I was hoping to have this up on ActiveWin much earlier, but I don’t know what’s happening. Also, I want you to read this review before its too old. My apologies to AMD and Microsoft (Windows Vista) and especially the readers for taking so long. I will have the benchmarks up by the end of the week.
In late December 2006 Acer Inc and Windows Vista (Microsoft) delivered review units to a group of 90 bloggers from the Windows Communities requesting their thoughts on the system and the new operating system in particular. I was fortunate to be a recipient of one of these units, an Acer Ferrari 5000 laptop. Of course, I did not receive my review unit as quickly as other’s did since DHL had problems getting clearance on the machine at the AirPort because of the cost, US $5,000. Because shipments over US $3,000 in Jamaica are considered to be Business shipments, a 2% customs duty needs to be paid on such items. Of course, all of that was taken care of, but some how, the laptop still had problems getting delivered to me. Just to prove how difficult, the laptop was shipped to Jamaica on December 29th, and had clearance problems from then on and was not cleared for delivery until (January 15, 2007). DHL, please do a better job next time, and follow the instructions on the AirWay Bill instead of looking at the cost of the product, and tell your employee’s to mind their own business; they are hired to deliver, not to wonder why I don’t have to pay any duty.
You might wonder why it took me so long to deliver this review to you. I honestly wanted to review this product and spending a fair amount of time with it was the best way to provide the genuine real world scenarios I was able to put it through. If you think its outdated, yeah right, that’s just your opinion. Anyway, it’s finally here, so let’s get into the nitty-gritty.
Unpacking the Ferrari 5000 is very straight-forward, just open the box and pull it out, remove the protective Styrofoam handles. After looking at images of the laptop on the web I am surprised to note how thin and light it is in person not to mention attractive. I opened it, hit the power button and it booted it up, the BIOS screen displays a Formula One Ferrari racing car then begins loading the OS. It’s nice to see something different for a change instead of the standard boring OEM logo or BIOS manufacturer logo. The laptop comes pre-loaded with the new Windows Vista, I’ll talk more about that a little later.
AMD Turion X2 2.0 GHz Dual Core processor (64-Bit)
160 GB Serial ATA Drive
2 GB of DDR2 667 MHz memory upgradable to 4 GB using two soDIMM modules.
ATI Mobility Radeon Rage X1600 Graphics (256 MB)
15inch Wide Screen Display
DVD + RW Dual Layer drive (Slot loading)
Wireless Bluetooth Mouse with rechargeable batteries
Windows Vista Ultimate x64 Edition
Office 2007 Enterprise Edition
With specs like the above you would not expect any sort of negative comments about it, and to be honest, there isn’t really much you can say that’s really bad. The laptop includes other notable features such as a built in 1.3 mega pixel web cam, which adds more functionality to mobility on the go. Although I notice that you can take pictures and record video similar to Apple’s Photo Booth, the quality of the picture and video is nothing to rave about, but what would you expect with 1.3 mega pixels. There also seems to be a minor lag or delay when using the software, the real time feeling is just not there really. The slot loading DVD is very nice, on Apples professional laptop systems such as the PowerBook and MacBook Pro, I have always been hesitant about it because you have to wonder if it scratches the disc when loading and ejecting. It’s just not the case, but after loading a DVD movie I notice the drive made quite a lot of noise compared to tray based drives on other laptop systems.
The Acer OrbiCam is a 1.3 megapixel CMOS camera mounted on top of the LCD panel. The camera’s 225-degree ergonomic rotation allows you to capture photos or videos up front or at the back of the LCD panel.
I definitely love the 15 inch wide screen display, which features a glossy texture that makes graphics and text much richer and crisper on screen. Watching movies is a treat since the screens aspect ratio makes it perfect for those new hi definition and letter box size movies. The screens resolution though made it difficult to read the text since its smaller, I was able to resolve this by pushing up the DPI scaling of fonts under Vista’s Personalization from 96 DPI to 120 DPI. One thing though certain text and images became a bit jaggy but was a insignificant trade off for a better experience and makes it easier on the eyes during long usage.
The 160 GB drive is just enormous for a laptop and provides ample space for storing music, pictures and home movies. Although a considerable amount of the drive space was used for the bundled software such as Vista, Office and additional software from Acer it barely scratched the surface. The system also comes with 2 GBs of RAM which is just perfect for Windows Vista and works in accordance with the fast dual core 2.0 GHz X2 64-bit processor from AMD. I have to say though after logging in, Vista x64 takes a small amount of time to load up everything, while launching programs I can still see the Notification Area loading icons about minute after the system was started up. It’s almost as if Vista it self is just not fully optimized for it. But once everything is ready, it’s good to go, programs launch in 2 to 3 seconds and Explorer windows pop open faster than toast bread from a toaster.
ATI Mobility Radeon Rage X1600 Graphics (256 MB)
I will admit, I am not a gamer, except for playing the occasional built in games that come with Windows. Some noticeable features of the X1600 include GDDR3 memory for enhanced gaming performance, and full Direct X® 9 Shader Model 3.0 support enabling richer and smooth effects throughout the Vista interface. I noticed a major difference with Windows Vista though on the Ferrari 5000, effects such as Flip 3D show more fluidity and speed, dragging windows also feel more responsive with less effort compared to my other desktop system at home running Vista x86.
Here are some additional information I extracted from the AMD webpage about it:
High Definition Experience in Notebook Performance
With ATI’s groundbreaking Mobility™ Radeon™ X1600, discover a new world of high-definition visual entertainment on your ‘performance thin’ notebook PC. The Mobility™ Radeon™ X1600 is one of the most powerful mobile GPUs offered by ATI, featuring ultra high performance PCI Express graphics powered by a radically new and efficient 3D architecture. Experience DVD movies, internet video and digital photography, enhanced with ATI’s revolutionary new Avivo™ video and display technology, and transform your notebook into a home theater-quality mobile entertainment system. Mobility Radeon X1600 is the optimum solution for high resolution widescreen panel notebooks
High Performance Mobile Graphics
Step up to high-definition graphics for movie-quality effects with any OpenGL® and DirectX® 9 game title. Experience lifelike 3D characters and scenes with full Shader Model 3.0 support, and enjoy adaptive anti-aliasing and high dynamic range (HDR) rendering for enhanced realism and eye-popping effects. Mobility™ Radeon™ X1600’s 90-nanometer process GPU and advanced 3D processing architecture deliver supercharged performance, through its unique ultra-threaded operation and ATI’s new Ring-Bus memory controller with up to a 128-bit memory interface. The x16-lane PCI Express bus interface drives data through 12 pixel shader pipelines and 5 vertex processors, and the most texture-rich images and games benefit from lightning-fast GDDR3 memory.
High Quality Mobile Entertainment
Enjoy high-definition video entertainment with ATI’s revolutionary new Avivo™ technology. Avivo™ redefines the Ultimate Visual Experience™ for today’s PCs, delivering the most vibrant colors, ultra sharp images, and the smoothest HD video playback ever offered by ATI. Connect your notebook with your home entertainment devices and enjoy high image quality from the embedded Consumer Electronics class TV encoder. Drive the latest external displays at the highest resolutions with the new 10-bit display controller providing incomparable image quality. With advanced 3D comb filtering and high quality video playback, Mobility™ Radeon™ X1600 delivers video quality that enables your notebook to deliver superior entertainment experience.
Longer-Lasting Battery Life
Go longer with ATI’s PowerPlay™ 6.0 technology, maximizing battery life for an extended on-the-move visual experience. Deliver a video-rich multimedia presentation, play the hottest game at the highest settings, or enjoy extended battery life when watching your favorite movie. Mobility™ Radeon™ X1600’s power management technology monitors user demands and machine capabilities to maximize battery life. Mobility™ Radeon™ X1600 handles today’s graphics-intensive 3D games and HD content with plenty of power for the applications of tomorrow.
The laptops speakers are situated at the front of the drive which makes the sound echo towards the listener, this result’s in higher quality output and clarity when listening to music or dialogue in movies. Also on the front are various jacks for plugging in external speakers, Microphones, headsets and devices such as a CD player or Walkman. You can also find an IEEE1394 (Firewire) port and a 5-in-1 card reader. On each side are two USB 2.0 ports which make it very convenient to plug additional devices such as a USB thumb drive and external drive. On my Dell c840 I always had to stretch to the back to plug in a device, and in the process close down the lid or sometimes move the laptop just to plug it in properly. The included Ferrari Bluetooth mouse was easily added through the My Bluetooth Devices applet wizard. Initially I had to insert the batteries then plug it in and charge it first before it was detected. Still, the mouse feels a bit heavy almost on the brick side. Another thing, I notice there are some issues with the mouse waking from sleep when Vista resumes from hibernation regardless Bluetooth is still on, I have to use the laptops touchpad to log in and get the Bluetooth mouse active again. The Ferrari’s touch pad itself feels a bit sticky, I don’t know if it’s as a result of being new, but fingers don’t feel a smoothness I experience on other laptop touchpad’s.
The Ferrari overall design is just aesthetically pleasing and is a pleasure to carry around especially for its size, moving from the living room to the veranda with it is not a chore. On the laptops lid is the Ferrari trademarked logo (prancing horse) in all its glory, with both sides of the laptop featuring red accents that compliments the Ferrari’s popular colour. I loved the fact that it was not drowned in the colour red, since walking in public with such a laptop would bring too much attention, which is not a bad thing but becomes a target for unscrupulous individuals, subtle but awesomely sleek.
Windows Vista Ultimate x64
As previously noted, the laptop comes preloaded with the latest version of Windows, 64-bit platform too. Vista has been in development for the past four to five years, it features vast improvements to the desktop including a graphically rich interface called Windows AERO, Instant Search capabilities, enhanced Security, Multimedia, 64-bit computing, improved deployment and tighter integration with the Web through new features such as Sidebar Gadgets and Really Simple Syndication (RSS). Windows Vista also include new under the hood features such as Windows Presentation and Communication Foundations and the .NET Framework 3 for creating powerful, connected and secure applications.
Impressive is what best describes this laptop since the market seems to be mostly flooded with under powered mobile systems. The reason why I say this is based on experiences of my own, I have been running Vista x64 on a Generic AMD system with 512 MBs of RAM, 128 MBs of video graphics and the performance is just horrible. From installation, to booting to reaching the desktop is really a lackluster adventure. As I have noted in my ActiveWin Windows Vista RTM review, to really run Vista x64 at an acceptable and desirable rate means you should have the appropriate hardware and that’s what this system offers. Although, I still feel a pinch of grogginess its nothing that compares to my other systems and makes using the OS each day a great experience. It’s possible that the grogginess is attributed to Windows Vista’s new indexing engine, so I might see the performance improve and stabilize over time once all files are indexed.
Since the RTM release of Vista, Microsoft has gone beyond the box to provide additional feature functionality to licensed customers of the Ultimate Edition. Dreamscene which is a looped based desktop background using either nature based or abstract scenes. While still a preview Dreamscene does have some small glitches I have been experiencing since I installed it. For instance, when playing audio I notice some small glitches like skips in the song and feedback, the song will give an echo like feed back. I can confirm the audio glitches on another system running Vista also, so it’s definitely not a hardware issue. Dreamscene can use either the .dream or MPEG format, which means so you can create your own recurring moments. It’s a nice addition to the user experience and adds some pizzazz to the desktop for persons who find stationary desktop pictures boring.
Bitlocker Drive Encryption
Used to encrypt the OS volume, Bitlocker requires a cryptographic hardware chip based on the Trusted Platform 1.2 or later module. Unfortunately, this is not supported by the Ferrari. Trusted Platform Module facilitates the secure generation of cryptographic keys, the abilities to limit the use of keys (to either signing / verification or encryption / decryption). Fortunately, systems that do not support TPM can use a USB thumb drive that contains a start up key into the computer to be able to boot the protected OS. Note that this mode requires that the BIOS on the protected machine support the reading of USB devices in the pre-OS environment. Bitlocker to me is more of a feature for persons working in organizations that are concerned about employees travelling with sensitive systems on laptops and for those who simply suffer from a bit of paranoia.
Read the entire ActiveWin Windows Vista review here
The keyboard features an almost ergonomic layout which conforms to your hands natural adjustment when typing. But I still need to get accustomed to the layout out of the keys since they are arranged differently and are much smaller in comparison to those on my Dell c840. Also available are quick access button’s to Acer’s support site, e-mail and the web.
Graphics is no question here; I notice the system displays the Vista Slide Show themes effortlessly when I ran it from the Pictures folder or Photo Gallery. Before this was possible though I had to re-run the Windows Experience Index assessment tool to get a better rating it was 2.8 initially, but was upgraded to 4.8 after re-running WEI. All devices work just fine under Windows Vista x64, well, the built in devices that came with the system do, the built in Wi-Fi works very well too, I was in the New York City for the Vista Launch Event and I was able to hop on to different wireless networks with great ease. The new Connect To window makes it easy to choose different types of network connections. Features include, signal strength and security (WEP/WPA). Vista x64 seems to have some issues with the VOIP PCI card software but was easily resolved by repairing the installation. (Thanks to Ryan Hoffman of Extended64 for the tip).
Not pleasing, this thing eats battery power like its going out of style. I recently downloaded a Vista Battery Gadget and its hard not to notice how quickly the percentage goes down. There are a combination of things that are causing battery life to be so horrible, this includes Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, I try to turn them off when they are not needed. But it doesn’t make any significant improvement, so the likely other suspect’s has to be the graphics and processor in the system. The AMD Turion X2 64-Bit 2.0 GHz processor runs very hot and some of that energy also eats battery power, so I have to be honest and say, it’s definitely not an energy efficient system and takes away from most of its mobility capabilities. I have seen better battery life on my brother’s Dell 640m with Intel Core Duo processors. Somehow this has brought me to the conclusion that the AMD Turion itself is not a definite mobile processor, but more likely one based on AMD’s desktop product forced into a laptop system.
Vista x64 itself is remarkably more secure than its x86 counterpart offering advances to the Windows Kernel such as Kernel Patch Protection which basically provides a protective shield around the Windows Kernel that prevents certain individuals from simply patching it, whether it’s to optimize third party applications or for unknown malicious purposes. Kernel patching was not something consented by Microsoft in the first place, in which case, they saw the 64-bit release of Vista as an opportunity to start a clean slate and educate both developers and users about the negatives of doing this in the first place. But this has affected certain Security vendors such as MacAfee (which is still unsatisfied) and Symantec, which have since worked out an agreement with Microsoft to get controlled access to the Windows Kernel. Unlike Windows Vista x64, Vista x86’s kernel remains patchable. So for persons who want a really, really, secure and powerful version of Windows, Vista definitely has something to offer with its 64-bit release. In conjunction with other security enhancements and additions such IE 7’s ActiveX Opt-In, Phishing Filter, Protected Mode and components such as User Account Control and Windows Defender, Vista aims to lessen the concentration on Security required of previous versions of Windows.
Antivirus is still important regardless of all these security improvements, and the Ferrari includes eTrust Antivirus 64-bit version 7.2.192 which works flawlessly with Vista x64, its one of the first things I updated after the Security Center notification area icon indicated it was out of date. Now my Security Center is all green and pretty which is a good sign that you are fully protected.
To learn more about Windows Vista, check out ActiveWin’s RTM Review here
Office 2007 Enterprise
This new version is Microsoft’s most radical departure in years, interface wise and offers new features and familiar tools that are sure to have users mesmerized and perplexed at times. Microsoft has made a concerted effort to ensure that documents are better looking. The toolbar approach has now been replaced in core Office apps with what is now known as Office Fluent, a collection of Tabs and Groups that make up the interface, consisting of features once hidden under drop down menus and dialogs. Office 2007 is all about taking it to a whole new level in terms of interaction with the core applications and new ways of managing files created with the suite. Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access and the Outlook 2007 New Item window all feature the Office Fluent user interface. This change promises to deliver on that dream of making access to the tools you use the most in your Office applications not just easier, but with more relevance to the entire user experience and task at hand.
The Office Fluent is a bold new look that is both familiar and overwhelming at first. Gone are drop down menus such as Edit, View, now replaced by Tabs called Home, Insert, Page Layout, References, Mailings, Review and View and others respective to the application tool set. There is actually one drop down menu left, it’s the good old File menu, but even that has had a major overhaul represented by a pearl like Office logo. The Office Fluent in the core applications is a bold step forward, but its necessary, 1,500 commands and a plethora of toolbars have pushed the antiquated interface to the limit and it’s just a matter of time until the Office team makes the Office Fluent standard across the entire modules in the Office System. Still, after using Office 2007 from Beta 1 to the RTM, I find it sometimes a bit complex finding a command at times, I have to go to the Office website and use the where was that feature tutorial to find it in the new version.
How reliable is the suite? Since version 2003 Microsoft has really stepped up to the plate when it comes to reliability, the tradition continues with the 2007 release, since BETA 2 I have had minimal trouble maintaining the suite, except for cases where it was specific to it being BETA software, majority of those issues have been resolved. Just in case something goes awry you can run the new Microsoft Office Diagnostics, which replaces Detect and Repair. Other Office tools such as Document Imaging, Scanning, Language settings, Clip Organizer and Office Picture Manager are virtually unchanged. The performance of Office 2007 is great, applications launch and close quickly especially Outlook, they don’t get stuck in memory like they use to when exited.
The suite functions flawlessly on the new Windows Vista x64, all applications except for some Server applications are still 32 bit. I was personally anticipating a 64-Bit Outlook to accompany the 64-bit release of Exchange Server 2007 which I assume would offer performance improvements lacking in current versions of the product. Grammar and Spell checking continues to be a hurdle, my Beta 1 preview was heavily criticized for its poor grammar because I depended on Word to do both my spell checking and grammar. Even in the final version the issue remains, I hope the next release focuses heavily on improvements to this area and not just Roles and Web based experiences. I also notice at times, Word will just switch from English Caribbean to English US; regardless my Local is set to Jamaica and English Caribbean in both Regional Settings in Windows and Office Language settings.
Back up and migration of Office settings remains a missing mystery, since Office XP, the Office Files Save My Settings Wizard helped users move over personalized settings and Dictionaries to later versions or additional installation’s of Office you might have on another PC, this is nowhere to be found in Office 2007, ‘bummer’.
To learn more about Office 2007, check out ActiveWin’s RTM review here
Accessories in the Box
I am going to be honest here, the Ferrari 5000, while amazing, does not show off the full potential of Vista and for a laptop that cost US $5,000, I would at least expect some advanced capabilities that are unique to Vista (Ultimate in particular) such as Tablet PC and Windows Sideshow. Still, for that individual who wants a desktop replacement with the addition of mobility, the Acer is a perfect choice. Apart from those missing hits that would put this system over the top, the Acer does have its unique capabilities that adds value to the Vista experience such as the Orbi Web Cam which makes mobile video conferencing a reality, also the VOIP PCI card introduces one of today’s hottest technologies that makes PC to PC and PC to Phone calls an easy one. The performance is still something to be a bit concerned about, especially with the components, the WEI indexed rating of 4.8 has left me a bit perplexed.
Thanks again to Acer and Microsoft
So, what are you running Vista on, and what has been your performance experience?
Ease of Use: 90%
Web Cam Picture and Video Quality: 70%