The Altos G301 represents the low end in Acer's Altos G series of tower-based servers. Its pricing officially starts at just more than $1,000. But you'll need to add several pieces of hardware--and several hundred bucks--to make it truly suitable for office use. The Altos we tested came stocked with two large hard drives, a RAID controller, and a sizable tape drive, features that drove its price higher than that of others of its ilk. Unfortunately, that money doesn't translate into performance; the Altos lagged behind other low-end servers in our performance tests, and we question a couple of Acer's design decisions as well.
Physically setting up the Altos proved no great challenge. We simply plugged in the power cord, the mouse, the keyboard, and the Internet cable, then turned on the power switch. However, the Acer provided only one Ethernet NIC, so we had to install a second NIC to configure the machine as the primary Internet gateway for our network.
But the real source of our setup and usability issues was the OS, Windows Server 2003 (Small Business Server, in this case). Getting the server from its pristine state to a functioning domain controller and file and application server took us a couple of hours--pretty much the same as with other Windows servers we've tested.
Depending on your point of view, the physical design of the Acer's case provides either poor accessibility or good security. The G301's standard-size tower PC has a doorlike cover that keeps the power switch, the floppy drive, and any hot-swappable drives you've installed locked away, safe from wandering hands. But instead of providing easily handled setscrews or an accessible, lockable latch for opening the side panel, Acer makes you remove the front panel before you can open the one on the side. To be sure, that makes it hard for anyone to open the case quickly, but it also represents the least user-friendly design of all the products we've tested.
Our main caveat on physical security: The Acer's 54X CD-ROM drive remains accessible, which means that users could install programs--something you may not want them to do.