Acer Aspire Timeline AS1810T

We'll start with the Acer Aspire Timeline 1810 (AS1810T), which competes against other 11.6" CULV laptops. It's better in some areas and comes up a bit short elsewhere. Also worth noting is that the basic design of the AS1810T is used on the AS1410, the differences being in the internal components. The Gateway EC14 and EC18 share the same design, with the only difference being a few cosmetic changes to the colors/surfaces and a small tweak to the keyboard - the latter being for the worse, as they moved the backslash key next to the Z key instead of putting it above the Enter key.


Acer Aspire Timeline AS1810T-8679 Specifications
Processor Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300
(2x1.3GHz, 45nm, 3MB L2, 800FSB, 10W)
Chipset Intel GS45 + ICH9M
Memory 2x2GB DDR2-667
(Max 2x2GB listed by Acer, but it may support 2x4GB)
Graphics Intel GMA 4500MHD IGP
Display 11.6" LED Glossy 16:9 768p (1366x768)
Hard Drive(s) 320GB 5400RPM
Optical Drive N/A
Networking Gigabit Ethernet (Atheros AR8131 PCI-E)
Intel Wifi Link 5100 AGN
Bluetooth v2.1 + EDR
Audio 2-Channel Realtek ALC269 HD Audio
(2.0 speakers with headphone/microphone jacks)
Battery 6-Cell, 11.1V, 5600mAh, 63Wh
Front Side WiFi On/Off
Bluetooth On/Off
Left Side 1 x USB 2.0
HDMI
Heat Exhaust
Power Adapter
VGA
Right Side Flash reader (MMC/MS/MS Pro/SD/xD)
Headphone/Microphone
2 x USB 2.0
Kensington Lock
Ethernet
Back Side None
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 11.2" x 8.0" x 0.9-1.2" (WxDxH)
Weight 3.1 lbs (with 6-cell battery)
Extras Webcam
84-Key keyboard
Warranty 1-year standard warranty
Pricing Available Online starting at $680
(Black version available for $600)

Let's start with the good news first: the model we received has decent specs compared to the Dell Inspiron 11z we'll look at next. You'd think with both being the same size that they'd be very similar, but that is not the case. First, Acer includes a slightly higher capacity battery, so the AS1810T should get better battery life… and it does. Acer also includes two SO-DIMM slots; in theory that means you could run up to 8GB RAM, but we didn't have any 4GB modules on hand so we were left with the default 2x2GB configuration. Regardless, you still get more RAM than the Dell 11z at a lower price point, and the dual-channel memory means it should have a bit better performance as well (since the IGP shares memory bandwidth). In practice, the added bandwidth doesn't really matter, as the FSB limits the bandwidth to the CPU and the IGP is too slow to really benefit. Finally, Acer elected to send us the 1810T with an SU7300 CPU (rather than the more mundane Pentium SU4100). What does that really mean? Well, they're the same 1.3GHz clock speed but the SU7300 comes with 3MB L2 cache; it probably amounts to a 3-5% performance increase at best, at a slightly higher price.

So if that's where the Acer is better than the Dell, where does it fall short? Our biggest complaint is the keyboard, and the touchpad is better in some ways and not as good as the competition in others. Let's take these areas in turns.

The keyboard has large keys, but the shape of the keys just didn't feel as good when typing and the action is mushy compared to the Inspiron 11z. There's also a bit of flex/bounce in the keyboard, especially towards the center area - not as bad as what I've seen on some MSI laptops, but still noticeable. When I first looked at the keyboard I thought it would be better than the 11z, but after typing on both for a while I definitely prefer the Dell keyboard. While the keys themselves are large, there's very little space between the keys and it's easy to accidentally brush another key if you're typing quickly; the same is true of the 11z, but the 1810T keyboard just feels more fatiguing to use and I made more typing errors.

Another problem with the keyboard is the cursor keys; they're made cumbersome by their small size and the inclusion of PgUp/PgDn keys to the sides of the up arrow key. I'd prefer these to be Home and End keys as the primary function (that's currently accessible via an Fn key combination), but even then the small cursor keys are more difficult to use than on other keyboards. The main 11z keys are all slightly smaller than the 1810T keys, but by making them fractionally smaller Dell is able to squeeze in a column of Home, PgUp, PgDn, and End keys on the right of the keyboard. The left and right edges of the Dell keys are also slightly rounded, and in general it just feels better in my opinion.

As for the touchpad, here the 1810T is definitely better than Dell, but there are still a few issues with the design. Dell includes a large touchpad with integrated buttons in the bottom corners, and the result is highly unpleasant. Acer includes two dedicated buttons, but the touch-sensitive surface is smaller and it's very difficult to feel the difference between the active surface and the remainder of the palm rest. The result is that it's quite easy to move your finger off the touchpad without realizing it, which makes double-tap-and-drag all but useless. The touchpad does support both gestures and multi-touch, and with dedicated buttons I found both worked fine. Because of the limited area on the touchpad, the swirling scroll feature was perhaps slightly more useful than using two fingers, but this is counterbalanced by the need to start the scroll gesture on the right edge of the touchpad.

In other areas of design, the 1810T rates higher than the 11z. For one, the dimensions are slightly smaller; the Dell 11z has a larger palm rest and ends up being about .75" deeper, and the battery jutting out the bottom of the 11z makes it significantly thicker (though that's only if you get the 6-cell battery upgrade). The large palm rest on the Dell may be part of what makes it more comfortable for typing, and it would have been better if Acer could have moved the keyboard up another inch or so - which would have also made it possible to give the touchpad a larger surface area. LCD quality ends up being pretty much a wash - as in, "washed out". Like so many other laptops on the market, the panels are very low contrast with limited viewing angles. They're plenty bright for indoor use, but the glossy finish makes outdoor use suspect.

We do have some complaints with the AS1810T, and these are areas we've discussed before. First, the shiny plastic exterior feels cheap and attracts fingerprints. Shiny may look nice in photos, but we prefer matte finishes. The glossy LCD is also practically a given, unless you get a business laptop. For indoor use, it's not a huge problem, but we find the reflective surfaces to be practically useless outdoors. It's interesting to note that the Gateway EC54 we'll be looking at in a minute ditches the glossy surfaces in several areas, but unfortunately the EC14/18 do not, and neither do the larger Timeline models. Another interesting tidbit is that the 11.6" Acer laptops use DDR2 memory while all of the 13.3" and larger models use DDR3 - the benefit being slightly lower power requirements for DDR3, but the cost is also a bit higher. Build quality in general is decent but not great - there's a bit of flex in the keyboard, as mentioned, and the top cover will twist and bend more than the other two laptops we're looking at (though not so much that we feel it's a serious concern).

Outside of the design, the features and package on the AS1810T are very good. You get HDMI and VGA output, and the GS45 chipset (GMA 4500MHD IGP) is able to handle H.264 decoding without too much trouble. We were able to view 1080p x264 (12Mbit) content on all of the CULV laptops, with CPU load in the range of 5 to 23% (average of just 13%), so clearly there's plenty of headroom left. 1080p on an Atom-based netbook (without ION or some other GPU/video decoder to help)? Blu-ray playback should be possible, though we lacked an appropriate drive to verify this - you'll need an external USB device, obviously, so it's easier to get your video fix from the HDD. Forget it.

The current CULV offerings deliver much better features in terms of video decoding, and they're also significantly faster than Atom. In general, CULV ends up delivering twice the performance of N280/N450 in a variety of applications, as our benchmarks will illustrate. Battery life isn't quite as long as the latest Atom offerings, but the 1810 definitely reaches the "8+ hours" of battery life Acer advertises; we measured just shy of 10 hours idle battery life (you'll come very close to this if all you're doing is typing in a Word document) and slightly less than 8 hours in a heavy internet surfing test. Video playback (at least when Atom is fast enough to handle it) does favor Atom by a larger margin - we only got about 4.5 to 5 hours of video playback on the 1810, compared to 5 to 6.5 on an N280 netbook and 6 to 7 hours with N450.

Ultimately, making a smaller laptop is an exercise in balance and compromise, and what works well for one person may not be pleasant for another. For many people, 10.1" netbook keyboards are fine but they have definitely passed the limit of what I find comfortable. The 11.6" chassis of the AS1810T allows for larger keys, making it somewhat more comfortable, but the action of the keys and the spacing still leave me wanting. It should be possible to find one of the various Acer 1410/1810 (or Gateway EC14/18) models at a local Best Buy or similar store to try them for yourself. If you're not happy with the 11.6" Timeline, Acer offers 13.3" (AS3810T), 14.0" (AS4810T), and 15.6" (AS5810T) models, with the latter two providing optical drives on some models.

We really need to look at all of the Acer Timeline series to put things in proper perspective. Pricing on the Aspire 1410 starts at just $420, so you get the same chassis as the AS1810T with an SU2300 and 2GB RAM. You can find the AS1810T for around $600 if you're willing to wait for it to ship, or $680 if you can't wait. As an alternative, the AS1810TZ is $580, with the difference being the use of a Pentium SU4100 instead of the Core 2 Duo SU7300. Similarly, the 3810T goes for $650, with 4GB DDR3 and a 500GB HDD along with the SU7300; drop to the SU4100 and 320GB HDD for $580. The AS4810TZ adds a DVDRW for around $650; AS4810T with Core 2 Solo is something we'd recommend skipping, and the models with an SU9400 bump the price up to around $800 so we'd pass on those also. Finally, the $650 Timeline AS5810TZ goes with the SU4100 again, and we'd avoid the more expensive SU7300 versions as well as the Core 2 Solo models.

Given the similarity in pricing, any of the TZ models would be a great alternative to netbooks and still deliver plenty of mobility. We're inclined to go with the 13.3" AS3810TZ because of the larger keyboard, but others might be happy with the 1410/1810 models. For $420-$450, the AS1410 makes a very compelling argument against higher priced Atom netbooks.

Index Dell Inspiron 11z
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  • JarredWalton - Thursday, February 04, 2010 - link

    The problem comes in getting anyone - and I do mean anyone - to send us AMD laptops for review. The manufacturers seem to view them as bastard step children that should be kept out of view as much as possible. The Gateway NV52 shows what sort of performance you can expect, give or take, as it has a 2.1GHz QL-64 CPU, but battery life on the newer 45nm parts should be better and performance can be a bit higher as well.

    Even going to AMD doesn't really help, since they don't want to step on any toes by sending out review units. They would love to do that, but if they did they could easily end up with HP (as an example) saying, "We don't like you sending out our product... so we're going to discontinue that SKU."

    Of course, the new Intel HD Graphics actually beat the HD 3200/4200 in quite a few tests as far as I understand things. (I'm still trying to get i3/i5 laptops for review as well.) Even then, HD 3200 at least really struggles in quite a few games to get playable performance - the GeForce 9400M for example looks to be about 60% faster.
    Reply
  • MonkeyPaw - Thursday, February 04, 2010 - link

    Actually, I made a mock-CULV out of my $400 Toshiba notebook, equipped with AMD 3100 graphics and an Athlon X2 QL-65. I use a program called K10stat, which allows you to alter the P-states of K8+ AMD CPUs. By default, the QL-65 is a 35W CPU with a max-clock of 2.1ghz, but after I changed the 2 power states to .9v @ 900mhz and 1.0v @ 1.3ghz, I end up with a CPU that consumes 9-17W, depending on the P-state (it stays mostly in the 9W area). That tweak added about 30 minutes to my battery life (6-cell), matching my company-issued 3-cell HP netbook. Even with the reduced clocks, performance is still massively better on the Toshiba. My wife hasn't noticed or complained about performance yet, though we don't demand much beyond internet, iTunes (sigh), and office/budget stuff. Reply
  • OMG Snarf - Thursday, February 04, 2010 - link

    That's a darned shame - the manufacturers don't even respond to requests for hardware? I wonder if that's the manufacturers or some super secret Intel clause (conspiracies ahoy!). I guess I'd have to look through the NV52 reviews again, but its nice to know that a 1.5GHz part should equate roughly to a 2.1GHz part.

    My issue with the new Intel HD is that right now the Core iX UM systems aren't out that I've seen, and as was detailed in another article, there's still the issue of the L2 cache not being power gated and the later inclusion of SRAM to fix this to provide more power savings, so who's to say where those fit in the ultraportable world at this time? I think that will take time to flesh out, and by that point, there will be another 'Tock' and maybe another minor 'Tick' to fill it out. That's already the end of the year, given Intel's performance for last year. And by that point, there might be another AMD mobile chipset, so it all could be moot.

    Finally in reference to the 9400M, the issue is cost. The 3200 can push a few more polys than the 4500 can, so if you want the option is there. The 9400 can, too, if you want to spend double the cost, but the point I got out of this review was low-voltage that was around the Atom/Netbook price point that offered overwhelming performance advantage while still retaining the other features (battery life/portability).

    But I digress. Thanks for the response, and while I'm sad to hear that AMD gets treated that way by the manufacturers, its good to know that its not because of any bias on the editorial staff that others like to claim.

    So long as the illegal overclocking stops for the i3/i5/i7 and X3150 benchmarks ;) I kid, I kid. Heh. Those were the days.
    Reply
  • Drag0nFire - Thursday, February 04, 2010 - link

    Well, I'd love to see a review of the AMD-based Lenovo x100e if you can get your hands on it. It may provide competitive performance at the $400-500 price point. Reply
  • Cuhulainn - Thursday, February 04, 2010 - link

    When I saw the article I figured one of those reviewed must have been from the Asus UL line. They get mentioned several times, and seem to be the only options with decent gaming ability + battery life. If nothing else one of them should have made the review list for battery life alone. Isn't that a big part of the reason for using a CULV processor? Reply
  • cblais19 - Thursday, February 04, 2010 - link

    If you look at other reviews on this site, they've done an overview of the UL80vt mentioned in this article, as well as an in depth review. Reply
  • mschira - Thursday, February 04, 2010 - link

    I especially like the Asus approach overclocking the sauce!
    I want a 10" overclocked CULV!
    Forget iPAD and Atom.
    M.
    Reply
  • feelingshorter - Thursday, February 04, 2010 - link

    Do you mean the 1810TZ in the conclusion? Which is the SU7300 11 inch laptop. The 4810TZ is a 14 inch laptop. Also did you mean 1410 instead of the 3810? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, February 04, 2010 - link

    No... I've looked at the 3810TZ, 4810TZ, and 5810TZ at stores, played around with them a bit, etc. They're all better, in my opinion, than the 1410/1810. It's not just a case of being larger, either; the keyboards just don't feel quite so mushy as the 1810 chassis.

    The 1410/1810 are good, but more of a "B+" as opposed to "A-". I have no hesitation recommending any of the Acer TZ models that have SU4100, though, which is why I awarded the group (along with the Gateway EC54) a bronze.

    Honestly, though, there's plenty of personal preference in what makes a good keyboard. Some people like the soft touch ("mushy" in my view) keyboards, and others like more of a "clicky" keyboard. If you can try any of the Timeline series out - or really any CULV, including the Lenovo U series and a few others I haven't mentioned - and you're happy, the performance is going to be very similar to what I've shown here.

    Hope that clears things up. :-)
    Reply
  • Roland00 - Thursday, February 04, 2010 - link

    Did the 1410 have the battery in them? Due to the design of the chassis (to hide the battery and not have it stick out), the battery provides a lot of support. With the battery inside there is a lot less give on the 1410.

    I know for I bought one for 350 with the su2300, 2gb memory, and 160gb hard drive.
    Reply

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