Acer's Timeline laptops have always focused on efficiency, with low-voltage CPUs and long battery life coming ahead of performance in terms of priorities. That's all about to change, though, as Acer updates the Aspire side of the range to use a faster CPU. It symbolises this shift with a change of name too: no more plain Timeline, this is a TimelineX.
In case you were wondering, the "X" equates to "Xcellence", according to Acer's presentations, and the "Xcellent" processors in question are Intel's Core i3 and i5 offerings. Unlike the 45nm, CULV chips in existing models, this TimelineX 5820T uses a Core i5, built on the more efficient 32nm Westmere architecture.
The Core i5-430M's 2.27GHz frequency is far in excess of any CULV chip, and it also boasts Turbo Boost - dynamically increasing the frequency of one core to help with demanding tasks. It supports Hyper-Threading, and includes a 500MHz graphics chip integrated on to the die itself.
These technical improvements manifested themselves in the TimelineX 5820T's benchmark scores. A result of 1.54 is only a shade slower than the Dell Studio 15 (web ID: 167745), with its Core i7-720QM processor.
As well as the built-in Intel graphics, an ATI Radeon HD 5650 chip is present to take the strain when required. It can only be enabled when the Acer is plugged in - which scuppers any chance of portable gaming - but it managed a commendable 37fps in our Medium quality Crysis benchmark. The High quality benchmark was a step too far, but the 5820T will satisfy casual gamers.
The key thing about the dual-graphics setup is it's switchable. Not in the dynamic sense of Nvidia's latest innovations - you still need to manually select one or the other in the driver menu - but when you're out and about, the power-hungry ATI chip is disabled so it won't impact on battery life. While the TimelineX 5820T can't match the nine-hour lifespan of previous CULV Timeline laptops, its 6hrs 42mins of light use is impressive, and it gave 2hrs 39mins under full load.
The rest of the internals lack the same excitement of change, but they're all solid choices. There's a 500GB hard disk and DVD writer, Bluetooth and 802.11bgn wireless. Ports-wise, you get four USB 2 connectors, D-SUB and HDMI outputs, and a card reader.
Exterior changes are also minor, although little needed changing in the first place. The TimelineX 5820T's wristrest is as sturdy as any you'll see at this size, and the lid protects the panel far better than its slim dimensions might suggest.
The 15.6in display is good too. While we'd have liked a higher resolution than 1366 x 768, we found colours accurate and vivid, with no sign of backlight bleeding. Our only qualm was the glossy coating, which could prove frustrating when working under bright office lights.
The keyboard and trackpad haven't strayed far from their original designs either, although the extra width on this 15.6in machine allows the inclusion of a numeric keypad. The keyboard has Scrabble-tile keys with wide gaps in between, and it's comfortable enough for extended typing sessions.
The trackpad offers similar quality. It's wide and responsive, with a scrolling area on the right and a comfortable rocker button beneath. We're a tad disappointed to see the trackpad deactivation button has been removed, so it's all too easy to nudge the cursor while typing at speed.
What keeps the TimelineX 5820T from a recommendation, though, is the price: if you're spending this much, the Dell Studio 15 starts to look more tempting. But this remains a strong debut for the TimelineX series. It's fast, battery life remains strong, and it has far more strengths than it has weaknesses.