with 2x512 DDR2 533 SDRAM)
  • Display: 15.4" TFT LCD, 1680 x 1050
  • Graphics: ATI MOBILITY™ RADEON™ X700 with 128 MB of video memory; ATI POWERPLAY™ support
  • Audio: Realtec High Definition Audio
  • HDD: Toshiba MK8026GAX 80 GB
  • Drive: detachable DVD-Super Multi HL-DT-ST DVD-RW GWA-4080N
  • Additional devices:
    • card reader SD MMC MS MS Pro xD
    • Smart Card Reader

  • Communications:
    • Gigabit Ethernet
    • Modem: 56K ITU V.92
    • Built-in Intel® PRO/Wireless 2915ABG 802.11a/b/g wireless adapter
    • Bluetooth (optional, not installed in our sample)

  • I/O ports
    • 4 x USB 2.0
    • 1x Infrared port (FIR)
    • 1x VGA for an external monitor
    • 1x DVI for an external monitor
    • 1x TV Out
    • 1x 32bit type II PCMCIA CardBus slot
    • 1x IEEE 1394 port
    • 1x RJ-11
    • 1x RJ-45
    • 1 x SPDIF/headphone
    • 1x microphone
    • 1x DC-in (power supply)
    • 1x 100-pin docking connector for Port Replicator

  • Power supply
    • 4.4 Ah Li-ion battery block
    • 65 W AC adapter

So, let's try to interpret what we have seen. The processor looks the same – 2 GHz Dothan, but that's a wrong impression – FSB frequency is raised from 400 to 533 MHz. The notebook uses a new memory type – DDR2 400 instead of DDR333. PCI Express support is available – the notebook is equipped with ATI X700. But the hard disk is with parallel interface here, Serial ATA support is not yet employed. A pleasant addon: High Definition Audio codec and a card reader for practically all modern card types, including xD Card. On the whole, practically everything is implemented as expected. Almost all possible interfaces are available.

Now, let's digress from the technology and have a look at the case that envelopes all this excellence of technical genius.

First Impressions




The notebook is designed in the same new Acer style, which we have already seen in TravelMate 3200. TravelMate 8100 has a traditional display latch, and the case bears even a stronger resemblance to a stylish folio. Larger part of the rear side is occupied by a battery. DVI and TV outs are to the left, docking connector for Port Replicator is to the right.




The front panel is traditional for Acer notebooks – the speakers are located on the front panel, buttons-indicators for 802.11b/g and Bluetooth as well as the power and battery charge indicators are located between them. Infrared port and a card reader are also placed here. Compare it to TravelMate 8000. The block of audio jacks in TravelMate 8100 is also located on the front panel. All would be well, but I personally don't like the front location of S/PDIF.




Left flank (left to right):

  • VGA port
  • Air vents
  • LAN port
  • Phone line connector
  • USB port
  • IEEE1394 port
  • PC Card slot
  • Smart Card slot (below).






Right flank (in the same order):

  • 3 x USB
  • Optical drive
  • Power cable connector
      Kensington lock hole

    .

This model has a flat bottom.




.

On the bottom there are battery and modular bay latches as well as hatches to mini-PCI, HDD and memory bays.

Impressions and Ergonomics




Inside the notebook you will see a combination of classics and modernity. Classics – curved keyboard, typical of TravelMate models. Both the form and the layout of the keyboard are modified. The form has become stricter, and the layout – more convenient. At last there appeared a traditional right button column with PgUp, PgDn, Home and End. The vacant room in the cursor block is originally occupied by dollar and euro signs. Modernity – general design of the "work surface" and touch pad, similar to those used in TravelMate 3200. As I have already written, the new touch pad form has not degraded ergonomics.

The power button, Lock indicators and drive activity lights are located over the keyboard on the left,




application buttons are on the right (by default – email client, browser, Acer eManager, and Launch Manager).



Unlike TravelMate 3200, the buttons are silvery instead of being in the same style with indicators. Their dimensions haven't grown though – the buttons are still too small. But the small power button is surprisingly easy to use. Besides, it looks spectacular, especially highlighted with green, when the notebook is powered.

We haven't carried out a thorough test of the matrix because we had little time. At the first sight, nothing is wrong with it. The same concerns audio. Built-in speakers will hardly let you feel the difference even between a High-End device and a cheap player, and we had neither time, nor good ear or expertise to test the codec using external devices and S/PDIF Out.

The software bundle includes (it's probably the standard set now) a proprietary power management utility – Acer ePowerManagement. It completely replaces the standard Microsoft utility – when you try to run Power Management from Control Panel, the system informs you that "you have a much better tool" and loads the utility from Acer.




This utility has a nice and intuitive design, all necessary features are available, you can even disable LAN, CardBus, and IEEE1394. This model can correctly change the CPU speed. In Maximum mode, CPU frequency reduction has been really disabled, and in Low mode the CPU frequency is reduced to 600 MHz by decreasing the FSB frequency.

What concerns heating – the air vents on the self side expel rather hot air, and the hard disk under your right palm is warm.

On the whole – a very showy and stylish model, practically without ergonomic flaws.

And now, several words about the service.

Service and Tech Support

As we have already written, Acer has a representative office in Moscow – Acer CIS Inc., which must guarantee the high level of service.

Warranty. Warranty for Acer notebooks lasts 2 years.

Service. Acer notebooks are attended in the service center of the Acer CIS Inc representative office in Moscow. Any of the authorized service centers (the list is published on the official site) can diagnose a notebook and repair it in some cases. Though in most cases notebooks got sent to the central service-center. Of course if the warranty for your notebook hasn't yet expired. If the warranty is expired, authorized service centers will repair it in situ.

Web site. Web site in Russian. Intuitive web site, it contains descriptions, specifications, and recommended prices. There is a database of drivers and BIOS updates, though it provides links to the original sources. Which is no problem, though.

We tested hot-line support, when we reviewed TravelMate350. In short – it works.

Upgrading

When the warranty is not yet expired, any upgrades should be done in authorized service centers. After the warranty is over, you can increase the memory capacity and replace a hard disk on your own.

Testing the notebook

It would have been logical to take a representative of the previous generation Centrino with Dothan 2  GHz CPU and ATI M11 video card for comparison purposes. We tested such a model – ASUS M6Ne, it also has 1 GB of RAM, the matrix has the same properties, but the trouble is that it has only 64 MB of video memory. That's why we have taken iRU Brava 4717, a desktop replacement class representative, as a third contender.

  TravelMate 8100 ASUS M6Ne iRU Brava 4717
CPU
Intel P-M Dothan (Sonoma) 2 GHz
Intel P-M Dothan 2 GHz
Intel P4 3.0 GHz
Chipset
Intel 915PM+ICH6 (?)
Intel 855PM+ICH4M
SiS 648+SiS963UA
Matrix
15.4" 1680 x 1050
17" 1440x900
Graphics
ATI X700, 128MB
ATI M11, 64 MB
ATI M11, 128 MB
RAM
1 GB DDR2 400 SDRAM
1 GB DDR333 SDRAM
512MB DDR400 SDRAM
HDD
80 GB 5400 rpm
Battery capacity
4.4 Ah
n/a

We shall certainly compare only Centrino notebooks by their battery life, that's why the battery capacity in Brava 4717 does not matter. Unfortunately, battery voltage in TravelMate 8100 is not specified (ASUS M6Ne – 14.8V).

So, battery life. Proprietary power management utilities are disabled, Portable/Laptop power consumption mode, ATI POWERPLAY™ is enabled, default settings.

It's not a joke, I swear it. The results are really the same. The reasons why the faster memory does not contribute to these results are explained in the review devoted to system tests in RightMark Memory Analiser (link) – DDR2 usage is conditioned by lesser power consumption. Higher FSB frequency has no effect on the test results either.

Let's see the situation with power consumption. But I shall note right away that it's not clear what contribution is made by video controllers, so this comparison is not quite correct.

A little advantage of TravelMate 8100. If take the results of this model separately, three hours and a half of battery life for such a powerful notebook are an excellent result.

Now, line supply.

The desktop processor still outscores mobile systems in the Internet Content Creation test. The new model demonstrated approximately the same result as ASUS M6Ne, and slightly outscored it in the Office Productivity test.

Now – graphics. Default Direct3D and OpenGL settings.

Wow! Practically two-fold advantage of TravelMate 8100!

The same picture here. By readers' requests I shall publish fps values in games with different Anti Aliasing settings.

And finally – OpenGL gaming tests. The sound card is disabled.



TravelMate 8100 advantage is noticeable in this test as well. The higher resolution and quality are, the more prominent it is.

So, performance of the new platform differs little from its predecessor in standard tests at first glance, but the new PCI Express controller allows considerably increased performance in 3D graphics – the bottleneck of modern notebooks. Though one should note that this is the first sample, so the results may change noticeably in the course of driver development.

Conclusions

As I have already written – it's the first short contact with the new platform. Ahead lie detailed tests, including tests of the new integrated video from Intel. But now I can say that the new video controller from ATI has allowed considerable performance gains in games. What concerns Acer TravelMate 8100 – its design matches its innards. This is a stylish and convenient notebook. It's a pity the new platform will come with the same Centrino logo – no chances of boasting

We express our thanks to Moscow representative office
of Acer for the provided notebook.

Nikolai Dorofeyev (niko@ixbt.com)
January 19, 2005



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