Notebook PC for 'mobile' hotshots

Anand Parthasarathy tries out the new AcerMate 600.

ACER, THE world's number 3 PC maker has just introduced a high end notebook PC in the Indian market, aimed at executives who want to cut CDs `on the hoof'.The Acer TravelMate 600 series signals a sea change in how mobile computing is now perceived: it is the first notebook to incorporate a CD writer drive - and to say `goodbye' to floppy disk drives - except as an optional add- on peripheral.

This correspondent was provided an exclusive hands-on preview of the model 602 which has become available to Indian buyers this month. Incorporating a 13 inch diagonal TFT colour LCD screen with a resolution of 1024 by 768 pixels, the 602 runs on Intel's Pentium III processor at 650 MHz, using the 440 BX chipset. The standard 64 MB SDRAM can be upgraded to 512 MB. There is also 512 KB of ``Flash'' BIOS and the default hard drive is 12 GB which can be slipped out easily and swapped with other 12 GB modules.

The CD drive is a 20x CD-read/write but it can be ``hot swapped'' for a 6x DVD drive. If you do need a floppy drive, you can latch on Acer's external 3.5 inch floppy drive to the ``plug and play'' USB port. But I understand from Acer engineers that they do not see many of their targeted customers doing this. Instead the sort of executive who uses this machine will more likely make a presentation - select which portions are of interest to the client and then say: ``Look! Let me just cut you a CD with all the information you need and leave it with you!'' The client in this scenario is expected to say`` Wow! What efficiency!''If this story line makes sense to you may feel that the Rs 2 lakhs ( plus taxes) spent on the Acer TravelMate 600 is worth it. The notebook has a couple of canny add-ons:

One: They throw in IBM's ``ViaVoice'' voice recognition software - the 2000 edition - and the high quality head phone-mike combo to go with it. You can then do your dictating directly into the machine while on tour and hopefully ( if you have ``trained'' the ViaVoice software adequately, with your voice), it will generate clean text in MSWord or whatever.

Two: Acer has also made provisions to convert the notebook into a video conferencing station- useful if you want to link up with your head office while traveling. A standard phone jack linked to a 56 KBPS internal modem, lets you latch on to the nearest telephone, while a PC Video camera clips on to the notebook's display screen. In the international model this camera is a priced extra - but I learn that Acer India is toying with the idea of bundling it free with the basic machine. Software includes the latest Windows version and Intel's LanDesk for latching on to office intranets; Video conference and video email packages from EasyAxess.

One grouse of notebook users who travel constantly: how easy it is to drop and damage them: Acer has tried to solve this problem: the 6000 series machines come in a tough magnesium alloy casing with special anti-shock mounts. I understand it has been tested to withstand being dropped from table height - 75-76 cms - without damage. Maybe this adds a bit to the weight - which is around 2.1- 2.5 kg depending on the modules you install.