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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  • mschira - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    You call this compelling?
    Trackpad sucks. COME on. That is one of the most important usability items on a laptop.
    If the trackpad sucks the notebook sucks.
    Screen resolution? 768P on 15.6" are they joking?

    Also ditch the optical drive. I have a Lenovo 420s and replaced the optical drive with a second battery. I have the optical drive somewhere but I am not sure I would find it if I ever needed it.

    Great move with the GT 640 absolutely. Also great move with the mSSD and harddrive bay.
    But else?
    M.
    Reply
  • nateclind - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    How about showing a little class and respect. You can definitely disagree, but go about it in a more constructive way. Reply
  • snuuggles - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    The tone of the op was somewhat ascerbic. The tone of -your- post is just weird... How, exactly, are they not being "classy?!"

    Try to be specific (as the op was).
    Reply
  • weiran - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    His points are perfectly valid and constructive.

    In the recent Dell XPS13 review, it had almost the exact same faults as this laptop and yet this one is somehow "compelling"? The trackpad and screen are two of the most important parts of a laptop, yet the poor screen doesn't even get a mention in the conclusion. Is the rest of the laptop good enough to overlook those deficiencies?

    The author also seems to base his final judgement on a retail price of around $800, I'll tell you now there's no way it will be close to $800 a decent sized SSD and i7.
    Reply
  • mschira - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    Hm, I didn't even get far enough to appreciate the price. 800 would be a good offer, but a 256GB SSD, and i7 and a Kepler GPU for 800?
    Sure.
    And the next iPad will be sold for a benefit price in Africa.
    M.
    Reply
  • nissangtr786 - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    I reckon this has 20-50% less power then the full gt640m 2gb card as the 1gb gt640m is the LE version 15-20w card vs the 2gb gt640m 25-30w card.

    http://forum.notebookreview.com/gaming-software-gr...

    See that forum and see the list of graphics cards and you will se it is pretty impressive for a 15-20w card.
    Reply
  • Gideonic - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    Nice ME3 reference ;) Reply
  • kallogan - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    Kepler seems indeed to be a big step forward... Reply
  • flensr - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    My wife is complaining about her laptop again and this is exactly the form factor she likes (thin and light but with optical drive) but the screen is so awful that I'm going to have to give it a pass. Almost everything else about this is awesome (6GB ram max is pretty weak but the mSATA SSD + 2.5 HDD is a great choice) and having an ethernet port and optical drive is a requirement for me, but the screen simply must be better than this or it's a complete waste of money to purchase.

    I bought a lenovo T420s which is remarkably similar to this thing (thin light with optical, 14") but after receiving it and seeing how terrible that screen was, I'm going to hold out until either the laptop screens improve or tablets improve to the point where I can switch over completely to tablet use. That T420s is the last laptop with a crummy screen I'll ever buy.

    Laptop manufacturers are going to lose their customers in a BIG way in a year or two when tablet hardware is capable of running a "real" OS, unless they can figure out a way to put nice screens in their laptops. I would have happily paid an extra $400 for my T420s for an upgraded screen, and I won't buy a replacement with a TN screen at ANY price. If that means I wait until the ipad 8 or whatever microsoft comes out with in a couple of years when their tablets are not much different than tiny desktops/laptops, then that's better than using one of these horrible screens.
    Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    Doesnt the 560M have just half that many cores? And it is faster? What is going on here? Reply

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