by Alexander Britvin
05/28/2007 | 07:37 PM
The notebook industry is currently offering a variety of machines for everyone. There are notebooks for gamers and for people who watch movies. There are notebooks for users whose computer is supposed to be a full-featured workplace you can always carry about with you.
But game data and movies are not very precious information after all whereas a businessman’s laptop may store highly valuable, often confidential, data. This data needs some better protection than simple passwords and ordinary security measures.
One solution to this problem comes from Acer. The company’s engineers focused on making a notebook that would keep your data as secure and safe as possible and they came up with the TravelMate 6463WLMi. Fortunately, the notebook’s extra features don’t come at the expense of its main functional subunits. The hardware configuration of this machine is up to its positioning – you don’t need a super-fast CPU and an advanced graphics subsystem to perform everyday office tasks on a computer.
As a result of this development approach, the price of the notebook is very reasonable while its performance is high enough for common business applications. To be specific, the TravelMate 6463WLMi has an Intel Core 2 Duo T5500 processor with a clock rate of 1.66GHz (the first digit 5 in the CPU name indicates a 2MB L2 cache). Being an implementation of the Refresh Napa platform, the notebook features the Intel Calistoga i945PM chipset. Added to that are an ATI Mobility Radeon X1300 graphics core (with 128 megabytes of dedicated memory) and a 15.4” screen (the display is wide, following the current fashion).
The higher data security is achieved by means of two devices. First, it is a fingerprint scanner that is controlled with the Acer Protector Suite QL software using a Trusted Platform Module chip installed on the mainboard. Second, the notebook features Acer’s traditional SmartCard slot for smart cards that can additionally protect your data on different notebook boot-up stages. This feature is controlled with appropriate software, too.
Now let’s run through these feature once again, at more length. After that, we will also test the TravelMate 6463WLMi in typical applications in comparison with a Sony VAIO VGN-FE31HR, which is not so obsessed with security, but features similar hardware configuration with minor variations concerning the graphics card and amount of system memory.
Acer’s packaging style is clearly visible in the TravelMate series. The series being positioned as professional, the box colors are lively and saturated. The manufacturer’s name is printed at the bottom of each side. The address of the Acer international website and the product series name are printed in the middle of the bigger sides. The box looks modestly overall.
The accessories to the TravelMate 6463WLMi are rather scanty. Besides the notebook proper, the box contains: a 4800mAh battery, a power adapter with an integrated LED indicator, a modem cable (RJ-11), a spare piece for the Fine Track device, a TravelMate smart card with instructions, and documentation (a Just for Starters brochure, a 1-year International Travelers Warranty with a list of authorized Acer service centers worldwide, and a user manual).
There are no system recovery discs – you are supposed to create them yourself. Instead, the TravelMate 6463WLMi offers Acer Empowering Technology for quick access to the most frequently used functions of the notebook. It is a panel (you can minimize it into a tiny window if necessary) providing access to the following utilities:
Although belonging to the TravelMate series, this notebook shows all the specific features of the Acer Aspire brand in its appearance. The front part is rounded off, although the lid doesn’t transition smoothly into the base. Stereo speakers are not conspicuous on the front panel, either.
The light-silver top and the black bottom create a typical image of the most demanded notebook form-factor. There is a manufacturer logo on a chrome plate in the near left corner of the lid.
Unlike the Aspire series, the TravelMate 6463WLMi has a blunt front panel that carries some switches and connectors, including (from right to left):
To the left of this group there are Power and Battery indicators – you can see them irrespective of the position of the lid. They are labeled on the lid as well as on the notebook’s body.
Two sliders work as lid locks – you will find them at the back of the integrated web-camera. You can move one of them to open the notebook up – the other slider will move along, too.
The notebook is fully black inside. The silvery touchpad bezel and the chrome logo of the brand under the screen stand out against this uniform background. There are rubber pads set around the screen bezel for softer contact between the lid and the notebook’s body.
A 1.3-megapixel Acer OrbiCam camera is placed in the center above the screen. It can be turned around within an angle of 225 degrees, thus allowing to shoot objects both ahead and behind the LCD panel.
The camera turns around counterclockwise and captures images at an angle of 45 degrees.
The display hinges stand out from the notebook’s body and you can unfold the notebook by more than 180 degrees even.
The TravelMate 6463WLMi is equipped with a 15.4” LCD matrix that has a maximum resolution of 1280x800 pixels and an aspect ratio of 16:10 (WXGA). The viewing angles are quite wide both vertically and horizontally. The display features Acer GridVista technology for organizing multiple windows on the Desktop. The display lacks a “glassy” glare-type coating, so you don’t have to worry about ambient lighting when you sit down to work with this notebook.
We measured the brightness and contrast of the notebook’s display using a Pantone ColorVision Spyder with OptiCAL version 3.7.8 software. We selected the highest brightness setting before this test and it remained almost unchanged when the notebook switched to its battery. The contrast ratio didn’t change, either:
AC power source:
DC power source:
This notebook’s 88-key keyboard resembles the one of the Acer Ferrari 4005WLMi and features Acer’s characteristic “smile” with a 5-degree curve to reduce your hand strain. This design is arguable, yet we find it quite acceptable. The keys move quietly and softly and do not rattle. The cursor movement keys are shifted below the keyboard’s baseline, reducing the risk of your pressing them accidentally.
Euro and dollar signs are placed above the Arrow Right and Arrow Left buttons – this is another special trait of Acer’s keyboards. The Fn button is located in the bottom left corner, second after the Control. This should be convenient for people who are used to shortcuts involving the Control key. Numeric buttons and two Windows keys are available: the Context Menu key is placed over one key to the right of the spacebar; the Windows Logo key is over one key to the left of the spacebar. The functional keys are smaller than others. Home, PgUp, PgDn and End make up a column on the right. Num Lock, Screen Lock, Print Screen, Pause, Insert and Delete are placed in the same row with the functional keys – the first two of them are even combined with F11 and F12, respectively. The letters are painted white and the functional keys are painted blue (you should press them in combination with Fn to access their additional functions).
There is a green knob between the G, H and B keys. This is a Fine Track – one more pointing device in addition to the touchpad. The knob itself is for moving the pointer around on the screen. The two small buttons marked with green lines and located below the keyboard accompany this knob, performing the functions of the ordinary mouse’s left and right buttons.
Between these two green-marked buttons there is a fingerprint scanner and below them there is a touchpad. The black touch-sensitive panel is sunken a little into the notebook’s case and is framed into a silvery bezel so that your finger wouldn’t stray outside. The two buttons below replace the left and right buttons of the mouse. Between them there is a four-position joystick for scrolling text. It is silver like the rest of the touchpad.
On the right, above the keyboard, there is a block of instant-launch buttons together with more system indicators and a Power button. These include (from left to right):
The instant-launch buttons can be reprogrammed by the user in the Acer Startup Manager.
The hole of the integrated microphone is near the Fn key.
Two rather sonorous speakers are placed symmetrically on the left and right of the notebook’s body. They are close to the user and are hidden by the lid when the lid is down.
The left side of the notebook offers the following components (from left to right):
The right panel of the TravelMate 6463WLMi accommodates an optical drive with an activity indicator, a disc eject button, and an emergency ejection hole. There is also one USB 2.0 port here.
The notebook’s back panel offers the following:
The TravelMate 6463WLMi comes with a 4800mAh battery shaped in Acer’s traditional way:
The following can be found on the bottom panel, besides the battery module: a lock of the optical drive bay, covers of the memory, WLAN and HDD compartments, Acer Disk Anti-Shock Protection to protect the hard disk, two battery latches (one for fixing it in the bay and another to extract it), a 124-pin Acer ezDock II/II+ connector for a docking station, stickers with model information and with the OS serial number.
There are two slots in the memory compartment. One slot is empty and another is occupied by a 512MB module. The maximum amount of system RAM supported is 4096MB.
The Acer TravelMate 6463WLMi notebook features the Intel Core 2 Duo T5500 processor with a clock rate of 1.66GHz. This CPU is based on the 65nm Merom core and has 2 megabytes of shared L2 cache memory.
The Core 2 Duo T5500 supports Intel’s 64-bit extensions to the x86 architecture and also features Intel Wide Dynamic Execution technology which means more decoders and execution units in the CPU core. The speed of processing SSE and floating-point instructions has been increased, too.
Besides Intel’s traditional Enhanced SpeedStep technology that gives the notebook’s software and BIOS the control over the CPU frequency multiplier (to reduce it under low loads), this CPU supports Dynamic Power Coordination (the power consumption of the cores can be independently adjusted depending on the current load; one core may even slip into Deep Sleep mode with the lowest power consumption possible) and Dynamic Cache Sizing (unused segments of the CPU cache can be turned off to save power). For more information about Intel’s Core 2 Duo processors refer to our article called Intel Core 2 Duo in Notebooks: Centrino Duo Platform Refreshed.
This implementation of the refresh version of the Napa platform also incorporates an Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG adapter and an Intel Calistoga 945PM chipset. This chipset supports DDR2 SO-DIMMs, thus offering more memory bandwidth at lower power consumption, and a PCI Express x16 interface for an external graphics card. Connected to the North Bridge via a special-purpose Direct Media Interface, the South Bridge (ICH7-M) supports one Parallel ATA port, two Serial ATA ports, eight USB 2.0 ports and Intel High Definition Audio. It also offers six PCI Express x1 lanes to connect external devices. For more information about the platform, visit the manufacturer’s website.
This configuration is complemented with a discrete graphics core ATI Mobility Radeon X1300 with 128MB of dedicated graphics memory.
The ATI Mobility Radeon X1300 is a 105-million-transistor chip manufactured on 90nm tech process, which improves its power consumption characteristics.
Providing multi-threaded rendering technology and a ring-bus memory controller for high performance, the ATI Mobility Radeon X1300 also incorporates the Avivo video engine for high-quality video playback and features PowerPlay 6.0 technology for a longer battery life. But what is true for all mobile solutions from ATI, the graphics subsystem’s power-saving mode is set up rather too aggressively. When the notebook works on its battery, its graphics performance becomes closer to an integrated graphics core rather than to a full-featured discrete GPU. For more information about the graphics core characteristics, follow this link .
The notebook comes with a Seagate Momentus ST98823AS hard disk drive (2.5” form-factor, 5400rpm spindle rotation speed, 80GB capacity, Serial ATA interface) and a Philips SDVD8821 DVD-burner with the following speed formula:
The notebook comes with DDR2-533 SDRAM, not the fastest memory type available today. Both slots are easily accessible, and one is occupied by a 512MB module. The maximum supported amount of memory is 4096MB, so you’ve got some upgrade opportunities here. The single module works in single-channel mode, of course:
We measured the temperature of the hottest spots on the notebook’s surfaces with an infrared thermometer after it had worked for half an hour in the Classic test mode of Battery Eater Pro 2.60 (the ambient temperature remained constant at 23°C during this test) and got the following numbers:
The next table lists the technical specs of the tested notebook in comparison with its opponent Sony VAIO VGN-FE31HR:
The notebook’s hard drive was formatted in NTFS before the tests. Then we installed Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP2 with DirectX 9.0c, system drivers (downloaded from the manufacturer’s website), and Windows Media Encoder 9.0 with Windows Media Player 9.0. We also installed Windows Media Player 10.0 for such tests as PCMark 2005.
The following settings were used for the tests:
There were two exceptions: we returned to the Windows XP desktop theme for PCMark 2005 since the program required that. And for SYSMark 2004 SE to work normally, we had to roll each parameter back to its default (as they are set right after you install Windows).
Two power modes were used. First, we selected the Always On power mode for maximum performance and the shortest battery life. Then we switched to the Max Battery mode for the maximum battery run-down time.
There are three test modes in Battery Eater:
We used the first two modes as they are in Battery Eater, but in the Idle mode (when the test utility doesn’t put any load of its own on the notebook) we played a DVD movie.
As usual, we will first run synthetic benchmarks.
The SiSoftware 2007 suite features an updated enhanced-functionality interface, runs on three platforms (Win32 x86, Win64 x64, WinCE ARM), contains 13 tests and 34 informational modules, and supports a large range of devices thanks to the developer’s collaboration with Intel, AMD, ATI, SiS and VIA. The program is supported in six languages and has a free Lite version for personal and educational purposes. SiSoftware Sandra measures overall performance of the system as well as that of each of its subsystems.
PCMark benchmarks computer performance in office and office-related applications and also produces performance scores for the main subsystems (CPU, memory, graphical, and disk subsystem). PCMark 2005 carries on the tradition of complex benchmarks of the series and uses fragments of real-life applications as tests. This makes it somewhat more relevant for end-users as opposed to fully synthetic benchmarks. After running a series of 11 tests on the different components of the system, the program calculates an overall performance score in units called PCMarks. PCMark 2005 can check a computer out at processing HD video and encoding audio, and offers enhanced tests of the CPU and hard disk under multi-threaded load. The overall score is calculated 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…)/the number of results.
The two identical platforms with identical Intel Core 2 Duo CPUs have nearly the same results in all the CPU tests. When the notebooks switch to their batteries, enabling power-saving mode and dropping the CPU frequency to 1GHz, their results get lower proportionally to the CPU frequency reduction.
Our review of the Sony VAIO VGN-FE31HR showed that the Intel Core 2 Duo with a 2MB cache performs much better than the Yonah-core Core Duo in the multimedia benchmarks of the SiSoftware Sandra suite because the Merom has 128-bit SSE subunits. The difference between the notebooks in the memory tests is due to the TravelMate 6463WLMi having a single-channel memory subsystem by default. The difference between the graphics subsystems is conspicuous even in ordinary, not gaming, applications – we’ll see it in the purely graphical tests, too.
The Business Winstone 2004 test runs scripts of the following real-life office applications, several scripts at a time to simulate multi-tasking: Internet Explorer, Outlook, Word, Excel, Access, Project, PowerPoint, FrontPage, WinZip, and Norton AntiVirus Professional Edition.
The Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004 test evaluates performance of a computer in the following multimedia applications: Windows Media Encoder, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Premiere, NewTek LightWave 3D, Steinberg WaveLab, Micromedia Dreamweaver MX, and Micromedia Director MX.
The following table and diagrams show the outcome of these tests:
It’s no secret that PC Magazine’s benchmarks put most of their load on the CPU, yet the Acer TravelMate 6463WLMi performs slower than the Sony VAIO VGN-FE31HR as it has a weaker configuration overall. When working on the batteries, the notebooks suffer a performance hit proportional to the CPU frequency drop.
SYSMark 2004 SE is intended to reveal a system’s performance under different types of load. It simulates a user who is solving practical tasks in a few popular applications. Multi-threading is taken into account. The benchmark issues a few ratings that are indicative of the system performance under different loads. SYSMark 2004 SE is mainly positioned as a tool for testing desktop systems and includes applications that are not often run on mobile computers. That’s why the results for each test load are shown separately:
The 3D Creation script simulates a user who is rendering an image into a BMP-file in 3ds max 5.1 and is also working on web-pages in Dreamweaver MX. After these operations are done, a 3D animation is created in a vector graphics format.
Most of the SYSMark 2004 SE tests are CPU-dependent. That’s why the two notebooks are close to each other, having identical CPUs inside. However, the Sony VAIO VGN-FE31HR enjoys a certain advantage due to its larger amount of system memory and a better graphics core. When working on their batteries, the notebooks perform slower due to the CPU frequency drop.
The 2D Creation script simulates a user creating a video out of a few RAW-format fragments and audio tracks in Premier 6.5. Waiting for the operation to complete, the user is also modifying an image in Photoshop 7.01 and then saves it to the hard disk. When the video clip is ready, the user edits it and adds special effects in After Effects 5.5.
It’s like in the previous test: the TravelMate 6463WLMi is ahead when working on the battery because its ATI graphics core isn’t slow in 2D mode and contributes more points to the final score.
The next test simulates the work routines of a professional web-master. The user unzips the content of a website while using Flash MX to open an exported 3D vector graphics clip. Then the user modifies it by including more pictures and optimizes it for faster animation. The resulting clip with special effects is compressed with Windows Media Encoder 9 to be broadcast via the Internet. Next, the website is compiled in Dreamweaver MX while the system is being scanned for viruses with VirusScan 7.0 in the background.
We have the same picture in this test, too. The test is obviously CPU-dependent.
The next script simulates an ordinary user who’s receiving a letter with a .zip attachment in Outlook 2002. While the received files are being scanned for viruses with VirusScan 7.0, the user looks through his e-mail, enters some comments into the Outlook calendar, and then opens a corporate website and some documents with Internet Explorer 6.0.
It is the overall platform performance that is important here. Having similar hardware configurations, the two notebooks get about the same amount of test points each. They don’t slow down much here when they switch to their batteries.
In the Document Creation script the user is editing text in Word 2002 and is also using Dragon NaturallySpeaking to convert an audio file into a text document. This text document is then converted into PDF format with Acrobat 5.0.5. And finally, the document is employed in a PowerPoint 2002 presentation.
When powered from the mains, the tested notebook is somewhat slower due to its somewhat weaker configurations. The results are lower in the battery mode due to the CPU frequency reduction.
The final script from SYSMark 2004 SE includes the following: the user opens a database in Access 2002 and creates a few queries. Documents are archived with WinZip 8.1. The results of the queries are exported into Excel 2002 and are used to construct a diagram.
This test agrees with the results of the previous ones.
The TravelMate 6463WLMi and Sony VAIO VGN-FE31HR are both equipped with discrete graphics cores, ATI Mobility Radeon X1300 и NVIDIA GeForce Go 7400, respectively. We tested them in three versions of 3DMark: 3DMark 2003 3.6.0, 3DMark 2005 1.2.0 and 3DMark 2006 1.0.2.
3DMark uses a set of 3D scenes running on its own engine to load the graphics subsystem in various ways. Compared with the previous version, 3DMark 2005 uses Shader Model 2.0x/3.0 instead of Shader Model 1.x, provides full compatibility with Shader Model 2.0, includes more complex tests (over a million polygons per each frame), and employs normal maps. 3DMark 2006 brings support for HDR, Uniform Shadow Maps, and multi-core CPUs. It is overall oriented at Shader Model 3.0, but two out of its four graphics tests work within the Shader Model 2.0 framework.
The GeForce Go 7400, the most popular mobile graphics solution today, is clearly superior to the ATI Mobility Radeon X1300. When the notebook is disconnected from the electric mains, the X1300 slows down to the level of integrated graphics due to its aggressively set-up PowerPlay technology.
You can also note that the Acer TravelMate 6463WLMi didn’t pass the Shader Particles Test. It is because the ATI Radeon X1000 architecture doesn’t support the vertex texture fetch feature, which is only available on the GeForce 6 and 7 architectures.
Another interesting thing, the CPU tests from 3DMark 2003 and 2005 are not as CPU-dependent as the one in 3DMark06 – this is indicated by the performance hit in the battery mode. The latest version of the benchmark has a “purer” CPU test.
Next, we tested the notebooks in two modes in Quake 3:
And in one mode in Quake 4:
There was no standard demo record in Quake 4, so we had to create one by ourselves. We will use it in every following review of notebooks on our site so that different notebooks could be compared under identical conditions.
The ATI Mobility Radeon X1300 is again slower than its opponent, just as it has been in the 3DMark tests. PowerPlay technology lowers the notebook’s performance fourfold in Quake 4 in the battery mode to ensure a longer battery life.
The final gaming test agrees with the previous ones. The TravelMate 6463WLMi may be used to run 3D games, yet its graphics performance is rather low in comparison with most other notebooks.
The notebook’s battery life was measured with Battery Eater Pro 2.60. The program had a glitch identifying the charge level:
The test was performed at the maximum screen brightness in the following modes:
Two hours and 18 minutes is not quite what we might expect from a notebook with that configuration. Despite all the power-saving techniques, the battery charge gets eaten up very quickly. So, the TravelMate 6463WLMi is likely to be used stationary most of the time.
Here are the battery discharge diagrams for the different operation modes.
The Acer TravelMate 6463WLMi is perhaps the first notebook from Acer we have no serious complaints about. The weak graphical performance when powered by the battery and the short battery life are explained by the product positioning. This notebook is meant to serve as a handy work tool, portable when needed. What is important, it will keep your confidential work-related information as secure from unauthorized access as possible.
Surely, there is no lock that can’t be cracked, but you are going to feel somewhat more confident about the security of your data if you store it on this computer.