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.