WHEN LOOKING FOR a tagline that will easily sell a boatload of Acer Timeline M3 notebooks, it doesn’t take much more than: “an ultrabook that will play Battlefield 3 on Ultra setting.” And it’s true, too.
The Timeline M3 will indeed play BF3 on Ultra, provided you’re comfortable with 30 frames per second. That dips a bit below our thresholds for a shooter. We preferred playing Battlefield 3 on High, which gave us 50–60fps in online play. Granted, we were only playing at the 1366x768 native resolution of the machine’s 15.6-inch panel, but that’s pretty good for a so-called ultrabook.
We say so-called ultrabook because even though it’s within the very loose parameters set by Intel, a lot of people who encounter the Timeline M3 aren’t going to think this widescreen notebook is an ultrabook. Most people equate ultrabooks with PC clones of a MacBook Air. But the definition is broader. Ultrabooks must be within a certain height, run a certain proc, reach a certain battery life rating, and come out of hibernation in a certain amount of time. The Timeline is wide—just shy of 15 inches across—so wide that it has enough space for an optical drive. There’s even room in the Timeline to sport a 7mm, 2.5‑inch drive bay. Acer doesn’t use the bay, though, instead opting for a teeny-but-fast SATA 6Gb/s Lite-On SSD in mSATA trim. Storage hogs hoping to use both bays will be heartbroken—installing a drive in the 2.5-inch bay turned off the mSATA drive.
The Timeline M3 sports a Kepler-based GeForce GT 640, making it the first ultrabook we know of that’s capable of running modern games.
App performance was spot on for the dual-core 1.7GHz Core i7-2637M part. The chip will Turbo up to 2.8GHz under lighter loads and, for the most part, it’s slightly faster than the 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-2557M in our zero-point, the Asus Zenbook. Frankly, Acer could save its customers a bit of cash by opting for the nearly identical Core i5 chip instead.
Gaming performance, obviously, is outstanding for this class. You’re looking at at least three times the graphics performance of the Sandy Bridge-based graphics in the Asus Zenbook UX31E in very old games. In titles that integrated graphics can’t even run, the new 28nm Nvida Kepler-based GeForce GT 640M does not disappoint. And for the record, it’ll hit P1798 in 3DMark 11.
Let’s say it again: We’re floored to see modern games run on a notebook that’s less than an inch thick. It’s truly a testament to Kepler’s graphics power and power savings. The Timeline is by no means a replacement for a multi-GPU, 12-pound gaming desknote, but it’s probably the best portable version of it. The Timeline M3 also sports Nvidia’s Optimus technology, so when discrete graphics aren’t needed, you can cruise along using the Sandy Bridge graphics.
Not all is perfect with the Timeline M3. A sore point is the trackpad which is twitchy and takes a lot of tuning to get right. The screen is simply blah. Off-axis visibility is TN-poor and when we ran the Lagom panels tests (www.lagom.nl), we found the screen to be slightly inferior to those of the other ultrabooks we’ve tested. What bugged us most was the picture's milky sheen and the anti-Retina display resolution of 1366x768 on a 15.6-inch panel.
All that aside, however, we’re still awed by the gaming performance of the Timeline M3 and its portability—provided you have a wide enough bag. With a proper screen and better touchpad, you’d have a seriously kick-ass machine.
Acer Timeline M3
JACK IN THE BOX
Powerful graphics in a thin package; loaded.
Mediocre panel; width pushes the boundaries of ultrabook portability.
Premiere Pro CS3 (sec)
Photoshop CS3 (sec)
ProShow Producer (sec)
Quake III (fps)
Quake 4 (fps)
Battery life (min)
Our zero-point ultraportable is an Asus Zenbook UX31E with a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-2557M, 4GB of DDR3/1333 RAM, integrated graphics, a 128GB SSD, and Windows 7 Professional 64-bit.
1.7GHz Intel Core i7-2637M
Nvidia GeForce GT 640M
Dual-channel 4GB DDR3/1333
Lite-On mSATA 256GB SSD
USB 2.0, USB 3.0, HDMI, headphone, webcam, Bluetooth, 802.11 a/g/n