To learn about the new Acer Aspire Ultrabooks we had an interview with Eric Ackerson, Acer America’s senior product marketing and brand manager. Ackerson manages Acer’s mobile product marketing programs and helps the company realize strategic opportunities to develop and deliver winning products for the United States and Canada. His responsibilities include quality improvement initiatives for the OOBE (out of box experience), market analysis, communication, and product EOL (end of life) management for Acer and Gateway-branded notebooks, Ultrabooks and tablets.
Prior to Acer, Ackerson was the director of marketing for Patriot Memory, where he developed the company’s new brand identity, created a new product development process and managed product positioning and messaging for all marketing vehicles. Ackerson also held sales, marketing and product management positions with Corsair, Inc., Antec, Inc. and Fry’s Electronics.
Bijan Tehrani: First of all, I want to congratulate you on the absolutely beautiful design of the S7. How did you come up with the design of this system?
Eric Ackerson: Thank you. We do feel it’s a beautiful-looking product and we worked hard to make it so. The genesis for coming up with this design was the thought that this would be a premium product, it was our best step forward to reintroduce the Acer brand to consumers. In the past, we’ve often been known for low-cost products like Netbooks, we are now investing a lot in the brand messaging and wanted something that would get people’s attention, as well as be a very powerful and functional PC. With Windows 8 as a natural inflexion point, we wanted to make a very sexy product. We worked with unique materials, unique build-processes, to make it as appealing as possible while also considering usability. For example, the Gorilla Glass on the lid is used not only for esthetic purposes but I is also part of the structural rigidity of the frame. That is one of the things that allowed it to remain thin. We also used a unibody design for what we call the C-cover (refers to the top piece of the notebook that surrounds the keyboard –RR). – It is a solid piece of aluminum; it keeps it strong and rigid and is very pleasing to the eye.
BT: I tried this with a filmmaker we had in town with Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 and Photoshop 64 Bit CS6 and you could really do a fine job. I thought you could get the job done on the go and I am very amazed you can run such demanding software and it responds so well.
EA: Absolutely! I can tell you a personal anecdote. My girlfriend is the owner of a print shop so she’s constantly working with large files in Photoshop and In Design. I gave her a unit and it exceeded her expectations. It is a mobile platform so it is a different CPU design than a desktop but for a mobile design, it is extremely fast. Part of that is the latest generation Intel Core i processor – the third generation. They’re very efficient and proficient which allows for an extended battery life. In addition, we are using a unique SSD solution. It’s a RAID 0 solution. So there’s actually two storage devices kind of paired together which allows things to operate much quicker than they normally would.
BT: I read a lot of reviews on the system and noticed a lot of people are complaining about the fan noise. I only experienced that twice. Is this a valid complaint?
EA: Yes, it’s a valid concern; anytime someone notices noise with their system, it’s a valid concern. Like you, I think most people will rarely if ever notice the noise. We have an interesting technology called Twin Air Cooling that we created specifically for this platform. There is a patent pending on that. It uses two fans that circulate the air by pulling in on one side, there’s a chamber over the CPU and the memory – typically the hottest components inside of a notebook – and channel over them for airflow and out the other side. Because of the very thin nature of the Ultrabook, the fans probably spin a little faster than they would in a regular notebook – or what we now call a “fatbook”. With a larger size fan with bigger blades, you can rotate it slower and it makes a bit less noise. The thing about Twin Air is it only activates when necessary, it’s not constant but only when there is more draw on the processor, when the processor is performing more functions and therefore needs more heat to dissipate. So it will happen from time to time. There are some BIOS updates that tweak that setting and reduce the spin. We’re learning more about the system as it is in use for a longer period of time so we can recalibrate these fans for the users.
BT: Actually, I tried that BIOS updates and after that, the noise was a lot less. I think this is the first real answer to the Mac Book Air, with even a better and more powerful system. Do you find yourself in competition with the Mac Book Air type of market?
EA: Without a doubt! There are similarities in terms of materials, sleek thin design and the ultra-portable system. For a while, we were able to claim that we were the thinnest Ultrabook on the market. Of course, the Mac Book Air is not an Ultrabook because it’s not a Windows platform but they are similar, and I think some of the technologies we’ve put in our product make it a nice system for touch. I do think ours is a better solution, particularly when you look at price points and the hardware you get for it.
BT: In terms of price points, I have seen it brought up in a lot of the reviews that the product is expensive.
EA: It is an expensive product but not when you consider all of the hardware technologies in it and the functionality that users will get out of it.
BT: Another issue I have seen brought up is the battery life. Many users were saying they could get about 4 hours. I was able to get up to six. What is the length of battery use to be expected?
EA: Battery life is rated at six hours. I think each person’s use will dictate how much battery life they get, the same way driving a car you can get very different gas mileage depending on your driving style. I think most technology reviewers put systems like this through rigorous tests most users would not do, so their numbers would tend to be at a lower rating than the average user. For users who have this concern, we do have an optional external battery available for the 13.3” product (Aspire S7-391) that will double the battery life. On the smaller system (11.6” S7-191), we do ship the external battery with that unit. Keep in mind that some of the technology in the system does draw a little more power than a typical notebook or Ultrabook™, such as the touch panel.
BT: What would be the best second storage device one could use with this system?
EA: There are almost unlimited amounts of external storage options. A user can use external USB hard drives that connect through USB 3.0 or USB 2.0. Users may use an external RAID storage solution, which is what I use at home (with 8 Terabytes!). Cloud storage is probably what I would recommend. I have a number of cloud storage services I use regularly just because I want to keep the space for actual programs and not files. A user could attempt to upgrade the internal storage on their system but it is not recommended. The storage type is not standard in the industry so it would be hard to find a similar type at larger capacity on the market.
BT: What about fast SD cards?
BT: You mention cloud storage. The problem I find with that is low download time, especially with videos.
EA: That is definitely a concern, especially for larger files.
BT: For readers who want to get an external drive, would you recommend using USB 2.0 or USB 3.0?
EA: The difference between USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 is that USB 3.0 has the theoretical bandwidth to transfer data up to ten times faster. Of course it depends in the individual controller chips that are used but it’s a rather significant increase in data transfer.
BT: I know your future plans are confidential but are you working on more systems like these at Acer? Because this is an amazing route you guys have taken!
EA: Yes, we are working on the next generation of the S7 Ultrabook. It has been very successful for us. The next generation will exceed the performance expectations of the current system.
BT: Here is a question from readers: can you recommend a virus protection that will not slow down the system?
EA: I don’t want to recommend one brand over another. I know we have some pre-bundled softwares as trials with our products; we wouldn’t include them if we didn’t test them for performance. I myself have been a fan of Norton but that is just my personal preference.
BT: Considering the importance of keeping as much of the internal storage free, how important is it to have a recovery disk? And is it preferable to make a recovery disk as a USB drive or as a partition on the internal storage?
EA: That’s a really good question. I think more consumers need to think about this. I think it is absolutely essential. Whether it’s a recovery disk built into Windows or from a third-party external storage device that comes with its own software, it’s absolutely important to back up to make sure that you can restore. Having said that, I think storing your restore session to an external device such as a USB flash drive or USB hard drive is a better solution. It will be faster both in terms of making and restoring from. The S7 doesn’t have an optical drive – so it doesn’t have the built-in capability to create a CD or DVD; you can get an external USB CD or DVD writer and create a recovery disk that way, but the USB will still be faster.