Acer hasn't had the best year, falling behind in global PC sales from its former perch at No. 2, just behind HP. Their announcement today that their first Ultrabook, the Aspire S3 would be available this week, and at a positively cut rate $899 is a strong move to build itself back up. You'll recall Ultrabooks are an Intel backed initiative to produce thin, lightweight laptops based around their CULV Sandy Bridge processors. By "Intel backed" this isn't just a name and a concept, Intel has committed $300M to help companies develop and market their variants. The power-sipping, modern processors are just one part of the concept; SSDs feature prominently in all models, as does a target price of $999, and a target battery life of 5 hours. Rapid sleep and wake times are also notable, though the speed of these seems very manufacturer dependent. 

The 13.3" S3 delivers a 1366x768 resolution on its LED backlit display, in an aluminum/magnesium chassis just a tick over half an inch thick at its thinnest point, and weighing just under 3 lbs. These are all characteristics that we'll encounter repeatedly as other Ultrabook models become available. The thin frame finds room for two USB ports along with a full size HDMI port on its back side, while audio jacks and a card reader grace its sides. The full size chiclet keyboard and large multitouch trackpad are par for the course and the system is being offered in a metallic grey with a fingerprint resistant finish. Connectivity comes in the form of 802.11 a/b/g/n wireless along with Bluetooth 4.0+HS, and a 1.3MP webcam rounds out the exterior specs. 

Inside the S3-951, you'll find the Core i5-2467 whose two cores can operate at 1.6GHz, or up to 2.3GHz on a single core, along with 4GB of RAM on the Intel UM67 chipset. Acer's Ultrabook will feature not just an SSD, 20GB in size, but also a 320GB HDD for expanded mobile storage. It's unclear whether the SSD will serve as a boot drive or exclusively to store sleep state. Note that the UM67 chipset does not support the Z68's Smart Response Technology that Anand discussed previously, but all ultrabooks sport enhanced wake from sleep times thanks to their SSD requirement and some chipset optimizations.

In the case of the S3, we're looking at a 2 second wake from sleep time (which really doesn't seem like that big a deal--resume from hibernation is what typically requires 30+ seconds). Another highlight is the 50 day stand by time. This is where the SSD's non-volatile memory really comes in handy. When left in sleep for longer than 8 hours, or a user definable time, the S3 will enter a Deep Sleep state that allows for this absurd stand by time. It can wake from Deep Sleep in just 6 seconds. Stand by times aren't the only area where the S3 should excel, the 3-cell 3280 mAh integrated battery is said to be good for 6 hours continuous usage. We can't wait to get our hands on one to test these battery life figures (though we'll likely pass on testing that stand by number). 

All of this will be available this week for that tempting $899 MSRP, a welcome value when not that long ago thicker, heavier and less potent machines were competing in the same price range for the "thin and light" crown. This is only the start though, with many OEMs expected to announce their products in the coming days and weeks. 

Source: Acer

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  • JarredWalton - Monday, October 10, 2011 - link

    You know, I'm not at all sold on this obsession with thin laptops. I'd rather have a slightly thicker Aspire S3 with a 6-cell battery that can last 10+ hours than the current 3-cell design. That's not to say this is a bad or good laptop -- I'll withhold judgement until we can review it -- but there's a point where getting much thinner just doesn't matter. For me, anything less than an inch thick with a 4 pound weight limit is enough.
  • KPOM - Monday, October 10, 2011 - link

    I disagree. You can take a 3lb, .68" thin notebook almost anywhere. Even with a neoprene sleeve, it will fit inside the front pocket of a briefcase or suitcase, while a 1" thick 4lb unit might be just a bit too big. Also, we have had those 4lb ultraportables before. For the most part they didn't sell. Apple's$999 MacBook Air (specifically starting with the 2010 version) was the first ultraportable that sold like a mainstream PC, and so there's a good reason why Intel promoted the platform's size and pricing specs to equal or improve upon the Air.

    Battery life will get significantly better with Ivy Bridge and then Haswell, as will graphics performance. At that point, there likely will be little reason to have notebooks larger than ultrabooks, except for hard core gamers or those looking for true workstation replacements. The other 90-95% of us will have all we need.
  • HibyPrime1 - Monday, October 10, 2011 - link

    The question now is:

    3 cell Ultrabook with 6 hour battery life, or 6 cell 1" 4 pounder with 12 hour battery life?

    With the battery life getting better in Ivy Bridge and then Haswell, you have to ask yourself a new question:

    3 cell Ultrabook with 10 hours of battery life, or 6 cell 1" 4 pounder with 20 hours of battery life?

    Jarred's argument still applies after Ive Bridge and Haswell. Although in 3-4 generations assuming we don't see applications demand more cpu power (we've been in a bit of a lull for a few years it seems) it's reasonable to expect battery life to get to a point where you don't need more than a ~20Wh battery.
  • KPOM - Tuesday, October 11, 2011 - link

    At some point, it becomes irrelevant. A notebook with a 10 hour life will last throughout the average workday. Whether it lasts for 10 hours or 20 hours probably doesn't matter to most people. Heck, at the office, most people have their notebooks plugged in, so battery life is most important while on the road. 10 hours is enough to fly trans-Atlantic.
  • Calin - Friday, October 14, 2011 - link

    The question then becomes:
    3 cell Ultrabook with 10 hours of battery life on 1.6GHz processor, or 3 cell Ultrabook with 6 hours of battery life with 2,2 GHz processor?
    There is a limit when performance is good enough, but in one year and a half the 1.6GHz Sandy Bridge might not really cut it for most.
  • JarredWalton - Monday, October 10, 2011 - link

    The question is whether MacBook Air sold because it was something people really wanted, or whether it was just something with the Apple logo. I know a few people that bought one because the thin factor sounded so awesome, only to return it a couple weeks later because they found it wasn't fast enough, or just didn't really fulfill a need.

    Your point that we've had thin laptops before is exactly what I'm getting at. Ultrabook is nothing new; it's just thinner with a minimum feature set mandated by Intel. I suspect a lot of Ultrabooks will end up looking like MacBook Air "me too" attempts, and just like the iPad has sold a ton of units while Honeycomb tablets aren't doing nearly as well, Ultrabooks won't sell as fast as MBA.

    I have a Dell Vostro V131 for testing right now. Outside of the missing SSD and non-ULV processor, this is basically an "Ultrabook" in every other way. Even as their inexpensive business line, it's probably still built better than most of the Ultrabooks, and it comes with a larger battery, the result being slightly higher weight -- but more performance as well, and a lower price. Get a 60GB SSD in it and you still have a ~$900 price point with the i5-2430M. Of course, the LCD is pretty mediocre (matte but low contrast and poor color), so if Ultrabooks come with better LCDs that would be something to consider.

    Anyway, I'm interested in testing some Ultrabooks and seeing how they actually feel and work in practice, but as with tablets replacing laptops, I'm skeptical Ultrabooks will be the greatest thing since sliced bread.
  • MrDiSante - Tuesday, October 11, 2011 - link

    Jarred, I think you're missing the forrest for the trees here. The Macbook Air was an underpowered 1.6GHz Core 2 Duo that tended to clock down a lot more than one would have liked and with low-end non-user replaceable RAM and SSD (I feel so spoilt having written that - in 2006 the e6300 was blazing fast). Core iX + 4GB are overkill for Vista, and these ultrabooks are only going to get faster, while Win7 runs lighter than Vista and 8 is supposed to be lighter still. These ultrabooks aren't a compromise as far as 90% of users are concerned. - overkill versus lots of overkill isn't a compromise.

    I also take issue with "just like the iPad has sold a ton of units while Honeycomb tablets aren't doing nearly as well, Ultrabooks won't sell as fast as MBA". I know everyone loves to crow about Microsoft being dead and all, but they still have 90+% of the computer market, while Apple has <5%. These ultrabooks will sell in numbers that Tim Cook could only dream of.
  • HibyPrime1 - Tuesday, October 11, 2011 - link

    I just fired up a 1080p youtube video and checked how much CPU % is being used (I'm running an i5-2537 @ 1.4ghz). Even though the GPU is offloading most of the load, flash + firefox is still using up 20-25%, basically using a full core. I haven't seen too many slowdowns that can be attributed to CPU speed in firefox and other low demand apps, but there is still some room for improvement.

    CULV Sandy Bridge is fast enough for most users, but it isn't really fair to call it overkill. I seriously wouldn't call a 1.6GHz Core 2 Duo overkill, in a lot of cases I might actually call it slow.

    Then there's the argument for people who do more than youtube and facebook..

    The way I see it theres two reasons to buy a notebook with a CULV CPU, battery life or size. Jarred is right, once you get to a certain point with size it becomes irrelevant - though everyone might have a different opinion on what that size is lol... However with battery life, I'd say we're probably several days worth of battery life away from it getting to a point where it's no longer an issue. I imagine there are a tonne of people out there who would love to be able to travel without bringing their AC adapter.
  • KPOM - Tuesday, October 11, 2011 - link

    That's a tired, overused argument. The MacBook Air did NOT sell well despite the logo from January 2008 to October 2010. In fact, many analysts thought Apple was going to drop the Air altogether before they released the October 2010 revision. That version, which came with a price drop and improved performance (because they solved the overheating issues) was the first to sell well, and the July 2011 version is the first that has an up to date processor that performs nearly as fast as larger notebooks.
  • KPOM - Tuesday, October 11, 2011 - link

    You are forgetting the focus on SSDs. Few ultraportables had SSDs prior to the MacBook Air, and most consumers haven't used them. Even the Core 2 Duo MacBook Air in 2010 seemed so much faster because for most people, the CPU is no longer the bottleneck. It's the HDD.

    I think people prefer smaller, but the focus group-dominated OEMs kept insisting that people wanted or needed things like built-in optical drives, or weren't willing to pay extra for a smaller design. The MacBook Air didn't sell well until the starting price hit $999. Obviously, for Windows PCs, the sweet spot will be lower than $999, but it sounds like Acer and ASUS realize that, and will be targeting prices even lower than $899. Perhaps it will be $699 or $799 that triggers a rush of Ultrabook sales.

    Regarding tablets, the success of the Kindle Fire shows that manufacturers just needed to find the right price point, removing features as necessary to get there. Kindle Fire will do very well at $199, even though it lacks much internal storage and a camera. Similarly, a $699 Ultrabook ought to sell well.

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