Review Acer S7-391: a serious edge for Windows 8

The Acer S7-391 is a super thin ultraportable with a great display, design and performance, but only moderate battery life.

Acer isn't kidding when they describe the $1699, S7-391 ultraportable as cutting edge. This Windows 8 laptop is so thin (11.9 mm) and stiff, it could double as a weapon in the wrong hands. Did I say wrong hands? Assuming you can afford it, there are no wrong hands for this laptop. It's forward thinking in its design, eye-catchingly attractive, travels light, and is a heck of a performer.

The S7 is a touchscreen laptop, which partly explains the extreme rigidity--you're can't get away with users poking at a display that's not sturdily constructed or flexes too much. The white Gorilla Glass 2 outer panels and an anodized aluminum keyboard deck that are in play also give the S7 a modern look that's vaguely Mac-like. The keyboard is short-throw yet types nicely, and the one-piece touchpad is very responsive, perhaps overly so for my ham-handed use. The touchpad's placement is spot on and it's also press-to-click so you can turn off tapping if you'd like.

Features and performance

Component-wise, our S7-391-9413 (a Canadian SKU identical to the US S7-391-9886) test unit boasted a state-of-the-art selection: a Core i7-3517U CPU, 4GB (the max) of DDR3 memory, and twin integrated 128GB SSDs striped in RAID 0 for 256GB of total disk capacity. These lifted the laptop to an impressive 72 score on our new WorldBench 8 test suite. That compares well with the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga, which posted a WorldBench 8 score of 60, although the Yoga PCWorld reviewed used a mobile Core i5 CPU and costs $600 less.

The S7-391 utilizes Intel's integrated HD 4000 graphics which in most cases delivers playable games rates up to 1366 by 768 resolution; some games will require stepping down further in resolution. DiRT Showdown posted 35 frames per second at 1366 by 768 low detail levels, and eked out 11.4fps in the demanding Civilization V late game test at low detail and 1366 by 768.

Our unit booted in a mere 11 seconds--not the fastest we've seen, but still quick. Less expensive S7 models with slower CPUs and smaller hard drives are available from $1199. Unfortunately there's no 8GB memory option which would be nice for power users running virtual machines and the like.

Display and connectivity

The S7-391's display packs a 1920 by 1080 grid of pixels into a mere 13.3 diagonal inches. That makes for a super-fine and basically unnoticeable dot pitch, but also means many users will need to adjust the text and icon settings to 125% of normal in order to read them. That action means the same amount of usable screen real estate as with a lower resolution display, but much smoother text and wonderful video. The display pivots on its hinges 180 degrees so the entire laptop will lay flat against a table. However, with so much keyboard deck between you and the display, this seems useful only when you're standing over the unit. Rotating a full 360 degrees might work better.

The port selection on the S7-391 is as good as you'll find on an ultraportable. There are two USB 3.0 ports, a micro-HDMI port, a headset/headphone jack, as well as an SD/MMC memory card slot. Unlike some vendors, Acer realizes that you'll probably need or want to use Ethernet on occasion and thoughtfully includes a USB to Ethernet adapter. There's an HDMI to VGA adapter as well, but you'll have to grab your own micro-HDMI to HDMI cable if you've the need. Connectivity is top-notch with 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, and the aforementioned tk Ethernet USB adapter.

Ultra-thin at a cost

The S7-391 travels at a mere 3.5 pounds with AC adapter, and an ounce or two heavier with the two USB adapters. The laptop itself is a mere 2.8 pounds. Battery life might be a concern for some at only 3 hours and 54 minutes, but for a laptop this thin and light with high-performance components, you're not going to do much better.

All in all, the S7-391 is a nice laptop to use and show off. It would be nice to have an 8GB option and better battery life, but neither is essential for the vast majority of users. The design and overall usability are top notch. And it's an eye-catching system, sure to draw attention whenever you pull it out.

This story, "Review Acer S7-391: a serious edge for Windows 8" was originally published by PCWorld.

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