When ultrabooks first launched at the end of 2011, it was a given that such a compact frame couldn’t possibly accommodate a spinning hard disk or optical drive. But manufacturers have recognized that many users simply refuse to accept the hit on functionality that the slimmed-down feature set brought, and the Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M5 is one such response to the not-so-ultra-ultrabook issue.
Acer TimelineU M5 can now be ordered at amazon for $649.
The Ultra M5 measures 36.6cm x 25.4cm x 20.1mm and weighs a hefty 1.88kg, which makes it a bit heavy and fractionally too thick to qualify as an ultrabook, but the chassis is a mass of brushed aluminum, apart from the plastic underchassis. The 14-inch 1366 x 768 pixel display might have been a bit crisper; a higher resolution would have been a good selling point against the many widescreen format ultrabooks already on the market. A more serious failing is the redundant lower perimeter on the screen, which should surely be covered by the bezel, instead of appearing as a dead area of the display.
In M5 keyboard, good key travel is one positive effect of all that available chassis depth, and equally impressive feedback makes for a good typing experience overall, helped by the provision of a backlit keyboard, which adds a whole new dimension to notebook use. The sturdy build means no distracting keyboard flex during typing. The top row of keys offers a load of useful shortcuts for toggling WiFi on or off, switching between displays, volume control, and such like, and on the right side there are dedicated media buttons for skipping nasty songs that have found a way onto your machine.
The touchpad of Timeline Ultra M5 responds well to multi-touch gestures, and is of the clickpad variety – mouse buttons are integrated into the pad’s surface. The onboard stereo speakers give goodish distortion-free volume, but lacking in bass compared to external speakers or headphones. The port selection is mostly confined to the rear of the Aspire M5, meaning it’s better suited to tabletop use than on-the-fly laptop computing.
Full-sized Ethernet port scores points against some less well-equipped ultrabooks, and there are also a couple of USB-3 ports, HDMI interface, 4-in-1 card reader, audio jacks. Storage comes in the form of a hybrid solution – 20GB SSD for essential system files and a 500GB 5400rpm spinning disk is a fair combination for quick boot time with plenty of room for photos, movies and programs. Microsoft Office Starter 2010 is amongst the pre-installed software, and Acer’s Backup Manager is a welcome app.
Internally the Aspire M5 packs a potent Ivy Bridge – NVidia GeForce combination which sees it outperform other machines in its price bracket; a 1.7GHz Core i5-3317U CPU is teamed with a 1GB GeForce GT640M discrete GPU, with Optimus switching enabled to conserve battery life.
In benchmarks the M5 thrashed the Asus Zenbook Prime UX32VD; Lost Planet 2 plays at 31fps in high quality at native 1366 x 768 res, while Crysis was well playable (55fps) on medium settings at 1024 x 768, if a bit choppy on high settings and native resolution. In Photoshop the M5 comfortably bested the rest of the class by 20%. And its 54W battery gives an unobjectionable 8 hours of power-conserving surfing, as good as any ultrabook.
That black bar around the screen sticks out as one imperfection, and aesthetes might carp at the plastic base plate or lack of a side USB port. But for performance, input devices, audio, and ease of use (think DVD burner vs USB stick for movie watching) the Acer Aspire Timeline M5 rocks.
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