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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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Really?
By shane.carroll on 9/4/2011 3:29:29 PM , Rating: 4
quote:
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.


Seriously? You're going to say that using the STANDARD head phone jack, the STANDARD card reader, the STANDARD USB ports, and the STANDARD 1.3 MP camera that it mimics another design? I understand that there are some other features that are potentially copied, but come on, name one net book or notebook that does not include these features. These aren't features that should be compared, but are simply expected. Did Tony Swash write this article?




RE: Really?
By sigmatau on 9/4/2011 3:40:14 PM , Rating: 2
I thought that was BS too. Those connections were on laptops long before Apple's crap.


RE: Really?
By JasonMick (blog) on 9/4/2011 3:44:39 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
Seriously? You're going to say that using the STANDARD head phone jack, the STANDARD card reader, the STANDARD USB ports, and the STANDARD 1.3 MP camera that it mimics another design? I understand that there are some other features that are potentially copied, but come on, name one net book or notebook that does not include these features. These aren't features that should be compared, but are simply expected. Did Tony Swash write this article?

Whoa, calm down, pal. I'm no Tony Swash.

The main reason why I called it a "clone" of sorts, is primarily due to the visual appearance, then the clickable glass multi-touch pad, and (to a far lesser extent) the specs (in that order).

The appearance is much more MacBook Air like than some of the other competitive upcoming designs (e.g. the Lenovo U300).

I don't think there's anything wrong with Acer "cloning" the MacBook Air. But you can't deny that the MBA was the first of the ultrabooks and Acer's design most closely mimics its looks.

The looks are the defining trait here.


RE: Really?
By damianrobertjones on 9/5/2011 3:42:06 AM , Rating: 5
Each time an article mentions apple (Which pretty much all Tech sites do now as if there's something wrong behind the scenes) you're GIVING Apple free press. Each and EVERY DAMN laptop article now mentions Apple at some stage and it's getting a little boring/sad/pathetic/silly/add your own word.

Answer me this: Was Apple the first ever oem to use the chiclet keyboard?

Oh well. I don't see the trend changing anytime soon and when EVERYONE owns an Air then the world will be under Apple control and tech sites like this probably won't exist as it'll be a clone (Just like the laptops)


RE: Really?
By Johnmcl7 on 9/5/2011 4:24:39 PM , Rating: 2
"Answer me this: Was Apple the first ever oem to use the chiclet keyboard?"

The Sony x505 is the earliest I can think of with that keyboard design.

John


RE: Really?
By jah1subs on 9/6/2011 12:56:19 PM , Rating: 2
AFAIK, the original chiclet keyboard, much despised, was on the IBM PC Jr, around 1983 or 1984.


RE: Really?
By frobizzle on 9/6/2011 3:24:30 PM , Rating: 2
Correct. The chiclet keyboard on the PC Jr was one of many "features" that people despised about this IBM offering.


RE: Really?
By retrospooty on 9/5/2011 9:17:00 AM , Rating: 2
"Whoa, calm down"

LOL... Well, you know how many readers here are and thier process.

1. Read article
2. Crack knuckles to prepare for typing.
3. Click "post comment" or "reply"
4. ATTACK!!!!!


RE: Really?
By freshmint on 9/4/2011 4:02:37 PM , Rating: 2
Mick might as well have said:
quote:
It's also worth noting that the positioning of the Acer logo on the lid is quite reminiscent of the MacBook Air. *Adjust monocle*


RE: Really?
By TakinYourPoints on 9/4/2011 4:45:26 PM , Rating: 2
That and Thunderbolt is not proprietary. It is also Intel's technology, there are no license fees associated with it, and everyone else is free to implement it. I'm hoping that they are an option on motherboards when I do my Ivy Bridge build next year.


RE: Really?
By damianrobertjones on 9/5/2011 3:42:33 AM , Rating: 1
Nope. Exclusive until 2012


RE: Really?
By TakinYourPoints on 9/5/2011 2:53:47 PM , Rating: 2
Nope, not exclusive: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2380954,00.as...

quote:
Exclusivity, said Dave Salvator, senior communications manager of Intel's global communications group, is "not the case. Apple saw the potential of Thunderbolt, and worked with Intel to bring it to market. Other system makers are free to implement Thunderbolt on their systems as well, and we anticipate seeing some of those systems later this year and in early 2012."


I reckon that manufacturers are waiting for Ivy Bridge to hit before rolling Thunderbolt into their motherboards. Remember that Thunderbolt came out right in the middle of the Sandy Bridge cycle, not exactly the best time to roll out more motherboards with a feature that is so new. Much better and more economical for them to continue producing what they already have been.


RE: Really?
By robinthakur on 9/5/2011 9:32:53 AM , Rating: 1
Sorry no. This is not ONE coincidence, it is a series of coincidences, notwithstanding the general look of the laptop. Nobody is saying that Apple invented the stereo headphones output or anything crazy like that. This, Lenovo , Asus's ultra thin laptops and even Dell's XPS 15Z are deliberately looking to mislead consumers into buying something which looks nigh on identical to a MBA. The pictures don't lie, the design is aping Apple even down to the layout of the ports. It's clear just looking at it with an unbiased eye.

This is pretty despicable. Why don't all of the above and Samsung just invest in some decent designers? Jonathan Ives is not the only designer on the planet and whilst Jason might think that general look and feel are not subject to IP/copyright claims, if you look at Louis Vuitton et al going after Ebay for replicas, they most certainly are.

These laptops are replica Macbooks created by some of the biggest names in the retail market and Apple needs to put its foot down here. It's distinctive industrial design is one of the most compelling reasons to choose an Apple product, far more so than, say, the technical specs which people here seem to like to compare 1:1 with other brands. To do so is to miss the point. It's little different from a chinese company producing replica Rolexes with different insides and that is certainly very illegal.


RE: Really?
By Raiders12 on 9/5/2011 9:52:11 AM , Rating: 2
Hmmm I can't wait to see the legal trouble this gets Acer and Lenovo into with Apple's whining and crying in courts lately...


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.


Why a discrete GPU?
By darunium on 9/5/2011 8:56:49 AM , Rating: 2
Why the call for a discrete graphics card? The whole point of the HD3000 integrated graphics is that for most users, a dedicated graphics card is unnecessary, adding only heat, weight, and cost. This was true even before sandy bridge. If you have a dedicated desktop - a cheaper proposition anyway - then all I want from my notebook is performance at my everyday tasks, not gaming.

I *hate* it when OEMs put in a discrete graphics card this is entirely useless anyway, only to say that it has a discrete card and hope most consumers won't examine the performance of that card. I would pay more for the same product *without* the card.

It's like the Asus U36SD - why the discrete GPU? Really? The GT520M? The HD3000 graphics outperform that anyway. For shame.




RE: Why a discrete GPU?
By redbone75 on 9/5/2011 4:15:51 PM , Rating: 2
I think you missed the point of it being called an "ultrabook." You might not need a discrete graphics card, but I'm sure there are many people out there that would like to have a little extra horsepower when doing some casual gaming. It's great that Intel is getting better at their graphics cores, but they're still not AMD or nVidia. Discrete graphics simply offer better performance than integrated graphics. End of story. The first Macbook Air had pretty poor performance for the (outrageous) price of being thin. It only got better because technology got better. OEM's don't just market to one demographic.

You say discrete cards add unnecessary heat, weight and cost. Notebook graphics cards don't add significant weight, and cost is dependent on just what grade of laptop we're talking about -- gamer, business, casual computing, etc -- that would require certain cards. As far as heat, that depends on what activity you're engaged in. Oh, and there is this feature called switchable graphics now.

I, for one, am happy that Intel is demanding certain specs. This keeps your cheaper companies from just throwing in the i5 and charging a premium for integrated graphics. At these prices the least consumers should get is a discrete card.


RE: Why a discrete GPU?
By TakinYourPoints on 9/5/2011 10:56:26 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
I think you missed the point of it being called an "ultrabook." You might not need a discrete graphics card, but I'm sure there are many people out there that would like to have a little extra horsepower when doing some casual gaming.


That's what larger notebooks are for. Trimming down on size reduces the amount of space for discreet GPUs, cooling, etc etc. The motherboard on things like the Macbook Air or Lenovo x220 are tiny.


What the pricing shows
By Commodus on 9/4/2011 5:31:09 PM , Rating: 2
Something that's amusing with the pricing of systems like the Aspire S3 and IdeaPad U300s is that it's a blow to those still clinging on to that stereotype of Mac pricing they formed in 1997 (and which was true for some years afterwards).

The reason why many Windows PCs cost less is because they're usually running cheaper parts: a Core i3 instead of a Core i5, plastic instead of aluminum, a battery that only gets 5 hours of battery life instead of 7. Backlit keyboards are rarer; trackpads tend to be considerably worse. Your support is outsourced to someone you can't understand well from the Philippines, not someone in the US or Canada.

The beauty of Windows is having that floor: if you just need a basic $600 notebook, you can get it. But when you try to actually match Apple in design quality -- very thin, good materials, long battery life, fast processors for the size -- suddenly, that price gap doesn't exist or is small enough to be negligible.

There will certainly be advantages to the Acer, ASUS, and Lenovo ultrabooks. At the same time, though, they're coming in after Apple defined the category and made it (relatively) mainstream, and there's certain things Apple is still doing more effectively. Get an iconic device into popularity, like Apple has done this three times in the past decade, and everyone else ends up fighting for the table scraps.




RE: What the pricing shows
By lukarak on 9/6/2011 1:58:55 AM , Rating: 2
If you consider the resale price on Mac hardware, you are pretty much going pay less for owning a Mac for 2-3 years than for owning a similarly speced pc. So, comparable interior hardware as well as exterior.


404
By Spikesoldier on 9/4/2011 4:24:30 PM , Rating: 2
404 ERROR MAGIC NOT FOUND

LOL




I can't lie
By inighthawki on 9/4/2011 5:42:20 PM , Rating: 2
But I don't see that much of a resemblance to the MBA. I mean, once you get down to the thickness these laptops are at, any silver looking laptop is going to start looking similar. Not to mention, much of the layout is different. Only thing I see even remotely similar is the keyboard and trackpad, and so what?




cheap knockoffs
By Argon18 on 9/6/2011 9:52:10 AM , Rating: 2
What's the point of a cloned product that costs about the same as the original, and offers no significant feature differences from the original? Wouldn't everyone rather have the original, the real thing? Even more so since the Macbook Air can run Windows or MacOSX while these knockoffs are stuck with Windows as their only option.




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