Conclusion: A GeForce and an Acer Both So Close

With the Acer Aspire TimelineU M3, we're really talking about and reviewing two different products: the ultrabook itself and the shiny new NVIDIA GeForce GT 640M. There's a certain poetry to the feeling that these two products are both worthy of the same conclusion: excellent on their own, but both need to be able to stretch their legs.

The GeForce first: without being able to reveal details about Kepler it's difficult to say if the GeForce GT 640M is shader heavy, but it is most definitely memory bandwidth bound. At the M3's low native resolution the 640M is a fantastic GPU that demonstrates a lot of the progress that we want to see; it's not just about being able to play games, it's about being able to play them well, and the 640M does provide next-generation performance in what seems to be the same power envelope as its predecessor. We also continue to see Optimus performing as well as it should. Jarred is big on eventually having GPUs idle so low that we simply don't need this kind of graphics-switching technology, but until that day comes, Optimus remains a stellar value add for end users. This is one place where AMD is lagging woefully behind and needs to get their act together, because right now the 640M is going to be preferable to pretty much any other mainstream mobile GPU in terms of both performance and power consumption.

Meanwhile, the TimelineU M3 has a generally beautiful aesthetic, fantastic battery life, and Acer has finally and truly done away with the floating island keyboard. At just under five pounds I'm sorely tempted to split hairs over its "ultrabook" status, but as far as the dimensions are concerned, this is really the form factor we'd like all mainstream notebooks to eventually hit. There's a convincing case to be made between the M3 and the Dell XPS 15z that notebooks just don't need to be particularly bulky anymore unless they're trying to cool high-end graphics hardware; with Ivy Bridge in the pipe even the CPU side of the equation is less and less likely to need extensive cooling. I'm also a big fan of the inclusion of both an mSATA port and 2.5" drive bay, allowing end users to enjoy the best of both worlds.

Unfortunately, the M3's design trips up in a couple of key places. The touchpad is difficult to use and is one more case against unified touchpads in PCs; it's a bit worse than the Dell XPS 13's was, and I have yet to test one that was anywhere near as convenient as the time-honored touchpad and discrete buttons combination. Having almost all of the ports on the back of the M3 is inconvenient as well; at least one USB port needs to be on a side, along with the headphone jack. While I can't really complain about the inclusion of the DVD+/-RW drive, I'm also not entirely sure how essential it is. I can't remember the last time I've needed the optical drive on my Alienware M17x R3, and I've never missed not having one on my ThinkPad X100e. And finally, the SSD controller built into the mSATA SSD in the M3 is capable of SATA 6Gbps speeds, but the mSATA port limits it to SATA 3Gbps, thus leaving some performance on the table.

With all that said, I remain optimistic. The GeForce GT 640M is a worthy mainstream GPU that improves substantially on its predecessors and one I hope to see wide adoption of, while the Acer Aspire TimelineU M3 is the first Acer notebook I've tested that I ultimately felt pretty positively about. If the M3 can hit a reasonable price point it's going to offer an awful lot of value for the money, and I'm pretty sure we can count on Acer to make that happen. I've been trying to find an inexpensive gaming-ready notebook to recommend to a friend lately without having to dip into Llano territory; if the M3 can hit $800 or lower, it's the one. [Ed: Sorry, but you're not getting a 256GB SSD for under a grand, and even 128GB is asking a lot. In fact, with the discrete GPU and i7 CPU, I'm guessing this particular model with go for closer to $1500. Hopefully we'll see a variant with an i5 but still with the 640M GPU, and maybe a 128GB SSD targeting a price closer to $1000.]

Battery, Heat, and Screen Performance
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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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