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Acer TravelMate 630XC Notebook Review

September 12, 2002






Not so long ago I tested the Acer Travelmate 621XC and it was clear that an Intel® Pentium® 4-Ì in the same box should be expected soon. Well, this is what we have today in our lab. According to Acer, TravelMate 620 are mobile PCs of the business class with extended functional capabilities. They are meant for users who need high mobility together with high performance. Well, it's not much time that passed, no new designs were invented, and the Acer's one was always brilliant. 

Technical characteristics of the Acer TravelMate 630XC (specification)

  • Processor - Intel Pentium 4-M 1.4 GHz 
  • Chipset - ALI ALADDiN-P4(M1671 and M1535+); 400MHz system bus
  • Display - 14.1" TFT, up to 1024X768, 16.7 Ì colors
  • nVidia GeForce 2Go 100 with 16MB DDR video memory (all 630 models currently ship with 32MB video memory) 
    • DualView supported (operation with two monitors)
    • Hardware 3D graphics accelerator, 4x AGP supported
    • Hardware MPEG2/DVD decoder
  • 256MB DDR-266 SDRAM; expendable to 1024MB (the tested model has 256 MB). 
  • PCI bus based audio system supported 3D sound, SoundBlaster Pro and MS DirectSound compatible
  • Drives. 
    • Ultra ATA/100 hard drive with DASP system, from 20GB (the tested sample comes with Toshiba MK2018GAP 20 GB). 
    • 8x DVD-ROM or DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive (the tested sample has Matsushita UJDA720 DVD/CD-RW), integrated into the notebook (AcerMedia bay). 
  • I/O ports. 
    • 1 CardBus PC Card connector (1 I/II Type) supporting ZV (Zoomed Video) 
    • 1 Smart Card connector
    • AC adapter
    • ECP/EPP parallel port
    • PS/2 compatible port for mouse&keyboard 
    • Port for external monitor 
    • Line-in/ Line-out/ mic-in audio ports
    • FIR (Fast Infrared), IrDA compatible
    • RJ 45 network port
    • RJ 11 modem port
    • 2 USB ports
    • IEEE 1394 port
    • Port replicator connector
  • Communication
    • Integrated 10/100 Mbit/s network adapter (Wake-on-LAN supported) 
    • Built-in fax/modem 56Ê ITU V.90 (Wake-On-Ring supported) 
    • Integrated adapter of wireless network 802.11b (optional, the tested sample doesn't have it) 
  • Dimensions and weight
    • 323 X 265 X 35 mm 
    • 2.58 /2.66 kg depending on the components and model
  • Power subsystem
    • 59W Li-Ion battery pack
    • 70W 100~240V AC adapter
    • Run-down life: 3.5 hours (with ACPI used) 
    • ACPI v2.0 supported 
  • Windows XP 
So, they have replaced the chipset, processor and video card. The processor is not the fastest (the Toshiba Satellite 5105-s501, for example, has it clocked at 1.7 GHz), and it's the first time I see a chipset from ALi for the Ð4. The run-down time is less this time. Now, if you have read the previous review on the Acer's notebook you can take a look at the beginning of the "first impressions & ergonomics" section and then go directly to the tests. If you doubt that I hold this models in my hands at all - here is a photo.



Accessory pack:

  • Notebook; 
  • Power unit with cable; 
  • Cover for the drive bay; 
  • Cable for modem connection; 
  • CD-RW disc
  • World-wide 1-year warranty; 
  • User manual in English (printed); 
  • Guide for modem (!); 
  • Brief Manual for XP Home Edition (in English); 
  • Manual for Recovery CD (in English); 
  • Technical support reference; 
  • "Just For Starters" Guide; 
  • TravelMate; 
  • Card describing all main hot keys of the computer (typical of Acer); 
  • Envelope with two smart cards
  • Recovery packet in 5 CDs - boot disc with drivers for Windows XP, e-version of the user manual and Help, and two recovery discs for Windows XP Home Edition - in two languages. 
  • CD with Norton Antivirus 2002; 
  • CD with Nti CD-Maker Plus Edition.

First impressions

Well, the front panel traditionally incorporates an IR port and speakers.



On the left: 

  • Hard drive cover; 
  • USB port; 
  • SmartCard Reader' and PC Card slot; 
  • Battery compartment cover.
The display panel have connectors for a camera which are hidden under the covers on the left and right. 



On the back (left to right): 

  • air vent; 
  • power unit connector; 
  • USB port; 
  • PS/2 connector; 
  • external monitor output; 
  • expansion slot (for port-replicator); 
  • parallel port; 
  • audio-out; 
  • audio-in; 
  • telephone line connector; 
  • network connector; 
  • IEEE 1394 connector. 




The right panel, like the left one, is not overloaded - it contains a Kensington lock, power button (!), air vent and AcerMedia Bay.
 

First impressions from operation, ergonomics

As you might remember the previous sample had problems with its screen frame. Well, this one doesn't have any. 

Fir the first time I was looking for the power button quite long as I got used to the fact that it's located on the keyboard. But it's not a disadvantage. 

Well, it asks to insert a Smart card. It's the right time to show how information is protected in the notebook. The preinstalled software includes PlatinumPAS(TM), PlatinumSecure(TM) and PlatinumKey(TM). 

The PlatinumPAS protects data on the BIOS level. During the POST procedure the program checks whether a main or emergency Smart card is inserted, and if it doesn't find it the booting process stops. 

The PlatinumSecure extends capabilities of the authentication procedure on the OS level using cryptographic methods. When the card is ejected this program starts up the screensaver and locks the system. The emergency Smart card is necessary to enter the system and disable the protection if a main card is lacking. Besides, the utility allows for encryption of files. 

The PlatinumKey provides auto user authentication on sites which require passwords. 

All those things can be disabled. 

When we inserted the card the computer booted up successfully. The keyboard is very handy. I was never disposed toward TouchPads because you have to move your hands down to position the pointer or press mouse buttons. And here thumbs are right above the pointer management system, and you don't need to raise the base of the palm above the keyboard. The TouchPad of the TravelMate 620 series differs from that of the TravelMate 610. The swing scroller is replaced with a disc which has some more functions (like back-next in the browser). 
 







TravelMate 610 TravelMate 620

I don't know how useful these functions are, but the touchpad itself helps a lot. 

There are no more complains about its operation. Now let's turn to such function as Recovery. This process is implemented ideally in the Acer notebooks. You boot from the system CD-ROM and choose what you need to do. There are the following ways.

  • You can set it back to the initial state - this option is very useful for resellers as all user information get lost - an image created by the Norton Ghost program is written on the disc. 
  • Reinstall applications - this is a useful function if you have deleted a program and then understand you can't do without it.

  •  

     
     




  • At last, driver installation - this is for advanced users who work with discs partitioned to their liking. 

Service and user support

Warranty. The warranty period for the Acer notebooks is 1 year. 

Service. Any of authorized service centers (the list is available on the site) can implement diagnostics of a notebook and, in certain case, repair. But to be repaired a computer gets into the central service center, if the warranty is valid. If not, any Acer's service center can repair it on the spot. 

Site. The design is comprehensive, the descriptions of models are detailed and illustrated, supplemented with a demo program etc. There is a base of drivers and BIOS updates. 

The hot-line support was checked when we tested the TravelMate350 model. Well, it does work. 

Modernization

During the warranty period any modernization must be undertaken in an authorized service center. When it finishes you can expand memory (unscrew the cover on the bottom) and replace a hard drive (unscrew a respective bolt and take out a hard drive unit). But a processor should be replaced by experts from a service center. 

So, the scores: 
 

Scores max. Our mark
Accessories 25  24
Appearance and ergonomics 25  25
Ease in handling 25  25
User support 25  24

Total: 98 scores. 

We lowered the scores for 

"-1" - no floppy disc drive; 

"-1" - lack of user manuals and description of accessories on some sites in other languages. 

Tests

This time I used one more benchmark - BAPCo/MadOnion MobileMark 2002. It works under the Microsoft Windows XP (Professional and Home) or Windows 2000 Professional in two modes. The first one measures performance of the notebook together with the run-down time (comparison of performance levels of the tested sample with the reference one, and average time of implementation of operations). The application suite almost coicides with the SysMark 2002. 
  • Microsoft Word 2002 
  • Microsoft Excel 2002 
  • Microsoft PowerPoint 2002 
  • Microsoft Outlook 2002 
  • Netscape Communicator 6.0 
  • McAfee VirusScan 5.13 
  • Adobe Photoshop 6.0.1 
  • Macromedia Flash 5 
  • WinZip 8.0 
It also emulates pauses in operation of the notebook. The second mode measures only the run-down time when reading e-books in the Netscape Communicator 6.0 . It was "War and Peace" in English (!!!). The scrolling speed allows for easy reading. For more details on the test go to the BAPCo's site
 
  Acer TravelMate 630XC Acer TravelMate 621XC
BAPCo/MadOnion MobileMark 2002 Productivity workload (Performance rating)  99 -
BAPCo/MadOnion MobileMark 2002 Productivity workload (Average response time)  1,99 sec -
BAPCo/MadOnion MobileMark 2002 Productivity workload (Battery life rating)  205 minutes -
BAPCo/MadOnion MobileMark 2002 Reader workload (Battery life rating)  238 minutes -
BAPCo/MadOnion SysMark 2002 124 92
BAPCo/MadOnion SysMark 2002 Office Productivity  88 81
BAPCo/MadOnion SysMark 2002 Internet Content Creation 175 105
ZD Content Creation Winstone 2002 18.2 18
ZD Winbench 99 v1.2 Business Disk WinMark 2270 2850
ZD Winbench 99 v1.2 High-End Disk WinMark 8580 9450 
ZD Winbench 99 v1.2 Business Graphics WinMark 210 123
ZD Winbench 99 v1.2 High-End Graphics WinMark 611 569
ZD BatteryMark 4.0  3 hrs 4 hrs 45 min

Well, as for the graphics results the situation is clear - an integrated controller and GeForce2Go are different things. And the disc subsystem doesn't shine. I think it's the chipset to blame. That is why the scores of the ZD Content Creation Winstone 2002 and SysMark 2002 Office Productivity are so close. 

The advantage of the new model in the MadOnion 3DMark 2001 is unquestionable. That is why I will omit the results of its predecessor. 
 

MadOnion 3DMark 2001
(32 bit color, 32 bit Texture Format, 24 bit Z-buffer depth, Frame Buffer - Double buffering, Hardware T&L)
Resolution 640X480 800X600 1024X768
3DMark Result 2807 2093 1397
Details
Game fps
Car Chase  
Low Details 47.8 34.7 23.4
High Details 20.9 17.7 12.5
Dragothic  
Low Details 45.7 34.2 22.8
High Details 22.7 17.6 12.5
Lobby  
Low Details 48.2 32.2 19.8
High Details 26.4 18.9 11.8

Finally, the Rage Games Expendable. 
 

Expendable, timedemo (fps)
Resolution Color depth
  16 bpp 32 bpp
640x480 82.58 74.6
800x600 75.57 56.08
1024x768 58.68 outofvideomemory

Quite unexpectedly... I think it's because the test is not the latest, and 16 MB of video memory is not enough. Well, this computer wasn't developed for games. 

General scores

Subjective estimation - 98 scores. 

I'm very fond of the design of the Acer's notebooks! That is why the estimation is subjective :). All in all, this is a good business machine. Though I'd take the TravelMate 621XC, just to save money. But Acer keeps on reducing prices little by little.
 
 

Nikolai Dorofeev (niko@ixbt.com
 

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