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Hey... this looks kind of familiar (Acer clones the MacBook Air).  (Source: Pocket Lint/Popular Mechanics)

Lenovo has the right idea, picking a dedicated mobile GPU. Unfortunately its pick is about the weakest dedicated GPU you can find, offering minimal gains over Intel's HD 3000.  (Source: Lenovo via Hot Hardware)
Acer hopes to use ultraportable to recover from netbook slump

Faced with an evaporating netbook market, Acer Inc. (TPE:2353) has dropped to fourth place in global, fifth place in U.S. sales.  In full scale panic mode, the company has vowed to transform itself to be more like Apple, Inc. (AAPL).

I. Acer Clones the MacBook Air -- Will it "Just Work"?

A critical first step in that transformation was revealed [press release] on Friday at Germany's IFA 2011 technology show in Berlin.  Acer pulled the wraps off its first "ultrabook", a slick ultra-portable mid-size laptop with decent power.

Dubbed the Acer Aspire S3, the ultrabook clearly targets Apple's popular MacBook Air, following it closely in looks.  It features a slender thin hybrid plastic-metal design, which pairs an outer light metal lid with a plastic body.  The lid is 17 mm tall at its thickest point (identical to the MacBook Air) and tapers to 13 mm.  

The S3 can be found in a 13.3-inch and 11.6-inch design.  They pack a 1376x768 pixel display.  The 13.3-inch model weighs "less than 1.4 kg (3 lbs.)", which, according to sources, is 1.35 kg (2.976 lb), to be precise.  That places it roughly in line with the 2.96 lb. 13.3-inch MacBook Air.

The trackpad could also be mistaken for the MacBook Air's, almost -- it features the same multi-touch capable flat glass design which disguises clickable buttons in the bottom half of the depressed rectangle. 

The peripheral ports are almost identical to the MacBook Air's with a 3.5 mm headphone jack, SD card slot, and twin USB 2.0 ports.  It trades Apple's proprietary ThunderBolt connector for a more widely used full-sized HDMI port.  There's 1.3 MP camera and microphone for Skype chats, just like the Air.  And likewise Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity is also supported.

The laptop features a 20 GB SSD, which holds the fast-booting Windows installation and media you want to play at faster speeds.  The Acer Green Instant On features leverages this to promise 2.5 second boot times from sleep and 6 second boots from deep sleep.  The battery promises 7 hours of life (identical) to the MacBook Air.

So what's different between the S3 and the MacBook Air?  Well, as we mentioned the case implementation is a bit divergent.  And the price is significantly lower -- 799 € (appr. $1,150 USD) for a model equipped with a 1.7 GHz ultra-low voltage (ULV) second-generation Core i5 CPU from Intel Corp. (INTC) and 4 GB of RAM.  

A comparable MacBook Air is $150 more, at $1,300.  However, the Acer comes with a slower 320 GB traditional HDD in its stock configuration, where the Apple comes with a 128 GB SSD.  Given the internal small-size SSD for the OS, about the affects of this swap should be limited to slower times for some application launches, large file saves, or large copies -- OS launch time will be spared.

The price on the fully loaded model is moderately attractive given the larger amount of RAM.  With a 240 GB SSD, 1.7 GHz ULV Core i7 CPU, and 8 GB of DDR3 RAM, you will have to spend 1199 € ($1,720 USD) -- versus $1700 USD for a comparable MacBook Air with a 256 GB SSD, but only 4 GB RAM.

Like Apple, the biggest disappointment in this portable is the lack of dedicated graphics, which will make GPU-accelerated applications like Photoshop, web browsers, and video games slower.

Acer must beware, its competitors -- Toshiba Corp. (TYO:6502) and ASUSTEK Computer Inc. (TPE:2357) both plan to launch similar ultraportables at under $1,000 USD.  

Also given Apple's propensity for suing competitors, it would be unsurprising to see Acer smacked with a lawsuit, given its remarkable similarity to Apple's MacBook Air.  Of course we've already stated that we feel such claims are legally baseless -- but Apple does have the tendency to make them.

II. Lenovo U300 Packs Graphics Punch

Lenovo Group, Ltd. (HKG: 0992) -- the fastest growing brand internationally -- pulled the wraps off an ultrabook of its own -- the slick U300

Retailing at $1,200 USD in its base configuration, the device is moderately pricey like its Acer and Apple competitors.  The design is lightweight and thin, but looks less MacBook Air clone-like than the Acer S3, as it features a shorter taper at the edges.

Overall the specs are similar to the competitors' designs, with one fairly significant difference.  The Lenovo U300 packs a Radeon 5470M (1 GB memory) dedicated graphics chip courtesy of Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD).  

The bad news here is that the Radeon 5470M isn't really that much more powerful than the stock Intel HD 3000 (found in the Core series chips), barely edging it in some benchmarks.  Still, the idea of including a dedicated GPU is a worthy one, so Lenovo's design is important from the standpoint of supporting dedicated mobile GPUs, even if it picks the wrong chip for the job.

Hopefully similar designs will come along soon with beefier chips (e.g. NVIDIA Corp.'s (NVDA) GeForce 540M GT chip).

The Toshiba, Lenovo, Acer, and ASUSTEK products will all ship sometime this fall.


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Price Fail
By sigmatau on 9/4/2011 3:37:51 PM , Rating: 2
I didn't know that by Intel pretty much building the ultra-books for these companies, that it would cost them so much that they needed to price these above Apple's crap.

I thought they may have learned something from tablets. When you are late to the game and offer something less, you CANNOT price your crap higher. Who the hell buys this crap for such rip off prices?




RE: Price Fail
By Performance Fanboi on 9/4/2011 3:53:38 PM , Rating: 2
The 'more money than brains, electronics are a fashion statement' club is not limited to Mac users.


RE: Price Fail
By robinthakur on 9/5/2011 9:35:40 AM , Rating: 2
Yes, but they choose Apple first, and would regard these as cheap knock offs. By 'more money than brains, electronics are a fashion statement' club I think you mean 99% or the people looking to buy a laptop?


RE: Price Fail
By TakinYourPoints on 9/4/2011 4:54:18 PM , Rating: 3
The problem is that once you get to a certain balance of performance, chassis size, and battery life, price goes up. Prior Macbook Air competitors like the HP Envy and Dell Adamo were both slower and more expensive. Competing Sony notebooks make even the Macbook Pro look like a bargain. Nothing is changing with these new notebooks.

Apple manages these prices because they make ultraslims in much higher volume, driving their wholesale prices down. It is why I don't get the "Apple is overpriced" argument, especially when you have comparable machines from good companies like Lenovo hitting at around the same price. It is more a case of the types of machines Apple produces. If they compromised on chassis size, weight, performance, and battery life, not to mention trackpad and display quality, then they could hit the numbers that you get from other manufacturers.

If you want to save money then get something bulkier, simple.


RE: Price Fail
By JW.C on 9/5/2011 1:11:58 AM , Rating: 3
The problem with these new devices is that they are WAY overpriced for what they are offering. I mean just because its slim a $400 laptop is now worth $1700????


RE: Price Fail
By TakinYourPoints on 9/5/2011 2:58:56 PM , Rating: 2
What $400 laptop has that display/keyboard/trackpad quality, battery life, or Sandy Bridge i5 CPUs? Even these non-Mac models were late getting those CPUs, you honestly expect to get that kind of performance in a crummy $400 laptop?

Be real.


RE: Price Fail
By Johnmcl7 on 9/5/2011 4:31:30 PM , Rating: 1
"Competing Sony notebooks make even the Macbook Pro look like a bargain. Nothing is changing with these new notebooks."

'Competing' is a relative term though as Sony are usually a good few years ahead of Apple so in terms of value for money you're getting cutting edge technology with a Sony that you simply aren't with a Macbook. Even Sony's high end 13in machines offer spec that the 17in Macbooks can't match never mind the 13in Macbooks.

I have the previous generation Z series which offers a 3Ghz processor, dual 128GB mSSDs in Raid 0, integrated and discrete graphics a blu-ray writer, 1600x900 screen which the Macbook at the time couldn't even come close to in its maximum configuration and yet the Sony is also smaller and lighter. Despite being considerably inferior the maximum Macbook configuration was also substantially more expensive hence I very much agree with the comments about Apple being overpriced. Given the massive amount of profits Apple are making it's pretty difficult to deny that really.


RE: Price Fail
By TakinYourPoints on 9/5/2011 10:53:36 PM , Rating: 2
This one? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=urzGCcK6n_o

Thicker and definitely more expensive. Lots of machine when loaded, but you definitely pay more than even the most loaded 13" MBP configuration.

The current Vaio Z has similar 2.3ghz i5 CPU specs to a baseline 13" MBP, yet it weighs almost double and costs almost an additional $1000.

http://www.amazon.com/Sony-VPC-Z216GX-13-1-Inch-La...

http://www.amazon.com/Sony-VPC-Z212GX-13-1-Inch-La...


RE: Price Fail
By robinthakur on 9/6/2011 10:31:02 AM , Rating: 2
Yes, but you discount the look and feel of the Apple product, not to mention the build quality. Both of these are incomparable to a Sony product last time I checked. They are expensive but the design is just nowhere close. Not everyone cares about these points but when you are spending this much on a laptop, it is certainly a consideration to the target market which is niche to begin with.


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