First Look: Acer Aspire S3 3951 review

Intel has been busily promoting the Ultrabook as an inexpensive Windows ultraportable laptop that will start at under $1,000. Well, Acer delivered on that promise today with the Aspire S3 that starts at $899.99.

The S3 is truly thin and light, not like the faux “ultrathins” of years past. The 13.3-inch chassis is 0.51 inches thick and weighs 2.98 pounds. That’s very close to the more expensive–at $1,299–MacBook Air, which is 0.68-inches thick and weighs 2.96 pounds.

And price is important. Intel CEO Paul Otellini promised Ultrabooks would appear priced under $1,000. That’s requirement No. 1 to compete effectively with the popular MacBook Air, which starts at $999.

Acer’s S3 isn’t the first sub-0.8-inch featherweight Windows laptop made from metal but it’s the first in this price range: an $899 aluminum-clad, half-inch thick 13.3-inch laptop is truly a Windows milestone.

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Acer Aspire S3-951 salient specs:

  • Size: 0.51 inches thick, 2.98 pounds
  • Materials: aluminum/ magnesium chassis
  • Display: 13.3-inches, 1366×768
  • Processor: Intel Core i5, 1.66GHz (power-efficient ULV)
  • Graphics: Intel HD 3000
  • Storage: 20GB SSD, 320GB HDD (hybrid design)
  • Memory: 4GB
  • Battery: rated by vendor at up to 6 hours
  • Ports: USB 2.0 (2), HDMI, SD reader
  • OS: Windows Home 7 Premium
  • Price: $899.99

Apple MacBook Air salient specs (for comparison):

  • Size: 0.68 inches thick, 2.96 pounds
  • Materials: aluminum chassis
  • Display: 13.3-inches, 1440×900
  • Processor: Intel Core i5 (power-efficient ULV)
  • Graphics: Intel HD 3000
  • Memory: 4GB
  • Storage: 128GB SSD
  • Battery: rated by vendor at up to 7 hours
  • Ports: USB 2.0 (2), Thunderbolt, SD reader
  • OS: Mac OS X Lion
  • Price: $1,299.99

A couple of design decisions stand out immediately. It is one of the first commercial laptops to tap 20GB solid-state-drive hybrid tech, which combines a fast SSD with a slower, magnetic HDD.

This design strives to achieve the best of both worlds: the speedy 20GB SSD is used for time-sensitive tasks such as loading the operating system, while the HDD provides relatively high storage capacity at low cost.

Another design choice is conspicuous by its absence: USB 3.0. Most Ultrabook vendors won’t implement USB 3.0 on lower-end models (below $900) because it’s too expensive and complicated (a separate chip is required). USB 3.0 ports should become standard when Intel’s next-generation Ivy Bridge chip emerges next year. Why? Intel will, for the first time, integrate support for USB 3.0 into its Ivy Bridge silicon in 2012, making USB 3.0 virtually free for laptop vendors.

Other features of note: Acer’s instant-on technology resumes sleep mode in about two seconds. “The 20GB SSD drive stores the operating system and maintains the current PC’s state as it was when left unattended, so when the computer is awakened, Web sites, e-mails or documents previously in use are instantly restored,” according to Acer. After longer period of inactivity, the S3 Series will enter a “deep sleep” mode, from which it will resume in 6 seconds.

And Acer’s Instant Connect Technology reconnects the Ultrabook to the Internet from sleep mode in two to three seconds, Acer said.

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