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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  • Exchequer - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    It is clear you are NOT a gamer... I hace combined my gamign rig intentionally with a 1680x1050 screen, why? Because it MATTERS for your framerate.

    1024x768=768k
    1280x1024=1.2M
    1680x1050=1.76M
    1920x1080=2M
    1366x768=1M

    Your talking about is 5M

    That is pure madnes... Even if you go from 1M pixels to 2M pixels, this mean your framerate will drop down 50%... E.g. if you had 50 fps before it will end up near 25 fps. To talk about 5M pixels means you really have absolutely no clue about gpu's and games...

    Of course you can lower the resolution of your game but, as anyone that ever tried this will know, if you move away from the native resolution screens become very ugly. Your better off playing native on a lower resolution than picking this resolution on a higher res panel.
    Reply
  • kmmatney - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    When you have pixels that small, things actually scale quite well, so going to a lower resolution for a game is no big deal.

    I agree that a 1680 x 1050 screen is great for mainstream gaming - it's a good compromise between having a nice big screen, and not too many pixels to push.
    Reply
  • airmantharp - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    Did you seriously just say 1680x1050 for gaming?

    That's great, if you can't afford a video card, and I'm aware that not everyone can.

    But let me tell you, gaming on a 30" 2560x1600 IPS screen is something to behold. Battlefield 3, Skyrim, Mass Effect 3, The Old Republic, all look and play amazing when driven by a pair of HD6950 2GB cards.
    Reply
  • Exchequer - Saturday, March 17, 2012 - link

    First of all we are talking here about mobile gaming... Even if you get an insanely expensive laptop with sli/crossfire you still wont have enough fps for a 30 inch screen with that resolution...

    Furthermore crossfire results in microstutter so thats not an ideal solution, it pretty much ruins the game.

    On pc gaming I once bought an 8800 GTS 640mb for 320 euro when it was just released (probablyt wrong priced should be 450 euro), 6 months later the 8800GT was introduced at half price. Since then I learned my lesson and got the gtx 260 for 140 euro (and got 90 back for the 8800gts), after that a gtx460 hawk for 165 euro. If you stick with your 1680x1050 panel you can run all games with AA without any problems for at least a year for about 50-60 (because each time you get 90-100 back for your old card). If I want to play bf3 on 1920x1080 I have to upgrade to a 560ti which would cost me 220 euro while resulting in the same detail settings and fps...
    Reply
  • Bols - Thursday, March 15, 2012 - link

    But you are so very wrong (and angry), young padwan.

    The beauty of a 2880x1800 screen is that it scales perfectly down to 1440x900, which would allow it to be driven by a mid-class GPU for fast FPS-games, and you will not be able to see that there is any scaling going on. (There isn't - every pixel in the 1400-domain is just shown as four pixels). For serious use, you can cram in four times more information and text in the 2800-resolution. If you working with text, like programming, screen estate matters.

    And you should ease up on the assumptions. I am an ex-fps-junkie, but I still care about framerate.
    Reply
  • Finraziel - Thursday, March 15, 2012 - link

    Double the pixels is half the framerate? Right, and there we stop taking you seriously... You read Anandtech yet you don't know there are lots of different possible bottlenecks and they are not all affected by resolution?
    Aside from that I agree, scaling isn't nearly as bad as people make it out to be on a proper high resolution screen. I've regularly done it both on laptops and on my 24" 1920x1200 display and if you can live with lower res I don't see how you can be so picky to whine about a bit of blurring from the scaling. Maybe if you play text-heavy games, but those tend to be less sensitive to framerate, so it works out nicely.
    Reply
  • Exchequer - Saturday, March 17, 2012 - link

    It is... I have an old Philips 17 inch TFT (25ms from 2003 so 9 years old!) as secondary monitor with 1280x1024. My main monitor is a samsung 2253BW (2008, 2ms), which is regarded as a high quality monitor. If I put the 2253BW on 1280x1024 (including black bars) you get about the same screen surface. The 17 inch is 27 cm height and the 22inch is 30cm. However the image quality is a LOT worse. If all you can run is 1280x1024 (gpu limited) than you are 100% better off with the old 17inch 5:4 panel as compared to downscaling the modern 22inch panel.

    Besides gaming it is of course personal preference. Back in the day you could get a 1680x1050 22 inch or a 1680x1050 20 inch, or a higher resolution 22 inch. However this results in very small text on your OS forcing you to use larger icons which (in the old days) were not as pretty ^^. Small icons get annoying pretty quickly. Anyone that has been wearing contact lenses for some years will know what im talking about:D.
    Reply
  • Exchequer - Saturday, March 17, 2012 - link

    "Double the pixels is half the framerate? Right, and there we stop taking you seriously...´`

    Maybe you should not only visit anandtech but also take a look at techpowerup...

    http://www.techpowerup.com/reviews/Zotac/GeForce_G...

    2560x1600 48 fps
    1680x1050 85 fps
    1280x1024 109 fps

    If you are talking about 5M pixels (the post that I replied to then I can assure you that you will be gpu imited and that scaling will be completely lineair...

    ps since sandy brige its hard to be cpu limited with a single gpu ^^.
    Reply
  • JojoKracko - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    Yes, disgraceful. I have to agree. Lets hope that Apple also forces a return to the infinitely more logical 16x10 format for laptops. 16x9 is simply cost saving BS which I equate to skimping on the quality of the screen.

    Make it 16x10, IPS, and I will gladly, GLADLY, kick the vendor an extra $150.

    If they can put a 2560x?? IPS panel in a $500 iPad (not 3) then they can damn well do the same in $900 and up laptops.

    All we need is ONE manufacturer to set the example, (and do it well for pete's sake, don't skimp on the keyboard to compensate), and the HUGE SALES will show all of the others that this is what they should have been doing all along.

    If they would have put a 1600x1000 quality TN panel into THIS laptop, I would have been a buyer for $100 over list price. As is though, it is useless crapola to me.

    Props for the mSata SSD and the EMPTY drive bay. Although, I'd prefer two fullsized bays and the ability to buy my own SSD and install it along with the crap HDD they would include.
    Reply
  • JojoKracko - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    Hey, if Asus can put a 1080P IPS Matte screen in an $1100 UX31A, then every other laptop maker sure as heck better start doing the same. It is just crazy that it has taken this long for the first quality laptop display to appear.

    Let me say it again.

    1080P IPS Matte Screen

    Just do it!

    http://www.notebookcheck.net/Asus-to-release-the-Z...

    This one, or hopefully a G75 with a similar spec'd screen, is something I'm looking forward to buying in the near future. Not things like this acer with the low res, low spec screen.

    Review the UX31A next please Anandtech.
    Reply

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