- The Washington Times - Monday, December 4, 2000

A few weeks ago, my right shoulder spoke up and said it was time for a new portable PC. The one I'd carried for several months was weighing too heavily on me, literally.

The portable computer world appears divided into two camps: the "all-in-one" users who lug the boxes containing a hard disk drive, floppy drive and CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive. Those are complete, but they're also weighty, 7 or 8 pounds being the norm.

The other camp are the "thin and light" crowd, those who carry a "slice" of a larger machine, containing only a hard drive and some connection ports and card slots. If you need the big guns of floppy or CD-ROM, those drives are external, either in a "slice" that attaches to the bottom or in a separate box that hooks to the computer via a special cable.

Either way, the idea of the "ultraportables" is to cut the 8-pound weight nearly in half, while still retaining a functional computer. The Acer TravelMate 350, priced from $1,999, is one mobile users should consider.

Built around Intel Pentium III processors with Speedstep technology, the TravelMate 350 delivers central processing unit (CPU) speeds up to 750 MHz, while stepping down processing to save battery life when the unit is not plugged in. Even in step-down mode, however, there's no appreciable loss of speed or performance, even when playing digital media files. I don't know how Intel did it, but I've seen it work many times, including in this new computer.

The notebook drops the floppy and disc drives, shipping instead with what Acer calls "a flexible EasyLink ComboDrive," containing the floppy disk drive and a 24-speed CD-ROM drive. The computer itself is equipped with an integrated V.90 56Kbps modem and a 10/100 BaseT Ethernet local area network (LAN) connection, as well as one Type II PC Card slot, one 1394 (or "FireWire") port, two universal serial bus ports, and one PS2 port for a mouse or keyboard. There's also a docking station connector, though the docking station is optional.

The new system contains items that could be useful for federal workers. For one, it integrates SmartCard technology for added user security with e-commerce Web transactions. When it's available sometime in the first quarter of next year, I'm told, Intel's Bluetooth wireless communications technology will be an option. The TravelMate 350's Bluetooth option is designed to support a wireless personal area network, or PAN. Bluetooth is said to eliminate the need for wires and cables to interface with other Bluetooth-ready computers, notebooks, hand-held appliances, cell phones and the like.

All these doodads, of course, wouldn't be worth much if the TravelMate 350 weren't a good performer. It is an excellent system. In November, I put the computer through a major torture test, the multiday Comdex trade show in Las Vegas. It was easier to haul around and connected flawlessly to hotel and trade-show phone lines, enabling me to send and receive e-mail and do other work without hassle.

Speed wasn't an issue, and the 13.3-inch display screen was more than big enough for my needs. There's only 64 Mbytes of RAM included with the computer; I'd prefer 128 Mbytes as a minimum, but the machine can be upgraded to a whopping 512 Mbytes.

The keyboard is curved ever so slightly, like a faint smile, but the unusual layout works. I had no fatigue working on it. And the hard drive was rather quiet, also nice.

In short, this is a notebook that delivers the goods, and does so without complaint. Finding one may be a different story. Several on-line stores didn't have it listed as yet; and neither of the two Washington-area resellers listed on the Acer Web site (www.acer.com/aac/ products/notebook/tm350/ index.htm) seemed inclined toward the retail market. Even with a search, however, the hunt for a TravelMate 350 could be rewarding. Your shoulder might well thank you, as mine did.

• Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to MarkKel@aol.com, or visit the writer's Web page, www.kellner2000.com.

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