While they might not be blessed with spectacular specifications, the latest batch of Acer Extensa desktops are functional and very affordable. They are aimed at small businesses who want to deploy simple yet capable systems for their employees to use.
The Extensa E261 Standard is based on an Intel Pentium E2200 CPU, instead of a Core 2 Duo, but it's still a dual-core CPU running at 2.2GHz, so it's capable of running all modern office software. In fact, it's capable enough to also crunch 3-D graphics, albeit slowly. It recorded a time of 1min 29sec in the Blender 3D rendering test, which is only a few seconds slower than a current AMD Athlon 64 X2 4850e. And it was actually quicker than this CPU when encoding 53min worth of WAV files to 192Kbps MP3s. So you can see, there is still plenty of life left in the old Pentium dual-core chips, and they are plying a good trade at the value end of the business PC market.
There's nothing fancy about the E261, nor does there need to be as it will mostly be used for everyday chores, but it does have a good complement of ports: seven USB 2.0, one FireWire, a memory card reader, plus there are PS/2, serial and parallel ports (which you probably won't need). Its motherboard uses an SiS 672 Express chipset, instead of an Intel solution, and this includes an integrated SiS Mirage 3 graphics chip.
This chip is so weak it wouldn't even run 3DMark06, so don't expect any 3-D games to function properly on this machine. In fact, even its 2-D performance was a little wonky: the screen graphics sometime looked garbled and shimmered when switching between open applications.
You don't get a digital video output with this machine, as its integrated graphics chip only has a D-Sub port, so you might have to adjust the screen's geometry when you attach it to your monitor (it doesn't ship with a monitor at this price). Nor do you get a Gigabit Ethernet port, which might be a sore point for businesses that have already implemented Gigabit switches. You'll have to make do with 10/100 speed.
As the E261 Standard is built using a mini-tower case, it can be placed either on a desk or on the floor; but if it's placed on a desk, the good news is that it won't make too much noise. It has only one fan, which is a slow-spinning CPU fan, in addition to the power supply fan, and the only other noise will come from its 160GB hard drive during seek operations.
Its motherboard is based on the micro-ATX form factor, so it's small, but it has enough free slots for expansion, including a PCI Express x16 slot for a graphics card. However, there aren't any free SATA ports — it only has two of these and both are occupied by the DVD burner and hard drive. There's one free PCI Express x1 slot, as well as two free PCI slots, so you do get some space for add-in cards.
Because the system isn't very powerful, it will run economically. We measured its power consumption when idle and under a maximum processing load, getting figures of 37W and 60W, respectively. You'll still want to make sure that your employees shut it down at the end of the day. It won't take an exorbitant amount of time to boot from a powered-off state (about 40sec), even though Acer has installed some unnecessary software; including McAfee antivirus, which takes a few minutes before it loads, as well as some Acer utilities (such as power and data encryption).