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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  • Kansja - Friday, March 16, 2012 - link

    I do agree 1600x900 are fine, but I can't get over a 700$ budget and I want to play games at least medium. HP + Llano + 7690 stays under that budget with 768, but doesn't have the option to 1600x900 other than 1080p and that would be too taxing, so it's unfair. It's a compromise: Want better displays on laptops? You need more power, thus, pay more, thus, lose markets. Most people won't notice a lot of difference unless you're a graphics junkie. You are niche users, not the mainstream market Reply
  • Old_Fogie_Late_Bloomer - Friday, March 16, 2012 - link

    Actually, I really wouldn't care what resolution a game rendered at as long as it ends up looking okay in the end. Render in 960x600 and upscale to 1440x900, or in 1280x720 or 1200x675 and upscale to 1600x900. I don't care, it's fine with me, as long as the scaling is decent.

    But that's neither here nor there. I want a resolution with 900 rows for productivity reasons. Gaming is a secondary concern for me, but I will want to be able to fire up something more than classic Unreal Tournament or d1x-rebirth in my next laptop. Honestly, with Kepler and even Trinity nearly here, I suspect that GPU power is about to become a non-issue.

    I was really disappointed in the Samsung Series 7...I thought it would be my perfect laptop, but what I read about it left a bad taste in my mouth. So I'll be watching for a thin(ish) and light(ish) 15.6"(ish) laptop with a 1440x900 or 1600x900 (or thereabouts) matte screen that can game reasonably well, whether that's with a Trinity APU or with a i7-3xxx paired with Kepler. I think a system like this could probably hit around $700 with a Trinity APU.
    Reply
  • Kansja - Saturday, March 17, 2012 - link

    Trinity: Yes. If Llano is any indicative and even a 10% increase of power on both sides on the same TDP, it could handle it pretty well. Otherwise, 640M seems disappointing to say the least... Let's see how Kepler scales tho, since this is the smallest part I guess. Reply
  • Osamede - Thursday, March 15, 2012 - link

    A 15" laptop with a 1366 x 768 screen? Why would Anandtech even waste its time reviewing junk like this?

    No offense fellas, but I dont care if the company even PAID you to review this thing, you should say no, because it hurts your own brand as a tech media website, to review this dross.

    Next time you have a laptop review I cant tell you I aint clicking, because you seem likely to waste my time....
    Reply
  • akyp - Monday, March 19, 2012 - link

    Stopped reading there Reply
  • nissangtr786 - Wednesday, December 26, 2012 - link

    imo I have had a couple 1920x1200 dell latitude d820/e6500 and 1440x900 14inch screen on d630 and recently an e6420 14" 1600x900 screen. Now 16:9 is something I didn't want but it makes watching movies better. Also as bad as 1366x768 is, it is liveable. 640m and 720p gaming will go very well.

    I currently use an acer 5930g and I am on the process to upgrade to an i5 3317u m3 640m machine. Seeing this review it shows that is good enough and good as a cheap replacement for use for next 2-4 years.
    Reply

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