Acer Aspire RC 502
Acer’s RC 502 looks like an expensive executive tower PC with some intriguing extras such as front panel media playback controls, a function control knob and a cool-blue LCD alphanumeric display. These allow direct selection of PC, music (MP3, CD), video, pictures, TV or FM Radio operation. The keyboard and mouse are stylish chrome and black wireless units, and the 15-inch LCD monitor matches them well. The three-piece powered speaker system continues the black/chrome theme, and a multi-function remote control completes the input options. Inside the case all is standard PC, with a Pentium 4 2.4GHz plus 1GB of DDR RAM. It comes with a built-in DVD+RW combo drive, a 120GB hard drive and built-in 2.1 (not surround) sound card and ATI Radeon 64MB card. In terms of performance, the Acer was a great PC. Windows XP Home is loaded, and the bundled software (AspireFM, AspireTV, Power Director Pro, Power DVD, Quick Burn, Ulead DVD Factory, Win DVD Play and a custom audio equaliser) all add spice to the desktop. When using the unit as an entertainment hub, things were different. To change from PC to TV operation means a several-second wait while the case display flashes “Configuring”, and the monitor unhelpfully shows a “No Signal” message. DVD playback was good but lacked sparkle in both display and sound terms. As a PC with multimedia add-ons, it is fine; as a Personal Entertainment Centre, it is not. The RC 502 is distributed in Australia by Blue Chip, Ingram Micro, IT Wholesale and Digiland.
RRP: $2999 (inc. GST).
Acer: 1300 366 567
Hi-Grade Xperian 1700
The Xperian is a cool-looking 15in LCD, with side-mounted speakers supported by a hefty grey gunmetal base. Controls are through a wireless keyboard, rechargeable mouse and a full function remote; no wires, connections, or peripherals apart from a single power cable. The simple yet effective keyboard offers basic function swap buttons for FM radio, TV, DVD/CD, MP3 and PC operation. The only letdown is the mouse, which looks and feels cheap. Inside the casings — both behind the screen and in the heavy base — are a Pentium 2.8GHz P4, 256MB of DDR RAM and a 180GB Maxtor drive. The specs claim a 5.1 Creative Inspire sound chip and a 64MB ATI M9 graphics card with one spare slot. The Xperian wins hands down on connectivity, with ports and slots on virtually every surface. The machine runs on Windows XP Home, and comes with Nero burning software, WinFast TV and FM, WinFast video recording, and Windows Movie Maker. The key advantage is not the software, but the fast mode switching. Press a button on the keyboard or remote, and the app you want is almost instantly available. The TV tuner proved superbly sensitive and stable, and the picture-in-picture TV recording off-air is a joy to use. DVD playback was excellent using the bundled app, given the small screen. Sound output into a 5.1 system would be the icing on the cake. The Hi-Grade Xperian 1700 is distributed in Australia by Hi-Grade.
RRP: $3995 (inc. GST).
Hi-Grade: 1800 770 550
MSI has built a ready-to-roll system that looks like any mini hi-fi system at first glance. It comes with built-in radio and CD playback, a multi-segment LCD front panel with the usual hi-fi lights and knobs, and a very un-PC-like set of audio controls. The basic shell comes with a groovy orange-backlit LCD display that gives info on mode, equalisation, volume, track, name, status, station and more. Front panel buttons operate power, mode, disc eject, play/FF/REV, PC on, and reset. Under a front flap nestle six slots for almost all memory card formats, plus two USB, two FireWire, S/PDIF in, microphone and headphone sockets. The back panel is similarly well equipped. Inside the case there are one spare AGP slot and one spare PCI slot, and two memory slots to cope with up 2GB of DDR RAM. Sound is provided by the Realtek ALC50 with 5.1 output plus SRS surround simulation. The SiS 651/962 chipset incorporates the video driver, but no TV tuner is included. As no CPU, hard drive, RAM and CD are fitted, we fitted our unit with a Pentium 4 2.4GHz, 80GB drive, a Yamaha CD-R drive unit, and 256MB of RAM. We used a standard keyboard and mouse, fitted a three-speaker sound output system, and loaded Windows XP Home. When switched on in entertainment mode, the integrated audio functions all worked flawlessly using the remote. There was no time lag whatsoever when mode switching. Output volume was higher than average. When powered up into PC mode, Windows Media Player was used for media playback, and good integration allowed control using the remote for all functions. DVDs were glitch free, but playback quality will depend on the monitor and speakers you choose.. The MEGA works great as a PC; it works great as an entertainer. MSI’s Merga PC is distributed in Australia by Ingram Micro, Legend Performance Technology, Also Technology and Digiland.
RRP: $639 (inc. GST).
MSI Computer: (02) 9748 0070
All reviews are courtesy of Australian PC World’s Test Centre.