I love clichés as much as the next guy, but in a world inhabited by snazzy tech enhancements like Speedo LZR Racer Suits, slow and steady rarely wins the race anymore.
That’s a problem in the ultraverse these days: as ultrabook manufacturers are waging a cutthroat price war, and you’ll face compromises aplenty if you’re shopping for a unit in the sub-$800 space. The Acer TimelineUltra M5 has both good and bad going for it, including a nagging speed issue.
Like the Dell Inspiron 14z, the TimelineU is technically a bit over-thick (23mm) for an ultrabook classification, but it ties the Dell at 4.2 pounds for the lightest 14-inch laptop I’ve tested. (Both come with optical drives.)
Specs include a 1.7GHz Core i5, 4GB of RAM, an Nvidia GeForce GT 640M LE graphics card, and a 500GB hybrid hard drive backed up with 20GB of SSD storage. The 14-inch screen offers the usual 1366 x 768 pixels of resolution. Ports include dual USB 3.0 connectors, Ethernet, HDMI, and an SD card slot.
This all works out a bit haphazardly. On graphics and games, the TimelineUltra is one of the more capable machines on the market, thanks to that Nvidia card. Games in the range of Far Cry 2 or S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat are surprisingly playable, and the Nvidia GPU outperforms the AMD model that comes with the Inspiron 14z. Altogether it turns in some of the best video benchmark scores I’ve seen on an ultrabook.
That comes, bizarrely, at the cost of general performance capabilities. Here the TimelineUltra runs dog-slow, and its general productivity app numbers are just plain bad. I’m not sure if this is due to components — the TimelineU doesn’t stray far from the industry standards, though the 5400rpm hard drive may bog things down — or the vast amount of pre-installed software on this machine. Based on the configuration, the TimelineUltra should perform better, but it is noticeably slow to respond, with lots more whirring and grinding during boot time than it ought to have.
That said, for many users this performance gap won’t be readily noticeable. For the type of casual user that’s only running a web browser and Word, the TimelineU will probably suffice, even if apps do take an extra second or two to load. One of the other big pluses of the TimelineU is battery life: At 4 hours, 50 minutes of DVD playback (and nearly 6 hours of MPEG playback), it’s got one of the longest lives of any ultrabook I’ve tested to date.
As for the rest of the package, the keyboard and clickpad are both about average. Key travel is limited, but the keys are large enough to let you stretch your fingers. The backlighting is a plus, but it’s a bit leaky with lots light coming through the spaces between the keys. The clickpad is prone to a touch of jerkiness when you’re depressing it, too. Audio is very loud (and Dolby-powered) but quite mushy.
What this all amounts to in the should-you-buy-it department is a big maybe that depends on what you value the most. If you’re a gamer who travels a lot but never wants to plug his laptop in, consider the TimelineUltra your baby. Those who quickly tire of waiting may want to look elsewhere.
WIRED Impressive graphics performance for an ultrabook-class machine. Outstanding battery life. Price is low.
TIRED General performance is uninspired. Lots of bloatware. Front-mounted power button prone to being accidentally pressed while in your bag.
Article by Christopher Null (c) Product Reviews - Read full story here.