Many Ultrabooks such as the Asus Zenbook UX31E and Toshiba Portege Z830 command a heavy premium for their super-slim design and powerful configuration. Even those that feature less powerful processors and hard drives instead of SSDs are overpriced for the kind of performance they offer. Let’s find out whether Acer’s Aspire Timeline U series has the potential to give its rivals a run for their money.
Sleek design and a powerful configuration
The base configuration of the Timeline U M3-581TG is quite similar to its smaller sibling, the U M5-481T that features a 14.1-inch display, and a few other models such as the Samsung Series 5. Under the hood is the Intel Core i5-2467M CPU, 4GB of DDR3 memory and a 500GB hard disk. One component that puts this Ultrabook ahead in terms of both performance and value for money is the dedicated graphics processor (hence the letter ‘G’ at the end of the model number). Nvidia GeForce GT640 with 1GB of dedicated memory is decent for gaming, albeit with low to medium settings on the display’s native resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels. The other components that add good value are the fabulous Dolby-certified speakers and the DVD-writer. The M3-581TG comes preloaded with Windows 7 Home Premium, 64-bit.
Build Quality and Ergonomics
The Acer Aspire Timeline U M3-581TG, though quite large with a 15.6-inch display, qualifies as an Ultrabook because it complies with all the requirements to be branded as one. Weighing a little more than 2 kilos, it’s around 500 grams lighter than standard 15.6-inch laptops. The Timeline U doesn’t look significantly different than TimelineX; it’s slimmer by a few millimetres and you won't be able to differentiate between the two until you pay attention to the placement of ports and the contoured rear edge of the chassis.
The ports should have been placed on the sides for easier access
We liked the placement of the USB, HDMI and Ethernet ports on the sides in the TimelineX. In the Timeline U M3-581TG, all the ports, and even the stereo headset jack, are placed on the rear. If not all, at least the USB ports should have been placed on the sides for easier access. In this case, plugging in a USB flash drive or any other device would be frustrating, requiring the user to turn the notebook around or use a USB extension cord or a hub. Thankfully, the card reader is placed on the side, next to the DVD-writer. The right side is completely empty.
The keyboard is of the chiclet type and Acer has managed to squeeze in a numeric pad thanks to the large form. The keyboard layout is nice with a good amount of spacing between the keys. However, the tactile response is not up to the mark and the key travel is shallow, which makes typing uncomfortable.
Chiclet type keyboard and a large touchpad
The touchpad is large and there aren’t any buttons. Like on the MacBook, it’s a clickpad and you can click by pressing down anywhere on the surface. Left and right clicks are detected by the driver according to the position of your finger. Many a times, we had to position the finger towards the corner of the touchpad for the driver to correctly detect right-clicks. We feel a regular touchpad with large, tactile buttons would have been better.
The lid feels quite rigid thanks to the aluminium sheet on the exterior that bears the Acer logo in chrome right at the centre. We wish Acer had used stiffer hinges to lend better support to the lid. They feel a bit loose as the lid wobbles while adjusting the viewing angle or with the slightest jerk.
The overall build of the Timeline U M3-581TG isn’t excellent, but good. The all-black colour scheme with matte finish looks nice. The quality of the plastic used is very good. Despite the good looks and an ultra-slim design, we still found something lacking. We feel that a metal palm rest instead of a plastic one would have lent a premium feel that this Ultrabook somewhat lacks. It’s absolutely not too much to ask considering the price it commands.
What we really liked is the removable panel on the bottom that allows the user to upgrade or replace the hard drive, RAM, Wi-Fi module and mSATA SSD. There’s only a single RAM slot, so you don’t have an option to add a module. It’s recommended to approach Acer if you wish to upgrade during the warranty period, because the warranty will be void if you pierce through the ‘warranty void’ stickers pasted over the screws to open the panel.
In terms of pure number crunching power, the Timeline U M3-581TG, M5-481T, Samsung Series 5 and Dell XPS 13 (Core i5 variant) are all at par with each other because they use the same processor. This is quite evident from the CineBench R11.5 score of 1.92 points points and the real world scores. It took 58 seconds to transcode a one minute MPEG clip to H.264 format and 107 seconds to compress 100MB of assorted files to 7.zip format (Ultra preset). In other tests such as PCMark and 3DMark, the M3-581TG shone thanks to the GeForce GT640 GPU. It scored 2443 and 24760 points in PCMark 7 and 3DMark Vantage respectively. Despite the absence of a dedicated graphics processor, Dell XPS 13 scored higher in PCMark (3545 points) due to the speedy SSD. The hard drive used in this model has a spindle speed of 5400 rpm and it reads and writes data at around 115MB/s and 87MB/s respectively – SSDs are almost four times as fast!
Moving on, what impressed us the most was the sound quality and the battery life. The speakers are the loudest we’ve heard in Ultrabooks. The audio is crisp and the bass is quite good. This complements watching movies, listening to music and playing games. Acer claims the battery life of this Ultrabook is more than 8 hours. It did last for 8.5 hours but with Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and Ethernet disabled, display brightness set to medium and minimal work load (reading a document). This was reported by Battery Eater Pro. With full load involving rendering a 3D scene, the battery lasted for around 2 hours, which is excellent. On an average, most Ultrabooks last for around 1.5 hours. With medium load, you should easily get around 5 to 6 hours of battery life.
Includes an optical drive despite the slim form
Verdict and Price in India
Priced at Rs 51,705, the Timeline U M3-581TG is one of the cheapest options you have if you wish to buy an Ultrabook. Of course, it isn’t cheap by any means, considering you can buy a more powerful laptop for the same price. This means the premium is mainly for the ultra-slim design. The M3-581TG would have been a better deal had it featured the Intel Core i5-3317U processor and at least a 750GB hard drive. Core i5-3317U is around 25 percent faster than Core i5-2467M, features DirectX 11 capable integrated graphics (Intel HD 4000) and consumes less power.
Nevertheless, the M3-581TG is still a better deal than many other models because of the dedicated GPU, DVD-writer and an awesome battery life.
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