Review: Acer X3200 HTPC

Phrases like ‘low cost’ and ‘home theater’ are usually mutually exclusive in the Venn diagram of personal electronics. So, we were initially suspicious of Acer’s bargain priced home theater PC, the Aspire X3200. How could a tiny desktop like the X3200 take on its much more robust (and expensive) HTPC competitors? Why that’s easy — cut lots of corners. It’s the American way!

Figuring out where Acer snipped on this full-featured desktop didn’t take CSI Miami sleuth skills. The flimsy chassis and plastic-y power and eject buttons feel alarmingly fragile. The design faux pas continued with an included get-gadget keyboard, optical mouse, and stereo speakers that feel equally breakable. Every component of this system possesses a rushed, bargain bin quality making them technically functional but also painfully boring. Yet even with the X3200’s underwhelming first impression, the unit still has a great deal of charm. At 10 x 12 x 4-inches it’s pleasingly small, making it ideal for a living room setup.

A similar give/take exists under the hood. Acer deftly straddled the fence by outfitting our demo unit with a 2.1 GHz triple core processor. Going with AMD’s Phenom line gave the X3200 enough ‘oomph’ to stay competitive on some applications, but when pushed to its limits, the rig cracked like an egg. Feats like utilizing basic applications during multimedia playback were technically possible (thanks to 4GBs of RAM), but low frame rates and lengthy load times were the norm. On the graphics side, the X3200 came packing a surprisingly clunky Nvidia GeForce 8200. Though not nearly the speediest GPU we’ve seen, mainstays like Call of Duty 4 and Crysis ran at passable frame rates at modest to low settings. However, it’s worth noting that cranking the resolution up to “11” brought this underpowered GPU to its knees.

Despite the disappointing gaming performance, the X3200 still has a number of saving graces. Entertainment perks like a Blu-ray drive, HDMI out, and digital audio make this box less a office bound PC, more like a living room entertainment hub. The inclusion of a front FireWire port made A/V tasks like transferring camcorder video onto the system’s 640GB hard drive pretty much a feat even the crustiest luddite could master. Between the whopping nine USB slots and eSATA support, there are very few home theater tasks we couldn’t accomplish with the X3200.

Ultimately, it’s in this expansive feature set that the X3200 truly shines. As an HTPC it’s hardly perfect but given its price, capabilities, and expansion potential it makes a solid core for a next-gen home theater setup. Sure, we had a mini-fit over the cheap design and mediocre gaming performance. But we can’t take issue with a system that covers practically every base without bleeding our pocket books dry.

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