Totally solid: Acer Aspire S3 Core i7 256GB review

Acer has taken a slightly different approach to Ultrabooks coming up with two distinct lines of its S3 series. In appearance they all look the same — with a clean stylish uni-body design that makes them look like MacBook Air clones — but they split into models with mechanical drives and those with solid state drives.

The Ultrabooks with mechanical drives are cheaper. The entry-level $999 13.3in Aspire S3 Ultrabook with the 320GB mechanical drive and Intel Core i3 processor was the first to go under $1000 in Australia. The same concept with a 500GB mechanical drive and Core i5 processor is $1299.

The Acer S3 Ultrabooks with mechanical drives suffer from one really obvious downside: they don’t have the amazing boot and application load times of the S3 line with just SSDs so can seem glacial at times because the mechanical platters spin at a cost-saving 5400rpm (although once apps and data are loaded they get stored in a temporary 20GB flash drive subsequently speeding things up). The trade-off for this compromise is that you get more storage and all the other advantages of Ultrabooks at a significantly lower price.

But for this review we looked at an S3 powered by a low-voltage 2nd Gen Core i7 processor and 256GB solid state drive just to reassure ourselves that there are S3s that rocket along. This one the Aspire S3-951-2634G24 that retails for $1999 sure does.

Although the Core i7-2337M processor in this S3 has a base clock speed of 1.7GHz with Turbo Boost 2.0 it can ratchet it up to 2.8GHz which is pretty impressive for a low-voltage chip. Most of all this machine just feels like a Core i7-powered computer. Things just happen quicker all round and when you add a fast SSD and 4GB of RAM the overall result is the kind of performance you get from powerful full-sized notebooks. It can handle common computing tasks — and even intensive applications such as editing high-definition videos — with power to spare. All in a package that’s a fraction of the weight and slimness of a traditional notebook.

The S3s are made from a combination of aluminium and magnesium that’s so light it feels suspiciously like plastic but we’re assured it isn’t. The keyboard is one of the nicer chiclet designs with well-spaced keys which are also arranged in a traditional manner (ie. where you expect them to be a convention that’s often tossed out by ultra-light notebook makers). The key travel is so light and shallow it feels almost non-existent at times so that takes some getting used to but overall the S3 keyboard is probably the best of the Ultrabooks.  

This is a great top-of-the-line Ultrabook with super performance. It would get an Editor’s Choice if it wasn’t for the price. But if you can find it on the street for around $1500-$1600 a Highly Recommended award would certainly be justified.

Available from Acer retailing for $1999.
APC rating: 8/10 (Highly Recommended)