The Acer TravelMate 8481G weighs only 1.6kg and is 25mm thick (with the lid closed). It's a 14in laptop with a low-voltage Intel Core i5 CPU, NVIDIA graphics, 4GB of RAM and a 120GB solid state drive. With this type of configuration, business tasks can be completed effortlessly, and that's the prime target market for this laptop as it also includes security features such as a fingerprint reader and a trusted platform module — not to mention it has a price tag of $1999.
With its thin profile, the TravelMate 8481G looks good and it feels comfortable to use in your lap. It doesn't get overly warm when it's being used for everyday tasks such as Web browsing and document creation, but any CPU- or graphics-intensive tasks will warm up the base and cause it to be a little uncomfortable. This is partly because it's almost impossible not to block the vents while using the notebook in your lap. There are two vents (one on either side), and one fan, which can be a little loud at times. As the laptop uses a solid state drive, this fan is the only noise that emanates from the chassis.
In our tests, the TravelMate's Core i5-2467M CPU put up a decent showing, recording 60sec in the Blender 3D rendering test and 1min 09sec in the iTunes MP3 encoding test. It also proved that it can handle file transcoding quite well, recording 1hr 13min in our DVD-to-Xvid conversion. Its NVIDIA GeForce GT 520M graphics adapter recorded a score of 5098 in 3DMark06. In CrystalDiskMark, the solid state drive recorded a sequential read speed of 266 megabytes per second (MBps) and a write speed of 138MBps (see how this drive compares to the super-fast Crucial m4 SSD that we reviewed in August). During general use, the TravelMate felt responsive and was mostly a joy to use.
That said, the low-voltage Core i5 isn't as fast as some Core i3-based laptops we've seen, such as the HP ProBook 5330m, but it's not far off the pace and it offers a good balance between performance and battery life. The TravelMate has a 44 Watt-hour battery and it lasted 3hr 49min in our rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video; this is a good result. (For this test, the notebook used NVIDIA Optimus technology to automatically switch from the NVIDIA graphics adapter to the Intel HD 3000 graphics in the Core i5 CPU.)
The solid state drive sits snugly in shock protection in its 2.5in drive bay, and there are two slots available for RAM (one free).
We like the keyboard overall, which has isolated keys (although they aren't raised), but we think the keys could stand to be a little softer. We found that we had to hit some keys (such as the space bar) a little harder than usual. The touchpad is 92x53mm, which is a comfortable size, but its responsiveness wasn't great when we used multi-finger gestures. Two-finger scrolling often started with a stutter and three-finger flicks were sometimes not recognised.
The 14in screen has decent colour and viewing angles and it won't reflect light sources thanks to its matte finish. Its bezel is very thin, but the screen's 1366x768 resolution doesn't extend all the way out to meet it; instead, you get a black border between the screen and the bezel, which is a little off-putting. It has adequate brightness, but it can be hard to view outdoors on a bright day — like almost all laptops on the market.
The bezel may be thin, but there is still a thick black border around the screen.
Around the edges of its thin base, the TravelMate has four USB ports (one which is USB 3.0 and one which also doubles as an eSATA port), an HDMI port, Gigabit Ethernet (Broadcom NetXtreme), VGA, and headphone and microphone ports. You also get a webcam, Bluetooth, dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi (Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6205) and Wi-Di support.
With these features, a thin profile and a good configuration that feels speedy during everyday use, the TravelMate 8481G is definitely worth considering if you also want something that's easy to carry, good looking and comfortable to use (for the most part). It has almost all the features we look for in business laptops, but we do think it could use a built-in 3G module.
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