Saturday, October 15, 2011

How Acer cut costs on the Acer Aspire S3

Ultrabooks. Thirteen inch, three pound laptops are nothing new. You have had the Sony Vaio Z-series laptop, Lenovo's X series laptops, and the MacBook Air. All theres laptops would command prices of over Php100K. In 2010, Apple launch a new MacBook Air and dropped the price just to over 60K. Samsung joined the fray with its 9000 series laptops in 2010.

Other manufacturers were not too eager to release products in this category. Choosing instead to release heavier buy cheaper 13-inch laptops weighing in at just under four pounds. Here Asus has it U30 series, Acer it's 3800 series Timeline X, Toshiba it R series and Sony has its best in class Sony Vaio SB.

Intel, probably from fear of slowing sales due to the rise of popularity of tablets released a new category of laptops called ultrabooks, which should meet the following standards:
  • Thin – less than 20 mm (0.8 inch) thickness
  • Lightweight – less than 1.4 kg (3.1 pounds)
  • Long battery life – 5 to 8+ hours
  • Mainstream pricing – under $1,000 USD (for base model)
  • No optical drive
  • Use flash-based SSDs
  • Use CULV (17 W TDP) Intel Sandy Bridge mobile processors
    • Core i5-2467M (1.6 GHz)
    • Core i5-2557M (1.7 GHz)
    • Core i7-2637M (1.7 GHz)
    • Core i7-2677M (1.8 GHz)
  • Use Intel's graphics sub-system HD 3000
(Source: Wikipedia)

Intel Capital backed up the Ultrabook with US$300 million Ultrabook Fund for hardware and software development help drive innovation in this new category of devices. Intel is bullish on the Ultrabook and expect that by the end of next year 40% of all laptops will be Ultrabooks.

Manufacturer reluctance. Laptop manufacturers have been reluctant to enter this field, mainly because of the Apple MacBook Air. When people see a Apple product they assume that it can be produced cheaper by someone else because of the "Apple tax". Actually that is not exactly true. Apple has large margins on its iPhones, MacBooks and Macs. Apple can manufacturer three iPhones for the retail price of one device. 

Apple's iPod's, iPad's and MacBook Air's on the other hand have small profit margins. In other words, it is going to be hard to build a cheaper MacBook Air than Apple.

How Acer cut the price of S3. When the Ultrabooks arrive you are probably going to find that most Windows Ultrabooks really wont cost all that much less than a MacBook Air. The exception is the Acer Aspire 3951, which is now called the Acer Aspire S3. 

Acer has long been known for providing value for money propositions. They do not build the best laptops, but do provide very good laptops for the money. 

The Acer Aspire S3 is no exception. Priced at Php45,990 it is priced a cool Php20,000 less than the 13-inch MacBook Air with a 128GB SSD drive. The Acer has 340GB of storage at 4K less.

a) The body. Rather than use a all aluminum construction or a more exotic magnesium-alloy or carbon fiber technology, Acer built its ultrabook in the same way it has built its other laptops. I used an  Aluminum lid on plastic body. Personally, I would have preferred a magnesium-allow lid which would be more durable, but aluminum seems to be the rave all these days.

b) The battery of the Acer Aspire S3 is small. It is a three cell 36.4 Wh 3280 mAh 3-cell Li-polymer standard battery pack.  This is a lot smaller than the 6800mAh I have on my MacBook Air. Apple promises 7 hours on this battery and in my experience delivers about that. Most reviews says 6 hours and a halft hours of battery life.

How will the Acer fair on what is a relatively small battery? Acer claims 6 hours, and based on the lab tests they used for their TimelineX series, in real worlds use Acer's deliver about 75% of the advertised battery life.

Engadget has reviewed the Acer Aspire S3 and their review is very interesting in looking at what Acer did to make this small battery viable.  In their test the Acer Aspire S3 delivered 4 hours and 11 minutes of battery life. Less than we expected. But their tests are probably more grueling than most, the MacBook Air did "only" 5 hours and 32 minutes.

Still, Acer manage to gain more efficiency, and this can be seen from the benchmarks. In benchmarks the  Acer Aspire S3 seems to perform a bit lower than expected. I am guessing the performance trade-off has to do with extending battery life. Still it is fast enough for an ultraportable.

Acer did a good job of building a very energy efficient system. Another good thing is that it does seem to be a good quality battery supporting supporting up to 1,000 charge cycles.

c) Storage. Instead of using expensive Solid State Drives, Acer opted to go with a less expensive solution using a conventional hard 320GB drive in tandem with a small 20GB Solid State Drive. The 20GB is where Windows are programs are installed, while the 320GB is best used for storing data.

Just to show you how much a Solid State Drive costs, Apple's 13-inch MacBook Air with a 128GB SSD costs Php65,990. Upgrading the SSD to a 256GB unit brings up the price to Php79,990. Storage of 128GB is a bit small for me since I keep a lot of photographs on my hard drive.  I use a MacBook Air with 256GB. When you compare a Acer Aspire S3 with 320GB of storage to a MacBook Air with 256GB of storage, the price difference is now all of Php34,000.

I wonder how much the price could be lowered if they drop the 20GB SSD and release a non-ultrabook version of the Acer Aspire S3?

d) Acer cut a bit on the extras. No USB 3.0, no back-lit keyboard. It does have HDMI, which we find to be the most useful connector these days (together with USB 3.0).

Acer made a lot of compromises in building its Acer Aspire S3. But I think they made very good calls on where to save money.  

Now, if only they made it in black...

1 comment:

  1. I would go for the Asus Ultrabook over the Acer, I repair far to many Acer laptops, there just not reliable.


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