The Acer Aspire M3400: How Much Does $649 Buy?by Dustin Sklavos on August 5, 2010 3:45 PM EST
Acer Aspire M3400 Closer Look
Well, we'll say this: the Acer Aspire M3400 is positively glowing—and no, it isn't pregnant, unless you count the blue LEDs adorning the top right corner of the face. The power button is on top of the tower as has become increasingly common, but it's part of what amounts to a glowing blue stripe on the corner that runs through the two optical drives before being buried in the case. It's not unattractive, but it sure is bright.
The two 5.25" drive bays are both hidden behind textured doors that blend with the face of the tower, but their ejection mechanisms are very, very odd. Most of us are probably used to pressing a button and having the drive eject, but the switches you see on the face aren't buttons. You actually slide down the small panels adjacent to the drive bays to eject the drive. It's an interesting design choice that doesn't really add or remove from the overall look of the case, but we have to wonder if a mechanism like this is going to wear out over time as opposed to just including a conventional button on the fascia.
Finishing off the face of the tower is the media reader, which we might have liked to see closer to the top instead of beneath the drive bays, but it doesn't look out of place. The single glossy black accent running down the right side is also attractive, and on the whole the boxy look of the Aspire M3400 works in its favor.
If we go up the face and back to the top of the tower, we find the massive power button sitting on the bottom right corner of a very glossy black plastic panel. Just above it are four USB 2.0 ports along with mic and headphone jacks, and then above those is a tray for loose CDs. The tray uses a matte plastic lid with the same texturing as the front of the tower, and it snaps open and closed reasonably easily. The sides of the Aspire M3400 are uneventful, with ventilation holes over the video card and processor on the left side of the tower along with an indented "Acer" logo.
When we get to the back of the machine, though, we find it curiously spare. It's true we're operating on a budget here, but the pickings on the M3400 are curiously lean. PS/2 ports are a cute idea, but this is a brand new computer that comes with a USB keyboard and mouse. It may be time to take Old PS/2 out back and put a bullet in his head once and for all. The port cluster is stunningly barren otherwise: take the PS/2 ports out of the equation, ignore the capped HDMI and VGA ports, what are you left with? Six USB 2.0 ports, a gigabit ethernet jack, and just three audio jacks. Even the most budget of motherboards these days comes with six for proper surround sound. The lack of an eSATA port is also felt pretty deeply, and then to make things seem even odder, there's a pair of USB ports mounted below the 80mm exhaust fan in their own custom slot. This was the most efficient design? At least there's a measure of room for expandability below the cluster, with the Radeon HD 5450 occupying just one of the PCI slots, leaving three open ones. So what can we do with them?
Popping inside the case of the Aspire M3400, we begin our journey into the true land of budget hardware and Acer's design continues to raise even more questions. As far as drive expansion goes, Acer specs for just two drive bays (which would leave just one available given the other is occupied by the hard drive), but eyeballing it shows we have two places we can add hard drives beyond the existing one: a second in the side-mounted hard drive tray, and a third below the media reader.
And here's where it gets confusing: the motherboard has the full monty of six SATA ports on it, the maximum available to the SB850 southbridge. But there isn't enough space in the tower to use all six unless you pull the media reader and replace it with another hard drive and let it sit sticking out of the face of the tower. You know what might have been wise? Pulling the bizarre USB daughter card from beneath the 80mm exhaust fan and replacing it with a single eSATA port. But let's not go using all the available room on the I/O panel for more ports!
The rest of the board is uneventful, with two PCIe 2.0 x1 slots and a single PCI slot at the bottom. But above the board is what's going to ultimately cripple the build and deny users much more in the way of expansion: a meager 300W generic power supply. A visit to the Power Supply Calculator tells us that 300W LiteOn unit is already getting pushed about as far as it's willing to go with the hardware included in the Aspire M3400, so maybe the lack of expandability is by design. Power supplies are where factory machines tend to cut the sharpest corners, and nowhere is it more apparent than here. If you're interested in upgrading to a more potent GPU down the road, plan on swapping out the PSU as well for a slightly beefier unit. Thankfully, the PSU is a standard ATX 2.x design and you don't need to worry about proprietary plugs.
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fire400 - Thursday, August 5, 2010 - linkyou'd expect quality comprimise for higher end parts, but here, it's the worse of both worlds.
GeorgeH - Thursday, August 5, 2010 - linkThe price seems very reasonable to me. I went to Newegg and selected the absolute lowest priced components in each category, and got two prices (due to no X4 820):
With 2.8GHz X4 630:
With 3.0GHz X4 945:
Shipping to a California zipcode added ~$30, so you're looking at either $610 or $650.
Compare that to $635 with free shipping on the Acer, and the Acer looks like a great deal. You could get better price/performance by spending a few hours looking for deals and perfectly balancing components, followed by another few hours assembling it all and installing an OS (and maybe a few more hours troubleshooting things if bottom shelf components don't work perfectly), but unless that kind of thing is fun for you it's probably not worth it.
mariush - Thursday, August 5, 2010 - linkSo what you're saying the system should be 600 $ if you factor in the shipping.
Well, for 600$ you can do much better, for example at power supplies, video card and a slightly better motherboard.
JarredWalton - Thursday, August 5, 2010 - linkAs pointed out in the conclusion, though, you can either save $100 and get an HP with very similar performance (provided you don't really want the 5450), or spend the same amount for a slightly slower CPU but get a GPU that's more than twice as fast. It's not a terrible system, but it's definitely budget through and through. If it had a 450W PSU then at least upgrades would be feasible. I'm sure you can run a 5770 in this system, even with the 300W PSU, but I'm not sure how long the PSU will last under such a load. I'd wager the current configuration idles at around 70W and load is probably pushing 200W, and I wouldn't want to exceed that with a 300W PSU.
GeorgeH - Thursday, August 5, 2010 - linkI completely agree that the configuration probably isn't ideal and is nowhere close to what I'd select for a personal build. My (very badly made) point was that the system doesn't have a price problem, if anything it has a component selection problem for most uses. In other words it's a niche market system, which doesn't make it a bad product so much as a generally bad fit.
blackbrrd - Thursday, August 5, 2010 - linkI have been running a system on a 400w PSU that is rated for 30A on 12v for about 3.5 years now, and it has a 8800gts and an overclocked core2 in it. I haven't had any hiccups from the PSU. As far as I have calculated, the system runs at about 300w under load... I don't see why you need so much extra power just to be safe...
strikeback03 - Friday, August 6, 2010 - linkWhat brand PSU though? Given that this is likely built with the cheapest PSU they could find, it is unlikely to hold up as well as a decent PSU you would purchase stand-alone would.
Taft12 - Thursday, August 5, 2010 - linkDid you include an OS in your total?
I will say this Acer machine is a reasonably good value, but the features on the motherboard are where you really see a difference between Asus and Gigabyte's lowest-end offerings and the ultra-low-end Foxconn-built trash.
GeorgeH - Thursday, August 5, 2010 - linkOS, KB, mouse, and card reader were all included. The cheapest 880 board at Newegg was a step up from a generic OEM POS, but only a very small one. :)
nafhan - Friday, August 6, 2010 - linkYeah, but the thing is if you're building your own budget box, you can shop around and look for deals rather than just going with the standard retail pricing on things. I put together a similar machine last October for less than $450 (including OS). Less RAM and slower CPU, but much faster GPU and a quality PSU.