Acer Timeline Ultra M3 & NVIDIA GT 640M Review
Ultrabooks were originally introduced as a way for PC manufacturers to compete with Apple’s MacBook Air series and for the most part, they have struggled to find traction. Not only do traditional Ultrabooks concentrate upon form over functionality (a longtime issue with Apple’s wares as well) but due to their slim profile chassis necessitating the use of ultra low voltage processors, performance suffers as well. However, things are rapidly changing in the Ultrabook product space as companies come to grips with next generation technologies, allowing for some quick evolutionary changes. The first products to blur the imaginary line between these featherweight laptops and standard notebooks are the new Timeline Ultra series from Acer.
The first of the Ultras is the M3 which is supposed to change people’s preconceptions about typical Ultrabook performance, or a lack thereof. It boasts an ultra low voltage Core i5 2467M processor but the most important addition here is the NVIDIA GeForce GT 640M graphics processor. Based upon the new Kepler architecture, this GPU boasts 384 cores along with 2GB of dedicated GDDR3 video memory (a GDDR5 versions will also be available) which are the kind of specs we’ve come to expect from full size notebooks rather than a slim Ultrabook. We’ll go into the details of this graphics processor and its capabilities a bit later in this review but for the time being, let’s just say that it takes the Timeline Ultra’s performance to the next level in certain tests.
Other than the inclusion of an i5 mobile processor and a high performance graphics subsystem, the M3’s remaining specifications are pretty much par for the course in the ultra portable space. The only thing that really jumps out as a step above the competition is the included 20GB mSSD cache drive which is supposed to speed up booth times of your most used programs. 4GB of memory is the bare minimum these days but it can be upped to 8GB relatively easily and we think that’s a necessity considering the M3’s massive 2GB+ idle memory footprint –more on that later. Unfortunately, Acer has gone “feature lite” here so there’s no Bluetooth, Intel WiDi or WiMax module support.
Before going any further in this review you should know a few things about the Timeline Ultra M3 that may stop your reading dead in its tracks. First and foremost, no firm North American launch date has been communicated to us, nor has a price been set for this particular model. Discrete graphics chips, i5 ULV mobile processors and hybrid storage solutions certainly don’t come cheap and we’re guessing this configuration will cost upwards of $1200 which is expensive, especially for an Ultrabook. Speaking of the configuration, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the M3 get an Ivy Bridge overhaul for its launch here in North America in the coming months.
The M3’s exterior casing is fabricated out of aluminum alloy which is coated in a fingerprint resistant matte finish. This is a welcome departure from some of the glossy exteriors some manufacturers use that become ungodly messes after a few hours.
At first glance, Acer’s new Timeline U M3 is like no other Ultrabook out there since it is quite thick at 0.78”, has a larger footprint (which is mostly due to a screen size of 15.6” versus the 13.3” panel that most others come with) and weighs in at a hefty 4.45 lbs. When put next to a quintessential Ultrabook like the ASUS Zenbook, the differences are abundantly apparent.
The M3 also eschews the aluminum unibody design of its compatriots by going with high strength plastic for the interior surfaces. Unfortunately, this gives it a bit of a cheapish feel but long term durability shouldn’t be a concern and the black palmrest resists greasy palm print marks.
Build quality isn’t the best either with a few wide open gaps around the DVD drive and some notable bezel flex. None of these are things we’ve become accustomed to seeing in most Ultrabooks since they are typically defined by high quality construction and paper thin material seams.
Connectivity options on this Ultrabook are good with two USB 2.0 ports, one USB 3.0 connector, a LAN jack, a headphone jack and a HDMI 1.4a output but their location is just horrible. Housing all of these connectors on the back edge of the M3 means you’ll have to fumble around the 15.6” screen every time you want to plug a peripheral in. To make matters even worse, Acer decided to put the power connector here as well, causing untold amounts of frustration. Further limiting this Ultrabook’s uses is the lack of a VGA connector or a HDMI to VGA adaptor so forget about using it with most conference room projectors or docking stations.
The left hand side meanwhile contains the DVD drive along with the yawning gap between it and the topmost piece of chassis plastic and an SD card reader. The right edge is completely blank with only a Kensington lock for company.
The front edge of the Timeline Ultra M3 features one of the worst placed power buttons we’ve ever come across. Whether it is being used on your lap or on a solid surface, the button WILL be pressed by a wayward finger, a belt buckle, a fold in the fabric of your pants or anything else for that matter.
The fun doesn’t stop there either since there’s a power and recharge light placed alongside the power button but a disk usage / hard drive indicator LED is missing in action. In addition, even though the recharge LED illuminates during charging, ours didn’t turn off so there’s no indicator of when the M3’s battery is topped up.
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