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Acer Aspire S7 review: Windows 8 in premium touch-screen design

I tested the more expensive of two Aspire S7 13-inch configurations (there's also an 11-inch model). This $1,649 configuration has an Intel Core i7-3517U processor, plus 4GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD. For $1,399, you can trade down to a Core i5 CPU and a 128GB SSD -- in either case, this is an expensive laptop compared with other models with comparable specs.

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In our benchmark tests, the Aspire S7 and its Intel Core i7 CPU were near the top of our Windows 8 ultrabook results. Still, in some cases, it didn't offer a significant advantage over similar systems we've tested with Core i5 processors. In anecdotal use, just like the preproduction model I previously tried out, the S7 performed very well, and always felt fast and responsive, even when using the touch screen. It's certainly more power than you're likely to need, and even the Core i5 version should be fine for Web surfing, social media, office productivity, and HD video playback.

Some have complained that Windows 8 is not ideally suited for playing games. They could be right, but I was able to install and load up Steam with no problem, and played Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, albeit with the graphics options turned well down. With only Intel's integrated HD 4000 graphics, this isn't going to be your main gaming rig, but it will be interesting to see if anyone can make good use of the touch screen for casual games.

With such a slim body, and powering a touch screen as well as a Core i7 CPU, it may be too much to expect stellar battery life from the S7. Still, the current generation of Intel Core i-series CPUs have helped all sorts of ultrathin laptops post impressive battery scores, and a short-lived 13-inch laptop is now the exception rather than the rule. The S7 was impressive, even by those standards. It ran for 6 hours and 26 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, more than other higher-end ultrabooks, but behind the similarly priced new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display.

So many of the Windows 8 laptops to date have been either painfully similar, shamelessly cloning each other, or else overly complicated convertible tablets that twist, flip, or swivel. The Acer Aspire S7 is priced out of the range of most laptop shoppers, but it looks great, runs well, and, most importantly, serves as an excellent proof of concept for both Windows 8 and touch-screen laptops.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Acer Aspire S7-391-9886
HP Envy 4-1102

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Acer Aspire S7-391-9886
HP Envy 4-1102

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Acer Aspire S7-391-9886
HP Envy 4-1102

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Acer Aspire S7-391-9886
HP Envy 4-1102

Avg watts (load test)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Sony Vaio T13
HP Envy 4-1102
Acer Aspire S7-391-9886

Find out more about how we test laptops.

System configurations:

Acer Aspire S7-391-9886
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 128MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000; 256GB Intel SSD

Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 128GB Samsung SSD

Sony Vaio T13
Windows 8 (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 32MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000; 500GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

MacBook Pro 13-inch Retina Display (fall 2012)
OSX Mountain Lion 10.8.2; 2.5GHz Intel Core i5 3210M; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 768MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000; 256GB Apple SSD

HP Envy 4-1102
Windows 8 Pro (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000; 500GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

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