It’s when it comes to what’s under the hood that this particular version of the Aspire Timeline U M3 Ultra really betrays its budget price. The M3 Ultra 581T-32364G34Mnkk sports a Sandy Bridge/second generation Intel Core i3 processor, rather than the Ivy Bridge/third generation CPUs you’ll find in many more expensive or just announced laptops.
Thankfully the days where cheap laptops came with 2GB of RAM appear to be permanently behind us, and the usual 4GB quotient is present to make everything run fairly smoothly. However, for those hoping that Ultrabooks heralded the end of traditional hard drive storage we have some bad news: this version of the Aspire Timeline U M3 uses a slow 320GB platter-spinner at 5,400rpm.
Mind you, we didn’t find the laptop particularly sluggish in use, but neither is it nearly as nippy as a hybrid model. In this case, there’s actually little reason left to go for the Acer Aspire Timeline U M3 581T over any other slim 15in laptop; though build and weight are above average for the size, you can find plenty of cheaper deals with better specs.
Graphics, naturally, are of the Intel integrated HD 3000 variety, rather than the U M3 581TG-6736’s dedicated Nvidia GT 640M. As such, only the lightest 3D gaming is on the menu. Though with the latest driver version the HD 3000 produced a smooth 30fps average in TrackMania, in stalker it barely limped along on 16fps, and that’s at medium detail and at below-native 1,280 x 720 resolution. If you want to see just how much difference the 640M would have made, we’ll be reviewing that model soon.
(40 percent screen brightness, wireless radios disabled, mixed productivity)
Usually battery life suffers on larger laptops, but since the Timeline U M3 is – in most of its incarnations – an Ultrabook, it should last a minimum of five hours. In fact, our test machine surprised us pleasantly by managing over seven hours, which is a very impressive result by both Ultrabook and 15.6in laptop standards. As with most of its kind, the battery is not user replaceable.
This is a tough one. Currently the Acer Aspire Timeline U M3 581T-32364G34Mnkk (urgh) is available for £475. The closest model up in the Timeline U M3 family will set you back £650, for a Core i5 and 500GB hybrid hard drive. Depending on your likely usage, this bump may not be worth the extra, and puts the Timeline U M3 into direct competition with Acer’s own Acer Aspire S3 Ultrabook which is far lighter and better-built, if not as longevous away from a socket.
Back to our 32364G34Mnkk, it’s essentially the cheapest big-brand Ultrabook currently on the market, even if its physical-only hard drive means you’re not getting Ultrabook performance. It’s also one of the lightest 15in laptops available. If either of these factors qualify it for you, it’s a well-built and very usable machine with no major negatives aside from the horrendous placement of its connections. It’s also worth keeping in mind smaller manufacturers like Novatech, which currently offers a 14in Ultrabook with 128GB SSD for £535.
If on the other hand you’re just after an affordable desktop replacement, there are many models that will offer the same performance for less. As a similarly-priced alternative, the HP Pavilion DM4-2101 makes up for its greater weight and lack of USB 3.0, with even longer battery life and better connection placement.
This particular 581T-32364G34Mnkk configuration of the Acer Aspire Timeline U M3 makes it one of the cheapest ‘Ultrabooks’ available, or from another perspective, one of the lightest and slimmest affordable 15in laptops on the market. If this appeals to you it’s well worth considering thanks to decent looks, good build, nice usability and strong battery life. Otherwise you can get similar features and less awkward connection placement for the money elsewhere.