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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  • tipoo - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    It has 192, yeah. Interesting. But its in the same thermal envelope so who cares how many shaders there are, maybe they went AMDs route with less powerful individually but more numerous shaders. Reply
  • extide - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    It pretty clear that the CUDA cores in kepler cannot be directly compared to the ones in past generations.
    With the full GK104 being rumored to have 1536 yet nowhere near 3x as fast as a GTX580 (512 CUDA cores), plus this card with 384 and significantly less performance than the 192 based fermi card.
    Reply
  • MarsMSJ - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link



    The mention of the 6650M in the Sony notebook should warrant an asterisk on all the GPU performance graphs. In those graphs there is nothing to differentiate or tell a reader that a built in 6650M will perform much better than a 6650M. We all know those graphs will be referenced and they imply that 6650M in a standard or non standard implementation will work

    I can see clearly why NVidia likes your graphs because they're misleading.
    Reply
  • mamisano - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    I totally agree and glad that someone else feels the same way as me. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    The text has an explanation for the poor performance of the 6650M, and actually I have a 6630M review coming shortly where it outperforms the 6650M results, but there's still a large gap between it and the GT 640M.

    The bigger issue is that AMD doesn't have a lot of compelling laptops using their GPUs, and even the ones that do go with AMD have other quirks. The Z2 has it in an external dock where performance (at least on the internal laptop display) is hindered by Thunderbolt bandwidth; the VAIO SE16 (which I'm reviewing right now) has the 6630M, but the manually switchable graphics and almost complete lack of driver updates is going to make it a tough sell for gamers. HP's Envy has the same problem with driver updates.

    We've heard from AMD that they'll be rolling out a "unified driver" for all their switchable graphics laptops, but until (if) that happens you're basically asking for problems down the road. Optimus may not be perfect, but compared to the AMD alternative it sure feels like it. :-(
    Reply
  • MarsMSJ - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    I understand what you're saying about your options. However, that still doesn't address the fact that your graphs do not express this is an exotic GPU implementation with additional contraints that are not normal, driver quirks or not. Keep mind you have lots of graphs and a very important bit of information hidden half way between them.

    You're not new to the internet, you know the nature and power of these graphs and their interpretation on the web. I'm not surprised in the least bit NVidia loves your graphs and testing.

    Anyway.... any indication about the heat from this NVidia mobile GPU being common thing with upcoming products? :)
    Reply
  • Hulk - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    with the Super PLS screen.

    Help us Dustin Sklavos Kenobi, you're our only hope!
    Reply
  • kenyee - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    They should have stuck at least a 1080p screen on it and 4 memory slots so you can stuff 16GB of memory in it :-P

    I'm hoping the Macbook Air shows them how it's done too...and I hate rooting for Apple :-P
    Sony's Z2 looks great, but has the same memory limitations, and no Kepler GPU :-(
    Reply
  • trajan2448 - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    I travel quite a bit and I always watch movies with my laptop. I hope they keep the DVD drive until there is some equivalent no hassle solution. Reply
  • noeldillabough - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    Honestly say I haven't used an optical drive on laptops for years. Rip the movies to DivX or XVid and watch em on whatever device you like. Reply

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