This good-value quad-core is the answer to the dreaded question that inevitably comes your way as your extended family's PC advisor... which PC should I buy?
The phone rings, and before you’ve even put it to your ear the sweat has begun to bead on your forehead. You’ve been expecting this call, and the dreaded question behind it, for weeks. It’s just one phone call – one simple question… but your reply could make or break the next six months of your life.
“Son, which computer should I buy?” asks your techno-illiterate parent.
Answer it incorrectly and you’ll be relegated to tech-support hell, visiting your folks every second night to figure out why the keyboard has stopped working or why the DVD drive screams like a banshee during playback. Get it right, and you’ll be able to share your love of computing with your folks, safe in the knowledge that they can’t break anything. And if they do there’s decent support to back it all up, and it’s not you. They’ll regale you as their favourite child, the one who made it possible to magically view photos on their computer and listen to African tribal music from obscure Zimbabwean web sites.
Acer’s Aspire M3200 looks like it could be one such lifestyle-preserving answer to this dreaded question. In the time it takes your Mum to make a nice hot cuppa, your Dad will have the PC out of the box, set up and purring quietly at the Vista Basic desktop. Well, provided you’re there to show them where the monitor plugs in – which they’ll need to purchase, as the M3200 ships sans display. It’s got a decent wireless mouse and keyboard though, as well as a very dinky pair of speakers.
Before we delve inside the case, it’s worth noting that the Micro-ATX case itself is quite a tidy piece of work. It’s a neat little unit, if not exactly cutting-edge in its aesthetics, and has front-mounted card readers for numerous card formats, a micro Firewire port as part of the card reader, four USB slots and headphone/mic jacks. On the backside you’ll find HDMI and digital optical out, as well as the standard outputs such as USB and DVI-I.
Within the case we find a no-nonsense approach to the components, offering oomph where necessary. The AMD Phenom X4 processor (9600 in our review system) offers an affordable four-core CPU that is as adept at handling video edits of the grand kiddies as it is at running virus scans while your ma watches the latest Martha Stewart Google Video. In the configuration we tested, 4GB of RAM and 500GB of storage were better than expected for the $1,399 price point.
Considering it’s wearing the Hybrid Crossfire badge proudly, performance of the 3200 wasn’t as high as most gamers would expect. This is because the two GPUs that make up the Crossfire partnership within are both pretty average – combining the integrated GPU of the AMD RS780 chipset with the ATI HD3450 video card isn’t going to deliver performance greater than the sum of its parts.
It’s more than just the hardware and case that makes us comfortable handing this over to the rellies. The price is great considering it includes 12 months onsite warranty, and as mentioned the setup procedure is certified parent-safe. The pre-loaded software manages to supply basic functionality without overstepping the mark into shovelware misery.
As power PC users, we probably wouldn’t use this machine for ourselves. But for friends and family, we’re quite content to give the M3200 the APC nod.