Based purely on specs and pricing alone, the Acer Aspire L310 looks like it should knock the CNET Editor's Choice-winning HP Pavilion Slimline s7600e from its small-form-factor throne. At $850, the Aspire L310 is $125 less than the HP system we reviewed, and Acer's system even came in a little faster on our benchmark tests. But when you look under the Acer's hood, you'll find it lacks one of the Slimline's major advantages, upgradeability. Despite the Aspire L310's current promise, that limitation hurts its long-term outlook.
If you have no intention of upgrading to Windows Vista and simply want a small computer for playing standard-definition video and maybe even serving up some music across a network, the Aspire L310 is a compelling deal. Its Core 2 Duo E6300 processor is fast enough to ensure smooth performance, but also affordable enough to keep the L310's price down. That processor would also be fine for Vista, but where you'll likely hit a bottleneck, at least if you intend on running Vista Home Premium, is with the Aspire L310's memory and its graphics chip. It only comes with 1GB of 533MHz DDR2 memory. That's fine today, but pair that with an integrated Intel GMA 3000 graphics chip and you can pretty much forget about running Windows Vista with the Aero effects enabled.
Acer does give you an option for improving the Aspire L310's future, but you'll have to work for it and spend a little more. Its potential is not as robust as the HP Slimline's. If you're willing to ditch the two 512MB memory sticks the Aspire L310 comes with, you can upgrade to two 1GB sticks, which should give you a better Vista experience. It uses laptop memory, so the upgrade will be more expensive than traditional desktop memory sticks, and you'll have to be comfortable taking the unit apart yourself. And if DIY upgrading isn't intimidating enough for some people, the Aspire L310's memory slots are hidden under a hard-to-remove drive cage.
We won't fault the Aspire L310 for its efficient interior design, it helps keep the footprint small, and indeed, at 10 inches wide, 2.25 inches thick, and 7.75 inches deep, it takes up much less volume than the Slimline (9.7x4.4x13.1 inches, respectively). That makes the Aspire L310 closer to WinBook's Jiv Mini, Shuttle's XPC X100, and Apple's Mac Mini Core Duo, all systems we reviewed earlier this year. Although the HP is larger than all of those, it's still relatively small, and its extra size gives it a crucial advantage in that it has room for a PCI expansion card. That means you can stick a low-end, discrete PCI graphics card in the Slimline, which will help you with Vista, video, and even some light 3D gaming. The Aspire L310 and those other superslim boxes don't have a spare expansion slot, so their video performance suffers dramatically. Acer's system wouldn't even post a playable frame rate on our least demanding Quake 4 test.
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If its outlook for the future isn't that promising, as a relatively affordable PC for light-duty digital media or general computing tasks, the Aspire L310 is actually a very strong system. Its application and multimedia performance are right where we'd expect them to be for a system with its specs. We also like its overall feature set, which includes a dual-layer DVD burner, a four-in-one media card reader, and 802.11 b/g wireless networking. Its 160GB hard drive could be larger (the Slimline comes with a 250GB model), but if you're not dealing with massive video files, you should be okay.
One feature it does have over the HP Slimline is its DVI output, which makes it easier to connect the Aspire L310 to a modern television. The Slimline only has an analog out that needs an adapter to connect to a digital display. The Aspire doesn't have a TV tuner like the WinBook Jiv Mini and the Shuttle XPC X100, but with integrated graphics and the poor state of PC-based TV tuners in general, you might be better off without one.
The Aspire L310 comes with a mouse and a keyboard, the latter of which looks disproportionately large to this tiny PC. The box didn't have a Media Center remote control, though, which seems strange for a PC whose design and features make it so living room-friendly. Among the included software, you'll find Acer's Empowering Technology suite, which includes programs for security, system recovery, and performance optimization.
Acer's support is about average. The standard warranty covers your system with one year of parts and labor coverage. Acer's Pan-American Web site was down at the time of this review, but it appears to have a few support resources like drivers and user manuals, although there was no evidence of any online support chat functionality. Phone service is toll free, but it's not 24/7. Operating hours run Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET, and on the weekends from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Acer Aspire L310
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2; 1.86GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6300; 1,024MB 533MHz DDR2 SDRAM; integrated 128MB (shared) Intel GMA 3000 graphics chip; 250GB Western Digital 7,200 rpm hard drive
Apple Mac Mini Core Duo
OS X 10.4.7; 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo T2400; 512MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; integrated 64MB (shared) Intel GMA 950 graphics chip; 80GB Fujitsu 5,400rpm hard drive
HP Pavilion Slimline s7600e
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2; 2.0GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core 3800+; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 500MHz; integrated 256MB Nvidia GeForce 6150 LE; 250GB Western Digital 7,200rpm SATA
Shuttle XPS P2 3700g
Windows XP Media Center SP2; 2.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6700; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 664MHz; (2) 256MB ATI Radeon X1950; Western Digital 150GB 10,000rpm hard drives
Systemax Venture C2D
Windows XP Home SP2; 1.86GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6300; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 256MB ATI Radeon X1600; 320GB Western Digital 7,200rpm hard drive