7.11.2011

Acer Aspire TimelineX 3830TG-6431

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.

image

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:

DSC00923

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.

DSC00934
DSC00918DSC00932DSC00933
DSC00917-rev

The memory and hard drives are accessed by removing a single screw from the bottom of the laptop.  (Yay!)

DSC00914-rev

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..

20 comments:

  1. im super happy with mine. Im glad i read this because i was having a hell of a time figuring out what that switch inside the case was for. I upgraded my HDD to a OWC 120gb ssd and its CRAZY fast. Now if only i could solder in another pci-e port and add another ssd for a linux build...

    ReplyDelete
  2. WeaselonFire: I might try an SSD, but I feel limited to what I put on it at 120GB (I have a lot of pics, music and games). When the 256GB SSDs come down to around $250 I will probably be upgrading.

    I found the switch as I was trying to test my upgraded RAM before sealing it back up; it would only power up with the power cord so I started looking around to see why the battery wasn't working... :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm going to buy this one, but I've read this model have some problems with temperatures. I see there are 4 screws holding that heatsink, are there more screws hiding? So you can remove heatsink and repaste cpu, when you just remove bottom panel and take those heatsink screws off? IC 7 grease would help for temperatures, I think.
    Sry about grammar.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Sin: I have had no problems with thermals- even while playing some newer 3D games. The side exhaust can kick out some heat, but the bottom of the unit hasn't become uncomfortably hot- I would estimate it gets up to 100F to maybe 120F (just guessing from the feel).

    The CPU heatsink is held in place by four screws, but it the heatsink is attached to the heatpipes that run the length of the laptop. The heatpipe is under the plastic case parts, so it looks like you would need to pull out the mainboard to get at the CPU to apply thermal grease. It looks like the nVidia GPU is closer to the hard drive area; I cannot see any screws, but I am sure there must be some.

    Additionally, I noticed that screw #4 for the CPU is covered by the plastic of the chassis.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Sin: I actually went ahead and did a tear-down of the system; it is a little involved to be able to remove the heatsink- but it does seem to be running a bit cooler since I replaced the thermal compound with some Artic Silver 5.

    I will try to do a tear-down write-up and post it later...

    ReplyDelete
  7. Broo, it's been a few months since you had this laptop. any new issues?

    ReplyDelete
  8. I84work,

    No- laptop has been running great; I have been using it for work and playing an occasional when time permits- runs CPU games very smooth since the thermal paste replacement. :)

    ReplyDelete
  9. hey, bro,
    if the battery on the lowbat status,
    then can i charge the bat, while i'm still using that laptop? is that any risk?

    when the battery was fully charged, can i still used that laptop, without unplug the power cable cord?

    ReplyDelete
  10. FreakFromSF: You can plug or remove the charger at any time- it will still charge the battery while you are using it.

    It will charge a bit slower as it will use the charger to power the laptop and charge the battery; if you are playing some 3D games it can take a long time to charge the battery. :)

    When the battery is fully charged it is also Ok to leave the power cord in.

    Try not to constantly plug and unplug as this will take cycle life off of the battery; when you unplug it, run the battery as low as you can before you put it back on charge.

    ReplyDelete
  11. is that "When the battery is fully charged it is also Ok to leave the power cord in" mean no risk?

    usually if u charge the power of laptop without using it, normally how long it will take?
    and thx for the above answer.

    ReplyDelete
  12. is that what you mean "try not to constantly plug and unplug" is on the power chord? then is that mean, leave the charger / power chord is not the problem, ex : maximum time of the battery become more smaller?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. each time you plug your laptop into a charger it starts a new charging cycle; all li-ion batteries have a finite number of cycles they can support before degrading/failing.

      a full discharge & recharge helps 'wear' the batteries evenly; if you are constantly recharging when the battery is at 50%, you are putting more wear on that group of cells- and if one of the cells fails, the entire battery will become unusable (the weakest link will give out first).

      basically I pull my laptop off the charger in the morning and I don't put it back on the charger until my laptop starts alerting me it is about to shutdown. :)

      Delete
  13. hi i was wondering whether the graphic card was changeable or not and if one could change the screen to one with a higher resolution or not? thx for the help as i am planning on buying it for xmas. answer fast plz bye :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. sorry for the very delayed response...
      the video is hard soldered to the board; this is not easily upgradeable.
      the video panel may be upgradable, but you would need to find a similar LCD panel with an identical pin config- and replacing a LCD screen is not very fun. :(

      Delete
  14. I have the same laptop as this one, but mine is like a month older before this i5 version, thats why i have the i3 version. Is it possible to upgrade my laptop from i3 to i5 or even greater?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. check my other post on the 3830TG: http://broo2.blogspot.com/2011/07/acer-3830tg-6431-teardown.html
      the CPU is on a ZIF socket, so it should be replaceable- but it would likely need to be a similar Sandy Bridge laptop CPU style. I searched a bit and could not find much info on this option. :(

      Delete
  15. Very sorry to ask but,
    my laptop's (this very model) hard disk just crashed recently and I've been unable to go back to its pre-crash power saving ability (of up to 8hrs with a full charge) despite downloading the relevant drivers (ePower saver and power smart manager) from the acer website. Do you have any idea why this happened?

    ReplyDelete
  16. How do youn enable the Nvidia graphics to run by default? I'm trying to play Skyrim but the computer only allows use of the integrated card.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Can anyone tell me if you can if one can put an msata drive into the 3830TG-6412, I have the core i3 versions and want to put a 240gb msata or ssd in, msata is first choice. Had ours about 15 mths, it is a great laptop but fan always runs. I do need to replace the thermal paste

    ReplyDelete