Acer Aspire M3800-U3802A review: Acer Aspire M3800-U3802A

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MSRP: $449.00

The Good Relatively strong bang-for-the-buck in its core features; midtower case allows room for upgrades.

The Bad Faster PCs available for just a few dollars more; no 24-7 phone support.

The Bottom Line Despite its quirky case design, Acer's Aspire M3800-U3802A is an affordable, feature-competitive midtower that you might find appealing if you're in the market for a cost-effective desktop to use for upgrading. If you want the best PC for your dollar, you can spend just a bit more on another system and get much faster performance.

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6.4 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 7
  • Performance 6
  • Support 6

On the one hand, the Acer Aspire M3800A-U3802A is a perfectly serviceable budget desktop. Its run-of-the-mill features don't set it apart from its competition, but neither does it have any glaring flaws that prompt us to warn you away. Its biggest problem is its competition, in the form of a

For better or for worse, Acer opted for a more unique case than other off-the-shelf desktops. The mostly glossy black exterior isn't a huge departure from other systems we've seen this summer, but the honeycomb pattern on the front panel and a large, blue LED-lit power button on the top of the case give it a vaguely sci-fi quality that might appeal or put you off, depending on your sensibilities. Our only real complaint has to do with the tray on top of the case. We're generally for this trend of built-in trays that give you an easy place to store and plug in your portable devices. We're just not sure why Acer decided this tray needed a superfluous plastic door that only gets in the way.

  Acer Aspire M3800-U3802A Gateway SX2800-01
Price $450 $510
CPU 2.5GHz Intel Pentium Dual-Core E5200 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200
Memory 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM
Graphics 32MB (shared) Intel GMA X4500 integrated graphics chip 32MB (shared) Intel GMA X4500 integrated graphics chip
Hard drives 640GB, 7,200rpm 640GB, 7,200rpm
Optical drive dual-layer DVD burner dual-layer DVD burner
Operating system Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit

Except for their different case designs, the Acer Aspire M3800 and the Gateway SX2800-01 are almost identically configured. Everything from the hard-drive capacity, the integrated graphics chip, and the amount of RAM matches up directly, with the only major variation coming in the choice of CPUs. The Acer's dual-core Intel Pentium Dual-Core E5200 has a faster 2.5GHz clock speed, which might look like an advantage over the 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 in the Gateway. For the most part that's not the case, and as you'll see below, the otherwise well-equipped Acer system has room for improvement.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Acer Aspire M3800-U3802A

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Acer Aspire M3800-U3802A

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Acer Aspire M3800-U3802A

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multi-CPU  
Rendering single CPU  
Gateway SX2800-01
Asus CM5570-AP002
HP Pavilion p6110y
Acer Aspire M3800-U3802A
Dell Inspiron 537s

On almost all of our tests, the Gateway walks away with the budget performance crown. This largely is because its Core 2 Quad chip is not only almost as fast as the 2.5GHz Pentium Dual-Core CPU, but the Core 2 Quad chip also has a larger, more efficiently designed L2 cache, as well as a faster front-side bus. Both of those factors let the Gateway process larger pieces of information at a time than its competition, so while the actual processing speed might be a tad behind, it can ultimately get more work done at once by biting off larger chunks of data at a time.

The exceptions include our iTunes and Cinebench single core tests, which are both focused on single CPU core workloads that don't take advantage of all four of the Gateway's CPU cores. None of these budget-priced systems is particularly well-suited to high-end digital media editing or other majorly CPU intensive tasks, but generally speaking, the Acer is not as fast as the Gateway system by a noticeable amount, and it also lags behind its other budget PC competition. This desktop will provide acceptable computing capability, but if you can save up a few more dollars, you can enjoy much faster performance by way of the Gateway SX2800-01.

The CPU differences aside, the similarities between the Acer and the Gateway even extend to the rear-panel connectivity. Both systems boast HDMI video outputs, standalone optical digital audio out, and a handful of USB 2.0 ports. Gateway has an eSATA port for external storage connections, while the Acer has slower, but more legacy device-friendly FireWire 400.

The HDMI output is probably more useful on the smaller Gateway system, which you might legitimately bring into your living room. In contrast, the midtower Acer allows for much more in the way of expansion. Inside the Acer you get a pair of PCI card slots, a 1x PCI Express slot, and a 16X PCI Express graphics card slot. A 300-watt power supply prevents more than a midrange 3D graphics card upgrade, but even a $150 3D card would turn this system into a respectable basic gaming system. The Acer also lets you add a second hard drive, where the Gateway can only support one.

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