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Performance
We've cobbled together a new suite of tests to gauge performance with the sort of basic everyday tasks that occupy most ultraportables. Since mobile browsing is the raison d'être for most of these systems, we'll kick things off with a couple of browser tests running in Firefox. The first is FutureMark's Peacekeeper benchmark, which the company says tests JavaScript functions commonly used on websites like YouTube, Facebook, Gmail, and others. To test Flash performance, we used the Flash component of the GUIMark rendering benchmark.

FutureMark updated its Peacekeeper benchmark recently, so we only have a few competitors for the Timeline in that test. Not that it matters, though. The CULV-powered Aspire systems easily outgun the competition.

Turning our attention to the GUIMark results, only the MSI X-Slim X340 comes close to the Timeline's performance. The X-Slim uses the very Core 2 Solo processor that we've tried to simulate with our SU3500 Timeline config.

Interestingly, neither of our browser benchmarks seems to take much advantage of the Timeline's second CPU core. The dual-core config is faster, of course, but not by a whole lot.

Next up we have 7-Zip's built-in benchmark, which tests file compression and decompression performance. We used the 32-bit client and let the test run up to 10 iterations.

7-Zip is multithreaded, giving the Timeline's dual-core CPU a chance to show off a little. None of the system's rivals even come close, although the Timeline does fall a few places when we scale back to a single CPU core.

Video playback
Our next batch of tests highlights the Timeline's video playback performance. The chart below includes approximate CPU utilization percentages gleaned from the Vista Task Manager alongside subjective impressions of actual playback.

I used Windows Media Player to handle our DivX video, QuickTime for the others, and Firefox for our windowed YouTube HD test. QuickTime doesn't exploit the GMA 4500MHD's video decoding capabilities, so the CPU will be doing all the work there. Acer does ship the Timeline with a copy of PowerDVD that takes advantage of the 4500MHD's decode assist, but with the three QuickTime videos I used for testing, PowerDVD didn't output any sound. For what it's worth, PowerDVD playback did use fewer CPU cycles than QuickTime; it's just hard to listen for a proper audio sync when there's no sound.

Aspire 3810 Timeline Aspire 3810 Timeline (SU3500)
CPU utilization Result CPU utilization Result
Star Trek QuickTime 480p 14-24% Perfect 28-50% Perfect
Star Trek QuickTime 720p 29-44% Perfect 41-96% Perfect
Hot Fuzz
QuickTime 1080p
47-70% Perfect 79-100% Dropped frames, loss of AV sync
DivX PAL SD 15-24% Perfect 17-29% Perfect
YouTube HD windowed 49-55% Perfect 96-100% Regular dropped frames

With two processor cores, the Timeline easily handled every video I threw at it. Even the notoriously demanding YouTube HD trailer for Moon played back perfectly. Our single-core config wasn't up to the task, though. YouTube HD pegged our simulated SU3500 CPU at nearly 100%, resulting in regular dropped frames that sullied the viewing experience. The SU3500 config also had some problems with our 1080p QuickTime movie trailer, dropping frames and losing the audio sync.

I suspect that the Timeline will be even more comfortable playing back video in Windows 7. That operating system's version of Windows Media Player can handle QuickTime files, and it supports hardware decode acceleration that should smooth out 1080p playback on single-core configs. If only decode acceleration could be applied to Flash-based web video playback.