Powerful, big-screen ultrabooks may presage new MacBooks

A new category of ultrabooks is coming down the pike. And that road may lead to new MacBooks.

Will upcoming 15-inch class MacBooks be thin like the Air but more powerful?
Will upcoming 15-inch class MacBooks be thin like the Air but more powerful? Apple

Is the new Acer ultrabook the writing on the wall for laptops this summer? If so, new, 15-inch class MacBooks could have Air-like thinness while offering bulked-up horsepower.

CNET Asia has gotten its hands on a powerful new ultrabook, the Aspire Timeline Ultra M3.

The M3 would easily stick out in a crowd of ultrabooks because of size alone: it has a 15-inch display (most ultrabooks to date are at most 14-inches and many of them smaller than that) though it's still slim, at just under 0.8 inches.

CNET Asia compared the Acer M3 against the Samsung Series 5 Ultra, which uses a Radeon HD 7550M graphics chip. 'Both laptops are equipped with an Intel Core i5 2467M processor and use hybrid HDDs instead of SSDs. The Samsung laptop also has 6GB of RAM compared with 4GB on the Acer. The games were all benchmarked using the native 1,366 x 768-pixel resolutions found on both laptop LCDs,' CNET Asia said.
CNET Asia compared the Acer M3 against the Samsung Series 5 Ultra, which uses a Radeon HD 7550M graphics chip. 'Both laptops are equipped with an Intel Core i5 2467M processor and use hybrid HDDs instead of SSDs. The Samsung laptop also has 6GB of RAM compared with 4GB on the Acer. The games were all benchmarked using the native 1,366 x 768-pixel resolutions found on both laptop LCDs,' CNET Asia said. CNET Asia

But where it really distinguishes itself is inside. There lies Nvidia's upcoming "Kepler" GT 640M graphics processing unit (GPU), which is expected to be announced later. At the risk of getting too technical, it's the first Nvidia GPU to use a cutting-edge 28-nanometer manufacturing process from TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company).

Aspire Timeline Ultra M3.
Aspire Timeline Ultra M3. CNET Asia

Generally, the smaller the chip geometry, the more power efficient and/or faster the chip is.

And the GT 640M architecture supports 384 processor cores.

What does all of that mean? Ultrabooks and Apple's newest MacBook Air line have not been able to accommodate these powerful, separate, "discrete" GPUs to date. There's just no room for them in a 13-inch sub 0.8-inch design.

But that could change at 15 inches. Imagine a 15-inch MacBook almost as slim as the MacBook Air but packing an Nvidia Kepler GPU (or competing GPU). .

That's a potential game-changer for ultrathin laptops. The fact that the CNET Asia article cited above is titled "Acer's Ultrabook plays Battlefield 3" gives you a good idea why this can be important to power users. (See benchmarks above).

CNET Asia went on to say that users "will be pleasantly surprised at its gaming performance." And if it's fast at gaming, it's fast at doing other tasks including video and photo manipulation.

Knowing that Apple likes fast graphics silicon (look no further than the new iPad with quad-core graphics), one can't help but speculate that Apple has similar plans for upcoming thin MacBooks.

Updated at 11:25 p.m. PDT: edited throughout. Corrected Kepler chip name. It's the GeForce GT 640M, not the GTX 680, the latter is a desktop GPU.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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