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Acer Timeline Ultra M5 Review

By on June 26, 2012
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Intel Ivy Bridge and Nvidia Kepler in a slim package.

Good: Powerful hardware in a slim package, great gaming performance, not so noisy and good metal finish.
Bad: Average display, does tend to get rather hot while gaming, cheap keyboard and mouse.
Price: AED 4,000
* The price is the Suggested Retail Price at the time of review. Please call a retailer to confirm the latest price for this product.

When Nvidia launched their Kepler GPU architecture for notebooks, they gave us an Acer Timeline Ultra M3 which came with their low (but mid-range) GT 640M graphics card. In a chassis that slim, the GT 640M was very impressive, more so because of how good the performance actually was. However, in a bid to rush their Kepler powered notebooks quickly to the market, Acer paired it up with a Sandy Bridge processor. Today I’ll be looking at the new Acer Timeline Ultra M5 which comes with both an Nvidia Kepler GPU as well as the 3rd generation Intel Ivy Bridge processor.

The Surface

The Acer Timeline Ultra M5 is an immediate improvement over the M3, not only in terms of specifications, but the most visually distinguishing feature is the brushed metal cover for the LCD. Open up the lid and you’ll be greeted with a the same pleasant fascia around the keyboard area; it’s one plane brushed metal surface.

 

This finish brings Acer’s Timeline Ultra series in line with other high-end ultrabooks that go for the same aesthetic appeal as the MacBook Air. The bezel around the screen is thin and coated in a rubberized finish, in a color not unlike the metal cover itself. I like this approach by Acer as it forgoes the requirement of ugly rubber padding that usually surrounding the screen on laptops.

Keyboard & Mouse

Gorgeous as the area surrounding the keyboard is, the keyboard itself is nothing remarkable. The chiclet style layout is nothing we haven’t seen before, the keys themselves are made of dull plastic. Press the keyboard a little bit hard and the whole surface will easily depress inwards. While it’s not standard in notebooks, many ultrabook manufacturers now provide a backlit keyboard by default, so it’s sad to see that even with such a highly specced machine Acer decided to forgo this much needed functionality.

Moving below there’s not much to talk about the touchpad except that it is one of the worst one’s I have used in a long while. The mouse often stutters and skips around a bit, and the whole experience is severely jarring; I instantly plugged in an external mouse after two minutes of using it. That said, I believe this is an issue Acer can surely fix with a firmware update in the near future.

Screen

The screen is fairly standard in this price range, the 14-inches of size comes with a resolution of 1366 x 768. This maybe a bit low for some people, but given the scope of the Nvidia GT 640M LE graphics card, I believe this resolution is just about right. Besides that the glossy surface does it no favors in brightly lit areas, especially if the light happens to fall on it directly; otherwise it has decent viewing angles from the side, but top to bottom is very limited with the ‘negative’ effect coming in if the screen isn’t tilted just about exactly facing your eyes.

Ports and Extensions

Take a look below the main surface of the Timeline Ultra M5 and you’ll see the entire chassis is hard, black, plastic. The Power button is on the front right, along with the indicator LEDs. Just to the right is the memory card reader and a 3.5mm combo jack for headphones and mic. On the left you’ll find an extremely thin DVD combo drive. The rest of the ports are on the back, which include the power jack, the LAN port, the Kensington lock port as well as two USB 3.0 ports. The ports on the back can be an extreme source of frustration or relief; I belong to the latter group. Sure, it’s troublesome to reach behind and plug in a USB flash drive, but for the most part I’m happy that all the wires are hidden neatly behind the laptop.

The Specs

As mentioned before, the Acer Timeline Ultra M5 comes with an Nvidia Kepler GPU and an Intel Ivy Bridge CPU; those being the GT 640M LE and the Core i7-3517U respectively. It’s interesting to note that for the higher-end M5 model, Acer equipped it with the GT 640M LE, instead of the regular GT 640M that was found in the Timeline Ultra M3. The only that differs these two graphics cards is the clock speed, which for the LE version is set at 500MHz, while the regular GT 640M gets 625MHz core clock. Otherwise both cards share the same GK107 Kepler architecture based on a 28nm die, with 384 CUDA cores. The GPU is mated with very fast 1GB GDDR5 memory that runs through a 128-bit bandwidth interface.

Moving along, the Intel Core i7-3517U is a dual-core ULV processor with Hyperthreading that runs at 1.9GHz, Turbo Boosting up to 2.8GHz. The 22nm die size of this Ivy Bridge CPU compared to 32nm from Sandy Bridge offers lesser power consumptions and therefore better battery life, rated at only 17W TDP. The integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics card runs at a default speed of 350MHz, Turbo Boosting up to 1150MHz.

While I must agree the 4GB DDR3-1600MHz memory was a tad bit disappointing, it’s still enough for most day to day tasks, including heavy games such as Skyrim and Battlefield 3, which would consume about 2.25GB (or 56%) of memory if no other programs were running in the background.

Last but not least is the incredible 256GB SSD which made everything run blazing fast on Timeline Ultra M5, including a cold boot startup into Windows 7 Home premium of just 12 seconds! All of this in a 13.39” x 9.65” x 0.81”  body that weighs 1.95kgs.

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About

From auditing to editing, I now test and analyze the latest gadgets and games instead of the latest financial statements. Both jobs are equally intense and rewarding. When I'm not burning up hardware in the name of science, you'll find me nuking in DOTA 2 or engineering in TF2.

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