* Prices may differ from that shown
Having been looking at the available laptops and being dismayed by the high prices for what are generally low specification machines (when compared to desktops) and also being on an extremely tight budget, I was overjoyed to find this cracking bargain of a laptop. I had been considering going second-hand, but even those machines were going for a lot of money and I didn’t fancy taking the risk of getting a ‘lemon’ as laptops can be expensive to put right if they go wrong, so I opted for a new one. I looked at various brands and narrowed it down to the SONY VAIO FX-101 (£800) and a couple of Compaq models (one with an AMD 550Mhz CPU and the other a Celeron 700Mhz CPU), I discounted the VAIO as although it had a nice 13.3” screen, it never had a floppy drive nor was the CPU upgradeable and only a 600Mhz Celeron. I discounted the Compaq’s as the AMD version (Armada 100s (£735)) only had a 5GB hard-drive and was the same price as the ACER, and the Compaq Celeron 700 version (Armada 110s (£822)) was an identical specification to the ACER (with just the addition of Word 2000 and MS Works), and was over £130 more expensive (the cheapest I could find on the net), or over £200 more expensive in Dixon’s. In the end I ended up paying £726 including VAT, delivery and with an extra 64Mb memory upgrade, which I think was a bargain (the ACER was £687 incl. VAT by itself). The 210 range of laptops are a replacement for the 2xx series, and are a new addition to the ACER line-up (so new in fact, that when I bought mine a couple of weeks ago, it wasn’t on ACER’s website, and they had to send me the specs’ via e-mail). There are many varieties - with more RAM, larger screen and built-in DVD or CDR/RW, but this review is of the cheapest model the 210T. Not having a lot of experience of laptops, I can’t compare it to any manufacturers as perbuild quality, but I certainly have no complaints, the connectors
fit well, the screen closes nicely and it seems pretty solid, but unlike some of the new expensive models it is not a metal case, but plastic. The most important part of the laptop is the screen, and this model comes with a 12.1” TFT version, unlike a lot of other budget models that use the cheaper and inferior DSTN and HPA screens (avoid these like the plague). The optimal resolution is 800x600 at 16bit colour depth, but it will go to 32bit true-colour, (if you select the higher 1024x768 then you have to scroll the screen to see all the desktop), although 800x600 is pretty standard for a 12.1” screen. The brightness and contrast is easy to adjust using key-press combinations on the keyboard, and the picture quality is excellent, very sharp, clear and easy to read, and no refresh problems – which I can easily detect (and I haven’t found any dead pixels either – even though up to 5 is acceptable, apparently). Under the screen are a series of lights, showing disk access, power, battery recharging light, caps-lock and num-lock. One unusual and useful feature (in a budget machine) is that fact that you can not only plug a conventional desktop CRT monitor into this laptop, but run it at the same time as the TFT one, so having two screens for programs that support it or for presentations. The keyboard is a pleasure to use, not too small, very light, but positive and speaking as someone with arthritis who had a USB keyboard already to use, I actually find it very comfortable (and am using it now to write this). The keys are well laid out, and you have all the normal Windows and F keys plus an extra FN key to allow you to use extra features, as some keys that normally have their own on a desktop are doubled up here to save space (around 85 keys compared to 102 on a desktop), such as num-lock and the number pad as well as a few new ones for screen controls,sleep etc. In fact the only complaint I have, is the fact that th
e insert key (to toggle overwrite/insert in a word processor) is placed right next to the delete key and it is very easy to press without realising it, and all or a sudden instead of inserting text you are over writing it. Just in front of the keyboard is an in-built touch pad for controlling the mouse pointer which is tricky to use at first (if your not used to them) and very sensitive, but soon becomes easier with practice, there are also two mouse buttons and very surprisingly on a budget machine a mouse scroll wheel which makes scrolling pages in word or on the net a pleasure. The supplied memory is a 64Mb PC100 DIMM, that occupies one of the two available memory slots, this is nowhere near enough as 8Mb of it is used by the graphics chip, and this only leaves 56Mb available for Windows and applications and Win ME needs at least 64Mb ideally, and with only this amount, use of the laptop is painful to say the least (especially if you are used to 256Mb in a desktop). Luckily memory is cheap for this laptop and I bought an extra 64Mb updgrade for only £25 (a lot of laptops need RAM specially for the particular brand and it can be very expensive), and it was a breeze to install, just open the flap, slot it in, push down and close the flap – that’s it. As there are only two memory slots available and one is filled when you buy it, to use it’s full compliment of 512Mb would require 2x 256Mb DIMMS and the others would have to be discarded. The screen is driven by a Trident Cyberblade Ai1 AGPx2 3D integrated graphics chip, that uses 8Mb of system RAM (not ideal, but they all do it in the budget/mid range), it is perfectly fine for normal Windows use, running applications (office etc), surfing the net and playing a few games as long as you don’t expect to run graphics intensive stuff (like Half-life, Black & White etc) or play on-line. I have it running with Icewind Dale and Championship Manager and Civilization 2 an
d it copes without problems (I don’t like arcade games anyway). The sound is supplied though an AC97’ integrated sound chip that is SoundBlaster compatible and comes through a couple of small speakers under the screen, it is more than adequate for normal use and games, but additional external speakers can be connected if required. Storage is accounted for, by a 10Gb capacity hard-drive, which is more than adequate for most things that a laptop will be used for and is quite quiet, a built in 24x CD-ROM (which can be changed for a DVD-ROM drive) and built in floppy disk drive, and this is all you really need. Connection to the Internet is via an in-built 56k soft modem, which is disappointing, as I have found connection speeds to be around 10kps lower than my desktop on the same phone-line. Luckily 56K PCMCIA modems are available fairly cheaply and I shall probably change to one of these in the near future. The battery life, is a very reasonable 150 minutes from the supplied Ni-Mh battery, and compares well to others (like the VAIO mentioned above which only has 90 minutes), there are also quite a few user configurable power saving measures to help conserve the battery life. It takes 2 hours to fully charge a flat battery if the laptop is not being used or 5 hours if using the laptop at the time. The supplied AC adaptor comes in two parts – the first part from the laptop to the step-down converter (to allow worldwide use) is about six feet and the power cord is about six feet so there is ample length, to use the laptop abroad would require a new power cord with the correct plug for the country in which it is to be used. The software is supplied as recovery disks rather than a Windows ME disk and is made for this machine only (Microsoft’s new directive), but comes on two CD’s and allows a complete rebuild back to factory settings if required. The warranty is the normal 1 year return
-to-base, but it does have worldwide coverage and can be extended by an extra 2 years for £116 incl. VAT with the purchase of a warranty pack from ACER. The quoted turn-around for repairs is 5 days, which isn’t too bad. There are all the connections that you would need (see below) and the single PCMCIA slot is a combined Type II/III variety that is 32bit PCCardbus compliant (the latest type). Specifications checklist: 12.1” TFT screen 700Mhz Mobile Celeron CPU 10Gb Hard-drive 64Mb PC100 RAM (upgradable to 512Mb maximum) 56k Modem 24x CD-ROM drive 1.44Mb Floppy drive 8Mb Cyberlink AGPx2 3D Graphics (using shared system RAM) Resolution 800x600 SVGA using up-to 32bit true-colour Dual monitor support 150 minutes battery life (Ni-Mh type) (2 hour rapid charge/5 hour in-use charge) 16bit Soundblaster compatible AC’97 sound with wavetable synthesizer Dual speakers and microphone Built-in touchpad with 2 buttons and scroll wheel Weight - 2.8Kg (6.2Ibs) with battery and CD-ROM drive Auto-sensing worldwide use power supply 4 user definable keys, for launching applications Supplied with Windows ME and PC-Cillin anti-virus software Connections: 1x Type II/III PCMCIA slot (32bit PCCardBus compliant) 2x USB ports 1x Parallel port (ECP/EPP) 1x 9-pin RS-232 serial port 1x External monitor port 1x PS/2 keyboard/mouse port (a Y connector is needed to use both at the same time) 1x Speaker/headphone jack 1x RJ-11 phone jack 1x Audio line-in jack 1x microphone-in-jack Overall I am very impressed by this machine, it does have a few very minor quibbles, but nothing serious nor insurmountable, and to be honest, at this price I could forgive a hell of a lot more. It really is excellent value for money, and I would certainly buy another one. ***One thing to remember, ACER put an RRP of £599 + VAT on
it, so don’t pay any more (I have seen going for £799 + VAT)*** ***Now replaced by the 212T that is identical apart from a Celeron 800Mhz CPU***
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