Acer Aspire AX1301-B1812: Complete budget-PC

The Acer Aspire AX1301-B1812 tries its hardest to deliver a mix of good speed and appealing attributes, and it comes with a 20-inch wide-screen display. Overall, however, the package stumbles in comparison with systems that are better configured and priced a bit more competitively than this $530 (as of March 31, 2010) budget PC.

Equipped with a 2.7GHz Athlon II X2 215 dual-core processor, the AX1301-B1812 came pretty close to tying the eMachines ET1831-07 midsize-tower desktop (which has a 2.7GHz Pentium Dual Core CPU) on our WorldBench 6 tests. With only five points separating the Acer desktop’s score of 96 from the eMachines’ mark of 101, it’s safe to say that the AX1301-B1812–in spite of having 3GB of DDR2 memory versus the ET1831-07’s 4GB–is an equal competitor. And while the model we tested isn’t sold without the bundled Acer P205H monitor, subtracting the $150 cost of the display leaves the AX1301-B1812 priced right alongside the ET1831-07 on paper.

But is the monitor worth the price difference? If you aren’t a demanding user, or if you’re on a strict budget, it just might be. The wide-screen, 20-inch P205H display offers a maximum resolution of 1600 by 900 pixels, making it just right for playing 720p HD content. The color saturation is a bit off, resulting in reds and blues that appear faded. The monitor’s settings aren’t particularly robust (and can be tricky to navigate), but they do offer a few different presets that adjust the monitor’s brightness and color warmth. Don’t expect much in the way of frills. You’ll find a VGA port and a DVI connection, but the display lacks any additional USB ports or the like. And though the monitor provides some tilt adjustment, the height is fixed, so you’ll need to break out some old phone books if you find that it’s too low.

When it comes to general connectivity, the Aspire AX1301-B1812 easily surpasses the eMachines desktop. The rear of the AX1301-B1812 features four USB ports, one gigabit Ethernet port, one eSATA port, an HDMI connection, a VGA port, and integrated 5.1 surround sound. The system’s front doesn’t boast any of the aforementioned next-generation connections, but it does offer five USB ports, alongside a multiformat card reader. In contrast, the best connection you’ll find on the ET1831-07 is a USB port–even gigabit Ethernet is absent.

In storage capacity, the ET1831-07 has a slight lead over the AX1301-B1812, supplying 750GB of space versus the AX1301-B1812’s 640GB hard drive. That might not seem like a big difference, but keep in mind that unlike the eMachines desktop, the AX1301-B1812 doesn’t leave much room for upgrading. While this is partly a matter of personal preference–do you want a smaller system or a future-proofed PC?–there’s simply no way to upgrade the AX1301-B1812’s included DVD burner or hard drive without a struggle. The only free interior connections are a single PCI Express x1 slot and a PCI Express x16 slot, and the latter is situated too close to the top of the machine for you to fit in a dual-slot graphics card (if this system’s power supply could even support such an ambitious feat).

As far as its externals go, the AX1301-B1812 offers a compelling look for your home setup. The optical drive and external ports are concealed beneath glossy black paneling, which gives this machine a bit of a resemblance to a typical Gateway or HP design. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a matter of imitation; I just appreciate this stealth-based aesthetic.

The keyboard comes with nine additional keys for quick-launching programs and controlling media playback, as well as a big, honkin’ volume wheel stuck on the side of the device. The system’s two-tone mouse is a bit out of place given the deep blacks covering the rest of the system. Worse, the mouse is a standard, bargain-bin device, offering no additional buttons or features.

The Acer Aspire AX1301 provides a decent combination of performance, capacity, and connectivity. That said, much of the machine’s value hinges on the bundled display. Do you want to spend $530 on a complete package that offers reasonable performance and includes a monitor? Or would you rather spend a bit more? If the latter, consider the Gateway SX2840-01, which provides superior performance and features for an extra $30 (sans display). On a limited budget, but not sold on the bundled display? The faster eMachines ET1831-07 is competitively priced, and leaves you free to stick with your old monitor, or to pay a little more for something nicer.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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