Annoyingly, Acer has sent us a configuration of the S3 that you won’t actually be able to buy in the UK (US only, as is lamentably often the case). Our sample sports a Core i7 CPU combined with a whopping 240GB SSD, which is a stunning performance combo that catapults this laptop to the top of the ultraportable chart. However, on this side of the Atlantic you’ll have to pick between a Core i7 backed by a 500GB hard drive, or a 240GB SSD paired with a Core i5 – something to keep in mind when comparing numbers.
Disclaimers aside, our Core i7 is of the dual-core variety with support for four virtual cores, and it will clock up to 2.8GHz on a single core from its default 1.7GHz. In other words, for all but the heaviest users there’ll be processing power to spare. Much the same is true for those forced to go with the Core i5, as it should prove easily adequate for the majority of tasks.
It’s backed by the standard 4GB of RAM you’ll find in most laptops, and of course that massive 240GB SSD. This helps it to achieve some stunning scores in our tests, doubling drive performance maximums from previous ultraportables.
Graphics are the only weak spot, though Intel’s integrated HD 3000 is no longer the embarrassment it once was. Just to give an idea, at 720p and medium detail it managed a perfectly smooth 41.7fps in TrackMania Nations Forever, but in Stalker Call of Pripyat things went downhill with a 16.4fps overall average at the same settings.
Throughout it all, the S3 does get warm but not unpleasantly so. And while quickly becomes audible under load, it produces an even whir that rarely gets too annoying.
Battery life is more important than ever on Ultrabooks, as the integrated batteries are either not user replaceable or very difficult to replace at best. Here the Aspire S3 doesn’t hold up too badly, managing five hours and 20 minutes away from a socket. However, even considering the Core i7 CPU under its hood it’s far from best of class, with the Samsung Series 9 900X3A giving you over seven hours. We’ll have to see how other Ultrabooks hold up, but we’re guessing the S3 certainly won’t rule the roost when it comes to time on the go.
Finally there is value to consider. With a starting price of under £700, Acer offers the cheapest 13.3in Ultrabook on the market (compared to the £1,000 Asus Zenbook UX31E and comparable ultraportables like the £1,164 Samsung 900X3A and £1,099 Apple MacBook Air). However, a moving parts hard drive rather than an SSD is the price you pay, together with its other limitations. The 240GB SSD version takes care of that particular down-side for a very reasonable £,1080, but you’re still stuck with a lack of fast or convenient connectivity, no backlighting for its keyboard, and inferior battery life. Basically then, it all comes down to what you’re happy giving up, or paying more for.
As the first Ultrabook we’ve reviewed, Acer’s 13.3in Aspire S3 has a lot to live up to, and on quite a few points it manages it. We’re impressed with its performance, build quality and screen, while it also scores points in the looks and usability categories. Only connectivity, audio and battery life cause any serious concern, while missing features like keyboard backlighting detract from the premium feel. However, if you’re happy with the slim girl next door rather than a super model, the S3’s low price means it’s definitely a contender.