Ever since Acer promised an ultrabook that could play Battlefield 3, we've been waiting for the other shoe to drop. Today, it has — the new Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M5 is officially coming to the United States as a pair of 14-inch and 15.6-inch laptops, starting at just $679.99. As we discovered at Computex Taipei early this month, neither is quite the same game-savvy machine as the Ultra M3 we reviewed, and you shouldn't expect quite as much power under the hood. Still, the 0.81-inch thick machines, each with thankfully revised chassis, backlit keyboards, DVD drives, and a manufacturer-estimated 8 hours of battery life, sound like they'll offer some pretty decent bang for the buck.
Just pay close attention to each laptop's codename, because not all Ultra M5 laptops are equal.
For example, the $679.99 entry price will buy you a Ultra M5-481T-6670, which is probably not the laptop you'll want. The 14-inch machine has a last-gen Core i3 processor and no discrete graphics, which rules out intensive PC titles. It does have 6GB of RAM, though.
For $779.99, however, you can get the visually identical Ultra M5-481TG-6814, where the "G" stands for discrete graphics, namely a switchable GeForce GT 640M LE chip, That won't be as powerful as the Ultra M3's 640M, because "LE" basically stands for "low end," but we just so happen to have tested a 640M LE recently and seen that in the right machine, it can still run games like Battlefield 3 at lower settings. There's also a brand-new Intel Core i5-3317U processor, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive with a 20GB solid state cache, a pair of USB 3.0 ports, HDMI out and a headset jack in a 4.3-pound package.
$829.99 is the top of the line for the US market, and that's where the 15.6-inch Ultra M5 581TG-6666 comes in: it's got mostly the exact same specs as its 14-inch relative, but uses the extra real estate (and weight, at 5.07 pounds) to add a full numpad, a USB 2.0 port, an Ethernet jack, and comes with 6GB of RAM.
If you're looking for a potent config like the Ultra M3 we reviewed, though, Canada may be your best bet. Acer will sell an Ultra M5-581TG-9825 there with a Core i7-3517U processor, a true GeForce GT 640M GPU and a 256GB solid state drive for CAD $1,229.99, or approximately $1,200 in US money.
They're a long way from the lightest ultrabooks and sadly you'll still be looking at 1366 x 768 resolution screens across the board, but if the price is right, these machines could possibly offer the performance ratio you're looking for as well. We're looking forward to testing that for ourselves soon.