Acer C314 Tablet PC – Our Full Review

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Acer C314 Tablet PC – Our Full Review

by: Barry J. Doyle


Welcome to 2.0GHz of raw processing power! (click to enlarge)


The Acer C314 Tablet PC 

The Acer C314 Tablet PC is in many ways a breath of fresh air. It’s not that this model is the Tablet version of Acer’s popular “Ferrari” notebook. What makes this machine special are the nuances and little extras you’ll find that were thoughtfully engineered into the design.

The C314 Tablet PC also features the newest Centrino platform, “Sonoma”. The new chipset coupled by the very capable NVIDIA Go 6200 graphics GPU promises an extended future. Chances are good that the C314 is ready for the next generation of Windows “Vista” scheduled to hit the shelves in 2006.


(click to enlarge)



C314 Tablet PC Specs (our review model):

Product Description Acer TravelMate C314XMi – Pentium M 760 2 GHz – 14.1″ TFT
Dimensions (WxDxH) 12.8 in x 10.7 in x 1.4 in
Weight 6.2 lbs
Localization English
Mobile Technology Intel Centrino
System Type Tablet PC – convertible
Built-in Devices Stereo speakers, wireless LAN antenna, Bluetooth antenna
Processor Intel Pentium M 760 2 GHz
Cache Memory 2 MB – L2 cache
RAM 1 GB (installed) / 2 GB (max) – DDR SDRAM ( 2 x 512 MB )
Card Reader 4 in 1
Hard Drive 100 GB
Optical Storage DVD RW – plug-in module
Display 14.1″ TFT active matrix XGA (1024 x 768) – 24-bit (16.7 million colors)
Graphics Controller NVidia GeForce Go 6200 – 32 MB
Audio Output Sound card
Telecom Fax / modem – 56 Kbps
Networking Network adapter – Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth, IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g
Input Device Keyboard, digitizer, touchpad, 4-way scroll button, digital pen
Power AC 110/230 V ( 50/60 Hz )
Battery Lithium ion
Run Time (Up To) 5.5 hour(s)
Operating System Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition
Manufacturer Warranty 1 year warranty


C314 Design and Build Quality

There are noticeable design elements that make the Acer C314 Tablet PC unique. A most interesting innovation is the ergonomical “curved” keyboard. Another element is the design of the lid latch. The latch on the C314 is a reverse of the usual design. The hook itself is located on the lower base of the unit and the “slot” is in the display lid. The switch also locks to keep the display firmly in place. Finally, the design of the trackpad (although not entirely original) is simplicity that offers extra functionality, with the added 4-way scroll button located between the left and right mouse buttons.


The unique display latch on the C314 locks the display into position.

The case is built of a sturdy sliver and black plastic. The somewhat rounded edges and smooth surfaces are a pleasant contrast to some of the other square and boxy tablet designs. The rotating display hinge is the strongest I have yet to encounter on any Tablet PC. The unit closes tightly with absolutely no play with the lid closed, providing a promising feel as you carry the C314 in your arm or hold on with one hand to place it in your bag.


The display hinge is the strongest of any Tablet PC I’ve seen.


“The Fifty Cent Tour” (You can PayPal me!)

Here we take you dangerously close to the front-end (and the other ends) features of the Acer C314 Tablet PC. We risked it all to get this close without injury from possible tripod collapse – or even worse, flash burn injury to the eyes!



Front View: lock latch, speakers and pen (top left corner).


Rear View: mic jack, headphone jack, (covered ports: LAN, modem, VGA), S-Video,
2 USB ports, AC in


Right Side: kensington lock, power switch, heat vent, optical drive


Left Side: multi-card reader, USB port, IR port, PCMCIA slot


Underside (click to enlarge)

HD access, HD shock protection (oval shape), RAM access (to the right), mini pci, battery.



Tablet mode (click to enlarge)


Display

The C314 has a 14.1 inch, XGA (1024 x 768 pixel resolution) electromagnetic touchscreen. The backlight is nice and bright. Colors are vibrant and the lighting is even, offering neutral-tempered whites, blues and yellows. The blacks appear nice and dark.

We took a shot outdoors to illustrate what users might expect for usability outside of the office. Our verdict is simply this – the C314 is usable outdoors in a shaded area. In direct sunlight the display just gets washed out. Take it from a melanoma survivor like me, well you’re better off in the shade anyway!



Outdoor display performance. (click to enlarge)


Graphics

To compliment the powerful 2.0GHz CPU, the C314 is graced with the NVIDIA GO 6200 PCI express GPU. Via the super fast PCIe bus, the card can use up to 128MB of allocated RAM (32MB on chip). I am very impressed with this solution. You’ll find yourself able to play the most demanding games such as Doom 3 or Half Life 2 without so much as a flutter in performance. At the same time, this PCIe hybrid dedicated/shared solution preserves battery life for a perfect balance between performance and battery life.


Sound

For a mobile computer, the sound quality on the C314 is on the top of the scale. The two speakers flank each side of the display latch on the front of the unit. The speaker’s sound quality coupled by their strategic location provides exceptionally clear audio with above average volume. It’s nice to see that Acer didn’t compromise sound quality as so many manufactures commonly do.

Okay, brace yourself! Here comes the big flaw in the C314: Basically the built-in mic is garbage. While many manufacturers offer built-in dual array mics with great sensitivity, Acer has used a single mic located on the bottom left side of the display. This mic is weak to the point of being a step shy of useless. If you plan on dictation or recording lectures with the C314, you can also plan on buying an external microphone.


Keyboard/TouchPad/Pen



(click to enlarge)

I really like the special Acer ergonomic keyboard. The rows of keys slightly dip down towards the center of each row, then graduate to a higher position on the sides. The spacebar is extra thick. The keyboard feels responsive, with absolutely zero flex. The keys are almost silent when normal typing occurs. Acer cleverly kept the keys large and opted to compromise the size by shrinking the top row of function keys, which is fine by me. After all, how often do most people need to hit those function keys during typical typing tasks?

The trackpad follows the same “smile” theme to compliment the keyboard. This doesn’t really provide any mechanical value, it is really more about looks. However, the trackpad is no slouch in quality in that it features horizontal and vertical scrolling, solid buttons, and a wonderful 4-way scroll button that is nestled between the mouse buttons.


The “Acer” Wacom electromagnetic pen has a typical one-piece design and requires no batteries. The button on the pen is placed high enough to prevent accidental presses, a problem exhibited by some OEM pens that are bundled with the systems.


Processor and Performance

The Acer C314 is powered by a 2.0GHz Pentium M processor (Sonoma). This processor is a real speed demon. In comparison with even the mighty Toshiba Tecra M4, the Acer kicked some serious butt.

We used SuperPI to calculate the number Pi to 2 million digits in this raw number crunching benchmark. This open source benchmark application allows the user to change the number of digits of Pi that can be calculated from 16 thousand to 32 million. The benchmark, which uses 20 iterations in the test, was set to 2 million digits.

Comparison of tablet models using Super Pi to calculate Pi to 2 million digits (plugged in):

Model

Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits

Acer C314 Tablet PC (2.0GHz Sonoma Pentium M)


1m 31s

Toshiba Tecra M4 Tablet PC (1.6GHz Sonoma Pentium M)


1m 50s

Toshiba R15 Tablet PC (1.6GHz Dothan Pentium M)

2m 8s

HP tc4200 (1.73GHz Alviso PM)

1m 51s

ThinkPad X41 Tablet PC (1.5GHz Alviso LV PM)

2m 3s


We used Futuremark’s PCMark ’04 benchmarking software to compare the performance of multiple tasks on the C314 to the Toshiba M4 Tablet PC.

 Futuremark PCMark04 Scores Acer C314(2.0GHz) Toshiba Tecra M4(1.6GHz)
Multithreaded Test 1 / File Compression 3.81 MB/s 3.09 MB/s
Multithreaded Test 1 / File Encryption 29.69 MB/s 23.35 MB/s
Multithreaded Test 2 / File Decompression 26.03 MB/s 20.47 MB/s
Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Processing 11.93 MPixels/s 9.48 MPixels/s
Multithreaded Test 3 / Virus Scanning 1789.36 MB/s 1793.66 MB/s
Multithreaded Test 3 / Grammar Check 3.08 KB/s 2.42 KB/s
File Decryption 59.47 MB/s 46.81 MB/s
Audio Conversion 2748.31 KB/s 2150.92 KB/s
Web Page Rendering 6.03 Pages/s 4.7 Pages/s
DivX Video Compression 51.97 FPS 44.35 FPS
Physics Calculation and 3D 120.66 150.06 FPS
Graphics Memory – 64 Lines 540.02 1004.72 FPS
3DMark ’03 Score 1689 2939

Although the Acer C314 performance shines in processor-intensive tasks, it seems that the Toshiba Tecra M4 wins in graphics performance. This is most likely due to the “Toshiba” version of the NVIDIA Go 6200 which has an extra 32MB of dedicated VRAM on the chip.

Next we tested the hard drive performance. Using “HD Tune” we tested the 100GB, 5400RPM hard disk read and write access benchmarks.



The average data transfer rate is a respectable 24.9 MB per second. The access time score of 17.5 milliseconds is right on target for a 5400RPM drive.


Heat and Fan

Like many of the Sonoma-based machines, the C314 is capable of generating some heat. Truthfully you can bank on this machine heating up when it is driven hard for CPU and GPU intensive tasks. Such tasks include gaming, video editing or heavy graphics rendering.

When the CPU temperature rises, you can expect the fan to kick on. The fan on the C314 is quiet and runs at smooth intervals. On some Tablet PC’s and notebooks sporadic fan action, (constant on and off, on and off) can become a regrettable annoyance. Luckily, that is not the case with the fan on the Acer C314.


Wireless Connectivity

The Acer C314 comes standard with the integrated Intel Pro Wireless 802.11b/g card. A built-in Bluetooth radio is also featured in this model. Both devices work well. We experienced above average range with both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity with no observable lost connections during use. For those with IR PDA’s, phones or other devices Acer took care to include an infared port on the right side of the unit.


Battery

The Sanyo 4-cell battery provides about 3 hours of “typical” use (such as cruising the web, office applications, etc).

Using Battery Eater Pro we tested the C314 battery under extreme conditions. Using the “Classic” test mode (stressing all hardware components), we were able to squeeze 2 hours and 32 minutes of time in one charge. This is probably the minimum amount of time you can expect when using the C314 for demanding tasks with the 4-cell battery.

System Info
Manufacture Acer
Model TravelMate C310
ModelEx 0100
OS Windows XP Service Pack 2
CPU Info
CPU Manufacture Intel Corporation
CPU Model Intel(R) Pentium(R) M processor 2.00GHz
CPU Frequency ~1998Mhz
CPU Extensions | MMX | SSE2 | Enchanted SpeedStep
CPU Cache Info
Level 1 Instructions 32
Level 1 Data 32
Level 2 Data 2048
System RAM info
Total Memory: 1023Mb
Memory slots 2 ( 1: 512Mb; 2: 512Mb; )
Display Device Info
Adapter NVIDIA GeForce Go 6200
Resolution 1024×768
OpenGL render device GeForce Go 6200/PCI/SSE2
OpenGL driver version 1.5.3
Vertex shader version 3.0
Pixel shader version 3.0
Hard Disk Drive Info
S.M.A.R.T. Supported and Enabled
HDD Model ST9100822A
HDD Serial 3LG0T6DM
HDD FirmWare 3.01
Main Battery Info
Device Name CANARY2
Manufacture SANYO
Serial #
Unique ID 32150SANYOCANARY2
Chemistry Lithium Ion
Temperature Termal Control Not Present
Designed Capacity 15488mWh
Full Charged Capacity 12390mWh
Designed Voltage 14.4V
Current Voltage 16.053V
Manufacture Date 0/0/0
Cycles Count 0
Cells count 4
Force charge support Not Supported
Force discharge support Not Supported
Benchmark results
CPU BEmarks 0
GPU BEmarks 0
RAM BEmarks 0
HDD BEmarks 0
Work Done
Pi calculations 52288 Cycles
HDD readwrite 5500 Mb
Fames Rendered 605758 Frames
Benchmark Options
Resolution 800x600x32
FullScreen Disabled
Mode Classic
Results
Total time 2:32:45
Result Graph



Service and Support


The Acer C314 is backed by a standard one-year warranty. For this review, I placed my traditional “random technical support call”. to Acer at 1-800-816-2237. I called the number at 5:16 p.m. (PST) on a Monday afternoon. While on hold, I was subjected to a repetitive classical music loop (about 20 seconds in length) that repeated over and over. The repetitive “music” was combined with constant recorded advertisements about various Acer hardware offerings. I finally got to a human at 5:44 p.m. (28 minutes later)! All in all, I found the wait time to be totally unacceptable compared to the 2-5 minute wait times I have experienced with other manufacturers.


Conclusion

The Acer C314 is an excellent full-featured Tablet PC that is powerful enough to function as a desktop replacement. The generous 1024MB of RAM, 100GB hard drive, Built-in Bluetooth and fast 2.0GHz processor are a good value for the price. This machine is great for students or consumers who want a Tablet to be their “only” PC.

Although there is value in the features that are included, it is obvious that Acer has cut back in their technical support. I would not recommend this model to any first-time computer user who might need to talk to a reliable tech support representative without having to wait for 20 minutes on hold.

Pros

  • Powerful CPU and graphics.
  • Good build quality.
  • Good keyboard and trackpad.
  • Built-in Bluetooth.

Cons

  • Bad microphone.
  • Acer’s phone support is very slow to respond.
Barry J. Doyle
TabletPCReviewSpot.com
Editor in Chief




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