Ultrabooks hit the shelves: Acer Aspire S3 vs. Asus Zenbook UX31

They're thin, lightweight and elegant -- but how well do they work? We test two of the first ultrabooks to find out.

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How we tested

To see how these ultrabooks compared with each other, I used them both at my office and on the road for work and play over the course of two weeks. I wrote; did Web research; updated a website; edited, prepared and gave presentations; played games; and watched online videos. Each ultrabook accompanied me on a trip out of the office.

I measured each system with a digital caliper, measuring their thickness at their rubber feet. Then I weighed each on a digital scale with and without its AC adapter.

After examining every major aspect, I compared each of them to a mock-up of the typical airplane seat-back table tray to see if they fit. In the office, I connected to my Wi-Fi network, and while on the road, each was connected to a mobile hot spot as well as a public Wi-Fi network.

To test the performance of each system, I first looked at overall performance with PassMark's PerformanceTest 7.0 benchmark. The software exercises every major component of the system, including processor, hard drive, 2D and 3D graphics, and memory, and compiles the results into a single score that represents its performance potential. I ran the software three times and averaged the results. For the Asus Zenbook UX31, I ran it in both High Performance and Battery Saving modes.

I also ran Maxon's CineBench 11.5 benchmarks for graphics and processor performance. The software renders several photorealistic scenes that stress the processor and graphics chip by manipulating up to a million polygons. It reports scores for processor and graphics performance, and I averaged the results of three runs.

After loading PassMark's BatteryMon, I charged the system and measured each system's battery life with its power options set to Balanced and the system was prevented from going to sleep. With a USB drive containing six videos connected to the system, I set Windows Media player to play the videos continuously while the software charted the battery's capacity. I reported the average of three runs.

To check the ability of these machines to wake up quickly, I put each to sleep and then woke it up by pressing on the power button, while timing how long it took to bring the screen back with a stopwatch. After that, I connected each to a pair of M-Audio AV30 speakers and listened to music and spoken-word programming while evaluating its clarity, balance and level of static. I repeated the evaluation using the notebook's built-in speakers.

Finally, I checked out the reliability of the systems by running PassMark's BurnIn Test software. This program runs several strings of operations at once, while looking for errors or faults. While each was running, I checked for hotspots and measured the surface temperature with an infrared thermometer. Both machines ran for 72 hours and more than 200-trillion operations without a problem.

Ultrabooks: Features*

Acer Aspire S3 Asus Zenbook UX31
Processor/Speed Intel Core i5 / 1.6 GHz - 2.3GHz Intel Core i5 / 1.7 GHz - 2.7GHz
Measurements 12.6 x 8.5 x 0.7 in. 12.7 x 8.8 x 0.6 in.
Weight 3.0 lb. 3.1 lb.
Screen size/resolution 13.3 in. 13.3 in.
Resolution 1366 x 768 1600 x 900
Graphics processor Intel HD Graphics 3000 Intel HD Graphics 3000
RAM 4GB 4GB
Storage 20GB SSD, 320GB HD 128GB SSD
Ports 2 USB 2.0, HDMI, audio 1 USB 2.0, 1 USB 3.0, micro-HDMI, audio, VGA (w/adapter)
Wireless 802.11n, Bluetooth 802.11n, Bluetooth
OS Windows 7 Home Premium Windows 7 Home Premium
Warranty 1 year 2 years
Price range $799-$938 $1,049-$1,111.54
*Review units - other specs available

Ultrabooks: Performance

Acer Aspire S3

Asus Zenbook UX31

Battery Saver mode

Asus Zenbook UX31

High Performance mode
PassMark PerformanceTest 7.0 986.7 550.6 1,280.10
CineBench 11.5 CPU 1.92fps 0.95fps 1.22fps
CineBench 11.5 GPU 7.79fps 3.76 fps 5.51 fps
Battery Life 3:14 3:57 2:59

Brian Nadel is a frequent contributor to Computerworld and the former editor in chief of Mobile Computing & Communications magazine.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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