The Ultimate Racer Netbook: Acer Ferrari One 200 Review

Today we are going to introduce to you the smallest of the racing and the most racing of the smallest portable computers – Acer Ferrari One 200. Its exterior is not its only appealing feature. It also boasts high performance for solutions of its class and supports an external graphics card with an ATI XGP connector.

by Alexander Britvin
10/01/2010 | 08:38 AM

Before getting to the subject matter of this review, let's take a look at the post-WW1 Italy. The country’s economy was in ruins, including the automobile industry. As a way to promote their products, the Italian car makers, backed up by the government, organized sport teams and invested large amounts of money into racing. Winning a race - what else could be a better advertisement for a car brand?

 

Young and ambitious Enzo Ferrari was part of the Alfa Romeo team since 1920. Enzo didn’t score too many wins during his rather long career but one of them (Circuito di Savio 1923) helped him get acquainted with count Enrico Baracca, father of a legendary pilot and war hero Francesco Baracca. One legend says that his airplane used to have a prancing stallion on its hull. This emblem was later presented to Enzo by countess Paolina, mother of Francesco, for luck. The only problem was that Enzo didn’t have a team or a car manufacture, so the emblem, which has come to be associated with speed, roaring motors, squeaking brakes, luxury and comfort, had to wait for a few tens of years.

 
Stuttgart, Germany and Scuderia Ferrari emblems

This is not the whole story of the prancing stallion, though. Some sources say that Francesco took it from a German plane as a trophy as was the custom of the day. Interestingly, Baracca indeed shot down a German Albatros whose pilot came from Stuttgart. And the city's coat of arms shows a prancing horse, too (the German word “Stuttgart” means a “horse garden”). Enzo only added the Italian tricolor and a canary-yellow background (from the yellow half of the flag of his native city of Modena; Ferrari's headquarters have been located 18 kilometers away, in Maranello, ever since the company's foundation).

As you may have guessed from this lengthy preamble, this review is going to be dedicated to a new Ferrari series mobile computer from Acer. This “racing” netbook with the famous Scuderia Ferrari logo on its hood is called Ferrari One 200.

Besides the traditional Ferrari-styled exterior typical of the Acer Ferrari series mobile computers, this netbook bears the colors of Scuderia’s partner AMD.


Ferrari F10 from 2010 season

Packaging and Accessories

Like the rest of the racing series from Acer, the Ferrari One 200 is parceled into a matte, black-colored box. The picture on it shows the netbook’s corner looming in the darkness. The names of the manufacturer and the product stand out in shiny silver letters. The prancing stallion can be found in the corner of the box.

Besides the netbook, the box contains a 4400mAh 6-cell battery, a power adapter with cable, a black cleaning napkin, a 1-year warranty coupon, a user manual and some other documentation.

Somewhat contrary to the high status of the product, there is no Ferrari-styled mouse or sleeve or external optical drive among the accessories although we’ve seen them included with all the previous Ferrari series products from Acer.

Design and Ergonomics

One glance at this netbook is enough to notice the special traits of the legendary sports cars from Maranello. Even though the case of this netbook is not made from robust and light carbon fiber as in the previous models of the series (the Acer Ferrari One 200 does not really fit into the typical netbook price category even without such expensive materials), the bright-red glossy lid with the stallion logo is not unlike the polished-off hood of a real Ferrari. The slanted corners and smooth lines of the case produce a sleek and aerodynamic appearance. Dust, scratches and fingerprints are going to be visible on the glossy surface but its red color makes them less conspicuous than if it were black. Pressing the lid with fingers produces circular patterns on the LCD matrix, which is quite a surprise. The display is small and might have been made more robust.

What is inacceptable for the hood of a racing car (especially, if it opens up from the front), but quite natural for a small portable computer, the lid has no lock. It is held at a required angle by the pair of stiff hinges that protrude from the screen bezel. The fastening mechanism allows unfolding the Ferrari One 200 by slightly less than 180 degrees.

The machine proves to be not red but black on the inside. The screen bezel is glossy, including the small pads along its perimeter. The surface above the keyboard is matte and mostly made up by the top of the battery which is fitted seamlessly into the netbook’s body. The matte touchpad is fitted between patterned plastic surfaces: the alternating glossy and matte squares of the pattern resemble a checkered finish flag. The Ferrari emblem can be found in the bottom right.

It is hard to spot the tiny eye of a built-in 0.3-megapixel web-camera and a microphone hole on the glossy top of the screen bezel. There is no camera activity indicator, so you cannot easily check out whether it is working or not.

The Ferrari One 200 has an 11.6-inch widescreen (16:9) display with a native resolution of 1366x768 pixels. The horizontal viewing angles are sufficiently wide but the vertical ones are worse: the onscreen image gets dark when you lift the display up too much, but when you lower it, the image becomes whitish. Like any other netbook, the Ferrari One 200 is supposed to accompany its owner in travels, but the glossy coating of the display will make the user take care about proper ambient lighting and avoid direct light. There are 10 levels of screen brightness and the lowest ones are quite usable. You can switch between them by pressing Fn together with Arrow Right or Left.

The keyboard of the first racing netbook has 84 black keys with rough and flat caps. The keys are placed very close to each other, making it likely to press the neighboring keys besides the one you actually need. The keys move softly and quietly with a well-perceived click. The cursor-controlling buttons are in the same line with the bottom keyboard row which is larger than the other rows of keys. The arrow keys are only half the size of the neighboring keys. The Page Up and Page Down buttons (doing double duty as Home and End via Fn) are above the Arrow Left and Arrow Right buttons. We don't like this replacement of the traditional vertical column of Home, Page Up, Page Down and End buttons because it is too easy to press two of these tiny keys accidentally when you need only one of them.

A numpad is combined with the main keyboard and there are also two Windows buttons. The functional keys are small. Their row continues with Print Screen, Pause, Insert and Delete. The letters are painted white while the additional functions accessible via Fn are marked with the Ferrari red.

The F10 button (we guess the F1 button would even be more appropriate) carries an image of a tiny racing car and the word Ferrari. When pressed together with Fn, it leads to the official Scuderia website.

The Power button in the top right corner is slim and chrome-plated. It is surrounded with red riffled plastic and highlighted when the netbook is up and running.

On the right, there are three white indicators: disk activity, Num Lock and Caps Lock.

Besides serving its main function as a cursor-controlling device, the touchpad matches the overall racing style of this netbook. It is shaped rather unusually as a trapezoid but the slanted corners are not functional and do not react to your touch. There is in fact an ordinary square touchpad beneath the trapezoid faceplate. The touchpad is flush with its surroundings and works well enough. It features multitouch functionality and supports gestures with two fingers for scrolling and scaling an image up and down. The touchpad buttons are embellished with the engraved "Ferrari One". The buttons are stiff and click softly when pressed.

The three remaining system indicators are on the right of the netbook’s front edge. They are labeled on the top panel of the netbook’s body and the lid covers the labels, but not the indicators themselves, when closed. These are (from left to right):

Besides a vent grid, the left panel of the netbook offers a 15-pin D-Sub connector for an external monitor, an ATI XGP port, and a USB 2.0 connector.

The ATI XGP port (eXternal Graphics Platform) is a rather rare feature in portable computers. It lets you connect a special container or docking station (Acer DynaVivid Graphics Dock) with external graphics card to your Acer Ferrari One 200. The DynaVivid Graphics Dock usually comes with an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4670 and offers extra video ports (HDMI and D-Sub) together with 6 USB 2.0 connectors. It can display video content on an external monitor at resolutions up to 2048x1536 pixels. The external graphics card makes the Ferrari One 200 ultrafast in terms of graphics performance but the problem is that the docking station is rather large at 193.5 x 193.5 x 32.8 millimeters, needs a dedicated power adapter, and weighs as much as 600 grams. We guess this option will only be interesting for users who want to make the most of this netbook at home. The external graphics card is not included into the box. Acer thought it unnecessary to include the DynaVivid Graphics Dock and raise the product price by some $200 more. The Ferrari One 200 is quite expensive even without that accessory.

The following can be found on the netbook’s right panel:

Although numerous, the neighboring ports can be used simultaneously. The LAN port, just as the D-Sub connector on the other side of the case, has a red riffled edging that resembles the diffusers of a real racing car.

The rear panel is occupied by the battery. The lid covers the netbook’s back when you push it backwards, leaving no room for interface connectors.

The Acer Ferrari One 200 is equipped with a 6-cell 4400mAh battery. It is rated for a voltage of 11.1 volts and thus has a capacity of 48 Wh. The battery was somewhat wobbly in our sample of the netbook, but that's not a big problem.

The battery locks can be found on the bottom panel.

There are also a memory compartment (with two 2GB sticks), an HDD compartment, an OS serial sticker, and a couple of feeble speakers on the netbook’s bottom. You need an external speaker system or headphones to enjoy good sound from the Ferrari One 200.

By the way, the netbook's feet are designed to resemble wheels with rain tires. Perhaps such stiff rubber is okay for a racing car, but it is rather too hard for a small computer.

Configuration

The Acer Ferrari One 200 runs on a dual-core AMD Turion 64 X2 L310 processor (a clock rate of 1.2 GHz, 65nm Tyler core, 512 kilobytes of L2 cache for each core). The CPU has a TDP of 13 watts and works with a 1600MHz HyperTransport bus.

Besides the CPU, the AMD Congo platform incorporates the M780G chipset. Its South Bridge supports SATA, USB 2.0, PCI Express x1, and an integrated audio core. An integrated Radeon HD 3200 graphics core is built into the chipset (55nm tech process, 380 MHz clock rate). It supports the power-saving PowerPlay technology.

The netbook is equipped with an Atheros AR9285 Wireless Network Adapter that supports 802.11b/g/n and with a hard disk Toshiba MK2555GSX (2.5”, 5400 RPM, SATA, 250 GB).

The netbook’s two memory slots are occupied by 2GB DDR2-800 SDRAM modules working in dual-channel mode. This is the maximum amount of system memory the netbook can support.

The following table lists the specs of the Acer Ferrari One 200 in comparison with a Lenovo ThinkPad X100e which is based on AMD’s single-core platform.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Testbed and Methods

The netbook’s hard disk was formatted in NTFS before the tests. Then we installed Microsoft Windows 7 operating system and drivers downloaded from the manufacturer website. The following settings were used for the tests:

The test session was split into two parts:

  1. Performance benchmarks (for the system as a whole as well as individual system components):
  2. Battery life tests (MobileMark 2007)

There are three test modes in Mobile Mark 2007:

We also used Battery Eater 2.70 test. It was used in idle mode with maximum screen brightness setting with a movie in AVI format playing from the netbook’s HDD. We used standard Windows Media Player. Since the movie was shorter than the netbook’s battery life, we selected “Repeat” option in the player.

Besides, we also ran 3DMark 2006 1.2.0 scenes on our netbook multiple times and then used infra-red thermometer to measure the temperatures of the LCD display, keyboard, bottom of the case, exhaust (we searched for the hottest spot on each surface in question) and CPU (using CPUID Hardware Monitor utility). We ran this test twice: when the netbook was sitting on a wooden desk top and on a soft cloth-covered surface.

Performance Tests

PCMark benchmarks computer’s performance in productivity applications and produces performance scores by the formula: PCMark Score = 87 x (the geometric mean of the basic tests), where the geometric mean is calculated as (Result 1 x Result 2 x…) divided by the number of results. The Vantage version focuses on typical work scenarios rather than on computer components as in the earlier versions.

The next benchmark, SYSmark 2007, is intended to reveal a computer’s performance by simulating a user who is solving practical tasks in a few popular applications. The benchmark issues a few ratings that are indicative of the system performance under different loads.

3DMark uses its own rendering engine to create a set of 3D scenes that load the graphics subsystem in various ways. We selected a resolution of 1366x768 pixels and had two test runs: with and without 16x anisotropic filtering and 4x full-screen antialiasing. We also benchmarked the netbook in 3DMark Vantage using the Entry settings at 1024x768.

The integrated Radeon HD 3200 core only allows running some simple games. When benchmarked in a few 3D games, the netbooks had the following results:

Battery Life and Temperature

Battery life is just as important a parameter of a netbook as its performance. The netbook’s battery life was measured with MobileMark 2007. We disabled standby and hibernate modes for the test.

The first scenario, Productivity, emulates the user’s working in typical office applications. The load is not constant as the user is frequently distracting from his work. The second scenario measures the netbook’s battery life when the user is reading text from the screen in Adobe Reader. The third scenario is about DVD playback in InterVideo WinDVD (we used an external optical drive Optiarc AD-7633A in an Agestar IUB5SA container for the DVD playback test).

And finally we measured the temperature of the netbook’s surfaces after it had run 3DMark 2006 for half an hour. The ambient temperature was 23°C. The CPU temperature was reported by CPUID Hardware Monitor.

Just as you can expect from a Ferrari, the netbook’s “motor” is hot and noisy. It is rather too hot for a mobile computer which is expected to lie on its owner’s laps. The cooler works only at high loads, but cannot cool the netbook down to a comfortable temperature.

Conclusion

Acer-Ferrari takes the pole position again. The smallest of the Ferrari family wins due to the sheer lack of competition in the premium netbook sector, being superior to ordinary netbooks with its luxurious design and increased performance. Its racing Ferrari style won't leave any fan of Formula One racing indifferent. After all, this is the least expensive Ferrari-styled mobile computer so far. But apart from this special positioning, the Ferrari One 200 is not so blameless. Its high performance is the product of its high temperature and rather short (compared to the Atom platform) battery life.

Well, racing cars are not expected to be comfortable, after all. They must be fast and eye-catching in the first place – just as this netbook!

Highs:

Lows