Some of our editors recently had the opportunity to take part in NVIDIA's Editor's Day in California's "sunny" San Francisco to be briefed on new products. While we can't go into any great detail on NVIDIA's new Kepler architecture (as that information is still under embargo), what we can provide you with is a review of Acer's new Aspire TimelineU M3 notebook, complete with a shiny new GeForce GT 640M based on the Kepler architecture.

Of course, that's not all that's interesting about the TimelineU M3. Taking advantage of Intel's expanded ultrabook definition, Acer has produced a 15.6" notebook with a dedicated GPU that's only 20mm thick. At the risk of spoiling the conclusion of the review, we'll say this is one of the most compelling notebooks we've seen yet, even if we're hesitant to call it a true ultrabook.

Thus far, when we've thought of ultrabooks we've usually thought of 18mm-thick notebooks hanging out around the three pound weight class, but the TimelineU M3 is just under five pounds, throwing it more into the same kind of class as Dell's XPS 14z and 15z. Of course, arguing semantics over what does and does not constitute an ultrabook isn't really why you're here. What you're really interested in is Kepler.

As I mentioned before, we're still under embargo regarding the architectural details of Kepler; in fact the only reason we can share the TimelineU with you ahead of time is because Acer actually broke the embargo and began selling the notebook early, causing the rest of the press (and NVIDIA) to scramble to put together these reviews. That also means the only details we can share are the ones that can be gleaned from the notebook itself, but that's fine, because there's a lot of interesting information to work with as it is.

Acer Aspire TimelineU M3 Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-2637M
(2x1.7GHz + HTT, Turbo to 2.8GHz, 32nm, 4MB L3, 17W)
Chipset Intel HM77
Memory 2x2GB DDR3-1333 (one stick integrated, one user replaceable, maximum 6GB)
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce GT 640M 1GB DDR3
(384 CUDA cores, 625/1800MHz core/memory clocks, 128-bit memory bus)

Intel HD 3000 Graphics
(12 EUs, up to 1.2GHz)
Display 15.6" LED Glossy 16:9 768p
AU Optronics B153XTN03.2
Hard Drive(s) 256GB LiteOn mSATA 3Gbps SSD
Optical Drive HL-DT-ST DVD+/-RW GU61N
Networking Atheros AR5B97 802.11b/g/n
Broadcom NetLink Gigabit Ethernet
Audio Realtek ALC269
Stereo speakers
Single combination mic/headphone jack
Battery 3-Cell, 55Wh (integrated)
Front Side -
Right Side Kensington lock
Left Side Optical drive
SD/MMC card reader
Back Side Exhaust vent
2x USB 2.0
USB 3.0
HDMI
Ethernet jack
AC adaptor
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit SP1
Dimensions 14.8" x 0.78" x 9.8" (WxHxD)
375mm x 20mm x 250mm
Weight ~5 lbs
Extras Webcam
mSATA SSD
Open 2.5" drive bay
USB 3.0
Warranty 1-year limited
Pricing Not yet available

The Intel Core i7-2637M has been a stalwart of the ultrabook class for some time now, and our performance testing shows it's perfectly adequate for most tasks. The 1.7GHz nominal clock speed is obviously on the low side, but the chip is able to turbo up to 2.5GHz on both cores or 2.8GHz on a single core. It's interesting that Acer opted for a 17W ultra-low-voltage CPU for the TimelineU since the chassis looks like it can handle a full-voltage processor, but I suspect they opted to use the bulk of their thermal budget on the dedicated GPU.

That dedicated GPU is the NVIDIA GeForce GT 640M. What's worth noting about the 640M from the spec sheet above: it's sporting four times the number of CUDA cores as its predecessor, the GeForce GT 540M. The chip itself runs at a core clock of "up to 625MHz," while the DDR3 is running at an effective 1.8GHz. Given the limited memory bandwidth, we can probably be expected to be bound by the VRAM long before we're shader bound. Of course, NVIDIA is likely able to fit all that shader power into the 640M due to the chip being based on their upcoming Kepler architecture and thus manufactured on TSMC's 28nm process instead of 40nm. It's entirely possible and even likely given what we know of Kepler behind the scenes that these numbers are incorrect; even GPU-Z doesn't accurately detect the 640M.

Kepler's early arrival isn't actually the only interesting thing about the TimelineU M3, though. While the connectivity is par for the course for an ultrabook, Acer is able to cram an optical drive into the system. More than that, the M3 uses an mSATA SSD but also has an open 2.5" drive bay, effectively making it among the first notebooks we've tested to include the potential for the ideal SSD + HDD storage combination in a reasonable form factor. The mSATA port, single user-replaceable RAM slot, and 2.5" HDD bay are also all easily user accessible by removing a single panel on the bottom of the notebook. For many users, these storage options alone may make the M3 a compelling purchase option, and that's before taking into account the reasonably spacious 256GB mSATA SSD already included. It's also worth pointing out that the M3 is employing Intel's incrementally-improved HM77 chipset, which brings USB 3.0 connectivity with it instead of requiring a separate chip.

In and Around the Acer Aspire TimelineU M3
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  • Finraziel - Thursday, March 15, 2012 - link

    Hell, my old 15" laptop from 2002 had a 1400x1050 screen (and a buddy at the same time had one with 1920x1200, I don't think you can even get that anymore and no 1080 isn't as good)... It's ridiculous how laptopscreens only seem to get worse over time. Reply
  • Mitch89 - Thursday, March 15, 2012 - link

    I have fond memories of the WSXGA+ panel in my Dell 8600, 1680x1050 in a 15.4in display was awesome. You could even get a WUXGA 1920x1200 panel as well.

    That was 2003, yet this 1366x768 crap is still being offered today.

    Very much looking forward to Apple pushing the envelope on laptop displays, the 1920x1200 display on my 17" Pro is good, but a res bump would be sweet. (and please offer a matte option...)
    Reply
  • SnowCat00 - Saturday, March 17, 2012 - link

    My Thinkpad T60P from five years ago has 1680 X 1050 15 inch panel, the one thing holding me back from replacing it is all the crappy panels that are going into laptops lately... For once I say Go Apple! I hope the new Ipad pushes manufactures to start putting better screens inyo there tablets and laptops. Reply
  • Mumrik - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    Yup.

    I stopped reading after I noticed the resolution. It's time for this shit to end. Since LCDs took over we've been in a race towards the bottom - lower resolutions and worse and worse panels.
    I really hope the dick measuring contest in the smartphone and tablet space leads to more high and ultra high resolution IPS (and with time OLED) displays in laptops and desktop monitors. So few even offer a high res alternative these days.
    Reply
  • VoraciousGorak - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    Yeah.

    "...one of the most compelling notebooks we've seen yet..."

    Screen Resolution: 768p

    /me scrolls down to comments to complain, then hits Back button on browser.
    Reply
  • Old_Fogie_Late_Bloomer - Friday, March 16, 2012 - link

    Seriously. Is 1366x768 a good replacement for 1024x768? Sure. For 1280x800? No. Likewise, I'm fine with 1600x900 rather than 1440x900, and 1920x1080 instead of 1680x1050, but going from 1920x1200 to 1920x1080 is...well, it's just insulting.

    Manufacturers: If you're really hell bent for leather on shoving wider screens down our throats, the least you could do is give us 2048x1152, which still fits into the single-link DVI spec. How about 2400x1350? It divides nicely into 1600x900 for gaming and other 3D applications, and still gives you that shiny high-res look for regular 2D stuff.

    I suppose 2048x1280 or even 2048x1536 on a desktop monitor is just too much to ask...
    Reply
  • Malih - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    This will depend on whether Windows 8 can deliver good hi dpi support, currently some applications break when setting the text size of text to other than default, and non apple laptops use Windows, so they're somewhat held back by compatibility issues.
    I believe Metro apps will adapt well with high resolution, but this is not the case with some desktop apps.
    Reply
  • danielkza - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    I'm yet to find a single application updated on the last 5 years that messes up high-DPI, at least starting from Vista when I started using it. Reply
  • Malih - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    well, I found some, mostly utilities and apps that comes from manufacturers with the driver cd/downloads, that uses fugly UI, but because I need them to use the hardware... latest app I found that breaks is The Witcher 2 Configuration Tool Reply
  • Finraziel - Thursday, March 15, 2012 - link

    Well, some of us also just have good eyes... I have absolutely no problems using my acer AO522 netbook which has a 720p 10" screen. That comes to exactly the same pixel density as 1080p on 15". Actually I wouldn't mind if the pixel density got even higher, when Asus comes with their full hd 13" models I might be really tempted, if I have the money for it then. Reply

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