Acer Aspire M3400: How Much Does $649 Buy?

Reviewing the Dell Studio XPS 7100 recently was very interesting and even enlightening. Our audience may chiefly be people who build their own machines (and indeed we certainly review enough hardware), but it was refreshing to see the oft-maligned "factory build" put in a good showing and justify its existence in our world of enthusiasts and builders. If you didn't feel like putting together your own machine for high-performance gaming and computing and didn't want to pay through the nose for a custom enthusiast build, the XPS 7100 was a fine choice.

But we're not talking about a twelve-hundred-dollar mean machine here. We're talking about a $649 budget build, and in this author's opinion those waters are substantially more fraught than the consumer market for machines north of a large. A reliable budget build is the kind of thing a good enthusiast can specialize in, so the question for Acer the M3400 worth the trade-offs? We lose name brand components and the individual warranties that go along with them, but we gain something that's been built and tested from the factory and at least guaranteed to work as is, and we potentially gain more computer than we could've gotten for the price had we built it ourselves.

Acer Aspire M3400-U2052 Specifications
Processor AMD Phenom II X4 820
(4x2.8GHz, 45nm, 2MB L2, 4MB L3, 95W)
Chipset AMD RS880 Northbridge, AMD SB850 Southbridge
Memory 2x2GB and 2x1GB DDR3-1333 (Total 6GB, Max 4x4GB)
Graphics ATI Radeon HD 5450 512MB GDDR3
(80 Stream Processors, 650MHz Core, 1.6GHz Memory, 64-bit memory bus)
Hard Drive(s) 640GB 7200 RPM (Western Digital Caviar Blue)
Optical Drive(s) DVD+-RW combo drive
Networking Realtek Gigabit Ethernet
Audio Realtek ALC662 HD Audio
speaker, mic, and line-in jacks doubling as 5.1 jacks
Front Side Optical Drive
Open 5.25” Bay
MMC/SD/CF/MS reader
Top 4x USB 2.0
Headphone and mic jack
Power button
Back Side AC Power
2x PS/2
8x USB 2.0
Gigabit Ethernet jack
Mic, speaker, and line-in jacks
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 16.5" x 15" x 7.1" (WxDxH)
Weight 37 lbs shipped
Extras 300W Power Supply
Wired keyboard and mouse
Flash reader (MMC/MS/CF/SD)
Warranty 1-year basic warranty
Pricing Priced as configured: $635 online

The Acer Aspire M3400-U2052 (gotta love those catchy Acer names) is the top end of the M3400 line. Starting at the top, we have the heretofore-thought-to-be-defunct AMD Phenom II X4 820; the 800 series Phenom IIs had a very brief tenure in the marketplace but apparently live on in OEM circles. The only difference between an 800 and 900 series Phenom II X4 is in the amount of L3 cache: the 820 sports only 4MB while the 900s have the full 6MB. Given the middling performance differences in most circumstances between the entirely cacheless Athlon II X4 and the Phenom II X4, the lost 2MB of L3 probably isn't worth losing any sleep over. At 2.8 GHz, the 820 should provide plenty of performance for the price.

There are two extremely pleasant surprises in the Aspire M3400's build. The first is the use of the modern AMD 800 series chipset, which brings 6Gbps SATA support along with generally improved storage performance. If nothing else, the motherboard has legs that it may very well be able to stretch as prices on SSDs continue to fall while performance continues to rise. The other is the inclusion of a Western Digital Caviar Blue 640GB drive. These drives have been excellent and reliable performers since their introduction years ago and have remained near the top of the performance heap for mechanical hard drives; I might just be biased, though, I've been running four in my own tower for years and have been consistently pleased with their performance along with their low acoustics and power consumption.

Everything else in the Aspire M3400 seems bog standard, but there is an odd bird in this configuration: the Radeon HD 5450. In Ryan's review of it he wasn't particularly impressed and it's not hard to see why: the 5450 offers virtually no practical improvement on its predecessors. The inclusion here is even more questionable, because while a Radeon HD 5450 on the shelf can at least be justified as a potential HD playback performance upgrade, the M3400's motherboard has capped HDMI and VGA ports that suggest an 880G integrated graphics part on board. The 880G already has enough horsepower to handle decoding HD, and the 5450 isn't going to bring enough of an improvement in image quality or gaming performance to justify its inclusion. Okay, it's roughly twice as fast as the integrated HD 4290 and it has DX11 support, but it's a $40 entry-level GPU when $65 gets four times as many Stream Processors in the HD 5550. All things being equal, we'd rather have gone up to the full 8GB of DDR3 or the HD 5550 rather than get the 5450.

The M3400 is rounded out by a DVD+/-RW combo drive, standard media reader, and gigabit ethernet. We'd have liked to see some kind of wireless networking solution included, or a Blu-ray reader (which may have driven costs up, but they're so cheap these days anyhow), but these omissions aren't deal-breakers. As a whole, this review unit seems reasonable for the asking price, but let's take a closer look.

Acer Aspire M3400 Closer Look
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  • strikeback03 - Friday, August 6, 2010 - link

    Unless it really is just an internet and email machine for the grandparents, in which case you could use some flavor of Linux or other free OS. Of course you also wouldn't need a quad-core CPU or a discrete GPU then either.
  • ImSpartacus - Friday, August 6, 2010 - link

    If I wanted a more fair comparison, I would drop that 460 in a heartbeat. That frees up $200 right there.

    If you are comfortable with using the double upgrade method (legal and supported by MS), you can get a copy of Win7 Home Premium for under $100.

    There's also a ~$30 HD5450 just to be fair. The integrated graphics would work fine for most people.


    I'm sure you could find a mouse and keyboard for $100, eh? :)

    I can't wait for a good budget article! Too bad you can't freak out the readership with a few combos and some coupons. /That's/ how you can really get the price down!
  • Lunyone - Saturday, August 7, 2010 - link

    Well you could look like this:
    $185 - $20 MIRc = $165!!
    AMD Athlon II x3 445 3.1 GHz
    AMD 4670 1 GB GPU

    $100 + 13 shipping = ~$113
    Asus EVO AM3 mobo
    Antec 300 case w/1x120mm & 1x140mm Fans

    $51 shipped!
    Antec NEO 400w PSU

    $89 shipped!
    GSkill CAS 9 (at stock voltage) DDR3 1333 mHz RAM

    $55 shipped!
    SAMSUNG F3 Spinpoint 500 gb HD

    $19 DVD Burner
    LITEON 24x DVD Burner

    Total $512 shipped - $20 MIRc = $492!! Now that is a good solid budget gamer build. You can find more savings if you shop some more, but this gives you an idea on a good starting (budget gaming) build.
  • ImSpartacus - Saturday, August 7, 2010 - link

    I think my 500w PSU is comb'd with a free DVD Burner and my harddrive is about$10 more for the famous 640GB Caviar Black. I also suggest losing the 1GB on the 4670. It's money down the tube. Its 128-bit bus really only needs 512MB.

    I also suggest reviewing your choices for combos with similar RAM. I almost always find a good combo with RAM. While making my build, I actually found a different pattern of combos that allowed me to use EXACTLY the same items and save about $30.

    Newegg is just cool like that. :)
  • Lunyone - Sunday, August 8, 2010 - link

    That was just a quick example where you can save some $ and still have a good budget gaming system. As I stated, you can get better deals with some extra time and work.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Sunday, August 8, 2010 - link

    That sounds like a challenge, Jarred. ;)

    And I do so love a challenge.
  • Lazlo Panaflex - Friday, August 6, 2010 - link

    "McAfee, intent on taking over the antivirus market using any means other than actually producing quality software, is of course accounted for here."

    Man, that made me LOL! Two thumbs up, sir ;-D
  • Mercury Joe - Sunday, August 8, 2010 - link

    The RS880 chipset supports Hybrid CrossfireX.

    Is seems to me that you can enable that and use both the IGP AND the HD5450 in a Hybrid CrossfireX and get some ok graphics out of this. You never said if it was enabled or not.

    The posters here seem to want to slam this machine because it can not play high end games. People who buy machines like this are LIGHT gamers and internet browsers/e-mailers.

    If I was a betting man, they have the HD5450 to support Flash hardware video acceleration for You-Tube. It is the cheapest and lowest powered solution to provide hardware acceleration. It also nicely complements the Hybrid CrossfireX solution.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Sunday, August 8, 2010 - link

    I admit I could be mistaken, but it's my understanding Flash hardware acceleration runs off of the decoder hardware and not the shaders. If that's the case, Flash wouldn't see any improvements from going with the 5450 vs. the 880G.

    The 5450 just doesn't make sense in this build. The light gamer would be better served with a 5550 or 5570, and everyone else would be fine with the 880G.
  • pbr35586 - Sunday, August 8, 2010 - link

    Last year right before Windows 7 came out. I bought a Dell Inspiron 546 MT for $346.00 on sale. It came with a Phenom 9650 quad core, 4 GB of ram, 500gb hard drive. I also got a free upgrade to Windows 7 Home Premium 64 and free shipping. I added a $60.00 GB ATI 4670 card free shipping. Runs fine on my stock 300 watt power supply. It also came with a keyboard and mouse. This system may not be all that to some of you. But i can play COD Modern Warfare 2 @1920x1200 4 a/a. For light gaming and general computing this thing is fine and it was way below $500 including the sales tax i paid to Dell.

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