Acer nearly trumps portable travel notebook style

Acer nearly trumps portable travel notebook style

Some of its extras include videoconferencing, video e-mail, high-quality webcam images, Net access

By John Breeden II

GCN Staff

An innovative Acer notebook PC? Acer who?

For many years, Acer America Corp. has had a reputation for turning out decent, no-frills systems at low prices. It was the go-to PC maker if money was a chief consideration.

The Acer TravelMate packs a lot of features into a small package.

Recently the company has started to shift its focus away from being a white-box competitor and toward becoming a maker of pioneering products. The first in a new line is the TravelMate series of lightweight, powerful notebooks.

I examined the TravelMate 342T, one of the low-end notebooks in the line. It is the first notebook weighing less than 5 pounds that has impressed me.

Most of the time, the nice high-end notebooks weigh in at upwards of 7 pounds.

Finding a good triple-spindle design with everything you need for mobile use'hard drive, floppy drive, and CD-ROM or DVD drive'in a lightweight package is rare.

Physically fit

Box Score

Acer TravelMate 342T

Lightweight, feature-heavy notebook

Acer America Corp.; San Jose, Calif.;

tel. 408-432-6200

Price: $1,899

+ Lightweight

+ Good performance

+ Many extras, such as a high-quality webcam

' Lacks integrated external drives

Features and ConfigurationA'
Benchmark PerformanceA'
ZD's Business Windstone 9916.1
About 61 percent faster than a 233-MHz Pentium MMX desktop PC

The overall grade comprises scores for three factors: usability (40 percent), features and configuration (30 percent), and performance (30 percent). The lab used ZD's Winstone 99 Version 1.1. The baseline 10.0 Winstone unit is a 233-MHz Pentium MMX. For benchmark information, go to

At 4.1 pounds, the 342T is only slightly heavier than some handheld devices that run Microsoft Windows CE. The 500-MHz Pentium III notebook, however, runs a full-version of Windows 98. It comes standard with 64M of RAM and a 100-MHz front-side bus, which is also impressive for a notebook. The RAM is expandable to 128M.

The notebook has both a 56-Kbps modem and an integrated 10/100-Mbps Ethernet RJ-45 connection. Whether you are in the office or on the road, you can connect to the Internet.

In speed tests, the network card and the modem performed as expected.

As an extra feature, the unit comes ready for videoconferencing and video e-mail.

Included are a tiny lavalier microphone for your lapel and a webcam that snaps on the side and connects via a Universal Serial Bus port.

The quality of the webcam images rivaled and, in some cases, surpassed those captured with other standalone webcams I have tested.

The microphone seemed to filter out most background noise when used at a correct distance from the speaker's mouth. Plus, the generous 9G hard drive can store even the largest video e-mail, though sending it out through the modem could be a problem.

The webcam and microphone are little examples of Acer's new push toward quality components. The 342T's 12.1-inch screen is another example. Surprisingly large for an 11- by 9-inch overall frame, it had a wide viewing angle and displayed colors crisply.

Outside the box

The only negative about the notebook is that the CD-ROM and the floppy drives are not integrated into the main case. The dual-drive unit plugs into the side of the notebook.

The drive unit functioned well, but at about half the size of the notebook it looked like a brick and even came with its own carrying case.

Because most users need everything with them when they are on the road, this additional 6- by 7-inch unit is a necessary evil.

The TravelMate is quite a good notebook, especially considering the power and functionality stuffed into such a small package.

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