The much-heralded Ultrabooks are finally starting to materialise and Acer’s Aspire S3 is the first finished ready-to-sell Ultrabook we’ve gotten our hands on. Previously if you wanted the pinnacle of thinness and lightness in a Wintel product your only real choice was the Samsung Series 9 ultraportable a premium notebook with price tags of well over AU$2000. Samsung has updated its Series 9 range with two new 13.3in versions which match up with the Aspire 13in Ultrabooks we’ve looked at.
You can see the similarity between the Acer and Samsung 13.3in machines in the picture above with the Acer on the left. But the Series 9 does not officially qualify as an Ultrabook because it doesn’t meet some of the Intel requirements for the Ultrabook label so it provides a good example of pre-Ultrabook technology. We’ve compared it to Aspire S3 to see whether Ultrabooks really bring anything new to the table.
The Acer Aspire S3 is the first of the Ultrabooks relased on the market – stunningly thin but able to run Intel Core i5 and Core i7 processors.
The Samsung Series 9 is the kind of the non-Ultrabook ultraportables and until now the only true competitor to the MacBook Air.
Style & Design | Ultrabooks are meant to be stunning and the Acer certainly looks like the MacBook Air but the Samsung (above) made of Duralumin allogy with a black brushed finish and with beautiful arched side curve still wins out with its more unique looks.
Weight & Thickness| The Series 9 beats the Aspire S3 for weight (1.31kg versus 1.35kg) but the difference here is only about 40 grams. It’s not noticeable overall; both products feel exceptionally light in the hand. It’s touch and go when it comes to thickness as well. The Aspire S3 has a maximum thickness of 17mm compared to the Series 9’s 16.3mm.
Processors | Not much difference here. The Aspire’s low-voltage Intel Core i5s (2467M) and i7s (2637M) are a bit faster than the low-voltage Intel Core i5s (2457M) and i7s (2617M) in the Series 9 but a user would be hard pressed to notice the difference. Both Samsung and Acer machines have the same strong integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 graphics. Of note is that the base model Aspire S3 has an Intel Core i3-2367M wherea Samsung does not offer Core i3s in its 13.3 Series 9s (only in the 11in model).
Memory | Those craving lots of memory will end up favouring Samsung. While almost all the Aspire S3s and Series 9s have 4GB of RAM standard the high-end Series 9 model has a huge 8GB.
Storage | This reflects different aproaches. The high-end Aspire S3s have 240GB SSDs that are slightly smaller than the 256GB SSDs in the Series 9 but the cheaper entry level Aspire S3’s have eschewed SSDs for mechanical drives. They use 5400 RPM 320GB HDDs which at first glance seem unusually slow technology but all Aspire S3’s come with onboard 1GB SSDs which run the OS and key applications and ensure even the low-end S3s still boot up blindingly fast.
Ports | Ports are subtly but significantly different between the Acer and Samsung products. In Acer’s favour there’s a full HDMI port and an SD card reader which are more versatile than the Micro HDMI port and Micro SD card reader in the Series 9. However the Series 9 has a superfast USB 3.0 plus a standard USB 2.0 port while the Aspire S3 has just two USB 2.0 ports. The Series 9 notebooks also have a headphone jack and a microphone jack whereas the S3 has just a headphone jack. The Aspire S3 also has 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 + HSR compared to the Series 9’s 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 3.0. Again not a big deal but differences worth noting nonetheless.
Boot & Resume times | We didn’t have the Aspire S3 long enough to do a cold boot but we did get to see its phenomenal resume from Sleep times. The Aspire S3’s fast start annihilates the Samsung’s own fast start (which by normal standards is incredible at around 5-6 seconds) resuming from sleep within 1-2 seconds. That’s a tablet -like resume.
Pricing | If it’s been neck and neck until now it’s in the pricing that the Acer Aspire S3 Ultrabook convincingly trumps the traditional Series 9 ultraportable. Samsung does offer better RAM at the higher end but when the only difference to the Aspire S3 across most models is a slightly bigger drive the Acer wins this battle easily because on average it’s far cheaper by as much as $700 on some roughly equivalent models .
It’s clear that the new Ultrabooks are going to change the rules. The Acer Aspire S3 is more far affordable than Samsung’s Series 9 ultraportables despite having mostly equivalent specs. It means the Ultrabooks are already succeeding in providing consumers with a better thin and light package than was available the pre-Ultrabook era. We’re the biggest fans of the Samsung Series 9 ultraportable but the Acer Aspire S3 is serious competition. It’s going to be very interesting to see how Acer’s Ultrabook fares when it hits the market in October but we’ve got a suspicion that it’s going to be a winner.