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Acer Aspire AM3970-U5022 review: Acer Aspire AM3970-U5022

Acer Aspire AM3970-U5022

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Rich Brown
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Rich Brown Senior Editorial Director - Home and Wellness

Rich is the editorial lead for CNET's Home and Wellness sections, based in Louisville, KY. Before moving to Louisville in 2013, Rich ran CNET's desktop computer review section for 10 years in New York City. He has worked as a tech journalist since 1994, covering everything from 3D-printing to Z-Wave smart locks.

Expertise Smart home, Windows PCs, cooking (sometimes), woodworking tools (getting there...)
5 min read

A utilitarian budget desktop, the $549 Acer Aspire AM3970-U5022 is unremarkable, but essentially delivers what we expect from a desktop in this price range. Competition from a recently marked-down system from Acer's Gateway subsidiary induces some doubt about this Acer's value, but if that deal doesn't last, this Acer is worth a look if you need a bare-bones desktop workhorse.

Acer Aspire M3970-U5022 - Core i3 2100 3.1 GHz
6.8

Acer Aspire AM3970-U5022

The Good

The <b>Acer Aspire AM3970-U5022</b> has an attractive design for a budget PC, and bears a fair price tag for its configuration.

The Bad

Recent price drops on older systems mean that as of this review, you'll find competing PCs on the market in the same price range with better features.

The Bottom Line

Generous price cuts on higher-end systems give this Acer some competitive difficulty, but this system is still more affordable than most, and comes wrapped in a pleasing design.

The Aspire AM3970-U5022 comes with a new case design with more personality than previous mainstream Acer desktops. The gently concave face of the system has a rounded edge on top, with the media card slot thrust forward slightly. Minimal gray plastic accents interrupt the black plastic, and while it's not fundamentally different from most other Windows desktops, the design is clean and has a certain friendliness to it.

Acer Aspire AM3970-U5022 Gateway DX4850-45
Price $549 $599
CPU 3.1GHz Intel Core i3 2100 2.8GHz Intel Core i5 2300
Memory 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 64MB Intel HD Graphics 2000 embedded graphics 64MB Intel HD Graphics 2000 integrated graphics chip
Hard drives 1TB 5,400rpm 1TB 5,400rpm
Optical drive DVD burner Blu-ray/DVD burner combo
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)

$549 is a fair price for the fixed-configuration Aspire AM3970, and similar systems from Dell and HP come in about $50 higher. That would speak well for the Acer's value if it weren't for the impressive Gateway DX4850-45u that we reviewed back in March. That system cost $749 at the time of its original review, and now you can find it for $599 from Newegg, a steal given its Core i5 CPU and its Blu-ray drive. If the Gateway wasn't available for such a low price, this Acer would be a leader in its price range. It's more like a second-place finisher now in value terms, and it makes sense only for those extremely sensitive to price.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Acer Aspire AM3970-U5022 (Core i3 2100, Summer 2011)
82 
Lenovo H320 (Core i5 650, Spring 2011)
96 

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Lenovo H320 (Core i5 650, Spring 2011)
280 
Acer Aspire AM3970-U5022 (Core i3 2100, Summer 2011)
292 

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Acer Aspire AM3970-U5022 (Core i3 2100, Summer 2011)
107 
Lenovo H320 (Core i5 650, Spring 2011)
119 

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Acer Aspire AM3970-U5022 (Core i3 2100, Summer 2011)
401 
Lenovo H320 (Core i5 650, Spring 2011)
416 

Cinebench
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
Acer Aspire AM3970-U5022 (Core i3 2100, Summer 2011)
2.97 
1.23 
Lenovo H320 (Core i5 650, Spring 2011)
2.78 
1.12 

The Acer trails the Gateway in most of our tests, the exception being our iTunes audio file conversion test where they're statistically tied. As the second-generation Core i3 CPU in the Acer is only a dual-core chip with two additional processing threads via Intel's Hyper-Threading technology, it's also not as fast in terms of pure multithreaded performance as the HP and Gateway systems, which have true quad-core CPUs. As long as your expectations for this system take its budget price tag into account, you shouldn't be disappointed in its performance; just understand that for $50 more the Gateway is at times noticeably faster.

With no dedicated graphics card, the Aspire AM3970 will provide only a basic gaming experience. You can add a 3D card to its spare 16x PCI Express slot, but the 300-watt power supply and an absence of Molex power connectors will limit you to lower midrange graphics-card options. Two free 1x PCI Express slots round out the card expansion options, and you also get room to add an extra hard drive, as well as one additional stick of memory.

We were disappointed by the $499 Acer Aspire X1920-UR20P, since its slim tower case is living-room friendly, but Acer opted to leave off an HDMI jack. We can't say we're excited to see both VGA and HDMI outputs on the midtower Aspire AM3970, but we'd rather have them than not. Your data connections are limited to USB 2.0 jacks, but you at least get plenty of them, with 10 scattered around the case. Audio output is more restricted, since Acer provides only headphone and microphone jacks on the front of the case and a set of 5.1 analog inputs on the rear. The 7.1 jacks, much less digital audio output, have become increasingly rare in this price range, so we don't find the Acer's audio limitations a surprise, and we expect the extant ports will be adequate for most potential buyers.

Juice box
Acer Aspire AM3970-U5022 Average watts per hour
Off (60 percent) 0.55
Sleep (10 percent) 1.41
Idle (25 percent) 25.05
Load (5 percent) 56.77
Raw kWh 104.94
Energy Star-compliant Yes
Annual power consumption cost $11.91

Annual power consumption cost
Acer Aspire AM3970-U5022 (Core i3 2100, Summer 2011)
$11.91 
Lenovo H320 (Core i5 650, Spring 2011)
$19.55 

While the Aspire AM3970 doesn't lead on performance or features for the dollar, its power efficiency may provide some very small comfort. You'll pay less than a dollar a month to operate this PC, which is less than any Windows system in its price range we've reviewed this year.

Acer's standard warranty grants you a year of parts-and-labor coverage. You can also find driver downloads and a variety of other support resources if you're willing to suffer through Acer's circuitous Web site. Going by the Web site alone, you'd have no idea that standard phone support was available with this PC. The number, 800-816-2237, is listed in small type in the included manual, or you can register the system online with the serial number, which you'll find along the bottom edge of the right panel.

Conclusion
The Acer Aspire AM3970-U5022 is a reasonably attractive desktop with a fair price tag given its budget-priced components. Only the fluctuating prices in the retail market keep this system from earning a higher recommendation. If the pricing swings in this system's favor, bargain shoppers won't regret picking it up.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:
Acer Aspire AM3970-U5022
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 3,1GHz Intel Core i3 2100; 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 64MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 2000 embedded graphics; 1TB 5,400rpm Western Digital hard drive

Gateway DX4850-45
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.8GHz Intel Core i5 230; 6GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 64MB Intel HD 2000 embedded graphics; 1TB, 5,400rpm hard drive

"="" rel="follow">HP Pavilion p6720f
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.9GHz AMD Phenom II X4 810T; 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 256MB (shared) Radeon HD 4200 integrated graphics chip; 1TB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive.

Lenovo H320
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 3.2GHz Intel Core i5 650; 6GB 1,066MHZ DDR3 SDRAM; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 310; 640GB, 7,200rpm hard drive

Acer Aspire M3970-U5022 - Core i3 2100 3.1 GHz
6.8

Acer Aspire AM3970-U5022

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 6Performance 6Support 7
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