Lighting review of the Acer Aspire X3200 mini-desktop (Verdict: a fine beginner’s HTPC)

aceraspirewii.jpg

On the surface, there’s little to really say about the Acer Aspire X3200, which is perhaps the greatest testament to the straight forward excellence in which it carries out its function as a frugal consumer’s first home theater PC. It’s a tiny, glossy little black box with the same smash-up of cheap yet understated aesthetics for which Acer is known. You won’t find any brushed metal here; the Power button is a translucent wave of blue-glowing plastic that is cheap to the touch. But the x3200 isn’t ugly: though no one would admire its looks, it is meant to sit unnoticed in an entertainment center, the silent engine of a high-definition media center. And silent it is: it’s fan is quieter than my MacBook Pro. There’s no underlying hum, no quiver of the air, certainly no crackle of ozone to pollute the ambience. It’s a triumph of quietness.

The processor and video card are ample for an HTPC: the CPU is an Athlon 64 Dual Core 4400+ running at 2.3GHz and backed by 2GBs of RAM and a 360GB hard drive whirring away at 7,200RPM. Some configurations allow you to amp this up to a quad-core and up to 8GBs of RAM and a one terrabyte hard drive, but I got the bare bones system. Similarly, the GPU is an Nvidia 8200 which slurps up to 256MB of shared RAM, but there’s also a PCI-e Nvidia 9500 with VGA and HDMI out slapped in the case. The latter works amply for those who want to free up some memory, but problematically, it doesn’t output HDMI sound, requiring another cable for direct audio output to your television or speakers. No matter what GPU you choose to use, this is not a Bioshock PC, but for hooking up to a television and running movies, audio and MAME, it is absolutely fine.

Where the x3200 really shines is its output. Into a tiny chassis somewhere between the size of a Mac Mini and an Xbox 360, Acer has packed a staggeing nine USB ports split between the front and back of the case: after cramming in a wireless keyboard / trackball combination, an Xbox 360 controller, a WiFi dongle, an external hard drive and an infrared sensor, the entire front is still unperturbed by technological protuberances. Amongst those peripherals, you’ll spot the X3200’s few weakness as an HTPC: there is no built-in wireless card, nor is there an infrared sensor for PC enabled universal remotes.

But there’s a tendency to get weighed down with specs on machines like this. It’s the run-off madness of an industry obsessed with incremental technology. The Acer Aspire X3200 gets what matters right: for $400, you can walk out of the store with a simple-to-setup, tiny, subliminally attractive HTPC to hook up to your HDTV. For a few hundred more, you can double the RAM and the processing cores and throw in a Blu-Ray drive. For the mewling home theater neonate, there’s much to recommend and little to criticize about Acer’s Aspire X3200: a small, affordable mini-desktop that makes setting up an HTPC as easy as dropping a credit card and tucking a cardboard box in the crook of the arm out of the computer store. I should know. I am that bewildered neonate, and the X3200 halved my birthing pains. I love the damn thing.

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23 Responses to Lighting review of the Acer Aspire X3200 mini-desktop (Verdict: a fine beginner’s HTPC)

  1. RunnerPadilla says:

    I just tried to install Spore on it and got nothing. The installer even failed to create a desktop icon to launch the application. If I try to launch from the CD itself, it just spins for a few minutes and does nothing.

    Is anyone else having this problem?

    Also- I noticed there’s one card slot at the top of the machine. What kind of card do I need for expanding this thing? I really need a wireless internet connection.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Just packed up my second X3200 to take back to PC World (UK)for a refund.
    Fantastic spec and rock bottom price seduced me into buying this little box of goodies, although a little skeptical about 64 bit Vista.
    Well it turned into one of the worst computer experiences I have ever had. The 1st PC required a system restore and eventually the rescue discs (thank god I had done them). It then diminished into the usual windows scenario of hanging programs, long shut down times and eventually beyond any use.
    The second went exactly the same way. Both machines had the same fault – BE WARNED – these machines have a serious network issue. I suspect it may have something to do with the Nvidia NIC. I cable broadband and with every other PC/MAC you just plug in your Ethernet lead and you are online, not with these machines!

  3. ernest_simbulan says:

    I bought my acer x3200 just last week. I want to upgrade this system by adding a video card. Any suggestion about what video card i can put into this system? Unfortunately, my package doesn’t include a system manual except for my lcd. Thanks.

  4. pimlottc says:

    Er, are you saying it has both nVidia 8200 integrated graphics, and a discrete nVidia 9500 PCI-express video card? For $400, I highly doubt it has more than IGP…

  5. Anonymous says:

    Looks like a great HTPC.

    Where did you buy it? I cant find it anywhere.

  6. halfskip says:

    I bought the silver version of this computer in new zealand from warehouse stationary. It has been slow from day one! I got a friend who knows a bit about computers to have a look at it, they managed to speed it up marginally by turning off the special effects on vista home basic, or something. Even so, when you open a window there is a 5 to 10 second delay before anything happens; very annoying! I’ve been using it like this for a year now, its bearable but I’m thinking of replacing it shortly. The monitor is great so I’m going to try and replace just the computer. However, it has unusual plugs on the cables connecting it to the computer, so it may not be possible. One thing is for certain, I won’t be buying anymore acer products!

  7. Anonymous says:

    CAN I CHANGE CASING FOR X3200??? so i can upgrade my vcard!!

  8. manuel says:

    can i change the casing of x3200 so i can upgrade my v.card??

  9. trackface says:

    I bought an Acer x3200 from CompUSA. It is dead out of the box, Acer support is non-existant and CompUSA can’t be reached by phone and doesn’t respond to e-mail. I could probably fix it, but it has a seal that voids the warranty if removed….I called acer and they are sending restore disks, to use in a computer that won’t light up….my experience with acer has never been good, this time it’s terrible. I should have bought a mac, and will end up doing that anyway….there are other boxes that are probably just as good, and if they even light up, they are undoubtedly better. acer and compusa won’t see my credit card again….if anything changes I will post it, but I am not optomistic.

  10. pamlp says:

    Better check out this page:
    http://www.nvidia.com/object/hybrid_sli_desktop.html

    The Integrated IGP is a new bred of Nvidia hybrid SLI. As previous suggested, 8400GS/8500GT can be used to support GeForce Boost (means combine GF8200 IGP and discrete card 3D processing power). You can also hook up with hight GF9xxx, which will use Hybrid power (shut down discrete card power when running 2D and TV output) but not GF Boost (it seems IGP is too slow compared to GF9x, so 3D is delegated to discrete card *entirely*).

    Low profile with half hight PCIex16 is required. But I think heat dissipation will become major problem except you mod your case.

    BTW, (don’t remember where I read it) this IGP is VP-3 capable PuerVideo HD engine… full x264 hardware accel.

  11. Anonymous says:

    they had networking issues with the x1200 and when the 3200 came out the update fixed both x1200 and 3200 networking problems but crippled audio for hdmi… that has now been fixed… all is good

  12. BOMBER04 says:

    I’ve got my X3200 running Windows XP. I found the drivers online from the nVidia website. The board is an nVidia board GeForce and the drivers for it should be listed under “8200P / GeForce 8200P-A-AR” or some fashion. I also went to the Acer driver download site and found teh X3200 and then selected XP Pro as the OS and there was one audio driver to use. That got me everything I needed. No need to change hardware.

    I actually set mine up to dual boot to Vista Home Premium and XP Pro (just Googled it online and followed directions, but it got a little sticky messing with the MBR).

    I am looking to upgrade the graphics card on mine too. What I worry about is the PSU not being powerful enough. I just got into gaming and stripping down everything from Vista and still leaves me with medium performance for gaming. I am wondering if Anonymous Anonymous actual is using the card he/she recommended in an X3200.

    As far as Acer goes, I’ve been a fan for 4 or 5 years now. I have purchased mine from wholesalers though, and the actual part numbers from the wholesalers for any model Acer are different than what the part numbers are for standard retail. My rep told me this is because the quality parts are lower for the standard retail (even though the model is identical), probably to keep their cost down. Could be totally false, but sounds within the realm of possibility. All I can say is that I have put almost a hundred Acer’s out with just a few failing after a year.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I bought the X1200 4 days ago and had severe problems with uninstalling McAfee to install my cable provider’s security suite. My system would totally crash and not boot back up, resulting in me having to do system restore a few times. finally, thinking it was the computer, I called for a call tag and went to BestBuy to get the x3200. Same issues all over again. This is my worst experience with computers ever…tech support was pretty much non-helpful..basically telling me to leave McAfee on it..or it might be Vista..who knows? in his words. Awful experience and I wouldn’t recommend Acer to anyone.

  14. madzack says:

    does this output 5.1 or 7.1 sound?
    hows the performance when playing HD content?

  15. SWIRLS says:

    GOT ACER ASPIER X3200 VISTRA , ID LIKE TO CHANGE IT TOO XP? IS THIS POSSIBLE , IF SO WHERE DO I GET DRIVERS FROM? PLUS DOES IT MEAN CHANGING GRAFIC CARD? GEFORCE 82OO?

  16. Res Cogitans says:

    I’ve been pondering these for a while, with a view to installing LinuxMCE on it. The NVidia GPU sounds like it should handle the fancy alpha-blended UI pretty well.

    The sound issue bugs me though; To repeat Madzack’s point, can you get digital sound out of it somehow?

  17. ernest_simbulan says:

    Thanks, but “8400gs card from pny low profile fits” sounds too geeky for me. Any specific brand? I’m sorry, I’m not that techy.

  18. Malcolm Waterman says:

    I brought an Acer Aspire X3200. I ended up returning it because of an annoying interupt and software I installed was giving me 3 different warnings about the hard drive. First, there was signs of wear. Also, there was a potential problem with the hard drive signal and the temperature warnings kept on going on.
    The second computer is also not working. The internet won’t work and I’ve tried external dial-up connection and mobile broadband. Now, the print spooler turns off every 2 minutes and I can’t install the printer so now I am having problems handing in my work. This computer is not working very well.

  19. RunnerPadilla says:

    I figured out what was wrong with my install.

    Now I’m wondering what I can do to upgrade the video and go wireless.

    It looks like I need to find a PCI express 16x half-height and low profile card for the video upgrade. Any ideas?

    Additionally, I’m looking for a PCI express 1x half-height and low profile wireless card to work with my linksys network.

    If you can help me find something- I’d sure appreciate it!

  20. Cill says:

    bought the Aspire x3200 a while ago from Currys(Ireland). There is a free upgrade to Windows 7 when the new OS is avaliable. however, after checking the upgrade site it shows that this modle is not eligable. despite what was said in store and what the leaflets mention.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I just bought mine at Best Buy. The nVidia 8200 is integrated, and is setup out of the box to send both audio and video through the HDMI port. All I did was connect this cable to the ports on the computer and HDTV and it worked with no issues. One cable.

  22. Anonymous says:

    i bought one of these from tiger direct. showed up dead. returned it. the 2nd one showed up dead. returned it. and the third one showed up today. dead. needless to say im beyond myself in disbelief. acer wants to charge me shipping just to send it back to them for repair.

    incredible.

  23. Anonymous says:

    you can use a 8400gs card from pny low profile fits

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