The Acer Aspire X1200 line of minidesktops fits budget PC components inside a compact case and offers some features that let it act as a light home theater companion. Our $450 review model came with a dual-core AMD processor, 4GB of memory, and 64-bit Windows Vista, which make it a very strong day-to-day desktop. It doesn't quite have enough capability to make it a true living room PC, and some clunky design decisions make upgrading it difficult, but for the things it can do, the system performs well. Anyone shopping for a low-cost mini PC will be happy with this purchase, as long as you're willing to forgo even more upgradeability than normal.
The Aspire X1200-U1520A packs an impressive amount of components into a small case. It measures 10.2 inches tall by 14.4 inches long by 4 inches wide with a glossy black faceplate that opens to reveal the dual-layer DVD burner. The front of the X1200 also features a media card reader, one FireWire 400 port, and five USB 2.0 ports on the bottom of the tower. The rear panel supplies four additional USB 2.0 ports (for an impressive total of nine) along with headphone, microphone, and eSATA ports.
The X1200 also has HDMI output, but we ran into an initial snag with both audio and video in Vista, similar to what has been reported by users on the AVS Forum. Acer sent us its A3 BIOS upgrade and after a quick install and some settings changes (setting our HDTV image size to "just scan" instead of 16:9, and changing the default audio output in Vista's control panel to the Nvidia digital out option), we were able to output video and five channel audio from a single HDMI cable to an HDTV. We didn't run into any of the networking issues that some users have reported.
The integrated video chip isn't going to satisfy hard-core PC gamers, but this system is powerful enough to play 1080p HD video files. It will also play DVDs, as well as standard definition streamed video from Web sites such as Hulu and YouTube.
In addition to sending audio over the HDMI port, you can also use the standard array of analog 5.1 ports for PC speakers. What you don't get is independent digital audio out. There's a hole in the chassis for a S/PDIF port, but none of the models in the Aspire X1200 series include the chip on the motherboard. The X1200 also doesn't have the usual accessories you'll find on a dedicated home theater PC, such as a TV tuner or a Blu-ray drive. We can't exactly fault Acer for these absent features because of this system's low price. Instead, consider the Aspire X1200 more of a low-intensity media PC or a budget desktop with basic living room capabilities.
|Acer Aspire X1200-U1520A||eMachines T5274|
|CPU||2.5GHz AMD Athlon X2 4850e Dual Core||2.0GHz Intel Pentium E2180 Dual Core|
|Memory||4GB DDR2 SDRAM||2GB DDR2 SDRAM|
|Graphics||256MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 8200 integrated graphics chip||64MB (shared) Intel GMA 950 integrated graphics chip|
|Hard drives||320GB, 7,200rpm||320GB, 7,200rpm|
|Optical drive||dual-layer DVD burner||dual-layer DVD burner|
|Networking||10/100 Ethernet||10/100 Ethernet|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)||Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (32-bit)|
The eMachines T5274 makes an excellent comparison system for the Acer for the value alone. The Acer system only costs $50 more, but it includes a faster processor, twice the memory, and it comes with 64-bit Windows. It's good to see that more budget PCs are shipping with 64-bit Windows installed to make full use of the onboard memory. Tack on the ridiculous number of USB ports, the integrated HDMI output, and the smaller case, and it's not hard to see that the Acer Aspire X1200 is an excellent system for the money.
As expected, the inside of the X1200 is pretty cramped because of its small case. The memory slots sit tightly squeezed behind an awkward optical-drive cage, which also obstructs the lone hard-drive bay. We expect jam-packed interiors for smaller PCs, but we're not sure if swapping out the hard drive is even possible without damaging the system. Acer could have avoided that problem with a bit more design care. If you absolutely need to expand the storage, you can connect an external hard drive to the rear eSATA port.
You do get two half-height card slots to use for upgrades: one 1x PCI Express slot and one 16x PCI Express slot for graphics cards. A budget 3D card would likely provide a bit more overall performance, but it definitely wouldn't make this system a full-fledged gaming PC. The 1x slot is already occupied by a modem. If you're ready to join the 21st century, a Wi-Fi card would be a logical upgrade here.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)