Friday 21 December 2012

HP Envy 14 Spectre

HP Envy 14 Spectre Review

SCORE: 4/5

14in screen in 13in-equivalent chassis
1600 x 900 resolution, toughened glass protection
Great typing experience on backlit keyboard
Good video connectivity and 2.1 audio

Relatively heavy
Fingerprint magnet
Inconsistent build quality
Only two USB ports, one USB 3.0
Average battery life

The HP Envy 14 Spectre is the latest and best-named Ultrabook to hit the shelves, and with the combined draw of HP's premium Envy range, and Dr Dre's urban cool Beats brand, it's going to be very hard to ignore.
We're well into the Ultrabook race by now and we've already been impressed by the Asus Zenbook UX31, Acer Aspire S3 and most recently by the Dell XPS 13, perhaps the toughest rival that the HP Envy 14 Spectre faces in the battle for our hard-earned pennies.
And HP's newest baby is taking an interesting approach to the competition by being less concerned with a size zero frame. The HP Envy 14 Spectre is 20mm thin, and weighs 1.8kg - hefty for an Ultrabook.
But the slight bulk enables it to throw around some extra connectivity and features that other Ultrabooks, perhaps save the Toshiba Satellite Z830, can't match.

Of course, before we start dreamily idolising this shiny new offering, there are a couple of points that need to be looked at. Firstly, the fact that the HP is built around an Intel Core i5-2467M processor, rather than the Core i7 CPUs on offer inside the likes of the Dell and Acer mean that for all its bulk, the Spectre lacks power.
You might also be forgiven for thinking that this lower-spec processor will have a pleasing effect on the price of the computer. Not so.
The HP Envy 14 Spectre costs a sphincter-tightening £1,100 in the UK, and $1,400 in the US. That's a clear £200 more expensive than the Dell, and in these hardened times; a penny saved is a penny earned... or something.
But before you click away in disgust, there are a number of excellent features that the HP Envy 14 Spectre has to offer, and we have to say that it's one of the best-looking Ultrabooks we've yet seen. Clearly a lot of time and effort has gone into its design and development.


Shunning the aluminium silver outer design favoured by other Ultrabooks such as the Dell XPS 13 or the Acer Aspire S3, the HP Envy 14 Spectre boasts a black Gorilla Glass lid with a slick, glossy finish. Adding the final touch is the bright HP logo nestled in the corner.
Although it looks great, the inevitable downside is that the surface of the lid will quickly attract dust and smudgy fingerprints - more so than any other Ultrabook we've seen.
A backlit, isolation-style keyboard lurks underneath, and is one of the most comfortable we've used on an Ultrabook. The greater depth of the chassis gives a better travel to the keys, and the result is comfy typing all day long.

A neat trick is the ability of the keyboard to sense your proximity, and dim itself when you move away from the laptop, saving power.

Of course, any discussion of the Spectre's features starts and ends with the Beats audio. The speakers do a decent job of producing a rich, full sound - but slap a pair of Beats headphones on and you're ready to experience the best sound we've heard from an Ultrabook since the Bang & Olufsen-packing Asus Zenbook UX31.
Anyone who has used any of HP's other laptops, including the Envy and Pavilion ranges, will be at home with the extra choice Beats gives you.
You can open up a control panel to tweak all aspects of the Envy 14 Spectre's audio performance. There are also several bonus modes to take advantage of, such as noise and echo cancellation.

The HP Envy 14 Spectre also features a small Beats-branded clickwheel on the chassis that enables you to quickly alter the volume of the speakers.
Arguably, the HP Envy 14 Spectre's 14-inch screen should get as much praise as the Beats audio. The 1600 x 900 pixel resolution is a step up from other Ultrabooks such as the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S, and we marvelled at the crystal clear high-definition visuals.
Not only that, but the HP Envy 14 Spectre has a tiny bezel, allowing the 14-inch screen to sit nicely inside a 13.3-inch chassis.

Cinebench 10: 7, 336
3D Mark '06: 3, 377
Battery Eater '05: 206 minutes

Ultrabooks are all members of the Sandy Bridge family, and the HP Envy 14 Spectre is built around an Intel Core i5-2467M CPU operating at 1.60GHz and 4GB RAM.
It's not the fastest or highest-spec chip we've seen in an Ultrabook, and rivals will triumph on raw power. This is reflected in the Cinebench scores we recorded, in which the Spectre posted less than rivals including the Acer Aspire S3.
But general day-to-day use is unaffected, and the HP Envy 14 Spectre kept up with our multitasking needs. In part a justification for the higher price tag is that both Adobe's Premier Elements and Photoshop Elementsediting suites come preinstalled, and ran perfectly when we tried a spot of on-the-fly photo editing.
Unfortunately, though, we had a lot of problems with the trackpad. It was responsive enough when moving the cursor, but the integrated mouse buttons were a pain to use. We appreciate the nicer look of integrated buttons, but the irritation of repeated clicks to select and execute slightly tarnishes the overall experience.

Although the HP Envy 14 Spectre can cope with the demanding graphical performance of video editing, or running several intensive websites at once, don't buy this expecting a gaming platform.

The integrated GPU is powerful enough, thanks to the Sandy Bridge heritage, but it won't be boasting the latest Assassin's Creed title.
We don't know what the thought process was behind naming this laptop the Spectre, but it could be to do with the almost silent way in which it goes about its business, thanks to the SSD drive and its lack of moving parts.
The Spectre remained cool to the touch during operation and, like other Ultrabooks, is available with either a 256GB or 128GB SSD internal hard drive.
According to HP, the Envy 14 Spectre will offer you a reasonable nine hours of battery life. We ran our high-stress benchmarking tests and recorded an impressive score of 206 minutes.
Avoid our brute force attack on the battery and you should have no trouble getting through a day without the company of the AC adaptor. Just keep the volume down.

We're deep into the second round of Ultrabook releases by now, and we feel the HP Envy 14 Spectre sits alongside the Dell XPS 13 at the top of the heap. But these are two different machines with different focuses.
The HP Envy 14 Spectre is the most media-centred Ultrabook, with a larger 14-inch screen, 1600 x 900 pixel resolution and Beats audio technology. But it won't win over fans looking for performance and portability, due to the lower spec processor and bulky Gorilla Glass chassis.
If you can overcome the steep asking price then the HP Envy 14 Spectre is a well-built and stylish way to transport and enjoy your music, movies and do a spot of image editing.

Toshiba Portege Z935-P300 Review

Toshiba Portege Z935-P300

SCORE: 4/5

Toshiba Portege Z935-P300 : Cover

Very Light. Very thin. Good battery life. Speedy SSD. Full sized HDMI, Ethernet, and VGA. Good benchmark performance.


Chrome mouse buttons attract fingerprints. Could use another USB 3.0 port.
The Toshiba Portege Z935-P300 is an ultrabook that makes very few concessions in the name of lightweight and thin construction. It's a powerful system with a very good battery life, and it's our new Editors' Choice for mainstream ultrabook laptops.

The Toshiba Portege Z935-P300 is an ultrabook that makes very few concessions in the name of light weight and thin construction. On our benchmark test, it was powerful enough to hold its own against a much more expensive, high-end ultrabook. With an almost eight-hour battery life, ultimate portability, comfortable keyboard and touchpad, and solid construction, the Portege Z935-P300 is our new Editors' Choice award winner for mainstream ultrabooks .
Toshiba Portege Z935

Design and Features
The Portege Z935-P300 is thin, really thin. At 0.63 inches (16mm) at its thickest point, it is thinner than the 18mm spec for 13-inch ultrabooks. It measures about 0.63 by 12.5 by 9 inches (HWD), matching or slightly edging the measurements of the Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (Mid 2012) ($1199 list, 4.0 Stars)$1,099.95 at B&H Photo-Video , the spiritual progenitor of the ultrabook category. At 2.36 pounds and 2.93 pounds with the AC adapter, it's also on the light side. The Z935-P300's magnesium alloy chassis is colored dark silver, with a large chromed Toshiba logo on the lid. The system's chromed mouse buttons are nice, but the buttons and their chromed surroundings attract fingerprints.

The Z935's touchpad is responsive, and includes a physical on/off switch between the touchpad and the keyboard. This is handy for people who sometimes find that their palm moves the cursor around during typing sessions. The touchpad comes set to scroll with a single finger on the right and bottom edges of the touchpad (old-school style), but you can go into the touchpad's control panel to set the touchpad to respond to more modern two- and three-finger swipes. This will no doubt become a plus if or when you upgrade the system to Windows 8 in the future. The physical mouse buttons are convenient for the business user who hasn't yet warmed to using a single-piece touchpad. The backlit chiclet keyboard is easy to type on, and the keys have a good grippy feel.

The system has a 13.3-inch widescreen display with a 1,366 by 768 resolution. While this falls short of the 1,920-by-1,080 resolution required for 1080p HD video, 1,366 by 768 is common for most 13-inch ultrabooks and ultraportable laptops in this price range. For example, the HP Folio 13-1020us ($899.99 list, 4 stars) comes with a 1,366-by-768-resolution screen, but the more expensive high-end ultrabook Editors' Choice Asus Zenbook Prime UX32VD-DB71 ($1,299 list, 4.0)$1,098.95 at Journey Ed has a 1,920 by 1,080 resolution screen in a 13.3-inch panel. Understandably, the Aus UX32VD is a lot more expensive due to its higher res screen and other features like a Core i7 processor.

The Z935-P300 comes with a very good selection of external I/O ports. It has two USB 2.0 ports on the back, a full-sized Ethernet port, full size HMDI port, VGA, SD car slot, and a USB 3.0 port on the side. It could use another USB 3.0 port (or better yet convert all three USB ports to 3.0), but the whole package is quite usable. The full-size Ethernet, VGA, and HDMI ports are useful for the road warrior, giving them the best chance for connecting to projectors and wired networks in offices and hotels.

The Portege Z935-P300 includes a mid-level Intel Core i5-3317U processor, four GB of system memory, a 128GB SSD, and Intel HD Graphics 4000. These are very good stats, and as we'll see below, help the Z935 gain good performance numbers. Like the memory, the system's SSD and battery are not user-serviceable. The system comes with a desktop screen free of extra icons save one: the system booted up with a Best Buy app, which is a portal to Best Buy's online software store. There's also an icon for Toshiba's Book Place store in the Windows Task bar. This is a far cry from systems in the part, which had up to a dozen icons strewn across the screen. The system comes with a one-year standard warranty. The screen itself is bright and easy to read, particularly on normal power settings. Like a hybrid vehicle, the Z935-P300 has an eco button in the taskbar, which brings up the Toshiba eco utility. Once in eco mode, the screen dims, the sleep schedules are adjusted, and the system draws less power from the battery. We didn't test in eco mode because of the sleep settings, but it has the potential to increase battery life over the tested seven hours, thirty-four minutes.
Toshiba Portege Z935-P300 : Left

The system's third-generation Intel Core i5 processor, Intel graphics, SSD, and 4GB of memory help it achieve an excellent 5,477 point score on 
Futuremark PCMark 7, Futuremark's benchmark test that measures day-to-day performance. In contrast, the mostly hard-drive-powered Asus UX32VD was slower at day-to-day tasks, with a score of 2,523 points. The AMD-poweredHP Envy Sleekbook 6-1010us ($700 list, 2.0 stars)$529.99 at HP Direct was worse still, with a 1,361-point score. The Asus UX32VD did better on the multimedia tests, scoring a a short 1 minute, 43 seconds on our Handbrake video test and 3:58 time on the Adobe Photoshop CS5 test. The Z935-P300 was close behind (1:58 Handbrake; 4:31 CS5), while the HP Folio 13-1020us lagging (2:29 Handbrake, 5:24 CS5) due to its older second-generation Core i5 processor.

The systems reversed places on the battery tests. The HP 13-1020us led by lasting 8 hours 47 minutes on MobileMark 2007. The Z935-P300 was about an hour behind that (7:34), with the Asus UX32VD at 5:26. The Z935-P300 has a slimmer internal battery and therefore less weight, but it's a decent tradeoff in this case.

The Toshiba Portege Z935-P300 approaches the ideal for ultrabooks. It's very thin, very light, has decent performance, and has very good battery life. While other 13-inch ultrabooks like the Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A-R5102F come with a higher-resolution screen, less critical users willing to trade a higher res screen for some real savings won't mind. The Z935-P300 also has better battery life than the Asus UX31A-R5102F. The HP Folio 13-1020us has better battery life still, but the components in the newer crop of ultrabooks like the Z935-P300 has surpassed the HP 13-1020us' now dated hardware. Power, low weight, comfortable interfaces, battery life, and a whole slew of user-friendly features means that the Toshiba Portege Z935-P300 is our new Editors' Choice for 
mainstream utlrabooks.

Battery life

The Portege Z935-P300 lasted for just more than 5 hours of running our video playback battery drain test. Both the Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A and Samsung Series 9 were able to keep going past the 6-hour mark, but they're more expensive and the Toshiba essentially matches them or beats them in performance.

Running video really taxes the battery, too, so if you're just doing more basic tasks you can expect to get more than 5 hours of uptime with some power management. Also, if you like having the ability to swap batteries, the Z935-P300 does not have an easily replaceable battery pack.

Friday 14 December 2012

Lenovo ThinkPad T430s

Lenovo ThinkPad T430s Review


Business users looking for a balance between power and portability can't do better than the T430s. A laundry list of durability, communications, and usability features adds to its appeal.

The ThinkPad T Series didn't get to be the best-selling business-notebook nameplate of all time by accident, and the latest iteration makes clear how it won that distinction. Lenovo's ThinkPad T430s blends portability, performance, features, and creature comforts in a near-perfect execution of a thin-and-light laptop that will suit corporate types, small-business buyers, and power users alike.

In past reviews (dating back to, oh, around 2001 or so), right about now is when we would start apologizing for the T Series' high price and arguing that it was justified. Not this time: The platform starts at just $790—a bargain—and our well-appointed Core i5 configuration checks in at a very reasonable $1,174.

One of the strengths of the T430s is that configure-to-order is alive and well for the platform. Lenovo lets you mix and match components to suit just about any need and budget, ranging from an Intel Core i3 CPU and 4GB of RAM to a Core i7 processor married to a whopping 16GB of memory. Another rare commodity is the UltraBay, which lets you slide out the standard optical drive and pop in a second battery or up to a 1TB hard drive. Sweet.

Call it classic or call it boring, but the T430s is available in any color you want so long as it's black.

What you can't change, however, is the look of the T430s. The squared-off matte-black case is classic ThinkPad, take it or leave it. Admittedly, we have a touch of envy seeing the parade of brushed-metal laptops in a rainbow of silver shades pass by, but the sure grip provided by the almost-rubbery finish of the ThinkPad T430s keeps our lust in check. The laptop weighs at just under 4 pounds and measures a hair over an inch thick. Both measurements are more than reasonable for a 14-inch slimline machine, although they seem downright chunky next to all the svelte ultrabooks that have debuted this year. But hey, which among the latter have optical drives, let alone swappable bays? Correct: few and none. And if you're deciding between the ThinkPad T430s and its less expensive stablemate, the ThinkPad T430, note that the T430s is a quarter-inch thinner and 0.8 pound lighter.

The T430s is no less durable than its larger sibling. Both are considered business-rugged laptops and feature Lenovo's internal carbon-fiber skeleton to protect their internal parts. The T430s has also passed eight U.S. military testing specifications (Mil-Spec, for short) including those for humidity extremes, low/high temperature, altitude, vibration, and mechanical shock. The T430s keyboard is spill-resistant and has been tested (by Lenovo, not us) to survive up to 4 ounces of water poured directly into it with no damage to internal components.

Speaking of the keyboard, that's the most obvious major design change. The ThinkPad T420semployed the traditional-style keyboard that made the T Series a favorite of fast typists everywhere. Opening the lid of its T430s replacement, we were confronted with—say it ain't so!—a newfangled chiclet- or island-style keyboard, with keys jutting through a recessed backplane. Lenovo switched to this kind of keyboard on its X Series, its ThinkPad Edge models, and others, but we thought the T Series would be immune from such tinkering. Not so, and the T430 wasn't spared, either.

Heresy! The T430s switches from a traditional keyboard to a chiclet-style unit. But the feel of the keyboard is still darn good, and you gain an optional backlight in the bargain.

But a funny thing happened as we started to dash off a letter of complaint to Lenovo: We found we actually liked the new keyboard. It's rock solid—none of the flex in the middle that we've experienced on others—and the key plunge (the amount of up/down travel) seems better than on other chiclet-style keyboards we've tried. The spacing of the keys is perfect, and the concave curve of the keytops feels comfortable. What's missing is the spot-on audible and tactile feedback of the old ThinkPad keyboards, but as far as island-style keyboards go, this one is arguably the best. And, in the bargain, Lenovo was able to make this keyboard backlit, something the company couldn't do with the old-style unit. So, in addition to the standard ThinkLight (a small white LED above the screen that casts a gentle light on the keys), for $40 you can opt for a backlit keyboard with two brightness levels.

The T430s is chock full of other features that add to its usability, convenience, and security. The most visible is the 14-inch screen, a mainstay of T Series models for years. The LED-backlit panel is very bright, and the 1,600x900 resolution makes for crisp text. While that high-res panel allows you to have a couple of application windows open at once, if you're over 45 you'll probably want to click on "Make text and other items larger" in Windows' Control Panel to hike the default size of text and icons. If you think it will still be an issue, opt for a 1,366x768 panel and save yourself $50. Both screens use an advanced anti-glare coating that cuts down on glare and reflections without muddying up the onscreen image.

Our one complaint about the screen is that the TFT panel is of the twisted nematic (TN) rather than in-plane switching (IPS) variety, which means somewhat limited viewing angles, especially in the vertical direction. So if you're stuck in coach and can't open the lid far enough because the yahoo in front of you insists on reclining, you'll see a noticeable color/brightness shift. Similarly, the viewing sweet spot for video playback is rather small. On the plus side, DVD video looked terrific on the screen, with no noticeable blur and lifelike color reproduction.

Above the screen, the T430s delivers a new 720p HD Webcam with face tracking. It's a noticeable step up from the T420s camera, delivering very good low-light sensitivity, although highlight areas tended to be overexposed in bright light. Held over from the previous generation are a couple of features to make videoconferencing more convenient. First, there's a dedicated microphone mute button above the Function keys, which lets you quickly disable the mic—ideal for when the dog starts barking during that GoToMeeting session when you're working from home.

Second, the Lenovo Communication utility offers two microphone settings. Private Chat focuses the mic pickup in front of the laptop and suppresses background noise, so your party can hear your voice over the din of, say, an airport waiting area. Conference Call mode opens the audio capture field to a full 360 degrees around the machine, which is ideal for a group of participants around a table. In our trials, with the microphone setting on "one voice," the voice of the speaker directly facing the screen was pronounced, while the voice of a speaker off to the side was much more muted. When set to multiple voices, we were able to walk around the T430s in a complete circle, and at all points the voice pickup was nearly the same.

ThinkPad purists will be happy to see that, while the keyboard has changed, the stick remains the same: The T430s keeps the TrackPoint pointing stick nestled at the intersection of the G, H, and B keys, and the associated left- and right-click buttons are large and responsive. As expected, however, that setup steals some room from the touch pad, which is on the small side. The latter's pebbled surface is comfortable to use, though, and we found mousing action using either the stick or pad to be precise.

For those who hate to use a headset, the stereo speakers flanking the keyboard are another nice touch. They deliver very good sound quality for videoconferencing, as well as for movies. We were a little disappointed with the playback quality for music, as the sound was lacking bass—that is, until we discovered the included Dolby Home Theater v4 utility. This good-looking app offers precise control over audio settings, including equalizer presets for music, movies, and games, plus five custom settings. We dialed up the low-frequency sliders on the onscreen equalizer to add more bass to The Killers' "Sam's Town" and were impressed. Other slide controls let you adjust the virtual surround sound, enhance dialogue, and level the volume. And we're happy to see that Lenovo has not done away with the dedicated volume and mute buttons. Other laptop lines have switched back to function-key control of audio, claiming that buyers really didn't care about having handy buttons. Really? We think it's a sorry excuse for saving five bucks in manufacturing costs.

We also like Lenovo Enhanced Experience 3 for Windows 7. The improved-for-2012 edition features RapidBoot technology that optimizes system files, processes, and hardware settings to start the laptop, Lenovo claims, 40 percent quicker than a typical Windows 7 system. As before, Enhanced Experience also speeds up resume from sleep and connection to Wi-Fi networks upon wakeup.

As mentioned, stepping up in size from an ultrabook to a thin-and-light nets you not only an onboard optical drive but a modular bay configuration. Our T430s came with the standard multiformat DVD burner plus the three-cell bay battery option ($120). You can also opt for a 500GB, 7,200rpm second hard drive ($90) or a 1TB, 5,400rpm drive (a rather pricey $350).

The T430s comes standard with a multi-format DVD burner, and the swappable bay allows you to pop in a second battery or hard drive. (Alas, there's no 3.5-inch floppy disk module as on our old T20.)

Our unit came with an internal 500GB hard drive, and you can augment that with a 16MB SSD cache drive that speeds performance. Alas, if you do so, you can't add an integrated mobile broadband option ($250, and not part of our build).

Another optional component that was part of our configuration is dual graphics. Our ThinkPad included the standard Intel HD Graphics 4000 integrated graphics (part of the Intel processor in this machine), plus a discrete Nvidia NVS 5200M graphics chip with that company's Optimus technology. Optimus switches between the two graphics subsystems depending on application demand to balance performance and battery life.

We also got the $30 Bluetooth option in our configuration, along with Intel's Centrino Advanced-N 6205 adapter for Wi-Fi connectivity. On the convenience front, the ThinkPad T430s includes the new ThinkPad Mobile Hotspot feature, which lets you share its Wi-Fi or optional WWAN connection with up to five other devices within range.

On the wired-connectivity front, the T430s comes with the standard selection of ports. On the left side you'll find a USB 3.0 port, a headset jack, and your choice of a 4-in-1 memory card reader, a 34mm ExpressCard slot (as on our build), or an ExpressCard/memory-card combo reader. Around back are the Gigabit Ethernet jack, another USB 3.0 port and a powered USB 2.0 port, and DisplayPort and VGA connectors for attaching external displays. We prefer HDMI to DisplayPort since HDMI monitors are more common here in the United States, but an adapter can be had for around $5 online.

As a corporate standard, the T430s platform delivers a number of features targeted at the enterprise IT department. The available Lenovo Transition Service can be used to load a customer's unique hard drive image (meaning the OS and all applications and settings) at the factory, and Lenovo can even pre-encrypt the drives, saving IT staff four to six hours of deployment time per machine, according to Lenovo's estimates.

If a corporate customer experiences a hard drive crash under warranty, Lenovo will replace the failed drive without requiring that the latter be sent in, so the company always retains possession of its data. Finally, the T Series batteries are common among Lenovo's T, L, and W series ThinkPads, with docking options shared among those models, as well as the X series. This makes it easier for an IT department to stock accessories, even if everyone isn't on exactly the same ThinkPad platform.
(Note: As of August 2012, Computer Shopper is using a new set of benchmarks for desktop and laptop reviews. Direct comparisons are valid between systems within each review's bar charts, but not between linked reviews using different tests.)

This exhaustive feature set would be for naught if the Lenovo was a disappointment where it counts most—in the boardroom. But with the 2.6GHz Intel Core i5-3320M processor (yes, one of the improved third-generation "Ivy Bridge" series), 4GB of fast DDR3 RAM, and—especially—the dedicated Nvidia NVS 5200M graphics, the T430s is the complete package.

For comparison, we chose four other 14-inch business laptops—the HP EliteBook 8470p, the Dell Latitude E6430s, and the "Sandy Bridge"-based Acer TravelMate 8481T-6440, as well as last year's Lenovo ThinkPad T420s. In general, the T430s acquitted itself admirably, despite certain competitors' features, such as a Core i7 chip in the HP EliteBook and a 128GB SSD in the Dell Latitude.

Productivity Tests
In our PCMark 7 general performance benchmark, the T430s trailed only the Latitude E5430s, which was boosted by its abovementioned SSD (PCMark 7 skews toward solid-state storage)...

In our CPU-centric Cinebench test, which makes use of all available cores to render a test image, the T430s punched above its weight, keeping close to the 2.8GHz Core i5-3360M-powered Dell Latitude and 2.9GHz Core i7-3520M-based HP EliteBook while trouncing the two "Sandy Bridge" systems...

Results were similar in our Handbrake video-encoding and Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-editing benchmarks, which respectively transcode a five-minute 1080p video to smartphone size and apply a dozen complex filters and effects to a large JPEG...

The ThinkPad T430s' strong performance on these demanding media-crunching tests shows that the laptop is more than equal to whatever media tasks a business or consumer user might toss its way. However, if photo and video editing are your mainstays, you'll want a machine with Core i7 power and more RAM.
Graphics Tests

In our GPU-intensive tests, the T430s really put daylight between itself and most of the competition (though the HP EliteBook 8470p, with dedicated AMD Radeon HD 7570M graphics, joined it in outrunning the Intel-integrated-graphics set).

For starters, our 3DMark06 synthetic graphics test was no contest...

That 3D power translated into real-world gaming prowess—a rarity for a business-oriented thin and light laptop—as long as we didn't go overboard in dialing up the resolution and detail settings. On our Lost Planet 2 (DirectX 9) and Crysis (DirectX 10) real-world gaming tests, the Lenovo posted 33 and 59 frames per second (fps), respectively, at 1,024x768 resolution with medium quality settings, trailing only the EliteBook's 48fps and 62fps, respectively. Like its competitors, it fell far short of the 30fps threshold of playability at its native resolution with high quality settings, but it should suffice to let a casual gamer manage a practice round during business-trip downtime.

Battery Life & Conclusion
Of course, more important to most slimline-laptop buyers than gaming ability is battery life. Here, the T430s won't win any awards, but the swappable bay more than pays for itself. In our MobileMark 2007 battery-rundown test, the T430s wound up next to last among our competitive set...

To be honest, 4:45 is an acceptable result for a four-pound, inch-thick machine that's pushing major pixels on its high-res screen. But popping in the bay battery in place of the DVD burner upped the MobileMark result to 7 hours and 30 minutes—just enough for a typical workday (with a typical lunch break). Note, too, that the ThinkPad T430s comes with Lenovo's Rapid Charge Technology, which returns the main battery to 80 percent charge in only 30 minutes.

On the software front, Lenovo keeps inclusions appropriately light—business buyers generally don't want the hard drive cluttered with non-approved applications. So most of the inclusions are Lenovo's own handy utilities, accessible via a blue ThinkVantage button above the keyboard. In this suite, you'll find applets for rescue and recovery, as well as managing connections and passwords, plus system-health and diagnostic tools, a communication utility to assist with Web conferencing, and more. We especially like Lenovo's Access Connections utility, which makes it easier to set and enable or disable your Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and (if present) mobile-broadband connections. The one third-party extra on our Windows 7 Professional configuration was a 15-month subscription to Norton Internet Security. Our unit also came backed with a one-year international warranty with onsite service.

If the ThinkPad T430s has an Achilles' heel, we didn't find it. You can equip it with a more-than-adequate amount of processing horsepower without breaking the bank, while getting all the convenience and durability features that come standard with the platform. Sure, we're a little sad to say good-bye to the classic ThinkPad keyboard, but the other strengths of the machine will likely have us past that in short order. All things considered, the ThinkPad T430s is as close to perfect as we've seen from a business thin-and-light.

Apple MacBook Air

Apple MacBook Air (11.6-Inch, 2012 Version) Review
SCORE: 4.5/5


Light Weight
Surprisingly Fast and Powerful
Love the SSD Speed
Thunderbolt can also be used for HDMI or RJ45 Ethernet with adapter- cool!
The screen is bright, crisp and clear

Battery doesn't last as long as the 13" Air, but then there is also no space for a larger battery.


Apple updates its smallest MacBook Air for 2012 with a speedier CPU and USB 3.0 ports, while retaining the design elements that make it an outstanding ultraportable. It faces more competition these days (from Windows ultrabooks), but it's still the best 11-inch laptop you can buy.

About a year ago, when we looked at Apple's 2011-model 11.6-inch MacBook Air, it didn't have much in the way of Windows-based competition, unless you counted pricier ultra-premium machines like Samsung's Series 9 or less spendy but much less powerful netbooks. Since that time, thanks to a massive marketing push from Intel, we've seen the rise of the ultrabook, a category of devices meant to compete directly with Apple's MacBook Air duo in design, features, and price.

We've seen some impressive machines along Intel's lines since then, including, most recently, Sony's VAIO T Series and Lenovo's IdeaPad U310. Both of those machines pack brand-new, third-generation Core "Ivy Bridge" CPUs, just like Apple's refreshed-for-2012 MacBook Airs. And their prices hover around the $800 mark, undercutting Apple's entry-level lightweight by $200. But most of the ultrabooks we've seen so far have sported larger 13.3-inch screens, which also means extra weight. For instance, the Sony VAIO T weighs 3.5 pounds, while the 11.6-inch MacBook Air tested here floats in at 2.4 pounds.

That makes most of the ultrabooks we've tested—with the exception of Asus' 11.6-inch ZenBook UX21in October 2011—better competitors to the 13.3-inch MacBook Air than to the 11.6-inch model we're looking at here. So while this year's junior Air isn't a huge upgrade over last year's model, it's still the best option in its class. With an updated Intel "Ivy Bridge" processor, speedy USB 3.0 ports (along with a single Thunderbolt port), and a starting price of $999 (our review unit was the $1,099 model, hopped up with a larger 128GB solid-state drive), it's an excellent option for those looking for an extremely compact, surprisingly powerful laptop.

As with its larger sibling, the new MacBook Air 11.6's design remains pretty much the same as the 2011 model. But with Apple's aluminum "unibody" chassis, a maximum thickness of 0.68 inch (at the back), and weighing in under 2.5 pounds, the design here hardly feels stale.

Asus' ZenBook UX21, the last 11.6-inch ultrabook we looked at, certainly didn't stray much from Apple's aesthetic: It's also aluminum-clad, and it weighs nearly exactly the same as the Air. And while its 0.67-inch thickness might technically be thinner than the Air's 0.68 inch, you'd need a pair of calipers to tell the difference. Samsung's 11.6-inch Series 9 varies a bit more from Apple's design while still looking great. But it's pricier, at $1,199, with a previous-generation, 1.33GHz Intel Core i3 processor, where the Air sports an up-to-date, 1.7GHz Core i5.

While we felt the Zen Book's keyboard didn't have enough travel to please our fingers, the 11.6-inch MacBook Air's keys feel pretty good. They're somewhat shallow (the laptop is very thin, after all), but we'd still take the Air's keyboard over those found on most ultrabooks. The Apple machine also flaunts a backlit keyboard, a feature the UX21 lacks (although Asus has fixed that with the forthcoming model UX21A), and the company's incomparably gesture-friendly one-piece touch pad.

Compact, super-slim laptops mean keyboard compromises must be made. But the Air's backlit board is the best we've seen on a laptop of this size, offering a fair amount of travel.

Port selection is sparse, of course, due to the size and thickness limitations, but Apple has at least made some of the ports speedier with the 2012 model. The left edge houses the MagSafe power connector, a USB 3.0 port, and a headphone jack. On the right edge, there's a second USB 3.0 port and the Thunderbolt 

Unlike its 13-inch sibling, the smaller Air keeps the same MagSafe power plug as last year's model. Its magnetic connection remains a boon to anyone who's ever tripped over a laptop power cable.

The upgrade from USB 2.0 to 3.0 is a nice touch by Apple, offering users access to a plethora of speedy USB 3.0 peripherals. That's important, seeing as potentially faster Thunderbolt devices remain less common, due in large part to high prices. (See, for example, our review of the Mac-gearedBuffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt, a portable Thunderbolt hard drive.)

We still wish Apple could find room for a flash-card reader somewhere here (one is present in the larger 13.3-inch model). But as small and slim as this laptop is, we're willing to let that go. An inexpensive external card reader won't add much bulk to your bag.

If you were wishing for an ultra-high-resolution Retina display like the screens in the 2012 iPad and the premium version of the 2012 MacBook Pro, you won't find one here. Both of the MacBook Air models' screen resolutions remain the same as last year's, at 1,366x768 pixels for the 11.6-inch Air and 1,440x900 for the 13.3-inch model.

That said, the 11.6-inch, LED-backlit panel is quite bright at its highest setting, and viewing angles are pretty good. We just wonder if the Air's screen resolution might start to lag behind the competition if, as seems likely, Apple doesn't offer another major refresh of the Air until 2013. After all, Asus has announced a 1,920x1,080-screened 11.6-inch ZenBook Prime UX21A, and we wouldn't be surprised if other ultrabook makers follow suit, especially after all the hype over Apple's own MacBook Pro with Retina display.

Speaking of resolution, Apple has at least upgraded the Webcam that sits above the screen. Previous models made do with just VGA resolution, but the new models sport 720p FaceTime HD cameras with three times the sharpness. Those who rely on video chat to keep in touch with far-off family and friends will certainly appreciate this update.

Configurations & Software
For $999, the base model of the 2012 MacBook Air 11.6-inch gives you a 1.7GHz dual-core Intel "Ivy Bridge" processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of solid-state storage. Our $1,099 review unit bumped the last up to a much-appreciated 128GB. Unless you're very reliant on cloud-based storage like Google Drive or Dropbox, we'd suggest spending the extra $100 to double your local storage space.

Other internal upgrade options Apple offers when ordering the $1,099 Air directly include more storage (up to 512GB for a hefty $800), and the option to step up to 8GB of RAM for an extra $100. Unless you really plan to push your laptop by editing large image files in Adobe Photoshop or performing similar tasks, you should be fine with 4GB. (If those types of jobs are something you often do with your laptop, a bigger-screened MacBook Pro is likely a better fit for your needs, anyway.)

On the processor front, if you simply can't live with a Core i5 CPU, you can bump things up to a 2GHz Core i7 for an extra $150. But again, for most everyday computing tasks, the Core i5 should be more than sufficient.
When Apple launches a new wave of laptops, it usually brings an updated version of the company's OS X operating system along for the ride, and this time is no exception. If you buy a new MacBook Air or Pro before late July 2012, it will be running the current version of OS X, Lion, out of the box. But you'll be eligible for a free upgrade to Mountain Lion, Apple's ninth iteration of its current operating system, when it launches later this summer.

Like Lion before it, Mountain Lion brings more features found in the company's mobile iOS (found on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod) to Apple's laptop and desktop operating system. Things you can expect include better integration with iCloud, Apple's data-sync service. And familiar iOS apps like Notes, Reminders, and Game Center will all be available as well. A new Notification Center means apps will be able to get your attention with pop-up alerts showing up in the upper right corner of the screen, similar to the way alerts work in Apple's mobile OS.

Mac OS X Mountain Lion's Notification Center will let applications catch your eye with iOS-style pop-up alerts in the corner of your screen.

Those who have spent years relying on their iPhone or iPad will probably appreciate this move to make Apple's traditional laptop and desktop OS more closely mimic the company's mobile operating system. But the update won't only be available to buyers of new hardware. If you own a relatively recent Mac, you'll be able to upgrade it to Mountain Lion for a $20 fee and a trip to the App Store. Apple expects to release the update sometime in July of 2012.

Along with the OS, the Air, of course, also ships with Apple's excellent iLife software bundle. iPhoto, iMovie, and GarageBand are as pretty and feature-packed as ever. We've said it before, but we really wish all Windows machines came preloaded with software this well-designed and downright useful, instead of the cluttering of paid links and dubious third-party software that often encumbers retail Windows machines. The lack of this stuff is a big part of what makes using an Apple system feel more like a premium experience.

The improved internals of the updated Air definitely help make it a snappier performer. Its CPU has a base clock speed of 1.7GHz that can ramp up as high as 2.6GHz in certain situations, thanks to Intel's Turbo Boost tech. That's a healthy bump over last-year's model, which maxed out at a Turbo Boosted 2.3GHz. But the Air's performance wasn't improved on all fronts, as we'll see in our benchmark tests.

To get a sense of the new Air's performance, we'll be comparing it to last year's model; to Asus's 11.6-inch ZenBook UX21 ultrabook, which you can find online (as of this writing) for as little as $899; and to the larger, 13.3-inch Sony VAIO T Series ultrabook, which was available for as low as $799 when this review was written.
Cinebench 10
We started our tests with the CPU-stressing Cinebench 10 benchmark trial, which pushes all processing cores at once while rendering a complex image. Cinebench gives a good sense of how a PC handles high-end, processor-taxing tasks...

On this test, the new Air sailed past its predecessor, but it couldn't best the competing ZenBook or the larger-screened Sony machine.

iTunes Conversion Test
On our custom iTunes Conversion Test, in which we convert 11 MP3 tracks to AAC format, the "Ivy Bridge" Air was exceedingly speedy...

While the Air's performance here was indeed impressive, it should be noted that because the new and last year's Air were running Mac OS X and the Asus and Sony were tested under Windows, the scores aren't necessarily comparable. Still, this year's Air 11.6 was over 30 percent quicker than its predecessor on this test, which isn't to be taken lightly.
Storage Speed

We didn't test the storage speed of last year's MacBook Air, so we don't have comparative test numbers to judge against this year's model. But we did see pretty respectable results in Black Magic Design's disk speed test...

Write speeds around 150MB per second and read speeds close to 400MB per second certainly surpass (by far) what you'll get with a traditional hard drive. And that extra speed means faster boot times, speedier app launches, and a near-instant resume when you open the lid. That said, we did see faster speeds (in the 250MB per second write and 430MB per second read range) with the larger 13.3-inch MacBook Air.

In our stopwatch boot-time test, the 11.6-inch Air was also slightly slower than its larger sibling, but only by a couple of seconds. And we're not going to complain, considering the Air goes from a switched-off state to the Mac OS X desktop in just 14 seconds. There are definitely solid-state drives available that offer faster speeds than the ones found in Apple's MacBook Airs, especially when it comes to write speeds. But read speeds are more important when it comes to opening apps. And there's no reason to complain about that here. The 2012 Air is extremely responsive when opening programs.
Battery Rundown Test
Battery life is the one area where the Air doesn't fare all that well, both against competing Windows machines and against the 2011 model it's replacing...

In our Battery Rundown Test, we stream video from over Wi-Fi, with the volume and screen brightness set at 50 percent. As you can see, the 2012 Air came in 18 minutes behind the 2011 model, and conked out an hour earlier than Asus' 11.6-inch ZenBook. Still, keep in mind that this test represents a close-to-worst-case scenario for battery life. If you're writing e-mails or documents while intermittently surfing the Web, the Air's battery will last much longer.

When we looked at the mid-2012 model of the larger-screened 13.3-inch MacBook Air, we were quick to point out that, impressive as it is, we've seen quite a few Windows ultrabooks with similar displays and internals but lower prices. But that's not so much the case with the smaller model. We've reviewed Asus' 2011 ZenBook UX21, but as of this writing, we haven't yet seen the Asus UX21A with its newer "Ivy Bridge" processor and backlit keyboard.

Samsung's Series 9 comes in an 11.6-inch model as well, but its Core i3 processor isn't up to the speed of the Air's Core i5 chip. And the base model makes do with just 2GB of RAM, which isn't great for multitasking in Windows 7. Sony seems to have a promising competitor with the upcoming VAIO T11, but as of this writing, pricing wasn't available, and Sony's T Series line lacks a backlit keyboard.

The 11.6-inch Air is skinny enough to make even relatively trim Windows laptops, like HP's 0.8-inch-thick Envy Sleekbook, look plump.

In short, while we've seen several 13.3-inch ultrabooks that offer some strong competition for the larger MacBook Air, the 11.6-inch part of the laptop market doesn't seem to be nearly as crowded, at least in the United States. So if you're looking for a laptop that's nearly as small as a netbook, but powerful enough to handle demanding tasks without getting bogged down, the smaller Air is still our favorite offering. Its keyboard is great for its class, and while battery life could be better, its performance is impressive, thanks to its solid-state storage, USB 3.0 ports, and new Intel CPU.

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M5 481TG-6814

Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M5 481TG-6814

SCORE: 4/5

Acer's 14-inch Aspire TimelineU M5-481TG-6814 is a lean, mean multimedia machine. Strapped with Nvidia graphics and an Intel Ivy Bridge processor, this Ultrabook can switch from work to play with ease. At $779, the M5-481TG looks like a deal that's pretty hard to pass up. Is it?

The Acer Aspire TimelineU M5-481TG-6814 is essentially a smaller version of theAspire TimelineU M5-581TG-6666. And we're not complaining. Its slate-gray aluminum lid has a modern industrial look and sports a diamond-cut chrome Acer logo in the middle.

The anodized aluminum interior is simple and understated. A diamond-cut strip of chrome surrounds the touchpad, and a gray soft-touch material surrounds the display, both nice touches. While we like that the glass panel stretches nearly from edge to edge, there's a pretty thick secondary bezel of sorts around the screen that detracts from an otherwise sleek look.

Another point of contention is the company's insistence on placing the power button on the right front lip of the notebook, sending users on a scavenger hunt. We're also not happy with the decision to place all the ports along the rear of the notebook. At least one USB port along one of the sides would have been welcome.

Weighing 4.4 pounds, the 13.4 x 9.7 x 0.81-inch Aspire M5-481TG is plenty portable but on the heavier side of the Ultrabook spectrum. The 13.7 x 9.5 x 0.83-inch Dell Inspiron 14z is thicker but a tad lighter at 4.2 pounds. Another 14-inch Ultrabook, the Toshiba U845W, measures 14.5 x 7.8 x 0.72 inches and weighs 4 pounds, but that system lacks an optical drive.


The Aspire M5 features a run-of-the-mill 14-inch, 1366 x 768-pixel display. You'll need to tilt the screen back a bit to get the best picture, as vertical viewing angles are somewhat narrow. Horizontal viewing angles were wider.

As we watched the 1080p trailer for "Life of Pi," our reflection on the glossy surface made it difficult to see darker scenes. Colors, from the brilliant golden sun to the red and white dinghy, popped off the screen, but there were noticeable artifacts and a persistent fuzziness that obscured many of the more intricate details.

With a lux of 185, the 6814's display failed to match the 206 lux average. It was easily outshone by the Inspiron 14z's 254 lux display.


The pair of bottom-mounted speakers has quite a kick for such a slim system. As we listened to The Noisettes' "Saturday Night," lead singer Shingai Shoniwa's high-energy soprano filled the room. However, the drums and cymbals were almost nonexistent. We tried to adjust by switching between the Dolby presets (Movies, Music and Gaming) with only a hint of improvement.

The utility did help, though, when watching "Life of Pi." On the Movies setting, dialogue was crisp and the sound of rushing water was loud and menacing. Regardless of what we listened to, sound was immediately muffled as soon as we placed the notebook in our lap.

Keyboard and Touchpad

We appreciate the large flat keys and generous spacing on the Acer M5-481TG's island-style keyboard. The layout offers a decent amount of travel, and the blue backlighting was easy to see in a dim room (see a sample shot of this in our image gallery above). We averaged 53 words per minute with a 1 percent error rate on the Ten Thumbs Typing Test. That's a little higher than our normal 50 wpm/1 percent error rate. Too bad Acer forces you to use a function key combo to adjust settings such as the brightness and volume.

The 3.9 x 2.7-inch Synaptics touchpad gave us plenty of real estate to navigate documents and Web pages. Multi-touch gestures such as pinch to zoom, two-finger rotation and four-finger flicks were responsive. However, two-finger scrolling proved to be sluggish, and on a few occasions we had trouble selecting text accurately. Three-finger flicking was notably absent, eliminating our ability to zoom through photo galleries.


After running a full-screen Hulu video for 15 minutes on the Timeline M5 14-inch, the touchpad and the space between the G and H keys measured 78 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit, well below our 95-degree comfort threshold. However, the underside of the keyboard measured an uncomfortable 98 degrees.

When we started playing "Batman: Arkham City," the temperature increased noticeably. The touchpad registered 82 degrees, while the space between the G and H keys measured 93 degrees. The bottom of the notebook measured a blistering 110 degrees.


The 1.3 megapixel camera on the TimelineU M5-481TG-6814 webcam captures stills and video in 1280 x 1024 using Acer Crystal Webcam software. Our test shots were sharp, showing off the ruffles in our shirt. Our skin looked a little dark under the fluorescent lighting in the office, but drastically improved in natural light.


Similar to the 15-inch M5-581TG, all of the M5-481TG's ports are located in the back of the notebook. That could prove pretty annoying for anyone who plans to travel with this system. In addition to a pair of USB 3.0 ports, there's HDMI, Gigabit Ethernet and a Kensington lock slot. A 2-in-1 card reader and a combination microphone/headphone jack sit on the right side of the notebook and a DVD player is on the left.


The Acer Aspire TimelineU M5-481TG comes ready to handle any task, thanks to its 1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-3317U CPU, 4GB of RAM and 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive with a 20GB SSD. During our real-world testing, we were able to stream a movie from Netflix with six open tabs in Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Internet Explorer while running a full-system scan.

On the PCMark07 benchmark, the M5-481TG scored 2,824, comfortably above the 2,389 thin-and-light category average. The Dell Inspiron 14z and Sony VAIO T13, which have the same processor and RAM, scored 2,984 and 3,334, respectively. The M5-481TG fared better on Geekbench, scoring 5,897, clearing the 5,399 category average. That was enough to beat the T13's score of 5,432, but not the 14z's 6,070.

During the File Transfer Test, the TimelineU M5-481TG's 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 2 minutes and 50 seconds for a transfer rate of 29.9 MBps, on a par with the 30MBps average.

The M5-481TG took 6 minutes and 11 seconds to match 20,000 names to their corresponding address on the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro test. That's about 15 seconds longer than the average, and behind the 14z (5:47).

Boot and Wake Times

The M5-481TG's 20GB SSD enabled the notebook to boot Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) in 36 seconds. That's 21 seconds faster than the 57-second ultrabook average. Still, the Inspiron 14z launched in 28 seconds.

Acer's Green Instant-On feature allows for nearly instantaneous wake from sleep times. During our testing, the 6814 resumed from sleep in 2 seconds. Acer Always Connect feature is rated to connect to the Web in 2.5 seconds using remembered Wi-Fi hotspots. We were pleased to see that the notebook got online instantly after waking from sleep.


Setting Acer's Ultrabooks apart from most others is their inclusion of discrete Nvidia graphics cards. The Nvidia GeForce GT 640M LE GPU in the M5-481TG even let us play some of the more demanding titles on the market, albeit not at the highest settings.

During the 3DMark11 benchmark, the TimelineU M5-481TG scored 1,499, more than twice the 758 category average. The Dell Inspiron 14z (AMD Radeon HD 7570M GPU with 1GB of VRAM) delivered a score of 902.

On the "World of Warcraft" test, the TimelineU M5-481TG notched an impressive frame rate of 132 fps on autodetect at 1366 x768. That's more than twice the 52 fps average. The 14z scored 64 fps. Cranked up to maximum, the M5-481TG delivered 68 fps, far above the 26 fps thin-and-light laptop average. The Inspiron 14z notched 32 fps.

As we played "Batman: Arkham City" on low at 1366 x 768, the TimelineU M5-481TG notched a frame rate of 32 fps, which is playable, and on a par with the 30 fps category average. The 14z managed to deliver a few more frames at 35 fps. On maximum, the M5-481TG and 14z's frame rate dropped to 16 and 15 fps, respectively, but were still better than the 12 fps average.

Battery Life

During the LAPTOP Battery Test, which consists of continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi, the Acer Aspire TimelineU M5-481TG lasted 6 hours and 27 minutes. That runtime is on a par with the thin-and-light average (6:29), and much longer than the Dell Inspiron 14z (5:35).

Software and Warranty

Acer packages the M5-481TG with a familiar cast of first- and third-party software. One of the more useful utilities is USB Charge Manager, which gives users the ability to change the charging setup of the assigned port. Acer media (video and music) and photo let you share media with DNLA-compatible devices.

Acer Theft Shield is a new arrival that enabled us to prevent against laptop theft using an Android phone. We downloaded the Acer Theft Shield app on our Samsung Galaxy S III and synced with the notebook's Wi-Fi network. From there, we could set up Alarm Mode, which sent our phone a notification if the notebook was moved out of the phone's range.

NewsXpresso, an RSS feed reader, is also included. We really like the software's slick magazinelike interface. Aupeo!, a perennial favorite, lets users create custom channels by mood, genre and artist. There's also Fooz Kids, the kid-tested, parent-approved software for kids ages 2-10 that features a variety of content, including games and video.

Other third-party apps include Windows Live, Microsoft Office Starter, Skype, Evernote, Adobe Reader X and a 30-day free trial of McAfee Internet Security Suite. There are also shortcuts for The Acer Aspire TimelineU M5-481TG-6814 comes with a 1-year warranty. See how Acer fared in our Best and Worst Brand Report.

Our $779 review unit came with a 1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-3317U CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive with a 20GB SSD, and a Nvidia GeForce GT 640M LE GPU with 1GB of VRAM. The $679 base model features a 1.5-GHz Intel Core i3-237M CPU (Sandy Bridge) with 6GB of RAM, a 500GB 5,400-hard drive with a 20GB SSD and Intel HD Graphics 3000 with 128MB of RAM. There's also a $729 version that's outfitted with a 1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-3317U CPU with 4GB of RAM, a 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive with a 20GB SSD and Intel HD Graphics 3000 with 128MB of RAM.


With discrete Nvidia graphics, loud speakers, and solid battery life -- all for less than $800 -- the Acer Aspire TimelineU M5-481TG-6814 crams a lot into its sturdy and sleek aluminum frame. What holds this system back from a higher rating is its awkward port placement and toasty underside. Overall, though, the 14-inch Acer M5 provides strong multimedia performance in a light package.

1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U
Operating SystemMS Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
RAM Upgradable to 
Hard Drive Size 
500GB + 20GB SSD
Hard Drive Speed 
Hard Drive Type 
SATA Hard Drive
Display Size 
Native Resolution 
Optical Drive 
DVD SuperMultiDrive
Optical Drive Speed 
Graphics Card 
Video Memory 
Wi-Fi Model
Bluetooth 4.0+HS
Mobile Broadband 
Touchpad Size3.9 x 2.7 incehs
Ports (excluding USB) 
Gigabit Ethernet; HDMI; Headphone; Kensington Lock; USB 3.0
USB Ports 
Card Slots 
2-1 card reader
Warranty/Support1-year warranty
Size13.39 x 9.65 x 0.81
Weight4.4 pound