Viiv is alive!
Well, no, we're kidding. It's not, really. Intel's big push into the consumer home AV space didn't so much go out with a bang as with a splutter, but it seems as though a few stalwart companies are still flying the Viiv flag. Acer's L3600 is one such beast; a small (250 x 200 x 60 mm) form factor media centre PC with enough Intel parts inside to qualify for a Viiv badge.
As a media centre PC, you've got to figure on two distinct scenarios. The first sees the L3600 sitting in a living room, as a compliment to a TV. That's a scenario that's possible, but not entirely ideal with the L3600, thanks largely to its design and fan structure. Specifically, while it does come in the de rigueur piano black plastic, it's still undeniably a PC -- especially from around the back. Designed to either sit flat or be vertically mounted (a stand is provided), the L3600 isn't the worst attempt at a living room PC we've hit, but it's also a big design step behind something like the Sony Vaio TP-2.
The other alternative -- and the one that Acer would seem to be pushing with the L3600 -- is to use it as a desktop PC, either with TV watching opportunities in the study, or linked via a Windows Media Center Extender such as an Xbox 360 or the Linksys DMA 2200. The unit supplied to us with an RRP of AU$1599 comes bundled with an Acer P191WB 19-inch LCD monitor. The 191WB is a nice enough 19-inch display for most computing tasks. As a media centre unit, the L3600 also comes with a standard Windows Media Center remote control, as well as a wireless keyboard and mouse. There was one other thing to pull out of the L3600's box, and it was something we'd not seen in computing for an exceptionally long time -- a mouse pad. A floppy mouse pad with "Acer" imprinted on the top corner. We can only presume that there was a surfeit of them hanging around the factory one day, as the supplied mouse is optical, and the floppy nature of the pad makes it highly unsuitable for lounge room mouse operation.
Rip open the L3600 and you'll find an Intel Core 2 Duo E4600 2.4GHz, with 2GB of memory, a 500GB 7200RPM SATA drive, all running off the integrated Intel G31 express chipset. Multimedia duties are handled by a slot loading DVD drive, and inputs include two front side USB 2.0 ports, a multi-card reader and headphone socket hidden by a front flap.
At the rear the L3600 sports four USB 2.0 ports -- although two will by default be used for the keyboard/mouse adaptor and remote control IR receiver -- as well as VGA and DVI ports. That leaves HDMI conspicuous by its absence, and in the case of a media centre PC, we reckon it's a pretty large omission. The use of DVI also means that the L3600 has to handle audio separately, which it does via six audio jacks coming out of the back of the unit. Or, in other words, a whole lot more cabling.
On the TV side, the L3600 features a single integrated dual analogue/digital TV tuner; Acer's configuration page for the L3600 indicates this is an optional part, which makes sense when you realise that the L3600 ships either with Vista Home Basic or Vista Home Premium -- and of course, Home Basic is a Media Center free zone.
As a basic desktop PC, the L3600 performed most of our basic tests quite well. It zoomed through PCMark05, registering a very respectable 4566 PC Marks. That's not quite up there with media centres such as the recently reviewed Sony Vaio TP-2, but then the L3600 is significantly cheaper. On the graphics front, we were never expecting the G31 to knock our socks off, and it didn't -- once we finally got it to complete a run of 3DMark06 without crashing, it returned a very ordinary score of 294 3DMarks. When a desktop system is being whipped by notebook PCs on a fairly regular basis, that's not a good thing.
One factor we did notice with our review sample of the L3600 was that despite its miniature size, it's a quite noisy unit in operation -- we could pick this whether it was connected to a living room LCD or the supplied 19" monitor. Not quite as noisy as an older model Xbox 360 -- but close enough to remind us of one.
The L3600 takes something of a both-ways bet with its Viiv branding and Media Center offerings. We found it a bit too noisy and not quite attractive enough as a pure lounge room offering, but at the same time, the small form factor and AV outputs make it a poor match in the home office, unless you're particularly stretched for space.