Acer Ferrari 1000

Screaming performance is what you think of when you hear the name Ferrari. What do you hear when you mention Acer as a computer brand though?

It’s not often that we get to test drive a ‘Ferrari’ here at TechCast Network. In fact it’s never happened before, so I’m happy to tell you that I’ve spent the last two weeks with the Acer Ferrari 1000.

Along with all the pens, caps, shirts, jackets, badges, napkins, sweets, key-rings and other accessories that you will find for the Ferrari brand, you can now complete your collection with a Ferrari laptop.

Laptops that are based or associated with fast exotic cars all started right here at Acer when they released the Ferrari branded Acer laptop a few years ago. The latest rendition continues the trend with a 12.1-inch ultra-portable line. Now typically in supercars, paying more for less is the accepted standard but you’ll be glad to know that this isn’t the case with the Acer Ferrari. Built with a carbon fibre chassis (real carbon fibre not just painted on like some others do) and performance hardware, Acer have managed to build a fast ultra-portable that is heavy on features but lightweight enough for you to carry with you.

Under the hood

At the heart of this machine lies an AMD Turion X2 TL-60 Mobile processor, 2GB of DDR2 667MHz RAM and a 160GB hard drive. Although Intel currently holds the performance crown for mobile chips, AMD wins its position in this notebook since they are one of the official sponsors of Ferrari, likewise with ATi. Graphics is offered up with the Radeon Xpress 1150 integrated chip, scaleable to 512MB of shared RAM and most importantly of all it is fully Vista-eye-candy ready.

Expect the full complement of wireless technologies to be present in the Acer Ferrari with Bluetooth, WiFi and our old friend Infrared. With a little bit of research I did find that specifications that listed this machine doesn’t mention anything about 802.11n compatibility, however for some reason the review unit I received did have it included and since I have the Belkin N1 wireless modem/router, it was able to connect at over 250Mb/s. This was a nice surprise since the range of the new 802.11n standard (not yet finalised) has a claimed 400 metre range and up to 300Mb/s transfer rate.

Storage comes in the form of a SATA drive with a colossal 160GB capacity. The largest I’ve seen in any laptop before, let alone an ultra-portable and certainly puts the paltry 80GB in my 15-inch Mac to shame. Fast performance from this 5400RPM drive as well as the aforementioned size is definitely bonus points for the Ferrari 1000.

A 5-in-1 card reader can be found on the front of the speaker grille, which will accept the most common formats of today (SD, MMC, XD, Memory Stick/Pro). This will allow easy and convenient file transfer for digital cameras and portable devices that take these cards such as mobile phones and PDAs.


A 1.3 Mega pixel camera that rotates 360 degrees allows you to both video conference or shoot your own videos and snapshots. I found the camera to be very disappointing in low light conditions with lag issues whenever something moves in front of the camera. Pictures also looked quite dark as well and combining that with the performance issues I think this is more of an after thought rather than something that Acer or Ferrari really wanted to do well. To be honest with you I wish they would have put a better camera in there or just not put one in there to start of with.

Design

The famous prancing horse logo that symbolises Ferrari represents everything to do with style, design, perfection and performance. Well I can say that they got the design and style right as this notebook sets a new standard and most importantly of all, sets it apart from its competitors.

With the hi-tec and highly gorgeous carbon fibre chassis, this laptop really does shout, “Look at me!” It has the design that turns heads when a passer by catches a glimpse in the corner of their eye and sees what a marvel this piece of machinery is. The striking red trim that surrounds the edge is in a Ferrari-red and slim line chassis makes the design very ‘butch’ and very appealing.

At 1.36 inches, this isn’t the ‘Paris Hilton’ of notebooks but it’s no ‘Kelly Osbourne’ either. The overall footprint and weight of the Ferrari 1000 is compact and lightweight enough for you to carry in a backpack and still have room left over for extra gadgets.

Brilliant engineering also backs the brilliant design. Acer tests their notebooks using a 13-torture-step process where systems are pressed, twisted, jarred and jolted in ways that can be described as criminal. Even the keyboard keys are tapped 8 million times to see if they break, LCD panels are sat on and of course, our worst nightmare, when you drop the laptop or the one where you spill your drink over the keyboard. These are just some of the 13 rigorous steps that Acer takes to test their products.

Knowing that they’ve tested this for 25,000 hours of normal operational use and opened and closed the lid 20,000 times gives you a little peace of mind.

Opening up the Ferrari 1000 for the first time and you’re greeted with a nicely laid out interior with a few designer extras. The mouse pad buttons are metallic and engraved with the model name and number and have a nice curved stainless steel look. This design kind of stumped me a little because it was clearly put in as a cosmetic addition and designed to look good as opposed to working well. You would think the whole button can be pushed but in fact the buttons can only be pushed in the lower parts of it. If you try to hit it in the centre you won’t get any feedback. This takes some getting used to and personally I think it’s a worthy sacrifice since the finish is so good.

The buttons that surround the top left and right edges of the keyboard will remind us all of the Motorola Razr mobile phones with the ‘Star Trek’-esque styling. The metal finish and orange illumination when pressed is enough of a delight to the eye that I sometimes pressed them not for its function but purely for the aesthetic joy that it brought to me. From the get go, the Acer Ferrari 1000 laptops have always been about form over function. It’s about the user experience and the twinkle in ones eye when they use it and getting the small things right can make all the difference.

Performance

The unit came shipped with Windows XP Professional, which is a bit unfortunate now that Vista is in its full stride, I was expecting this to be Vista pre-installed. Anyone who is going to buy one of these will have to pay for the Vista upgrade and that can vary in price since the discounted offer expired at the end of March. As an XP machine however, the Ferrari test drive went very well.

General Office productivity with Office 2007 worked very well with 1MB documents opening near instantly. As a business machine, the Ferrari 1000 is more than capable of handling these tasks and more with its dual core X2 processor. The only areas where this machine perhaps lacked is in the graphics arena, but this is definitely not something that ultra-portables even try to attempt to compete in. The Xpress 1150 chip isn’t exactly a powerhouse and neither is the 512MB of shared RAM that it gobbles up. Perhaps my expectations were set a bit too high when I read the name Ferrari on the box as the only area that is ‘sluggish’ on this unit is the graphics. However taking in to account the category that this notebook fits in to, this can be excused.

Processing performance is on par with the likes of the Intel Core Duo 2500, which holds true to its nippy and responsive feel. Using this machine for my review writing, photo editing/management and video playback in a multi-tasking environment delivered the ‘Ferrari’ experience where applications didn’t struggle to work with and alongside each other. Praise goes to the X2 processor for this but I am also certain the 2GB of DDR2 RAM will have helped tremendously, preventing the need to swap data to and from the hard drive.

In my iTunes performance benchmark, I was able to rip an 80 minute album in about 6 minutes, which is perhaps limited by the optical drive read speed rather than RAM and CPU speed. With this machine you are limited in performance not by the physical speed of the hardware but by the screen size. At 12.1-inches with a 1280 x 800 resolution, it doesn’t leave much room for playing with. You run out of room with the applications you want in the foreground quicker than you can load them so rarely do you ever get to tax this system when running your day to day applications (iTunes, Windows Live Messenger, Outlook 2007, Word 2007, Firefox).

Shipping with the Ferrari are two different sized batteries. One that fits in with the shape and style of the notebook but offers less operating time, and another that sticks out a bit at the back but extends the operating time. The smaller 3-cell battery managed to last 70 minutes in a general productivity test with the WiFi switched on and the screen on full brightness. This test consisted mostly the use of text based applications such as web browsers, email clients and instant messaging apps. The larger 6-cell battery managed to achieve 4 hours of use with the same test. There’s nothing scientific about the tests I’ve done but it gives you a rough idea of what to expect, should you decide to buy one.

The 12.2-inch glossy display performs brilliantly when viewing images and video and makes it a fantastic portable media player for when you’re on the go. With really high contrasts, rich colours and vibrant blacks, the display is gorgeous and makes me wish I had one for my MacBook Pro. When using the Acer Ferrari in outdoor conditions, unfortunately I experienced a lot of glare and reflection, but this seems to be the case with most laptop displays until the newer SED-lit displays become more mainstream.

If you’re buying this laptop because you think it has Ferrari F1 lightning fast performance then you will need to reconsider because although this notebook does pack a punch and throw a few surprises here and there, there are faster performing laptops out there so don’t be fooled by the branding.

Accessories

Included in the package are the matching styled external dual layer DVD burner and Bluetooth Mouse as well as carrying bags for the notebook and accessories. A Bluetooth VOIP phone is included that slots straight in to the PC card slot, which although is slightly gimmicky could offer VOIP users on the go with a handy alternative to carrying a separate handset with them.

The external DVD drive plugs in via FireWire and is port-powered so no need to carry with you an extra power adapter, not to mention the mess it would have created. The slot-loading DVD writer drive connects to the Ferrari using a full size Firewire adapter cable and is powered from the same source as well, no need for an extra power adapter. The design of the optical drive is decked out in a similar fashion to the main unit with the same materials and same red stripes travelling down the sides.

A Bluetooth optical mouse is powered by a couple of AA batteries. Likewise with the optical drive it is designed with the Ferrari emblem, Ferrari-red trim and the same material. The inclusion of these accessories in the package is great and the fact that they’ve also had a splash of Ferrari design make over done to them also helps reinforce the designer aspects of the notebook. When you have all of it set up and connected together on your desk it really does look the part and that perhaps wouldn’t happen so easily if you were to add your own mouse or optical drive to it and it would have been very easy for Acer to have included generic accessories rather than have the branding applied to it as well.

To top it all of, unlike any other manufacturer on the market today you also get a nice bag to go with it all. You get three bags, one for the notebook, mouse and optical drive however you can’t fit the two peripherals in the main unit, which makes it a bit cumbersome to carry with you. I believe the idea is that you keep it in this bag, which is then put in to another bag with the rest of your stuff. Considering you don’t get anything like this with other laptops it’s a nice addition to find inside the box.

Value

Tapping this model in to Froogle showed results ranging from £1230 to £1300 and this is encroaching on Sony Vaio and Samsung territory who have enjoyed a lot of success and popularity in this arena. A quick search found a 13.3-inch Vaio with a Core 2 Duo 1.83GHz, 2GB RAM, 100GB HDD, Vista Business, GeForce Go 7400, integrated DVDRW and built in web cam all for £1118 at PCWorld. It’s not got as bold a design choice as the Acer Ferrari, but we all know how delicious some of the Vaio laptops are. There’s no mouse included in the package but at a price less than the Acer Ferrari that is a shade heavier and at 1.4-inches thin but also includes a built in optical drive, you really do start to see why it’s not the most ‘sensible’ choice.

Who is this for?

What it really boils down to is whether you enjoy form over function, because to be perfectly honest if I was going to spend ‘Ferrari’ money on a laptop, it would most likely have a Core 2 Duo inside and a built in optical drive (and probably has a logo that resembles an eaten Apple). The Ferrari symbolises the cat walk, the luxurious design. It’s a fashion statement that exudes charm and is a product that you would expect to find Ferrari owners using or the Ferrari-envious of us having, just so that we can have a piece of that lifestyle.

Without the Acer Ferrari it would remove that privilege and who has any right to deny one the exulting emotions of owning a piece of that ‘Ferrari’ experience. This notebook is for the style conscious amongst us whether you own a Ferrari or not this could be the closest you ever get to owning a piece of that scrumptious pie.

Would I buy one?

The Acer Ferrari 1000 wears the prancing stallion with pride and has earned its place as one of the top ultra portable laptops on the market today. One thing you must understand about the Ferrari 1000 is that this notebook isn’t all about performance, it’s not even about competing with the other ultra portables on the market since its shortcomings are similar to that of a real Ferrari in that mileage isn’t its main selling point. The poor battery life by today’s standards and for that of an ultra-portable means that the Ferrari 1000 doesn’t win any awards for being a stamina machine. What it does win an award in is the fact that it offers a premium user experience each and every time you power up this notebook you get a satisfied feeling inside that is unlike anything you feel with most Windows based laptops. It’s one that reminds me of the emotion that is invoked in the often-written-about Apple line of products.

The classy design shouts elegance and performance. From the lightweight yet beautiful carbon fibre exterior to the striking red lines that run around the edges of this notebook, it’s for certain that the Acer and Ferrari designers have gone to town on this one and splashed out on the trimmings because when you open this one up, it’s beautiful on the inside as well. With the designer mouse buttons and the sophisticated power and shortcut keys that glow when pressed it’s hard not to be delighted by what you see.

There’s plenty of eye candy to indulge in on this laptop and the user experience has been customised both on the hardware and software. When you reach the log on screen the start up sound is an unexpected F1 car rushing by. The desktop wallpaper consists of a Ferrari calendar that automatically changes each month with a new image. That is about as far as the Ferrari customisation goes and I’m glad that is the case because if they started to make the menus and windows look Ferrari-red and splash the Ferrari badge everywhere I’d probably never get any work done on it.

Expect the best quality build from this notebook and you won’t be disappointed. There is a real sense of achievement that is reflected from the design as Acer proudly wears the Ferrari badge and makes some bold design statements with the latest version of the Acer Ferrari notebook. A notebook that was designed for the ones that wanted the best in style.

2007-04-05 Onwah Tsang

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