DNP  Acer Aspire V3 review

Back in March at CeBIT, Acer unveiled a slew of new laptops, among which the Aspire Timeline Ultra M3 Ultrabook was easily the most celebrated. But while slim designs and instant-on technology are shoo-ins for media attention, slightly thicker machines with revved-up internals and discrete graphics are champions of the "don't judge a book by its cover" philosophy. And besides, not everyone is willing to part with a DVD drive, much less spend $1,000-plus on their next PC.

Hence Acer's Aspire V3, which is available in sizes ranging from 14 to 17.3 inches (for the purposes of this review, we took a look at the middleweight 15.6-inch version). While it weighs a hefty 5.8 pounds and looks positively bloated next to 0.8-inch-thick laptops such as the M3, the V3 packs serious power in the form of NVIDIA Kepler graphics and a Core i7 Ivy Bridge CPU. And unlike many Ultrabooks trickling their way into the market, this guy is priced to compete, making it a viable choice for the back-to-school season. But is it the best mainstream notebook $850 can buy? Let's see.

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Acer Aspire V3 review

Look and feel

DNP  Acer Aspire V3 review TK

At 15 x 10 x 1.3 inches, the V3 is on the bulky side -- even for a 15-inch mainstream laptop. (The HP Envy 15 weighs 5.79 pounds and measures a thinner 1.1 inches, for example.) Substantial as its dimensions may be, though, this notebook's all-plastic design is attractive. A silver finish surrounding the island-style keyboard breaks up the black of the bezel and palm rest, and the gray speaker grille spanning the length of the layout is another nice punctuation to the V3's otherwise clean and simple lines. The V3 sports a glossy black lid that looks nice -- before it gets scuffed up with fingerprints, anyway, which doesn't take long. As with other Acer laptops, the company logo is stamped below the panel, while a 1.3-megapixel webcam sits in the upper bezel.

Of course, the upside to bucking the anorexic laptop trend is a healthy selection of ports, and the V3 has you covered in that regard. Ethernet, VGA and HDMI connections line the left edge of the machine, along with a USB 3.0 socket and separate headphone and mic jacks. The front lip is home to an SD card slot and the LED activity indicator, while the right side has two USB 2.0 ports and a DVD drive.

Keyboard and trackpad

DNP  Acer Aspire V3 review TK

The V3 boasts an expansive, comfortable layout, with chiclet-style keys that exhibit almost no flex. There's a full number pad on board -- seriously, there are a lot of keys in this layout -- and, for the most part the buttons are sufficiently sized and pleasant to touch. Things get a little crowded on the left side, however, as Acer had to shrink the Ctrl and Shift keys, among others, to accommodate the number pad on the right. Overall, though, the V3 offers a solid typing experience.

The V3 boasts an expansive layout, with chiclet-style keys that exhibit almost no flex.

It's never a good sign when you have to repeat the pinch-to-zoom gesture three times before you get a response. While the V3's trackpad handles two-finger scrolls with ease, it's much less efficient at recognizing other gestures such as swiping right and left to scroll through web pages. Like other Acer systems, too, such as the M3, the V3 makes do with a high-friction pad that makes navigation tedious. Another con: it's a magnet for fingerprint smudges.

Display and sound

DNP  Acer Aspire V3 review an affordable, Keplerpacking laptop for backtoschool season

Given the V3's budget-friendly price of $850, we can't knock Acer for sticking with a standard 1,366 x 768 resolution for the 15.6-panel. (We can whine about there being no option to upgrade to full HD, though.) The NVIDIA GeForce GT 640M GPU affords some pretty sweet visuals, so a higher-res screen would certainly be welcome, but Acer obviously had to cut corners to keep the price down. Still, colors look vibrant and accurate on the screen, and the viewing angles are decent enough for watching a movie with a friend or two. (The display's glossy finish does pick up some glare, though.)

Without a little help from the Dolby Home Theater software, the Aspire V3's speaker doesn't pack much punch, even at max volume. Fire up Dolby's settings, though, and you can crank up the sound and create custom profiles catered to your preferred music, movie and gaming settings. You can tweak the Dolby software's default settings, which are tailored to music-listening, in the Dolby Home Theater 4 control panel under Programs.

Performance

PCMark Vantage
3DMark06
Acer Aspire V3 (2.3GHz Intel Core i7-3610QM, NVIDIA GeForce GT 640M, 2GB) 8,594 12,809
Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M3 (1.7GHz Intel Core i7 2637M, Intel HD 3000 / NVIDIA GeForce GT 640M, 1GB) 11,545 11,128
Samsung Series 7 Chronos (2.2GHz Core i7-2675QM, Intel HD 3000 / AMD Radeon HD 6750M 1GB) 7,824 8,891
Dell XPS 15z (2.7GHz Core i7-2620M, NVIDIA GeForce GT525M 1GB) 8,023 7,317
Lenovo IdeaPad U400 (2.4GHz Core i5-2430M, Intel HD 3000 / AMD Radeon HD 6470M 1GB) 7,281 4,463
Dell XPS 14z (2.8GHz Core i7-2640M, Intel HD Graphics 3000 / NVIDIA GeForce GT520M 1GB) 7,982 5,414
HP Envy 15 (2.4GHz Core i5-2430M, AMD Radeon HD 7690M 1GB) 7,210 8,839
14-inch Samsung Series 5 Ultrabook (1.6GHz Core i5-2467M, Intel HD Graphics 3000) 6,908 2,618
HP Envy 14 Spectre (1.6GHz Core i5-2467M, Intel HD Graphics 3000) 9,335 3,468
Dell Inspiron 14z (2.3 Core i5-2410M, Intel HD Graphics 3000) 6,177 4,079
Dell XPS 13 (1.6GHz Core i5-2467M, Intel HD Graphics 3000) N/A 4,130
HP Folio 13 (1.6GHz Core i5-2467M, Intel HD Graphics 3000) 6,701 3,387
Toshiba Portege Z835 (1.4GHz Core i3-2367M, Intel HD Graphics 3000) 5,894 3,601
Lenovo IdeaPad U300s (1.8GHz Core i7-2677M, Intel HD Graphics 3000) 9,939 3,651
ASUS Zenbook UX31 (1.7GHz Core i5-2557M, Intel HD Graphics 3000) 10,508 4,209
Acer Aspire S3 (1.6GHz Core i5-2467M, Intel HD Graphics 3000) 5,367 3,221
13-inch, 2011 MacBook Air (1.7GHz Core i5-2557M, Intel HD Graphics 3000) 9,484 4,223
2011 Samsung Series 9 (1.7GHz Core i5-2537M, Intel HD Graphics 3000) 7,582 2,240
Notes: the higher the score the better.

A quad-core Core i7 CPU clocked at 2.3GHz and 6GB of RAM aren't just vanity specs, so we don't think you'll be surprised to hear that the Acer Aspire V3 notched some impressive numbers on our benchmark tests. It scored a healthy 8,594 in PCMark Vantage, which outperforms systems like the Dell XPS 15z (8,023) and last year's Aspire TimelineX AS5830TG-6402 (6,475).

That Kepler GPU is the main attraction here, and the graphics are indeed stellar for a laptop this price.

Anecdotally, the V3 is a speedy performer. Cold-booting into Windows 7 Home Premium took 35 seconds, while waking from sleep took just one. Throughout our testing, too, the system rarely froze or stuttered on us. With several tabs open in IE, Spotify streaming and some light gaming under way, the V3 ran perfectly smoothly.

Really, though, that Kepler GPU is the main attraction here, and the graphics performance is indeed stellar for a laptop this price. In World of Warcraft with graphics maxed out, the V3 still managed a playable 31 fps. In Batman: Arkham Asylum, we reached 60 fps.

The V3 can get a bit toasty under a heavy multitasking load or while handling a graphics-intensive game, though its weight makes it an awkward fit for your lap anyway. Still, the heat was definitely noticeable when we were running four or five programs simultaneously. Fortunately, the fan doesn't get too loud -- even when things heat up.

Battery life

Laptop
Battery Life
Acer Aspire V3 3:56
Samsung Series 9 7:29
HP Envy 15 4:07
Dell XPS 15z 3:41 (Optimus disabled) / 4:26 (Optimus enabled)
15-inch Samsung Series 7 Chronos 5:47
Sony VAIO SE series 3:59 (stamina mode) / 8:58 (stamina mode, slice battery)
2011, 15-inch MacBook Pro 7:27
Acer TimelineX AS5830TG-6402 6:25
Dell XPS 14z 4:54
HP Envy 14 (2011) 3:55

In our standard rundown test, the Aspire V3's six-cell battery mustered three hours and 56 minutes. For a mainstream laptop, that's not unreasonable, and it's in the same ballpark as other 15-inchers like the HP Envy 15 and the Dell XPS 15z. And since the V3 is destined for a semi-permanent place on users' desks, scrambling for a power cord shouldn't be much of an issue.

Software

Acer pre-loads the Aspire V3 with a few programs, including Adobe Reader X, Norton Online Backup, the Bing Bar, Skype and Windows Live Essentials. There are also pre-installed shortcuts for eBay, Netflix and Nook for PC.

Acer-branded utilities include AUPEO! internet radio, clear.fi for media streaming, Crystal Eye Webcam and Acer Backup Manager. As is the case with many Windows machines, you can expect plenty of pop-ups from programs like McAfee when you're just getting started.

Configuration options

Our review unit of the V3 includes a 2.3GHz Core i7-3610QM processor, 6GB of RAM, an NVIDIA GeForce GT 640M GPU with 2GB of dedicated memory and a 500GB hard drive -- all for the price of $849. As usual, though, Acer offers a few different options. The base model costs $530 and comes with a quad-core AMD A8-4500M CPU clocked at 1.9GHz, 6GB of RAM, AMD Radeon graphics with 512MB of memory and a 750GB hard drive. For $550, you can step up to a Core i5 Sandy Bridge processor, 4GB of RAM, 500GB of storage and Intel HD Graphics 4000. A $580 option includes an AMD quad-core CPU, 6GB of RAM, a 500GB HDD and an AMD Radeon 7640G GPU, and a $630 version includes a Core i5 Sandy Bridge CPU, 500GB of storage and NVIDIA GeForce GT 630M graphics. For the sake of brevity we won't list the configuration choices for the 17.3-inch Aspire V3, but they're along the same lines as the 15-inch version's options.

The competition

The Acer Aspire V3 may be a great value, but it's got plenty of company in the low-cost, mainstream category. We'll detail some of the best alternatives below.

HP recently refreshed its Pavilion dv series, and the $850 Pavilion dv6 Quad Edition is no weakling when it comes to specs. The 15.6-inch LED-backlit display comes standard with a 1,366 x 768 resolution, though it's upgradeable to 1920 x 1080, and there's a backlit keyboard option as well. Nice extras aside, the dv6 packs an Ivy Bridge (Core i7) CPU and NVIDIA graphics (either the GeForce GT630M chip or the GeForce GT650M). Plus, unlike the V3, the dv6 can be configured with an SSD.

Dell's new Inspiron 15R Special Edition is another good multimedia machine. For $900, you get a Core i5 Ivy Bridge CPU, 6GB of RAM, a 750GB hard drive and AMD Radeon graphics. The 15.6-inch display boasts a 1080p resolution, and you also get WavesMaxx Audio 4. And then there's the $1,000 Toshiba Satellite P850, which offers a Core i7 processor, an NVIDIA GeForce GT630M GPU with 2GB of RAM and 640GB of storage, though its only screen option is a 1,366 x 768 LCD panel and there's no card reader, either.

Wrap-up

DNP  Acer Aspire V3 review an affordable, Keplerpacking laptop for backtoschool season

For a sub-$1,000 15-inch laptop, the Acer Aspire V3 delivers the goods. A quad-core Ivy Bridge CPU and NVIDIA Kepler graphics give it multitasking and gaming chops, while the keyboard provides a comfortable typing experience. Sure, the display has a plain ol' 1,366 x 768 pixel count and the whole package weighs a backpack-unfriendly 5.8 pounds, but you at least get a DVD drive, strong selection of ports and decent audio. If you're in the market for a system to see you through work and play, the V3 is $850 well spent.

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Acer Aspire V3 review: an affordable, Kepler-packing laptop for back-to-school season