Sun, Feb 05, 2012 - Page 13 News List

Technology review: Ultraslick, ultrafast, ultralightweight

The ‘Taipei Times’ took ultrabook laptops by Acer, Lenovo and Toshiba for a test-drive

By David Chen  /  Staff Reporter

Acer’s Aspire S3 ultrabook laptop.

Photo courtesy of Acer

If you’ve been wishing for a laptop that has the sleek and svelte look of the Macbook Air but comes with Microsoft Windows installed, the time has come.

The major PC manufacturers have just started to roll out a new set of portable computers that are fast, stylish and super lightweight.

Dubbed “ultrabooks,” which was originally a marketing term coined by Intel, the company that provides the processor chips that power these devices, these new laptops aim for a piece of Apple’s pie.

Like the Air, ultrabooks offer speedy performance and good battery life, not to mention stylish, minimalist designs that feature thin profiles and built-in,

non-replaceable batteries. To achieve their slender measurements, ultrabooks do away with DVD drives.

Models like Asus’ Zenbook (reviewed on page 16 of the Dec. 27, 2011, edition of the Taipei Times) offer an attractive alternative to the Macbook Air. But there are other contenders, too. Here the Taipei Times takes a look at 13-inch-screen ultrabook models from Acer (宏碁), Lenovo and Toshiba.

ACER ASPIRE S3: PRAGMATIC YET STYLISH

While Asustek Computer Inc (華碩電腦) tried to outdo Apple by infusing its Zenbooks with industrial design pizzazz, its fellow Taiwanese company Acer took a more pragmatic route with the Aspire S3.

With its brushed metal lid and tapered body, this 13-inch, 1.35kg model also emulates the Macbook Air’s look. The S3’s underside and keyboard chassis are made of plastic, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It might not have the fine craftsmanship feel of the Zenbook or the Macbook Air, but the S3 is solid and sturdy. It doesn’t bend or flex when you rest your hands on the chassis area in front of the keyboard.

Reviewed models

Acer Aspire S3, 13-inch screen, Intel Core i5 processor, 320GB SATA hard drive

NT$34,900

Lenovo Ideapad U300s, 13-inch screen, Intel Core i5 processor, 128GB SSD

NT$39,000

Toshiba Z830 Portege, 13-inch screen, Intel Core i5 processor, 128GB SSD

NT$43,800


With its lowest-spec model priced at NT$34,900, the S3 is one of the cheaper ultrabooks around. But the low price means, however, that Acer had to cut a few corners. The S3 doesn’t have some of the newest features, such as a faster USB 3.0 port, and makes compromises when it comes to storage options.

Most ultrabooks are equipped with flash memory, also known as solid-state drives (SSD), which read and record data much faster than the traditional mechanical hard drive.

Acer went with the latter, loading the S3 with a 320 gigabyte hard disk. Although you get more storage space, you’re also left with slightly poorer performance because of the slower speed at which the hard drive writes data. Some programs on the S3 take a few seconds more to load in comparison to other ultrabooks with flash memory drives. Copying large files is also slower.

And because of the mechanical hard drive, the S3 takes more time to power on. The model Acer loaned to the Taipei Times took 48 seconds to boot, whereas most of the other ultrabooks we reviewed, which all have solid state drives, took less than half that time.

But overall, the S3 still runs faster than older laptops, thanks in part to its i5 Intel processor. You will experience few lags if you’re watching videos, using a word processor or listening to music.

And Acer has a trick up its sleeve to make the S3 speedy when waking it from sleep mode. The S3 actually does have a 20 gigabyte SSD, but it can’t be accessed by users. Its sole function is to save memory when you close the lid without shutting down your computer. This allows the S3 to resume full functionality within 3 seconds after opening the lid, a feature dubbed “Instant On.”

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