Acer Aspire TimelineU M3: Life on the Kepler Vergeby Dustin Sklavos on March 13, 2012 5:56 PM EST
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
Intel Core i7-2637M
(2x1.7GHz + HTT, Turbo to 2.8GHz, 32nm, 4MB L3, 17W)
|2x2GB DDR3-1333 (one stick integrated, one user replaceable, maximum 6GB)
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)
15.6" LED Glossy 16:9 768p
AU Optronics B153XTN03.2
|256GB LiteOn mSATA 3Gbps SSD
|HL-DT-ST DVD+/-RW GU61N
Atheros AR5B97 802.11b/g/n
Broadcom NetLink Gigabit Ethernet
Single combination mic/headphone jack
|3-Cell, 55Wh (integrated)
SD/MMC card reader
2x USB 2.0
|Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit SP1
14.8" x 0.78" x 9.8" (WxHxD)
375mm x 20mm x 250mm
Open 2.5" drive bay
|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.