The Aspire E300 comes in two flavours -- an E300 dual-core Media Center PC, and this E300 64-bit Gamer system. The difference between the two is significant -- the former uses an Athlon 64 X2 3800+ CPU and the Windows XP Media Center Edition operating system. Our review model, the 64-bit Gamer system, uses a single-core Athlon 64 3500+ CPU, Windows XP Home Edition and a smaller hard drive. Both models are part of the budget end of the Acer Aspire consumer range, with the sub-£600 64-bit Gamer System representing particularly good value for money.
The Aspire E300 is a good-looking PC. It's a far cry from the aesthetic monstrosities that litter the gaming desktop arena, so it won't intimidate your grandmother, scare your cat or get you mistaken for a boy racer. It gives off a futuristic air that should appeal to a variety of tastes. The front end of the chassis has a sliding panel that drops to reveal a memory card reader, two USB ports, and mic and headphone jacks. These reduce the need to reach around the back of the PC -- which can be very fiddly.
The PC's DVD rewriter drive is shielded by a plastic panel. Accessing the eject button on PCs with shielded drives can be tricky, and the Aspire E300 is no different. We found ourselves pushing the entire PC backwards along the desk when pressing the eject button, such was the resistance of the plastic button cover. This isn't a major problem, but it could have been avoided had Acer fitted non-slip rubber stands at the base of the PC.
The top of the chassis has an unusual ridged rubber strip etched with the Acer logo. We're sure not of its exact purpose, but it makes a great stand for a coffee mug. Just in case you forget what type of PC this is, the E300 has a blue, backlit Aspire logo at the bottom of the front panel. The base unit's overall look would have been more tasteful were it not littered with logos, but it's still an attractive design, all things considered.
The rest of the case is standard fare. It has a large exhaust fan shunting hot air from the inside. This isn't very noisy, but you probably wouldn't hear it above the din of the CPU cooling fan even if it were. It's just as well the inside of the case is easily accessible, as we'd probably swap the standard AMD cooling fan for a quieter aftermarket model. It's easy to chop and change components within seconds, as the PC's side panel opens up via a pair of thumb screws, and the PCI cards are clipped in place by a detatchable plastic retainer.
The PC is based around the Nvidia nForce 4 chipset. It's not quite as feature-packed as the newer nForce 4 SLI version, so it lacks dual graphics-card support and is incompatible with DDR2 memory. To its credit, the motherboard has both 16x and 1x PCI Express slots, as well as a pair of standard PCI slots. Unfortunately, all ports except the 1x PCI Express port are either occupied or blocked, so there's not much scope for upgrading in this manner.
Asus has chosen an AMD Athlon 64 3500+ CPU and 1GB of DDR 400 memory. This would have been a fearsome combination a year ago, and while the processor in particular has been superseded by faster components, it still copes with demanding tasks like video rendering and audio encoding without much drama. One notable feature is that the onboard audio card on the nForce 4 chipset only supports 5.1-channel surround sound -- not 7.1-channel as is seen on more modern PCs.
The Aspire E300 is a capable gaming machine. Acer's decision to equip it with an Nvidia Geforce 6600 graphics card is a good one -- the card offers strong performance on most titles, provided they're run at modest resolutions. It struggles when running games above 1,280x1,024, particularly when full-screen anti-aliasing (FSAA) and anisotropic filtering (AA) techniques are applied to improve image quality and reduce the appearance of jagged edges, so if you're a demanding gamer you may want to consider upgrading to a faster card.
Storing a large quantity of games shouldn't be a problem with the Aspire E300 as it has a capacious 200GB hard drive. This takes the form of a Seagate Barracuda 7200.8 SATA NCQ drive with Native Command Queuing. This technology is designed to improve performance and reduce drive wear and tear. NCQ rearranges the order of instructions, so instead of the drive head moving in a potentially random manner (such as from the outer to inner disk tracks and back again), it'll read all relevant data from the outer track before moving to the inner track. Think of it as a kind of virtual postman, delivering letters in a non-random, sequential manner. The PC also has an 8x dual-layer DVD drive, which allows fairly rapid file backups of up to 8.5GB on compatible media.
Although the Aspire E300 lacks a Wi-Fi card, there's still a good amount of alternative connectivity. You'll find a 9-in-1 memory card at the front alongside two USB ports, and there are a further four USB ports at the rear in addition to a FireWire port. The PC also features serial and parallel legacy ports, so it'll work with any ageing printers and scanners you may have lying around.
The PC is bundled with copies of Norton AntiVirus 2005, Adobe Acrobat Reader 6.0, Cyberlink Power DVD, NTI CD-Maker Gold for DVD burner and Self Burn Recovery. This isn't a hugely generous software package, but it's unsurprising given the price of the PC.
Acer doesn't employ any fancy overclocking techniques or performance tweaks, so the Aspire E300 performed as expected. It clocked up a Sysmark 2004 score of 180, which is in line with what we've seen from other similarly equipped desktops.
Graphics performance was also adequate, if hardly inspiring. The Nvidia Geforce 6600 card helped it rack up a respectable 3DMark 2005 score of 2,065 -- which was also in line with expectations. It produced good results in real-world tests, too. Far Cry reached a solid 52.72 frames per second and Doom 3 ran at 47fps at a resolution of 1,024x768 pixels.
The PC struggled slightly when we cranked up the resolution and detail settings. At 1,280x1,024 pixels it ran Far Cry at 36.4fps and Doom 3 at 32fps. These figures show modern games are still highly playable on the Aspire E300.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide