Review Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M5-481TG Notebook
A good looking all-rounder. With the Aspire TimelineUltra M5-481TG series Acer wants to combine in one device a lot of different specifications that one requires in a notebook: endurance, high performance, mobility, low power consumption, appealing looks. Our review will show if this is possible and if Acer has succeeded.
With the Aspire TimelineUltra M5-481TG series Acer brings a whole line of 14-inch ultrabooks on the market. In the series Acer wants to combine mobility (long battery life, manageable size, lower power consumption, lower noise levels) and high performance (demanding games, video editing). Also the representatives of the Aspire TimelineUltra M5-481TG family belong to the one of the few ultrabooks that have an optical drive. Currently Acer's website lists three different models of the Aspire TimelineUltra M5-481TG series. The devices differ only in hard disks and processors.
The reviewed Acer Aspire TimelineUltra M5-481TG-73514G25Mass is the top of the line model. Our test unit is powered by a dual-core Intel processor (Intel Core i7-3517U). The graphics cards in use are the Nvidia GeForce GT 640M LE and the Intel HD Graphics 4000. Additionally there are a 4 GB system memory, a DVD Burner and a 256 GB SSD.
On top of the three available models there is a 15.6-inch version with the same specifications, for those who find the 14-inch display too small. These notebooks go under the name Aspire TimelineUltra M5-581TG and as well as the larger display have a third USB port (USB 2.0) and a numeric keypad. The prices of the 14-inch and the 15.6-inch models are identical.
Rivals of the Acer ultrabook are the HP Envy 14 Spectre (Intel Core i5-2467M, Intel HD Graphics 3000), the Samsung Series 7 700Z3A-S03DE (Intel Core i5-2430M, AMD Radeon HD 6490M) and the Dell XPS 14z (Intel Core i5-2430M, Nvidia GeForce GT 520M), and respectively its successor, the current XPS 14.
The notebook measures 20.7 mm x 340 mm x 245 mm (in inches: 0.8 x 13.4 x 9.6) and weighs 1.85 kg (4.1 pounds). The thin device is easy to carry. The upper surface of the base unit and the rear of the lid are made of brushed aluminum-magnesium alloy, which comes in an anthracite hue. The bottom of the base unit is made of black matte plastic and matches the metal upper surface well. The frame of the display is in tune with the metal parts, but is made of plastic. The case makes a very sturdy impression. When lifting the device, the case does not twist. The case does not give in when pressed. The workmanship is also flawless. Only the frame of the touchpad can be faulted. The round edges do not match 100% to those of the frame. Thus the touchpad sits slightly askew in the frame. This somewhat diminishes the otherwise sophisticated look of the device.
In terms of connectivity, only the most necessary ports are included in the small and thin notebook. The models of the Acer Aspire TimelineUltra M5-481TG series feature two USB 3.0 ports, a HDMI port and a Gigabit Ethernet port. All four connection ports, as well as the AC jack, are found on the back of the ultrabook. This makes plugging a USB stick inconvenient. There should have been another USB port on either one of the sides of the device. Next to the mentioned ports there is also a card reader on the right side of the notebook. The reader supports SD and MMC cards. Also on the right is an audio combo port. It is used for connecting both a microphone and headphones. On the left side of the notebook is the DVD Burner. Acer does not offer a Blu-Ray drive.
Acer's ultrabook features a WLAN module ("AR5BWB222") made by Atheros. It supports the standards 802.11 b/g/n. Connection to a wired network is possible through a Gigabit Ethernet module ("BCM57780") made by Broadcom. A Bluetooth 4.0 module is also not forgotten. Fans of video telephony and video chats will enjoy the integrated Webcam (1.3 megapixel). The software for video telephony "Skype" is also pre-installed.
Next to the ultrabook in the box are the power supply and a pamphlet, explaining the first steps in using the device. The notebook comes with pre-installed Windows 7 Home Premium (64-Bit). A Windows 7 DVD is not supplied. Also there is no recovery partition. Acer has pre-installed a tool, which allows the creation of an image of the system partition. Just in case, this image allows for the recovery of Windows 7. Those who want to have a full Windows 7 DVD should check out our News section.
For protection of the device the "McAfee Internet Security Suite" is pre-installed. Moreover the "Cyberlink Mediaespresso" can be found on the device. The program converts media files to a format that is supported by mobile phones, tablets and/or game consoles. The Starter version of Microsoft Office 2010 is supplied. "Windows Live Essentials" (contains e-mail and video editing programs) is also pre-installed. In addition a 30-day trial version of the DVD and CD burning software "NTI Media Maker 9" is pre-installed.
The maintenance possibilities of the notebook are quickly exhausted, for there are none. The device does not feature a maintenance cover or any such service panel. Those who want to upgrade the notebook must first disassemble it. But even then the upgrade options are very limited. The device supports maximum 6 GB of RAM. The available 4 GB module must be exchanged for an 8 GB one, because there are no 6 GB modules and the ultrabook has only one memory slot.
Acer delivers the Aspire TimelineUltra M5-481TG-73514G25Mass with a 24-month carry-in warranty. In case of a fault, the customer can send the device to Acer's service center. A 3-year warranty extension can be bought for 60 Euro (~$74). The warranty extension must be bought and activated no later than 365 days after the notebook has been purchased.
The Aspire TimelineUltra M5-481TG series have a chiclet keyboard. The keys are made of black matte plastic. The letter keys measure 14 mm x 14 mm (9.7 x 9.7 inches) in size. The key spacing is 4.5 mm (0.18 inches). The "Enter", "Backspace" and right "Shift" keys have a comfortable size and are hard to miss. The keys have a short stroke, yet the pressure point is clear and is neither too soft nor too tight. The entire keyboard is backlit. There was no place available for a numeric keypad. Those who require a numeric keypad should take a look at the identical 15.6-inch models of the Acer TimelineUltra M5 series.
Acer's ultrabook features a large 9.8 cm x 7.7 cm (3.8 x 3 inch) Synaptics Clickpad. A Clickpad works like a normal touchpad, but without the separate mouse buttons. The whole Clickpad is one single, large button. When a click is performed on the bottom area of the pad, the Clickpad interprets this as a left or right mouse button click, depending on the position of the finger. The surface of the Clickpad is smooth and allows for an easy glide of the finger. Drag & drop also functions flawlessly. The pad supports multi-touch gestures such as zooming images using two fingers.
In terms of the display Acer does not surprise. The 14-inch display is made by LG and has a resolution of 1366x768 pixels. The surface of the display is glossy. The measured data is not convincing. Average brightness is 194.7 cd/m². Acer does not offer other types of displays for this series of ultrabooks. We would have liked to see a higher resolution or quality display. The rivals HP Envy 14 Spectre (212.2 cd/²) and Samsung Series 7 700Z3A-S03DE (323 cd/m²) show significantly better results. The display of the HP Envy 14 Spectre even sports a 1600x900 resolution.
Even in terms of contrast and black level the display does not shine. The black level is 1.25 cd/m². Black areas are displayed in shades of grey. This is immediately noticeable when watching a movie. The low contrast of 159:1 contributes to this as well. These values are at the expected levels. Even the rival devices Samsung Series 7 700Z3A-S03DE and Dell XPS 14z do not offer better results. Only the HP Envy 14 Spectre with a black level of 0.54cd/m² and a contrast of 413:1 is far ahead of the other competitors.
The display cannot reproduce the sRGB and AdobeRGB color spaces. This poses no problem as these color spaces are important only for professional graphic and image editing. Professionals would find no advantages between the different models of the Aspire TimelineUltra M5-481TG series.
The test results show that the display is not really suited for outdoor use. The low brightness and contrast make it hard to distinguish anything on the display in direct sunlight. The glare-type surface makes things even worse. Those who want to use the notebook outdoors should look for a shady spot.
The picture quickly distorts when changing the vertical viewing angle. The horizontal viewing angle however is considerably more generous. Even multiple people can watch the display simultaneously. The question however arises: is the 14-inch display really adequate?
The Aspire TimelineUltra M5-481TG series belongs to the multimedia class. The processor, video card and hard drive allow the notebook to run even demanding games. Video editing is also possible with the notebook. Everyday tasks such as word processing, Internet browsing, Skype, chat, DVD playback, etc. do not prove to be any challenge for the device. The performance is of course enough for Blu-Ray playback, but the notebook does not have a corresponding optical drive. Nonetheless we have tested the corresponding video file (Full HD, H.264 encoding). Most of the time, the CPU utilization is well below 10%. Often it is even at 0%. The video decoding is done by the corresponding decoder, which is in the Intel HD 4000.
As already mentioned, the Aspire TimelineUltra M5-481TG series currently consists of three models. We are reviewing the top model. All three models differ only in terms of processor and hard drive. Our test device can currently be bought for around 1,200 Euro (~$1487). The other models cost respectively 800 and 900 Euro (~$991 and $1115). Both models feature an Intel Core i5-3317U processor (1.7 GHz). The 800 Euro (~$991) model comes with a traditional HDD (500 GB). The 900 Euro (~$1115) model has a SSD (128 GB).
The Acer Aspire TimelineUltra M5-481TG is powered by an Intel dual-core processor. To be precise the notebook features an Intel Core i7-3517U. The processor comes from Intel's latest Ivy Bridge family, running at 1.9 GHz. The frequency can be increased up to 2.8 GHz (both cores) or 3 GHz (single core). The Intel Core i7-3517U is a ULV processor. A ULV processor can operate at very low voltage, resulting in lower power consumption. Such a processor is required by Intel in order to call the device "ultrabook".
Theoretically the processor supports up to 32 GB of system memory. Acer has set a limit of 6 GB for the Aspire TimelineUltra M5-481TG series. This is not so dramatic because the user has no way of replacing the memory module.
Under full load the processor often and quickly throttles. During our stress test ("Prime95" and "Furmark" running simultaneously) the processor runs mostly at 800 MHz. It rarely reaches 2.8 GHz. When using the battery, things look different. The processor then runs constantly at 1.9 GHz. The results from Cinebench are as expected. The competitors are surprisingly beaten in all tests. Therefore the effects of the observed throttling during the extreme scenario should not influence everyday work.
The Windows Experience Index points out the SSD as the strongest component in the system and gives it the most points. This evaluation can be confirmed in the daily practical experience. Due to the SSD the whole system is quick and nimble. Everything runs smoothly. The good results of the PCMark benchmark confirm this impression. The rivals HP Envy 14 Spectre, Samsung Series 7 700Z3A-S03DE and Dell XPS 14z were beaten in all tests.
|PCMark Vantage Result||11764 points|
|PCMark 7 Score||3566 points|
There two graphics card in the notebook: the Intel HD Graphics 4000 integrated in the Core i7 processor and the dedicated Nvidia GeForce GT 640M LE. The Nvidia card comes in use whenever the performance of the Intel chip does not suffice - for example when playing demanding games. The switch happens automatically in the background. This technology is known as "Nvidia Optimus".
The Nvidia GeForce GT 640M LE belongs to the middle class of graphic cards. This is a lower-clocked version of the Geforce GT 640M. The core speed of GT 640M LE is 500 MHz, whereas GT 640M runs at 625 MHz. Acer allows the 640M LE to reach up to 570 MHz under load. The Nvidia GPU supports DirectX 11.1. In addition the GPU has 1 GB of memory available. In everyday tasks Intel HD 4000 (Intel's graphic flagship) takes over. The chip supports DirectX 11. The speed of the chip can vary between 350 MHz and 1.2 GHz.
Just like the processor, the Nvidia card is also prone to throttling under our full-load test ("Prime95" and "Furmark" running together). Overall things proceeded considerably more conservatively. The graphics card runs mostly at full speed (570 MHz) and is only sometimes downclocked to 142.5 MHz for a second or two. When running the notebook on battery, things look different. The GPU runs constantly at 500 MHz.
|3DMark 03 Standard||23982 points|
|3DMark 05 Standard||13748 points|
|3DMark 06 Standard||8989 points|
|3DMark Vantage P Result||6182 points|
|3DMark 11 Performance||1519 points|
A multimedia notebook must be able to run modern games fluently and the Acer Aspire TimelineUltra M5-481TG-73514G25Mass manages to do so. The results from the different 3D Mark versions suggest that and practical experience proves it. Many games run without problems at medium settings at the native 1366x768 resolution. Even at higher settings most games run smoothly. Things get close only at Full HD (1920x1080) and highest settings. The games we tested did indeed run, but the picture stuttered. For the display offered by the notebook, the GT640 LE is a good choice. Further details about the graphics card can be found here: Geforce GT 640 LE.
Acer has managed to construct an ultrabook that is very quiet in everyday use. Those who use the notebook only for office work, Internet browsing, watching DVDs, and communication, will hardly notice that it has a fan. Even then, you can hear it only in very quiet surroundings. It is even further drowned out by the DVD drive, when in use. The Acer Aspire TimelineUltra M5-481TG-73514G25Mass has another side as well. Under full load the fan reaches considerably more annoying levels of noise.
30.1 / 30.1 / 30.1 dB(A)
||35.1 / dB(A)|
||41.9 / 44.4 dB(A)|
min: , med: , max: Voltcraft sl-320 (15 cm distance)
The ULV processor has a positively noticeable effect. The surface and bottom of the notebook reach temperature of about 30oC. This makes for comfortable working condition. Prolonged use on the lap poses no problem as well. The situation is different under full load: The top and bottom parts of the notebook reach temperatures of over 40oC. One measurement point exceeded 50oC. In this case the notebook should not be placed on the lap as this would quickly make it uncomfortable to work. Overall the palm rest stays cool even under load, thus making it possible to use the ultrabook.
(-) The maximum temperature on the upper side is 47.1 °C / 117 F, compared to the average of 36.5 °C / 98 F, ranging from 21.1 to 71 °C for the class Multimedia.
(-) The bottom heats up to a maximum of 51 °C / 124 F, compared to the average of 38.8 °C / 102 F
(+) In idle usage, the average temperature for the upper side is 28.4 °C / 83 F, compared to the device average of 31 °C / 88 F.
(+) The palmrests and touchpad are cooler than skin temperature with a maximum of 30.3 °C / 86.5 F and are therefore cool to the touch.
(±) The average temperature of the palmrest area of similar devices was 29 °C / 84.2 F (-1.3 °C / -2.3 F).
The audio qualities of the ultrabook are advertised through the logo "Dolby Home Theater | Professionally Tuned". The two loudspeakers are on the bottom side of the notebook. Sound is decent and speech is easy to understand. We have encountered worse speakers. Overall the speakers lack bass, like most other notebook speakers, but they suffice in watching DVDs. Alternatively one can always use external speakers or headphones.
Acer delivers the Aspire TimelineUltra M5-481TG-73514G25Mass with a 65 W power supply. In most situations it is more than enough. However, the power consumption of the ultrabook rises to 60.6 W. We measured it during our stress test, running "Prime95" and "Furmark" simultaneously. In everyday use these values should not be reached. Acer has configured the notebook to low power consumption, reaching under 10 W at idle. The ULV processor pays off in this situation.
The battery is built into the notebook and is not accessible from the outside. Acer claims a 48.5 W battery capacity on their website. On the other hand, the HWInfo tool reports a capacity of 55.5 W.
|Off / Standby||0.2 / 0.4 Watt|
|Idle|| 6.4 / 9.6 / 9.8 Watt|
52.1 / 60.6 Watt|
Key: min: , med: , max: Voltcraft VC 940
The Acer Aspire TimelineUltra M5-481TG manages an Idle runtime of 11:34h, a very good result. The notebook's battery can last a whole work day. In our Idle test the notebook had to complete the Battery Eater Reader's test where the display is used at lowest brightness, energy-saving profile is chosen, and the Wi-Fi is turned off.
Under Load the ultrabook managed a time of 1:46h. In the Load test the Battery Eater Classic test was run on the notebook where the display is at full brightness, the high performance profile is chosen, and the Wi-Fi is turned on.
In our practical WLAN test the battery died after 6:04h. In this test the websites were reloaded every 40 seconds (using an automated script), the energy-saving profile is active and the brightness is set at around 150 cd/m².
An even better runtime of 6:10h was delivered in our DVD test. This runtime would suffice for three or four movies or several episodes of a favorite TV series. For this test the wireless modules (Wi-Fi and Bluetooth) are disabled and the brightness is set at maximum. The energy-saving or a higher (if the DVD does not play smoothly) profile is used.
Acer definitely succeeds in combining the various requirements of a notebook in one device: It is visually appealing, in most cases quiet and energy-efficient, highly mobile and enduring. The notebook even has sufficient performance reserve to satisfy most multimedia needs and even play games at higher settings. All this however comes at a price: under full load the notebook becomes noisy and very hot. And with a price of 1,199 Euro (~$1486) it cannot exactly be described as budget-priced. The notebook is suitable for those who do not want to compromise on performance and are willing to pay the price.
Those who are interested in the Acer ultrabook, but do not need the very latest bit of performance, should look into the other models of the Aspire TimelineUltra M5-481TG family. Both offer only marginally inferior specifications, but are priced respectively 300 and 400 Euro (~$372 and $496) below our test unit.