Acer S3 review: The Ultrabook is here, and it impresses on almost every level

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Acer S3 review: The Ultrabook is here, and it impresses on almost every level
Rating
Overall:

The Ultrabook has landed and it delivers on the promise of ultra-thin and light computing for a reasonable price.

Performance:
5
Features & design:
5
Value for money:
6
Price
Price: $1399
> Pricing info
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We have heard a massive amount of hype about Ultrabooks, ever since we attended ASUS’ launch at Computex this year. But Acer has the distinction of being the first company to actually put a production model of its S3 Ultrabook in our hands, and what a beauty it is.

Weighing only 1.37kg and measuring a mere 17mm at its thickest point, Acer has chosen to go with a magnesium alloy-based chassis. It isn’t a unibody design, but that doesn’t detract from the slightly curved lines of the underside of the chassis. In order to build it this way, Acer has put most of the ports on the back of the S3, under the hinge.

As this is the thickest point of the chassis, it means that it is the best place to fit things like HDMI and USB. All that remains on the side is a headphone jack on the left and SD card reader on the right. On the rear are two USB 2 ports and the aforementioned full size HDMI port. There is no Ethernet, rather communication is via both WiFi and Bluetooth.

The Acer S3 measures 17mm at its thickest point.k

While we can excuse having a low number of ports, the one massive source of disappointment with the S3 is the lack of USB 3. Despite what you may read elsewhere, USB 3 has been shipping on virtually all laptops and desktops for a year now, and both the ASUS and Toshiba Ultrabook engineering samples that we have seen have a single port. We guess that the reason behind this is that Intel doesn’t have native chipset support, and Acer doesn’t have space on its motherboard for a USB 3 controller, but this really does work against the S3. This will likely change when Intel’s introduces its next generation Ivy Bridge processors next year, but given the restricted inbuilt storage not having USB 3 is a major minus for us.

When Intel launched its second generation Core I processors earlier this year, it was clear that they were built from the ground up to be excellent mobile processors. Not only are they designed around quickly jumping in and out of low power states, the graphical capabilities had been improved to the point where they could be considered good enough to use without strapping a discreet graphics chip on.

It is this core design philosophy that has enabled to creation of the Ultrabook. This new category of laptop (which Intel has trademarked) is not only designed to take on Apple’s Macbook Air, but to do so at price points that are also competitive. If manufacturers can’t offer a model at less than $US999 they can’t use the Ultrabook naming.

There are various other restrictions on what Ultrabooks can and can’t be, much like netbooks manufacturers need to comply with these to get the supplies they need from Intel. Unlike netbooks though, the hardware inside the Ultrabooks is very similar to that seen inside every other Core I laptop on the market.

 

 

We say similar, because Intel has come up with special versions of its Core i3, i5 and i7 processors designed for the power and thermal requirements of small chassis laptops. Acer has versions of the S3 Ultrabook with each of these processors, but the one we have been testing uses the Core i5-2467M. This comes alongside a respectable 4GB of DDR3 and a 320GB HDD. While the hard drive seems a touch small, it is largely limited by the miniscule space inside the S3 chassis.

The processor will have the most influence over how the S3 performs in our benchmarks, although the shift to SSD will make for a generally more responsive (and expensive) machine. In order to see just how the sleek styling of the S3 matches up to real laptops, we have compared the results of our real world tests with those seen in our Sandy Bridge laptop roundup a few months ago.

 

Click to enlage.

 

Somewhat astonishingly, the S3’s Core-i5 2467M manages the same overall performance score as the lab-winning Lenovo Ideapad Z570 did. That laptop cost slightly less but packed a Core i5-2410M CPU into a chassis that was much thicker and twice the weight of the Acer. Where the Lenovo beat out the Acer though was in multitasking, where the S3 scored 0.4 vs the Lenovo’s 0.53.

But that’s a trade off that doesn’t seem too bad, considering that our actual experience with the S3 has been smooth. You wouldn’t want to treat it like it had the grunt of a high end desktop, but the S3 delivers a perfectly competitive mobile computing experience.

Out of curiosity we ran up our Crysis benchmark on the S3, not expecting too much. It ran surprisingly smoothly at low detail, delivering 24 frames per second. Anything higher was unplayable, but this reinforced that the processor graphics in the Core i5 are going to be capable of light gaming.

 

Click to enlage.

With the S3 ticking all the performance boxes we moved on to tests designed to see how well it performs day to day. The first was our battery life benchmarks, run with both heavy and light workloads.

In the light use tests, which focus on constant web browsing until the battery runs down, we saw the S3 last for five hours and twenty five minutes, which would be impressive in a larger laptop (and actually better than most of the ones in our recent grouptest).

Even under heavy use, which involves a near unnatural workload of Cinebench loading down all of the processing cores, it lasted for two hours.

 

Click to enlage.

 Our last test was one we like to run on thin laptops, seeing how well the chassis copes with heat. We rerun Cinebench until the CPU temperature evens out, and see just what that point is. On the S3 we were unable to push CPU temp above 70 degrees – this seems high, but is significantly lower than what we have seen coming from Macbooks, for example, where we have seen temps top out around 100 degrees.

The s3 does get warm to the touch in the rear left hand corner, under where the processor is. But it is quite bearable. Because Acer has placed the ventilation along the rear hinge, it does get a little warm behind the unit as well, but not to any uncomfortable degree.

Acer has made a truly wonderful piece of hardware with the S3, one that would be catapulted to the top of the A-List if not for one thing: the lack of USB 3. While you can make do without it, it really is the most useful new addition to the PC in years. When using a laptop with such small inbuilt storage you’ll eventually need to put your data on some sort of external device, and USB 3 just makes the experience exponentially better.

 

 

Sure, you could head straight for the cloud, but the simple fact is that the Ultrabook market is going to be tight and incredibly price competitive. Competing models have single USB 3 ports, and that makes the omission significant.

If you get past the USB 3 though, this is as astonishing product – both proof positive of the Ultrabook concept and a lovely piece of design in its own right. What this Core i5 and hard drive based model shows is that the concept works at the low end as well, and while an SSD is certainly desirable it isn’t necessary for the experience.

 

Also read: 
 
 

 

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See more about:  mobilecomputing  |  acer  |  ultrabooks
 
 

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Comments: 13
chalk.leigh@wagga.nsw.gov.au
7 December 2011
You give it a pizzling over the lack of USB 3. But isnt USB 3 only as quick as its slowest component ? Usually the hard disk. The lack of a SSD in this case would only allow a certain read/write speed of the disk which wouldnt fully utilise the USB3 spec anyway and would probably be marginal difference in speeds to USB 2 anyway ?


Comment made about the PC & Tech Authority article:
Acer S3 review: The Ultrabook is here, and it impresses on almost every level?
The Ultrabook has landed and it delivers on the promise of ultra-thin and light computing for a reasonable price.

What do you think? Join the discussion.
photohounds
7 December 2011
Crikey! a HUNDRED DEGREES???

I didn't know you could boil water with a MacBook!
Waitjing for the next models: iUrn or iKettle? IFry?

Think of all the ladies in the advert photos with fried thighs! If my desktop got to 50 degrees I'd say that it was running very HOT. Along with water and strong vibration, heat is the enemy of electronics.

No wonder laptops are sometimes swicthed off in the adverts. Or if they're on, I surmise that the've only just booted.
amcmo
7 December 2011
Again a flawed review. The reviewer seems to fail to understand Apples and Apples when making comparisons.

Talks about 100Degree on a Macbook, but aren't we talking a totally different product?

Yes, I've heard some talk of high temps on the i7 MacBook Pro's, however this review is for a device with a low power i5 - totally different kettle of fish.

The VALID comparison is the i5 Macbook Air which I have. I can tell you it does not get past WARM, certainly nowhere near 100C.

The reviewer mentions the CPU is an i5-2467M, no mention of CPU frequency (it's 1.6G). The comparable Macbook Air is 1.7G.

Again, to minimise cost, they've gone with a Hard disk. On something so portable, SSD's are almost compulsory. Better ruggedness, faster, lower power consumption.

The battery life is significantly less than the MacBook Air.

It does look a sexy piece of kit, admittedly, however once again 'impresses on almost every level', yet on almost every level it is lower spec that the Air.

On that basis an Air should give the reviewer 'wood'.

As for being disappointed on the omission of USB3. He mentions the reason for it being missing, Intel don't yet support it. You want ultra portability, minimal cost, longest battery life, there's no room for the additional circuitry. Get over it, or wait for gen2 Ultrabooks!
Reggie
7 December 2011
Once upon a time APC had a macbook pro that ran hot. They are still banging on about it. Pathetic really. Any mention of the sealed battery, that is always such a big negative for the Air, No. Any mention of the screen resolution, lack of backlit keyboard, No. The fact that it has taken all its styling clues from the Air? Still you can save yourself $50...
j876
7 December 2011
Just to note any semiconductor that gets near 100 degrees is asking for trouble. Its not only Apple who have this problem. Heat has to go somewhere. Careful thermal design needs to be employed in these ultrabooks/MacBooks so the CPU doesn't cook or your legs.

Apple ditched Motorola in favour of Intel for this very reason because the thermal dissipation of the Motorola chips they were using was too high for a laptop at the time. To be fair to Apple, they aren't the only ones that have had laptops with thermal issues which is why Intel has changed their design philosophy to from just ramping up the clock speed to reducing heat dissipation.

As for the CPU frequency what Intel CPU does the MacBook Air i5 have? (Make and model)? They are comparing Apples with Apples because MacBook’s have Intel Chipsets and Intel Processors so under the hood they are nearly the same. Also the base clock speed isn't the only metric in CPU performance as different models of Intel processor have different capabilities like hyperthreading and turbo boost and whether they are ULV models or not.

Intel release so many models and variants of Sandy Bridge chips it just depends on what the manufacturer picks. Are the Intel chips used in the MacBook range full voltage or low voltage variants? Without the model number how can you tell? Which i5 is it?

As for USB3 I use it all the time and Intel is trying to ditch USB in favour of Thunderbolt (on the Macs). There is no valid technical reason they can't fit USB3 circuits on the motherboard.

As for value for money, Ultrabooks are still overpriced in comparison to the MacBook Airs for what you get for your buck. Hopefully when volumes go up and more manufacturers get on board the prices will come down and the designs will get better.

In answer to the query of chalk.leigh@wagga.nsw.gov.au
about the difference in performance of USB3 to USB2 with an external HDD. USB2 is the bottleneck even on a 5400RPM drive. With USB3, it is the hard drive that is the bottleneck. You'll notice the speed difference straight away.

Edited by J876: 7/12/2011 04:46:41 PM

Edited by J876: 7/12/2011 04:47:28 PM
bdh
7 December 2011
The lack of a USB 3 port would immediately exclude it from my consideration as an up-to-date solution. Beggars belief they left this basic support off their new baby - just unbelievable. What on earth were they thinking when they had the chance to build the best product from the ground up?!! Major fail unfortunately although the rest of the product does appear well done. Still, I'd rule it out due to no USB3.
Tysio
19 December 2011
You can get cheaper laptops/notebooks with more HDD space, probably about 750GB, and 8GB of RAM, with USB 3.0, and also with an i7 CPU. They're like around $1000, so there wouldn't be any point in paying $300 to get less.

With only USB 2.0, it's not really up-to-date with today's modern standards.

http://www.ipad-ipod.com.au
batguide
7 January 2012
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I use laptopinc..COM ..au,They offer high quality brand new replacement laptop battery pack for DELL.APPLE.ACER.ASUS.HP,LG,IBM,SONY,TOSHIBA,LENVOV,COMPAQ,FUJITSU,laptop battery.there also have AC adapters and laptop keyboard.I believe you will love it !
amythompson172
14 January 2012
The laptop does not show any traces of fingerprints, the screen is very crisp and clear and the keys are very responsive and comfortable. It has a great touch pad (very smooth and responsive like a macbook), and boots up fast. My only cons is that it's battery life is a bit poor. Also, the up/down/left/right keys are small (so you'll probably want an external mouse.

Acer builds a solid computer so if you want a Mac look-alike without the mac price this is a great pick.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005MR58MG
amythompson172
14 January 2012
The laptop does not show any traces of fingerprints, the screen is very crisp and clear and the keys are very responsive and comfortable. It has a great touch pad (very smooth and responsive like a macbook), and boots up fast. My only cons is that it's battery life is a bit poor. Also, the up/down/left/right keys are small (so you'll probably want an external mouse.

Acer builds a solid computer so if you want a Mac look-alike without the mac price this is a great pick.
amythompson172
16 January 2012
I'm an IT professional and VERY picky when it comes to my laptop. I read the reviews on this and was mixed between the good and bad on here, so I decided to visit a Microsoft Store and check it out on my own. I immediately was amazed how thin and light this was just like a MacBook Air (which I used and had before). I compared this to the Samsung series 9 laptop and although yes I wish it had a non-glossy screen it still beats it in price tag and performance.

Pros:
-Laptop does not show any traces of fingerprints (which annoyed me with other laptops)
-Screen is very crisp and clear. Yes, its glossy but its a "comfortable glossy" like the macbook air
-Keys are very responsive and comfortable. You do have to press a bit more but I easily got used to it.
-The touchpad is the best I've ever used on any Windows laptop. Very smooth and responsive like a macbook.
-Great performance as it has the i5 processor
-Super fast bootup and screen on/off time
-Simple and basic in terms of ports (2) USB and HDMI which are positioned perfectly in the back. I see no need for laptops to have tons of ports on the sides and back adding bulk to it.
-For this price its a steal compared to what other manufacturers are charging.

Cons:
-The up/down/left/right keys are tiny, but eventually you get used to it
-Battery life is not as long as MacBook Air but its still descent for an ultrabook.
-Yes, its true that the click button below the touchpad you have to press very hard (mostly for a right click), however if you go into mouse settings and just enable "single tap" and set up "double tap" as a pop up menu, you will have no need to press down on pad at all. This has such amazing trackpad drivers that I can glide through pages and screens with no effort.

Overall, don't let the Acer name or price fool you, this laptop is a gem and best design, performance and feel I have ever seen outside of Apple. I bought mine from a Microsoft Store which has the Microsoft Signature service (basically they re-load the OS with no bloatware). If your in the market for a Windows 7 thin, fast and on the go laptop, this is the one for you!
Help other customers find th

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005MR58MG
amythompson172
16 February 2012
Strength
1. Amazingly fast performance; 2. Very thin and ultraportable for travel and even in the class rooms; 3. Simplicity in design and feature configuration; 4. Accessories are available including the connection line for "plug-in" internect in hotels.5. Really affordabe price as compared to Apple equivalents; 6. Feature a solid state drive for system programs, that makes Acer S3 unique and upfront among its competitors.
Weakness
1. No other colors available; 2. Can't use backup batteries (but 6 hrs of battery life may be good enough).

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005MR58MG/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=emjay2d-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B005MR58MG
fredsacroug
6 March 2012
I don't go for cheap or expensive. I go for value for money and that is APPLE MAC.
I have just bought a Macbook Air 13 inches and to tell you the truth it is a one stop shop. One store The Byte Centre can resolve all the Hardware and Software issues, no more chasing computer experts or hardware experts. The product has a professional look to it and Apple does not prostitute the hardware or the software. Apple is professional and i will never go back to Windows although it is a good operating system but Microsoft should have applied the same principles of Mac ONE STOP SHOP.
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