Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M3 Review

Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M3 Review

The Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M3 is an ultrabook while the Aspire V5 isn’t, but both have very similar form factors. The M3 offers very good system and graphics performance, as well as better battery life. You pay around Rs. 9,000 more than the Aspire V5, but then again, the M3 does make for a much better deal.

Build & Design
In a nutshell, the Aspire M3 is an ultrabook with a 15.6-inch display. The polycarbonate used is not of the highest quality visually, but it does a good enough job of offering a solid build quality. However, it doesn’t take away the fact that the M3 will look and feel inferior to the Samsung Series 5 (read our review), that falls into the same price category.

The black colour is matte throughout, with a brushed pattern on the lid. Open the Aspire Timeline Ultra M3’s lid, and the area around the keypad also has the same finish. The bezel also has a matte black finish, something that helps keep away reflections while watching videos.

Power key placement is on the front side, in a weird place – hidden away on the chin. It’s not a bad design idea, considering that it keeps the area around the keyboard clean and uncluttered. HP also tried something like this a while ago, with the power key on the side. We wonder why such a design element hasn’t caught on with other manufacturers yet.

The left side has an optical drive and a memory card slot, while the right side is completely clean. Unfortunately, all the ports are on the rear panel. We don’t really find this sort of port placement comfortable. We can understand the logic though – keep the sides as slim as possible and utilize the usually thick area around the display hinge. However, plugging in and removing devices means you need to tower over the display, which isn’t the most comfortable activity. Also, if you are using the laptop on the move, for example inside an aircraft, the ports on the rear mean you cannot plug in a hard drive and leave it dangling. Had these ports been placed on the side, the HDD could have shared the seat space with you! Just an example to illustrate the discomfort this port placement causes.

Since this is a 15.6-inch display, the keypad has more real estate to spread out on, with the separate number pad. The touchpad again has a left alignment, which takes some getting used to. However, the generous real estate space means you will not have any issue even while typing out long mails and documents.

One major issue with the build quality is the lid has a lot of flex in it. Press on it just below the display, and you can actually feel it trying to get into a U-shape. The hinge isn’t very solid either, and the display will rock around quite a bit, particularly when typing with it placed on your lap.

Features & Specifications

The Intel Core i5 – 2467M that powers the Aspire V5 (read our review) has been carried forward to the Aspire M3 as well – clocked at 1.6GHz, with Turbo Boost mode taking it to 2.3GHz. While the V5 isn’t technically an ultrabook, but the same power package is a bit of a surprise. Not surprisingly, this one retains 4GB of RAM. Ideally, we would have expected 6GB for this price, but the extra money seems to go towards the dedicated graphics card you get with this machine. This is on Intel’s HM77 (Panther Point) chipset.

Speaking of which, Intel’s HD 3000 graphics have a more powerful tag-team partner in the Nvidia GeForce GT640M, which comes with its own 2GB of DDR3 graphics memory. This is from the Fermi series of chips, and not Kepler, as some consumers assume. Not many ultrabooks can boast of this kind of power and graphics capabilities. Samsung’s Series 5 had bucked the trend to a certain extent with the AMD Radeon 7550M (1GB) graphics, but quite clearly, the Aspire M3 shows the way for the future.

The 15.6-inch display has a resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels. What we really like about it is the brightness it offers. This carries on with the trend set by the previous two Aspire notebooks we tested, and is immensely helpful when you are out and about in bright ambient light. Unfortunately, the display is more reflective than the other ones out there, which does ruin the experience a bit. Colour reproduction is amazing, and we didn’t see any gradation even with the usual suspects – yellow, green and orange. Crispness is also in a generous dose, but there does tend to be some noise around the alphabets at times. Not sure what the reason is for that, because it doesn’t happen all the time.

The well spread out keypad is very comfortable to use. The island-style keys are well spaced out, and the travel offered is pretty much perfect. A soft thud sound on pressing the key is not very audible, but nevertheless reassuring! The keypad does have a very wide footprint, and that takes some getting used to. The touchpad is also slightly bigger than what we usually see on laptops, but this one has integrated left and right click keys, which is slightly inconvenient. It offers consistent response though, with the only inconsistency being with the two finger drag down gesture.

Like its siblings, this one also has a 500GB hard drive. There are a couple of USB 3.0 ports on offer as well, along with one USB 2.0 and an HDMI out. Acer preloads this machine with Windows 7 (64-bit), along with limited trial installations of Microsoft Office and a few other applications. Again, we would recommend wiping all that clean and installing a fresh copy of Windows, without all these applications weighing it down. That is when you will actually get to feel the performance of the power package on offer.

Essentially, the Aspire M3 is a bumped up version of the Aspire V5, with the only real difference being the Nvidia GeForce GT640M graphics card, which is a couple of notches above the GeForce GT620M. Still, running the same benchmark tests, the Aspire M3 does score better than the V5 in most of them. This is surprising, considering the other hardware and the OS are the same. The difference isn’t much, but enough to ensure that the M3 feels more zippy in standard usage conditions. Just to illustrate the difference, let us see what the two laptops scored in PC Mark Vantage – Aspire M3 scored 6436 while the V5 scored 5585. In PC Mark 07, the M3 scored 2352 while the V3 scored 1701. The only reason we can see is the OS is less loaded with what we lovingly know as crapware and ran slightly more updated versions of critical system drivers.

The 15.6-inch display has what is now standard 1366 x 768 pixel resolution. Usability wise, this one is at par with the V5, because both are not very reflective. This is immensely helpful in most lighting conditions. Surprisingly, while the crispness has satisfactory levels, there is a considerably amount of noise around the text at times, and it doesn’t look very clear. Black levels are slightly better than the V5, which will help in multimedia playback.

Gamers would be delighted to pay that little bit more over the price of the Aspire V5 and get this M3, mostly because of the GeForce GT640M (2GB) graphics. The benchmark scores clarify that the potential does translate into performance. In the taxing modes on the 3D Mark 11 benchmark test, these were the scores – 2753 (Entry Mode), 1797 (Performance Mode) and 584 (Extreme Mode). For those who prefer comparisons using the slightly older 3D Mark 06 test, the score of 10498 will clear any doubts. The gaming potential is most definitely there, but most gamers would probably want to increase the system RAM beyond the standard 4GB for a better overall experience.

The battery life clocked three hours and 18 minutes in the battery tests. Set at full brightness, with the display on all the time and in High Performance mode, we believe this result is noting short of brilliant. Translate that into real life performance, and you should ideally get about four and half hours on a single charge. This is what is expected from an ultrabook, and quite clearly the M3 is delivering.

For a price of around Rs. 50,000, you really are getting an ultrabook that could almost be a laptop – in a very good way. It is slim enough to put most ultrabooks to shame, and offers stable performance throughout, with specs that are basically mid-range. But the real cherry on the cake is the gaming performance, thanks to the GT640M graphics. Essentially, this machine offers a bit of everything for everyone – portability, performance and gaming bit too. Worth considering, if this falls in your budget.

Vishal Mathur

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