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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  • lcarsos - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    Oh my the screen is 768p? I would certainly hope that the screen is refreshed in a progressive manner! If my cursor were to start interlacing as I moved it around I would probably start a bar fight.

    My point is, why would an unnecessary descriptor such as "progressive" get slipped into a laptop review? Man up, and display the screen pixelage, of course the laptop is going to display things progressive it wasn't a television designed in the 60s. Now if you were to stick a DVD in there, DVDs are encoded interlaced in most cases. Now what's happening? A progressive display of interlaced images? Better to just leave that out of the review.

    Also, 1366x768 in a 15.6" laptop? What committee let that through? In an age where the iPad can end up with 2048x1536 pixels in a 10" screen for $500 they can certainly slip in a higher quality screen at the price they are currently at. Even if it is still a TN panel. I have a 14" Thinkpad with a 1600x900 display, at no point should a screen of larger size come with lower resolution.
    Reply
  • Glock24 - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    I've been looking for a laptop to replace my aging Asus F8Va (which has a 14" 1440x900 screen), but every single manufacturer insists on using crappy 1366x768 screens. And I say crappy screens not just because of the resolution, but also because of the poor viewing angles and bad contrast.

    I remember some older notebooks sporting 4:3 screen with at least 1280x1024 resolution. Then came the 16:10 craze and the screens started coming with 1280x800 resolution. Now we have 16:9 screens with 1366x768 resolution. What's next? 1440x600? 1600x400?

    Having 768 vertical pixels feels so 90's. Come on! Even my old 19" Samsung CRT sm997mb, which was in no way top of the line, could diplay 2048x1536@60 (1600x1200@75, 1280x1024@85), and it was made in 2004. I know CRTs are different animals, but I think I made my point.

    I'm not much into the "ultrabook" thing, but I prefer a 14" latop over the more common 15.6" form factor, and I want to play some games on it from time to time, so a dedicated GPU or a decent APU is required. I was considering the Lenovo y470p, which is a 14" laptop with Radeon HD7690, a very good port selection and a great price, but why does it come with a mediocre screen!

    HP makes some decent laptops, the DV6 is interesting, and some of them have a 1080p screen option, but are 15.6" or 17"

    Also, as some others said, why not ditch the optical drive and use the space for something more useful? An additional battery, some more ports, etc.
    Reply
  • Johnmcl7 - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    It's not the case that every company only offers 1366x768 screens, my current Vaio is approaching three years old for the model and has a 1600x900 13.1in screen and the model after it (now also retired) offered a 1080p 13.1in screen with decent colour and viewing angles. 13in higher resolution panels are trickier to find but 14in is fairly easy, there's quite a few other with 1600x900 panels.

    I do love that in the comments as always people are saying how Apple will lead the way with high resolution displays despite Sony offering 13.1in 1080p panels for a couple of years now. As usual Apple are first to do something by being several years behind those that are genuinely at the front.

    As for the why with mediocre screens, I would think it's obvious - most people don't care and won't pay for them. I don't agree with that stance but on supporting a large number of these crappy 1366x768 screens both at work and out of work laptops, not one person has every complained to me about the low screen resolution. It tends to be the other way round if anything, people tend to complain about my high resolution panels because they make everything too small.

    John
    Reply
  • Finraziel - Thursday, March 15, 2012 - link

    Yes, Sony does make nice laptops with sometimes nice screens... The problem is that you pay through the nose for them. When a 500$ laptop offers enough performance for me, and the added cost for a decent screen would be about 50-100$, then why can't I get one of those screens unless I buy a 2000$ laptop?
    As for Apple, I don't think the majority of people saying that in the comments here are fanboys or even saying that Apple would be the first, but it does seem to be the case that whatever Apple does, other manufacturers copy. I'm not even saying that it's to Apple's credit as a technology company, it says more about their marketing department. I actually would never buy anything from Apple because I don't agree with their philosophy and most of their products and think they're a bunch of stuck up snobs (from professional dealings with them), but I would like it if they could jumpstart a trend to include better screens in laptops.
    Reply
  • zepi - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    How about the battery life when gaming? Is it still a dismal 1 hour or so? How about when compared to let's say a Llano laptop? Reply
  • kmmatney - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    Hey Acer! Do you want to stand out and be more like Apple? Then how about making a laptop with a 16:10 screen? Reply
  • HighTech4US - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    Why exactly do manufactures chose slower and more power hungry GDDR3 over GDDR5?

    You would think the lower power and higher performance of GDDR5 would make it the obvious choice.

    Is the cost of GDDR5 really so much higher than GDDR3?
    Reply
  • ueharaf - Thursday, March 15, 2012 - link

    you have to compare with amd 6630m on a sony vaio SA.
    z2 has thunderbolt so is not a fair comparison in graphics card. Here I smell a NVIDIA propaganda, rather than a fair comparison of the graphic cards...come on!!!
    Reply
  • Kansja - Thursday, March 15, 2012 - link

    Keep this in mind: Due to the much lower thermal headroom in a laptop you can't just stick in enough power to fire up 1080p displays on a laptop, either from the graphic's side or the power constraints (Remember that the iPad has a MASSIVE battery for the power consumption of everything minus display)

    You can't just stick 4 580's on a lap. It's a compromise between costs to the user, mobility and performance. I do agree 1600x900 should be an standard but it's not possible until our graphic's card offer 6870 like performance on 10-20W power envelope
    Reply
  • Old_Fogie_Late_Bloomer - Thursday, March 15, 2012 - link

    I had to log in to say this...looking at the results on the gaming performance page, it seems to me that this laptop is able to acquit itself quite well at 1600x900. Honestly, my next laptop will be 1600x900 at 15.6" (unless I need to get a really cheap machine for some reason) and if this model had a matte, 900p display, it would be on my short, SHORT list, especially given the pleasant experience I've had with my current Acer laptop.

    There's really just no excuse for Acer (or anyone) to not put a higher-resolution display on a machine like this. I don't need (or want) 1920x1080, but I'll be damned if I spend more than $600 on a laptop that doesn't have at least 900 rows of pixels on the display.
    Reply

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