Acer notebook PC solves double- vs. triple-spindle debate

Acer notebook PC solves double- vs. triple-spindle debate

By John Breeden II

GCN Staff

Which notebook computer drive architecture is better: the double spindle or the triple spindle?

Makers disagree, but Acer's TravelMate 602TER may answer the question once and for all. It enjoys the best of both worlds.

A spindle is an axis around which various notebook disks spin. The hard drive is the primary user of the first spindle. The second spindle accommodates a CD-ROM drive.

The CD-RW drive adds floppy disk utility to the Acer's double-spindle design.

Some makers have built in a third spindle for floppy disks because, without it, an external floppy drive has to connect by cable to the serial'or in later models the Universal Serial Bus'port.

The problem with putting the extra spindles inside a portable system is that each one adds considerable weight.

The double-spindle camp argues that the extra weight of a triple-spindle design is unnecessary. Some triple-spindle notebooks weigh up to 9 pounds'too much to lug around airports.

I have always been firmly in the triple-spindle camp, however. On trips when I've carried a double-spindle notebook, I too often have needed a floppy drive. If I take an external floppy drive along, it negates the weight savings of the notebook.

The TravelMate 602TER hits a happy medium between the camps. Call it a double-spindle design with triple-spindle functionality. What Acer did is so simple, I'm surprised nobody else has tried it.

Box Score

TravelMate TM602TER

Double-spindle notebook PC with CD-RW burner

Acer America Corp.; San Jose, Calif.;

tel. 408-432-6200

Price: $2,600

+ CD-RW burner instead of floppy drive

+ Lightweight and good overall performance

' Some booting problems

Features and ConfigurationA+
Benchmark PerformanceB
ZD's Business Windstone 9922.5
About 125 percent faster than a 233-MHz Pentium MMX desktop system

The overall grade comprises scores for three factors: usability (60 percent), features and configuration (20 percent), and performance (20 percent). The lab used ZD's Winstone 99 Version 1.1. The baseline for 10.0 Winstone units is a desktop 233-MHz Pentium MMX. For benchmark information, go to

The TravelMate has two spindles in a compact, 5.5-pound unit. The first spindle is taken up by the hard drive. The second serves a 20X CD-rewritable drive that acts just like a normal CD-ROM drive but also functions as a floppy drive. With a blank CD-RW disk, you can copy files from the hard drive for transport to another computer, just as you would to a floppy.

But there is 640M of storage capacity on the disk instead of 1.4M, and any system with a CD-ROM drive can read it.

Standard features

The notebook is a fairly standard high-end system with a 650-MHz Pentium III processor, 128M of RAM and a 12G hard drive. A 10/100-Mbps Ethernet connection and a 56-Kbps modem are integrated.

The graphics display, with an ATI Mobility Pro 8M graphics chip and a 13.3-inch XGA thin-film-transistor display, is outstanding.

Its battery life is as short as you would expect from a powerhouse unit. The Acer ran little more than an hour under the lab's torture tests. In normal use it went another hour.

I was impressed by the good-sized, comfortable keyboard. Acer describes it as ergonomically correct.

The system did have a few problems. About 20 percent of the time, it hung up midway through booting for no apparent reason. Rebooting fixed the problem, which occurred many times over the course of my testing.

Another problem was with the power management function. When the unit goes into sleep mode, a cooling fan activates, which makes more noise than when the unit is fully powered. Sometimes the Acer would refuse to come back out of sleep mode.

The TravelMate does a great job of bridging the gap between the double- and triple-spindle camps. Its new road may be shaky at first, but I think Acer is moving in the right direction, and others may soon follow.

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