Acer Timeline U M5-481TG 6814 review: Acer Timeline U M5-481TG 6814

Tucked into the rear of the M5's chassis are all the basic ports you'd need, including a pair of USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, and an Ethernet jack, plus Bluetooth. A DVD drive rounds out the perfect package, especially at this price. I just wish some of those ports had been added to the sides; plenty of unused space on the right could easily have been used for more than just an SD card slot and a headphone jack.

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Finding configuration and upgrade options on Acer's own Web site is nearly impossible (I couldn't even easily locate the Timeline U by name). Suffice it to say that this fixed-configuration Timeline U M5-481TG comes with a good middle-of-the-line Core i5-3317U processor, a 500GB hybrid hard drive with a 20GB solid-state drive (SSD), 4GB of RAM, and Nvidia GeForce GT 640M LE graphics.

As mentioned above, Acer offers an $829 version of the M5 that's a whole new chassis size -- 15.6-inch screen, along with 6GB of RAM -- but has otherwise identical specs. Compared with other ultrabooks on the market, the Timeline U M5-481TG for $779 is a downright steal. A similarly configured Dell Inspiron 14z with an extra 4GB of RAM and AMD graphics costs $899, and it's the only ultrabook configuration we've seen that comes close while also including dedicated graphics and an optical drive.

Equipped with a now-common-for-ultrabooks 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U CPU, the Acer Timeline U M5-481TG showed nearly equivalent performance on our benchmark tests to the Dell Inspiron 14z and Samsung Series 9, both of which had the same processor in our review configurations. This Timeline U is plenty fast enough for everyday needs, and Intel's latest third-generation Core i-series low-voltage processors are more efficient and somewhat faster than last year's CPUs. It's a great processor for most people.

In bootup time the U M5 matches some midrange ultrabooks with hybrid hard drives I've recently tested. I was able to cold-boot to on, with Wi-Fi, in 27 seconds, which is better than most laptops with traditional hard drives, but worse than SSD-bearing laptops like a MacBook Air or Samsung Series 9. Waking from sleep was a different story: I found the default state didn't wake from sleep when the lid was closed, and I needed to press the power button on the front each time.

This Acer's 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 640M LE graphics are quite impressive too, and a significant step up in power from the integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics in most ultrabooks. Dirt 3 ran its benchmark at 67.6 frames per second at 1,366x768-pixel resolution and medium graphics settings, and 52.9fps at high graphics settings, while our Street Fighter IV test ran at a blazing 74.9fps. Even Metro 2033, a challenging game to run well, performed at 17.3fps at native resolution with graphics settings on high.

The Acer Timeline U M5 may not be a hardcore gaming laptop, but it can certainly run games. That lower-res 1,366x768 screen helps frame rates look good, if nothing else. Comparatively, the competitively priced Dell Inspiron 14z's AMD Radeon graphics fared far worse on the same tests (44fps on Street Fighter, 9.7fps on Metro 2033).

Juice box
Off (60%) 0.15
Sleep (10%) 0.69
Idle (25%) 8.28
Load (05%) 29.71
Raw kWh number 32.54
Annual power consumption cost $3.69

Annual power consumption cost
Acer Aspire Timeline U M5-481TG-6814
$3.69 

Battery life is usually the fatal flaw of a budget laptop with stepped-up graphics, but not so here. The integrated battery lasted 5 hours and 50 minutes in our video-playback battery drain test, which comes close to the level I'd consider excellent in a 14-inch ultrabook. Considering the extra features here, it's impressive indeed. With gaming, of course, expect that number to drop considerably -- but the M5-481TG has automatically switching Optimus graphics, which should help.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Acer offers a standard one-year warranty with the Timeline U M5-481TG. Acer's Web site isn't the easiest to navigate, mainly because the support section requests that you enter your product model name and Acer's site uses a different shorthand than the actual names for the products. This laptop was called an Acer Aspire M5-481TG, while retailers call it the Acer Timeline U M5-481TG.

The Acer Timeline U M5-481TG is an excellent back-to-school value, packing a complete laptop into a pretty slim package. It's not so much an ultrabook as a thin laptop, in my opinion, but call it what you will. With good battery life, impressive graphics, a DVD drive, and a new Intel Core i5 processor, you're getting a computer that would easily cost over $900 elsewhere.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

System configurations:

Acer Aspire Timeline U M5-481TG-6814
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 640M LE / 128MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 500GB Western Digital 5,400rpm

Samsung Series 9 NP900X3C (13-inch, 2012)
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 128GB SanDisk SSD

Dell Inspiron 14z-5423
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 1GB (Dedicated) AMD Radeon HD V18 + Intel HD 4000; 500GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 128GB Adata XM11 SSD

Sony Vaio S13A190X
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-3210M; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 640M LE + 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 640GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Toshiba Satellite U845-S406
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 500GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

What you'll pay

Pricing is currently unavailable.

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Where to Buy

Acer Timeline U M5-481TG 6814

Part Number: NX.M27AA.001

MSRP: $779.99

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Installed Size 4 GB
  • Color silver
  • Weight 4.3 lbs
  • Optical Drive DVD±RW (±R DL) / DVD-RAM - fixed
  • Graphics Processor NVIDIA GeForce GT 640M LE - 1 GB
About The Author

Scott Stein is a senior editor covering iOS and laptop reviews, mobile computing, video games, and tech culture. He has previously written for both mainstream and technology enthusiast publications including Wired, Esquire.com, Men's Journal, and Maxim, and regularly appears on TV and radio talking tech trends.