The notebook market is splitting into two camps. While one half seems proud to remain chunky and boast the benefits of 'desktop-replacement' technology, the other would rather look good and cram as many features as it can into the smallest possible space. The Concept falls into the latter category.
The Concept looks as good in real life as it sounds on the page. The slim, silver casing houses 128MB of RAM and a mobile Pentium II clocked at 366MHz. Standard configuration for this machine, which has been bought and rebadged by this and various other manufacturers, is 64MB, so we were pleased to see that ACi has kept an eye to the future and doubled it.
It has done so without hiking the price, either: Twinhead sells an identical model for an extra À100, but with only 64MB of RAM. Further upgrades can hike up the total memory to a maximum of 192MB. The floppy drive is an external unit but a small media bay houses an internal CD-ROM. This lets you install software and access reference titles while on the move, and with today's capacities you are unlikely to miss the floppy.
The screen is a 12.1in TFT, with a native resolution of 800x600. A monitor port on the back of the machine will let you drive a higher resolution on an external unit. The graphics processor is a Trident Cyber9525DVD with 2.5MB of RAM. This has no 3D support but is fine for regular business applications, and it's highly unlikely you'll be wanting to play games on the Concept in the first place. Although the panel has 23 levels of brightness, set on the keyboard, we found it to have slight luminance problems along its left and right-hand edges. At lower intensity settings it also had a fairly unimpressive viewing angle, although this improved dramatically when the brightness was increased.
Drives come in the shape of a 24x Toshiba CD-ROM and a 6.4GB Toshiba hard drive, which should meet your needs for some years to come. If you find CD-ROM rather passe now, then perhaps you ought to consider the DVD-ROM upgrade option. Built-in speakers are driven by an onboard ESS Solo chip, and there's also a built-in mic. Although nothing to shout about, they are adequate for everyday use and for anything more demanding you can use the line out and mic jacks on the front panel.
External connectivity is catered for by means of an internal V.90 PCI modem. There's no network card so if you want it to talk to your server when you return to the office you'll have to install a NIC in the single PC Card slot. This is an upgrade option offered by ACi at the time of purchase. Along the back panel you'll find external monitor, parallel and nine-pin serial ports, all covered neatly by a dust flap. There's also a PS/2 keyboard and mouse combo port. If you want to use both input devices at once you'd be advised to switch one for the USB alternative and use that port instead.
The touch pad is well implemented, being smooth to use and responding well to firm taps - so unless you really can't get on with one of these or have a specific application in mind, then it's unlikely you'll need to switch to an external mouse. Using wireless peripherals through the IrDA port should also pose no problems.
All in all, the Concept impressed us. You get a lot for your money, it looks good, it's fairly fast and with a modular design it's very easy to upgrade your hard drive, CD-ROM/DVD-ROM drive and memory. If you're looking for something to use on a plane or train and don't need a replacement for your desktop machine then the Concept is one option you should certainly consider.