Acer Aspire Timeline U M3 Ultra 581T-32364G34Mnkk. That’s quite a mouthful – in fact, far too much of a mouthful, really; Philips has nothing on Acer when it comes to overcomplicated model numbers. Unfortunately, we can’t just call this laptop the Acer Aspire Timeline U M3 Ultra – by itself plenty to be getting on with - and be done with it. This is because, though they all share the same chassis, the various 15.6in Acer Aspire Timeline U M3 Ultras differ significantly in their configurations.
For example, there’s the 581TG-6736 version with Nvidia GeForce Series 6 ‘Keppler’ GT 640M graphics backed by a Core i5 CPU and 500GB hybrid storage, which is one of the first Ultrabooks you can actually do some decent 3D gaming on. The version we’re looking at today, however, is the cheapest model in the range, with a Core i3, integrated graphics, 4GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive.
In fact, the lack of hybrid SSD storage means we’re not sure this laptop has a right to be called an Ultrabook anymore, but hey – if it looks like an Ultrabook, feels like an Ultrabook and, erm, smells like an Ultrabook (?)… With all that out of the way, let’s see how the cheapest ‘Ultrabook’ we’ve yet seen holds up.
At just a few grams over 2kg, this Aspire is certainly one of the lightest 15.6in laptops going, and it manages to maintain a thickness under 21mm so is quite slim too, especially considering it packs in an optical drive.
But it’s not just slim and light, the gunmetal-grey Timeline U M3 also looks and feels very good for such an affordable machine. Its all-metal lid is matched immaculately by the plastics Acer has gone with on the rest of this Ultrabook’s body, to the extent that they’re visually indistinguishable. Panels are immaculately fitted and build quality is again far better than the price would lead you to expect – perhaps a symptom of this same chassis being used on far more expensive models in the range. The plastics are high-quality moulded stuff that feels almost as good as the metal bits, though there is a little flex here and there.
Unfortunately, connectivity is where we hit our first pothole on the road. The selection on offer is quite good, with a memory card slot, optical drive, twin USB 2.0 ports, a single USB 3.0, full-size HDMI, Gigabit Ethernet and headphone/microphone jack.
However, most of it is located around the rear which makes it difficult to get at. This not only forces you to stand up and loom over the top of the machine if it’s sat on your desk with any peripherals attached, but it also makes it far too easy to bend or even break memory sticks when you lift the laptop off whatever flat surface it might happen to be on. Mind you, Acer is hardly alone in this poor ergonomic choice and it does have the advantage of keeping cable clutter out of sight, but we always prefer function over form.
While we’re on the topic of awkward locations, the Aspire Timeline U M3 Ultra’s power button is also quite difficult to access – and in fact, it took two of us looking at different times a nearly minute to find it. Where practically every other laptop has it near its keyboard or at the side, the Timeline U M3 has it hidden at the front under the palm rest’s lip. Once you know it’s there it obviously stops being as much of an issue, but it is still a case of needing to feel where it is every time you want to turn your laptop on.