The shape of things to come?
Who said ultrabooks had to be small? Certainly not Acer with its new 15.6in Aspire Timeline Ultra M3-581TG-72634G52Mnkk – a laptop that promises ultrabook portability and responsiveness with the raw power needed for tasks like intensive gaming. But while it’s a success overall, there are some issues.
Portable gaming, just don't use it on your lap.
On paper, the M3 is definitely an ultrabook -- and it physically feels like one. At 2.1kg and 20.7mm thick, it’s more portable than any all-rounder and has low-voltage second-gen Intel Core i7-2637M, an Nvidia GeForce GT 640M graphics card, 4GB of DDR3-1066 RAM and a 500GB (5,400rpm) HDD with a 20GB SSD for caching. This got a strong 2,818 in PCMark 7, which roughly matches all-rounders like the Sony VAIO E Series 14P. In testing, it booted in 31 seconds, which is definitively slower than the 18 seconds of the HP Folio 13 ultrabook.
Ultrabooks need good battery life and the M3 does deliver here. Switching off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, setting it to Balanced and running Powermark on the Productivity preset gave a result just shy of six hours; slightly better than the strong showing of the 13.3in Samsung Series 5 Ultra 530U3B we reviewed last month.
Nvidia claims that the M3 can run the demanding Battlefield 3 at Ultra settings, though that didn’t pan out in our testing. While not a slideshow, to get consistently smooth performance in busy maps we had to drop the settings down to High. This performance, in all fairness, was still terrific.
We should note, however, that during intensive gaming the M3 got hot. While gaming, the CPU stayed at about 90°C at all times. Blocking an underside vent (say, when you want to use the M3 on your lap) caused the CPU temperature to climb above 90°C which induced on-and-off throttling down to about 800MHz. On a lap, that heat was also uncomfortable, so you’ll really need to do your gaming at a desk.
The M3’s build quality isn’t quite as good as ultrabooks like the ASUS Zenbook, but the plastic chassis was still decent and the metal screen backing was nice. The enormous touchpad was sensitive, accurate and rejected palm presses. We liked the keyboard, even if alternatives like the HP Folio 13 have a better one. The speakers were pleasantly loud, although they weren’t as sharp as those in laptops like the HP Pavilion dm4-3011tx. Unfortunately the webcam’s recording quality at 1,280 x 720 pixels was poor. The M3’s physical connectivity was respectable, but perplexing not as good as some smaller ultrabooks (Toshiba’s Satellite Z830 a prime example): it had HDMI, USB 3.0, two USB 2.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, an audio jack and an SD card reader. Given the size, we expected more. Sadly the M3 had a woeful screen. The 1,366 x 768 resolution was fine, but it had awful contrast, weak viewing angles and washed-out colours – it’s not particularly great for either gaming or movies.
Still, if the M3 is the shape of all-rounders in future, there’s a lot to like. It’s far more portable than most other all-rounders and while the low-voltage CPU isn’t as powerful as an equivalent full-voltage chip, PCMark 7 showed that the M3’s overall performance was still impressive. The heat was worrying and the screen was disappointing, but the M3 successfully showed that you can get all-rounder performance without the weight.
Pros : Good battery life, powerful and portable, good input devices.
Cons : Terrible screen, gets hot.
Verdict : 7 out of 10.
Available from Acer, retailing for $1400.