Most decent laptops can be put into one of two categories — portable or powerful. If you want a powerhouse of a laptop, it’s likely to be big and heavy, but if you’re looking for something to carry around, then you’ll be making cutbacks in processing power.
While the raft of ultrabooks recently hitting the market generally provide a strong enough serving of juice for most tasks, none of them are racy enough to please the gaming crowd.
The Acer Aspire M3, however, packs Nvidia’s latest GeForce 640M processor to chomp through the latest games, while remaining slim and portable. Will it offer enough to satisfy the dedicated gamer?
The Acer Aspire Timeline U M3-581TG can be your for around £750.
Design and build quality
The world is evidently far too colourful and bright, so in an effort to tone things down, Acer has decked the M3 in an entirely black suit. Unlike my cheap polyester outfit, it’s made of a combination of metal and plastic, which results in a much firmer construction. The M3 is not great at avoiding fingerprints though.
There’s very little flex to be found when you press down on the closed metal lid, nor on the plastic base, resulting in a machine that feels very durable when it’s closed up. I’d have no worries about it being carried around in a bag. The screen is pretty thin though and can be flexed quite easily, so it’s perhaps not as sturdy when it’s open. It’s less likely to get damaged on your desk anyway, so it’s not a massive concern.
Although this machine proudly boasts its gaming credentials, it doesn’t flaunt it with its case styling, unlike most gaming systems. Laptops like the Toshiba Qosmio X770 and the MSI GT680 feature brash design, angry colours and glowing vents that are designed to appeal to the energy drink-guzzling, sleep-deprived fragger inside every excitable 14-year-old teenager.
The M3 dispenses with all that jazz. Instead, it comes with much more subtle, mature styling that would be equally at home on your office desk as in your bedroom. On the other hand, no self-respecting businessman would be seen bringing the GT680 into the boardroom — not unless he was desperately trying to be fired.
At 375mm wide and 252mm deep, it’s not exactly tiny, but it’s hardly enormous. It would be easy enough to find a bag to slide it into, and at 20mm thick, it’s considerably slimmer than the GT680, which measures a beefy 55mm. If you want to stick to ultra-skinny ultrabooks, check out the Toshiba Satellite Z830 or the Asus Zenbook UX31, but neither of these will offer the same performance in the gaming stakes.
You’ll find your ports on the back of the computer, rather than on the side. You get two USB 2.0 ports, one USB 3.0 port, Ethernet, HDMI-out and a headphone/microphone jack. On the left-hand side is an SD card slot and a DVD drive, which is pretty unusual for ultra-portable laptops.
Keyboard and trackpad
Under the lid, its looks are just as subdued. The same black has been applied to the wrist rest and around the keyboard, while the keyboard tray has been given a steel-grey colour. It’s quite smart, if not the most exciting design I’ve ever seen.
They keyboard uses isolated keys which — I’m really nitpicking — are slightly smaller than I’d like and are spread a little too far apart. It led to a few typing errors at first, but I quickly got used to it. There’s very little flex in the tray and it provides a solid base for typing on. You also get a separate numeric keypad on the right-hand side, which will come in handy if you’ve got a thing for numbers.
Rather than offering separate buttons, the trackpad itself is clickable, so all the space can be used for sliding your finger around. It’s got a slightly rough, matte coating that reduces any kind of stickiness, allowing you to get on with your work that bit easier. It’s pretty responsive and will cope fine with standard tasks, but if you’re a hardcore gamer, you’ll definitely want to plug in a mouse.
The M3 comes with a 15.6-inch screen that offers a frankly disappointing resolution of 1,366×768 pixels. That’s the minimum amount I’d typically expect to see on 11-inch ultrabooks and most of the 13-inch models offer 1,600×900-pixel resolutions. It’s somewhat annoying to see Acer skimping so much with the display.
Mercifully, it’s fairly bright and does an adequate job of handling colour, but it’s not particularly sharp and it has poor viewing angles — if you want the best view, you’ll have to keep square-on to the screen. It’s fine for office tasks and the odd YouTube clip, but you’ll be disappointed firing up the latest shiny games only to find the resolution seriously restricted.
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