I have been on a quest for a decent gaming laptop for several months now. I had a gateway P6860FX that was very awesome, but it 17” and way too bulky to carry around everyday. There are some very cool new Sandy Bridge laptops coming out from MSI, Asus and Gigabyte- but these will all be $1000+ laptops. Some of these can support up to 16GB of RAM (via four SODIMM slots), have dual SATA hard drives capable of RAID0 and offer full 1920x1080 HD resolution- oh, and a couple also have nVidia 3D or the new Samsung passive 3D. :)
I was looking for a light weight laptop with a decent CPU and a decent discrete GPU; I came up with the Acer Aspire TimelineX 3830TG-6431.
The 13.3” screen is only 1366x768 (a very common resolution for 16:9 displays) and it can only hold 8GB of DDR3 RAM in its two SODIMM slots. It uses an average Core i5-2410M dual core CPU clocking in at a native 2.3Ghz per core. Where it shines is the GeForce GT540M (1GB dedicated memory) and an 8+ hour battery life (during normal use- definitely not gaming time). USB 3.0, 1.3MP webcam and Bluetooth 3.0 and WiFi B/G/N are also nice added perks.
There is no optical drive on this model- but it only weighs in at a little over 4lbs!
Oh- and the battery is non-removable… WTF?
The device achieves 8+ hours of battery life by creating a hybrid display integrating the CPU embedded Intel HD 3000 and the discrete GT540M so the later is only used when needed- like what apple did with the MacBook a few years back. This seems to work pretty well (save for MineCraft as it is all Java and CPU driven; OpenGL does not appear to help much) and I have seen an average use time of 6-7 hours during normal browsing/video watching/etc. This drops down significantly when gaming that uses the nVidia 3D rendering.
Note: it does not appear to be possible to download the generic nVidia GT540M driver and install on this system; I get ‘supported hardware not found’ when trying to update to the latest & greatest driver.
Overall, I am very happy with the performance of the system for gaming. I played Dungeon Siege III, Trine and Bioshock all with very high graphics settings. The video was flawless; no frame skips or lag. The bottom of the laptop stayed relatively cool, but the heat coming out of the left of the left fan exhaust was pretty hot. :)
Not to happy with Minecraft performance; it is chunky and gets slower as you play. I would be quick to blame this on the damnable java that this application uses for everything.
Note: this is with a Seagate Momentous XT Hybrid hard drive; the stock HD was a 5.2 rating.
Here are a few shots of the actual system:
Keys are separated; non-backlit. Keyboard is not too bad, but the trackpad is very easy to hit while typing- which will drop the cursor somewhere inconvenient in the document you are typing.
There is a ‘P’ button on the upper right of the keyboard; when you unplug from the charger it auto enables. I assume this is some kind of ‘power save’ mode as the screen dims and an on-screen green battery icon appears when the button is physically pressed.
There is also a little battery button on the front of the laptop. If I press it while on battery it will turn blue for a few seconds; not exactly sure what this does.
The ‘user manual’ included the recovery DVDs you burn (three for full restore or just one for drivers & apps) is a ‘Generic User Guide’ for all models of the Aspire TimelineX series; the 30MB file has about 60 pages in English that cover computer safety, making recovery discs and the other Acer branded applications that are bundled with the unit.
The memory and hard drives are accessed by removing a single screw from the bottom of the laptop. (Yay!)
Memory is easily upgraded to a maximum of 8GB with two 4GB DDR3 SODIMMs. I replaced the standard 500GB WD hard drive with a Seagate 50GB Momentous XT hybrid hard drive. I didn’t try one, but it looks like there is adequate space to fit a 12.5mm hard drive (like the Seagate 1TB 2.5”) in here- if anyone really need to know, let me know via email and I will test.
On the right side of the laptop there are solder points on the board for a Mini PCIe card, but no header was installed. There also appears to be space for a SIM card slot, but again nothing was installed in this model.
One clever adaptation for this model is since the battery is non-removable there is an on/off switch integrated into the removal of the bottom of the laptop shell (switch is located to the left of the bottom SODIMM). This switch disables battery power when the bottom is removed for service. It can be turned back on for testing, but should (of course) remain off when replacing memory, HD, etc.
Note: FN+F3 toggles through and enabling Bluetooth and WiFi in some sequence (I think it is All Off/WiFi only/WiFi+Bluetooth/Bluetooth Only). I took me a while to figure this out.
All said and done, I am very happy with my new laptop. Is is basically a larger sized netbook with a real (i5) CPU, a decent amount of memory upgrade (8GB) and a dedicated GeForce GT540 GPU. It is zippy for everyday work and very decent for real gaming. The only thing I would really like to change would be a slightly better screen resolution (1440x900 would be nice, 1920x1080 would be awesome!).
UPDATE: I did a teardown of this system to apply some good thermal paste (I used Artic Silver 5). I did not think there were any thermal issues before, but I have found the laptop runs MUCH better (and quieter) than it did prior! Most noticeably was in Minecraft- which is very CPU intensive. I am going to assume that the thermal paste used by Asus wasn't very good so the heat was not being adequately transferred from the CPU to the heatsink/heatpipe- and this was causing the CPU to throttle..