31 January 2006

Review: Acer Ferrari 4005 and 8104. Power and style

As with most of my reviews, I am not going to give you a run-down of all the features and specs of the Acer Ferrari 4005 and 8104, as that's all available on Acer's website and any number of reviews on Epinions. Instead, I'm going to cut to the chase and tell you what's good and bad about these machines and why you may or may not want one.

First up, bear in mind that the Ferrari 4005 is an Acer Travelmate 8104 in wolf's clothing. They are the same machine, apart from the fact that the Travelmate has a silver exterior and Intel CPU as against the Ferrari's AMD chip and stunning black and red livery with carbon fibre inlays. In addition, Acer have cranked up the clock speed on the Graphics Processing Unit of the Ferrari a little, so it does have marginally quicker video than the 8104. That would be appealing if you are a game player.

As for the AMD v Intel debate, it's mostly stuff and nonsense. Don't believe anyone who tries to make a very strong argument for one over the other. You'll see very little difference in performance. Also, the argument that 64 bit is better because it's the way of the future is also fairly shallow. Very few of your applications are available in 64-bit now, so even with the Ferrari you'll be using 32-bit Windows and 32-bit apps. When Longhorn comes out to replace Windows XP, which may still be more than a year away, you'll still need to upgrade all your applications at considerable expense, and all your drivers, and by the time everything is stable and available under a 64-bit operating system you may well be looking at 3 years down the track. By that time your machine will be 3.5 years old in its technology and you'll be looking to get a newer, faster machine anyway. So it's a non-issue in my book.

Apart from that the 8104 and 4005 are the same. Same excellent build quality, great screen, shape, weight, features and form factor. Same curved keyboard which you may dislike at first but will get used to. Same tendency to run quite warm and have the cooling fan spinning all the time. Same fairly clunky trackpad, which you probably won't use because a mouse is far better--except for that stylish but skippy bluetooth one which Acer ship with the Ferrari--it's a gimmick, and you'll put it away in frustration. In fact, all bluetooth mice I have used are frustrating at the end of the day.

Their inherent similarities mean that both the Ferrari 4005 and Travelmate are great machines. Fast, good graphics, great screens and plenty of power for the reasonable weight. They don't have CrystalBright type screens with their ironically-named 'anti-reflection coatings', which means they are clearly not as good for watching DVDs, although not bad, and clearly vastly better for using as a computer, which is after all, what they are for. I don't get how anyone would think that a shiny screen is an improvement for working on documents and spreadsheets in the differing lighting conditions under which a laptop is often used.

So what are the differences, and why would you choose one over the other or over competing models from other manufacturers? To the last question first--there are not that many competing models. As far as I can tell, Sony, Asus and Toshiba's models in the same price range are less powerful, IBM's are much more expensive, and Dell's heavier. That leaves the likable HP Compaq nx8220 which has better sound and is slightly smaller, but suffers from very poor screen brightness and uneven backlight in the one I've seen--bad enough to instantly take it out of the running.

So it's Acer v Acer up the final straight. The Ferrari wins on looks and sex appeal, but loses a little on the fact that you pay a premium for that. The Travelmate 8100 series gains on the fact that there are now faster models available (2.26 Gig 8106 for example) but loses again on the slightly slower video clock speed.

So it's pretty even coming up to the finish line, until the Ferrari hits its fatal flaw, one that I have not seen mentioned in any other review (though apologies to anyone who has covered it). The keyboard surround/palm rest of the Ferrari is covered in this lovely looking matte rubber finish. Unfortunately, I found it felt absolutely awful under my palms. My hands didn't move easily over it, rather the slightest bit of dust or dirt on the palm rest felt really gritty and I found myself constantly dusting the wretched thing down. I simply could not have seriously considered living with that.

So in the end it's an easy choice. The 8104 won, as it were, 'hands down'! Then I got the bonus prize. When I opened the box in the shop to check the display (always check for dud pixels and keep checking until you get zero. If the shop doesn't like it, go elsewhere) I found that my 8104 had a different finish to every other one in the shop or that I had seen elsewhere. Instead of the plain-Jane silver lid, this one has a metallic, textured, mesh-looking finish which looks like a silver version of the Ferrari. It's still not as stunning as the Ferrari itself, but far better than the usual finish. I think of it as my Aston Martin!
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It's been a long time, now I'm coming back home

So sang The Beatles, back in the day, in that happy-tinged-with-melancholy number 'Wait'.

And it certainly has been a long time between blog posting for me, but I have a good excuse, honest. My UK holiday which turned into temporary relocation came to an end in December, and another relocation was required, back to sunny Adelaide. Since then I've been setting up a new business, home office and life. And now I feel like a little lie down.

I've missed blogging immensely, though — the interaction with readers, with the blogosphere as a whole and above all with myself and the dark recesses of my mind which tend to be explored and illuminated through writing.

So Eebahgum, Happy New Year, Merry Christmas, Live long and prosper and so on to you all, and welcome back to normal trasmission.
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