You don't find many 13-inch laptops with discrete graphics for less than $800, nevermind one that looks like this. Acer's new $779 Aspire TimelineX 3830TG-6431 (price as reviewed) weighs just 4.2 pounds, yet it packs both a second-gen Intel Core i5 processor and Nvidia GeForce GT 540M graphics. Like blue? Then you'll definitely want to take a look at this vibrant metallic chassis. Read on to find out if this Timeline has what it takes to win you over.
One of the most intriguing designs from Acer yet, the Aspire TimelineX 3830TG sports a very unique cobalt-blue metallic lid and matching palm rest. The thin chassis is chiseled in flat planes and blunt edges, held together by a solid cylindrical hinge. Framed in silver, the recessed keyboard has black keys, which match the display's hinge and glossy frame.
This retro-futuristic look isn't for everyone, but we're glad to see someone adding a splash of color to laptops. Like an increasing number of 13-inch notebooks, this one lacks a DVD drive.
Above the keyboard sits a long speaker bar prominently bearing the Dolby Home Theater moniker. A power button glows blue next to the speaker, while the status lights gleam in blue and orange on the notebook's front lip. The undercarriage is a plain black plastic punctuated with slotted vents.
Measuring 12.6 x 9 x 0.9 inches and weighing 4.2 pounds, the TimelineX 3830TG is slim enough to slip into laptop bags and carry around without any trouble. That's the same weight as the ASUS U31JG and lighter than other 13-incher, the Samsung SF310 (4.6 pounds). The 13-inch Toshiba Portege R835 is much lighter (3.2 pounds), but it doesn't offer discrete graphics.
Unfortunately, Acer saddles the TimelineX 3830TG with a big and heavy (1.2-pound) power brick and a three-prong adapter. A small two-prong power adapter would make much more sense for a system this svelte.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Aspire TimelineX 3830TG uses a chiclet-style keyboard with square island keys. The Enter key is oddly shaped, kind of like what you'd find on a typewriter, but overall we found typing comfortable. On the far right of the keyboard sit Home, Pg Up, Pg Dn, and End keys, which double as multimedia controls.
Measuring 3 x 1.5 inches, the Synaptics touchpad on the TimelineX 3830TG is fairly small for a 13-inch notebook. By comparison, the ASUS U31JG (3.1 x 1.8 inches), Toshiba Portege R835 (3.3 x 2 inches), and the Samsung Series 9 (3.9 x 2.7 inches) all provide more surface area. In fact, Acer's Aspire One D260 netbook has the same size touchpad as this Timeline.
Nevertheless, the touchpad proved responsive when moving the cursor. Pinch-to-zoom worked smoothly, but performing this gesture felt cramped because of the pad's small size. Under the touchpad are two discrete mouse buttons that click with authority without being too stiff.
The TimelineX 3830TG got a little toasty on our heat tests. After we streamed a 15-minute Hulu video, the touchpad measured 93 degrees, the keyboard's center reached 96 degrees, and the underside hit 100. The typical thin-and-light laptop delivers cooler temperatures in the same spots (87, 89, 92). We consider anything over 95 degrees to be uncomfortable. We can also verify that the notebook felt warm in our lap through jeans, though not alarmingly so.
Display and Audio
Equipped with a 13.3-inch (1366 x 768-pixel) widescreen display, the TimelineX 3830TG offered a fairly bright picture with natural colors when watching an episode of Fringe in 720p on Hulu. However, like most glossy panels, this one is prone to reflections.
With a long speaker bar above the keyboard proclaiming "Dolby Home Theater. Professionally Tuned", the TimelineX 3830TG raises your expectations for a quality audio experience. And this laptop delivers. With the Dolby enhancement turned on, Linkin Park's "Bleed it Out" got nice and loud with minimal distortion when we cranked up the volume. You can select three settings, depending on the entertainment: Game, Movie, and Music.
Webcam and Ports
The TimelineX 3830TG offers three USB ports, one being high-speed USB 3.0. Other offerings include an HDMI port to output HD video to TVs and monitors, VGA for SD video, Ethernet, and a 5-in-1 media card reader. There's also headphone and mic jacks, plus a Kensington security lock.
In our test Skype calls and recorded movies, video recorded by the 1.3-megapixel camera looked clear. However, color fidelity ranged widely depending on the lighting conditions. By windows, colors were too warm, verging on orange and red. Under our office's fluorescent lights, images were a bit dark and had a bluish tinge.
The TimelineX 3830TG comes well equipped with a 2.3-GHz Intel Core i5-2410M processor, 4GB of RAM, and Nvidia GeForce GT 540M graphics. This helped the laptop achieve a PCMark Vantage score of 6,228, over 600 points higher than the thin-and-light notebook category average. It was also enough to zoom past the Lenovo Thinkpad Edge E220s (5,886, 1.4-GHz Core i5-2537M) and the Samsung SF310 (5,446, 2.67-GHz Intel Core i5-480M), and it also edged out the Toshiba Portege R835 (6,115, 2.3-GHz Core i5-2410M).
This notebook's 500GB (5,400-rpm) hard drive booted Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) in 58 seconds, 7 seconds faster than average. On the Laptop File Transfer test, the TimelineX 3830TG copied 4.97GB of mixed-media files in 3 minutes and 6 seconds, which translates to a solid transfer rate of 27.4 MBps. That's a bit higher than average (25.6 MBps).
The TimelineX 3830TG proved its video-editing chops by taking a short 49 seconds to convert a 114MB MP4 file to AVI using Oxelon Media Encoder. The average thin-and-light takes nearly 10 seconds longer. This beats the Thinkpad Edge E220s' time of 61 seconds but is slightly behind the Samsung SF310 (47 seconds) and the Portege R835 (45 seconds).
The Aspire TimelineX 3830TG is compact, but it packs a graphics wallop. The notebook has Nvidia's Optimus technology to switch between its integrated Intel HD graphics and the more-robust GeForce GT 540M discrete GPU on the fly. The laptop notched a high 3DMark06 score of 8,084, more than double what notebooks this size tend to muster (3,722). This performance was also strong enough to easily surpass the Samsung SF310 (3,828, Nvidia GeForce 310M) and the ASUS U31JG (4,371, Nvidia GT 415M).
In real-world gaming, the TimelineX 3830TG also displayed its graphical prowess. The notebook played World of Warcraft in autodetect mode at a quick 104 frames per second, miles better than the 61 fps turned in by the ASUS U31JG. With the special effects turned up, frame rates slowed to a still-playable 48 fps. These results compare well to the current category averages (88/30.1). Far Cry 2 scores were also above average, with the notebook turning in 44 fps at 1024 x 768 and 33 fps at 1366 x 768.
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
The TimelineX 3830TG's powerful performance doesn't come at the cost of longevity. This thin-and-light notebook's six-cell battery lasted for a long 6 hours and 58 minutes on the Laptop Battery Test. This score is 2 hours longer than the endurance of other notebooks in this class. The Timeline 3830TG also outlasted the Thinkpad Edge E220s (04:55), the SF310 (05:24), and the ASUS U31JG (06:29).
Wireless performance was mixed with this system's Atheros AR5B97 adapter. It logged a speedy throughput of 66 Mbps at a distance of 15 feet from the router, but the data rate dropped off to 15.7 Mbps at 50 feet. The category averages are 35.4 Mbps and 21.7 Mbps, respectively.
Our $779 Acer Aspire TimelineX 3830TG-6431 came configured with a 2.3-GHz Intel Core i5-2410M processor, 4GB of RAM, Nvidia GeForce GT 540M graphics, and a sizable 500GB hard drive. The $649 Aspire 3830T-6417 dials the CPU down to a 2.1-GHz Core i3-2310M and loses the discrete graphics but includes a DVD burner.
Software and Warranty
Acer supplies the TimelineX 3830TG with a modest software bundle that includes some useful utilities. PowerSmart activates power-saving measures when its key is pressed and the laptop is unplugged. The Acer Backup Manager offers solutions to back up data to external drives and image the entire hard drive for complete recovery. A USB Charge Manager lets the laptop power up USB devices even when shut down. Acer's Clear.fi software enables users to stream and share media content over home networks. Third-party offerings include Skype for voice and video chat and Microsoft Office Starter to tackle basic productivity tasks.
Acer backs the TimelineX 3830TG with a standard one-year warranty covering parts and labor. Owners must pay for shipping costs, but the repaired machine will be shipped back free of charge. See how Acer fared in our most recent Tech Support Showdown.
For its $779 price, the Acer Aspire TimelineX 3830TG-6431 provides a lot of power in a very compact package. Its two-tone blue-and-silver design is attractive, and Nvidia's Optimus technology lets users play the latest games and get nearly 7 hours of battery life. Thanks to Dolby's technology, this 13-inch notebook sounds good, too. What prevents this machine from being an Editor's Choice pick is the relatively small touchpad and warm temperatures during extended use. Overall, though, the TimelineX 3830TG is an excellent value with plenty of style.