Acer 7600U £1399
4th Feb 2013 | 23:36
Acer's latest all in one doesn't quite have it all
The dream of the All in One is a simple standard that's rarely achieved. A full-power "desktop-in-a-display" that is simultaneously capable of serving as a general-use computer as well as a media streaming rig. Touch screens and Windows 8 are supposed to allow grab-and-go computing as well as more traditional deeper sessions.
Gaming? Previously, 3D games were a tertiary concern, but this is rapidly changing, given the power-price-performance ratios found in high-end and high-mid-range laptops courtesy of the current crop of discrete mobile graphics parts.
The challenge of the All in One form-factor is that, all too often, system builders are forced to cut corners in terms of the parts they integrate in order to cram everything into a thin-enough, big-enough display.
Based on the number of average-speed All in Ones we've looked at over the years, building a lightning-fast AIO is much harder to accomplish than it sounds. You compromise power for convenience here.
Acer's relatively new 7600U All in One embodies all of the good and the bad of this increasingly important category of system. On the surface, it looks well-designed. And with such a beautiful display, it has plenty of showroom game.
Unfortunately, aside from pure media functions, just about every other dimension of this system is pokey, frustrating, and sometimes even puzzling - particularly at this price point.
The display has it
The first thing anyone notices about any All in One system is the screen. Acer acquits itself well here, with a thin (1.38 inches in middle, about 3 inches at the top), fashion-forward 1920 x 1080 LED capacitive multi-touch display.
Screen quality is excellent, and easily fulfills the media center duties that All in Ones promise. This is a great display to watch HD movies and TV shows on from across the room.
Unfortunately, the standard HD resolution is not so great for general, up-close productivity—a 2560x1440 display—like Apple's latest 27-inch iMac and Dell's XPS One 27 possess—would be much more effective,. At this price point, it should have the higher resolution.
Aesthetically speaking, the design of the Aspire 7600U will probably elicit mixed reviews. With a thin, TV-style bezel, and a thin acrylic panel at the bottom of the system, it is certainly designed to look good in a living room. And while the whole acrylic/Lucite look is making a comeback in some regions, the style is not universally adored.
One really nice touch is the Aspire 7600U's flexibility. You can tilt this system down to a 30 degree angle, which makes it perfect for standing and typing using Windows 8's improved 10-point touch controls. You can also quickly and easily adjust the position of the screen, making it quite versatile in a number of environments.
Another much-appreciated and outright cool element of this AIO's design is the power socket, which is embedded into the tip of the system's stand. Very nicely done.
The Aspire 7600U's keyboard and mouse extend the acrylic-oriented design. Unfortunately, both are inferior peripherals, almost to a maddening degree. The keyboard is particularly bad, with non-responsive keys and an infuriating space bar. Yes, this is subjective, but our bet is that you'll find yourself replacing the keyboard with something else almost immediately.
Another more mild frustration: there are three sets of bright white lights on this system. The Acer logo lights up when it's on or in sleep mode. The power button stays lit when the device is off, and an odd KITT-style (from Knight Rider) series of lights dash across the top right-hand corner of the screen when the system is off. This is not the kind of AIO you can use in a bedroom.
Specifications and Performance
In the configuration we received (A7600U-UR308), the Aspire has the following core specs:
•CPU: Dual-core 2.5GHz Core i5 3210M
•Video: GeForce GT 640M
•Memory: 8GB DDR 3 RAM
•Storage: 5400RPM 1TB drive
•Optical: Blu-Ray combo drive
Like most AIOs, the 7600U is not configurable or customizable, but there are a few different models (A7600U-UR12, A7600U, UR-11) that step up the CPU to a dual-core 2.6GHz Core i5 3230M processor. There are also lower-powered configurations in the $1,000.00 price range that step the CPU way down to a Core i3 CPU.
On the left side of the screen, you'll find two USB 3.0 ports, mic in and mic out, and a universal card reader. On the back of the system, you'll find two HDMI in ports, one HDMI out port, a SPDIF optical audio out port, a Gigabit Ethernet jack, and two USB 2.0 ports.
A Blu-Ray drive can be found on the right side of the system, and a standard resolution webcam is placed in the usual location.
The 7600U ships with a Bluetooth 4.0 adapter. It does not come with a TV card.
Here's how the Aspire 7600U fared in our standard AIO benchmarks:
3DMark 06: 10,612
Cinebench 10 single core: 4,893
Cinebench 10 multi-core: 10,260
Boot Time: 26 seconds, (+10 seconds post log-in)
Call of Duty 4: 94.1 fps
As you've probably gathered, this isn't a very fast system in terms of day to day performance… and at the just-under $2,000 price point, feels sorely underpowered.
The biggest weak spot here is the under-powered Core i5 3210M processor. It just doesn't have enough gas for CPU-intensive applications and functions. It's fine for watching movies and videos, but it's not the kind of system you'd want to use for putting together home movies.
Here's a reality check. In our Cinebench 10 test, which wages a relentless attack on a system's processor, a single-core of this Aspire All in One trailed the 27-inch iMac by a little under 20%. That's not great, but in Cinebench's multi-core test, Acer's Core i5 gets crushed, with a score of 10,260 compared to the 22,404 thrown down by the iMac's Core i7 processor.
More concerning is that at the same price point, you can get your hands on a 3.4GHz quad-core Core i7 processor in Apple's 27-inch iMac, or a 2.7GHz quad-core Core i5-3330S in Dell's XPS One 27. That's a problem.
Also a problem: The Aspire 7600U's pokey 5400RPM hard drive. Yes, it's huge at 1TB of total storage. But the slow spin rate means sluggish data access rates, slower start times, and more. And, when you look at the specs (and performance) of the iMac and Dell XPS All in One mentioned above, you'll find 7800RPM drives or hybrid drives at the same price point.
The Aspire's saving grace is that, because it has a high-end Kepler-based GeForce GT 640M graphics part, it holds up surprisingly well for gaming. We were even able to play Borderlands 2, although more CPU-intensive games may bog it down. Still though, provided you don't mind turning some of the details (and possibly the resolution) down, you can actually play games on this system.
Unfortunately, in terms of day-to-day performance, this system actually feels worse than our benchmark numbers indicate. It's slow to start up, require 36 seconds to go from power on to completely logged in. It stutters coming out of sleep mode, which is frustrating. Switching between users feels like it takes forever in comparison to other Windows 8 systems. There are occasional hiccups when launching the web browser. And so on.
A faster hard drive and a faster Core i7 processor would not only have made a big difference here, they would make this system's $1900 price tag feel appropriate.
Solid media system, with one exception…
The nice thing about a 27-inch All in One with a few HDMI inputs is that it makes for a great console gaming screen. Also nice is the single HDMI out port, which allows for a down and dirty multi-monitor set-up. Not nice is the lack of a remote control, although the built-in webcam-based gesture controls (detailed below) are a welcome substitute. There are also plenty of iOS and Android apps that will function as a remote as well.
The sound quality of the 7600U is shockingly bad for an All in One. Music, games, and even Blu-Ray movies sounded consistently thin, bright, and tinny, and lacked any substantial low-end bass response.
Even after adjusting all of the settings, both real and virtual (Acer has included a virtual surround sound emulator), I still couldn't get this system to produce a level of quality sound that I could imagine myself living with on a permanent basis. Sound quality here pales in comparison to just about every other All in One I've ever tested.
Bloatware, interesting webcam gesture interface
Apparently buying a Windows 8 system means that we all now face twice the amount of pre-installed bloatware as before.
Acer has loaded the Aspire with a number of apps both in the Win8 shell as well as the desktop interface. Some of these are useful—Evernote, Hulu, Skype. Many are not—TuneIn Radio, Cha-Cha, a proprietary cloud-based storage solution named AcerCloud, and more.
The most interesting piece of pre-installed software on this system is called PointGrab, which allows you to operate the OS with your hand. The app opens up the webcam, which automatically detects your hand (depicted by a green "X" that appears on your hand) and , more importantly, various gestures you make.
We've played with webcam-based gesture controls before - the Razer Blade gaming laptop had a very basic interface that allowed you to perform a few simple gestures. PointGrab goes far beyond basic. It essentially turns your hand into the mouse.
As an example, you can literally move the Windows pointer to an area or object on the screen, make a grabbing or clicking motion, and the end result will be a left click on the desired object.
We'd prefer a real remote control for operating from across the room, but PointGrab doesn't take long to get used to, and seems pretty non-intrusive as it's running on your desktop.
By far, the best thing about the Acer Aspire 7600U is its crisp 27-inch display. It's true that an IPS panel feels more appropriate at this price point (Apple's iMac has one), as does support for a higher resolution than 1920x1080. But it's a large, attractive screen, and that counts for something.
Additionally, the touch screen is responsive, both at the Windows 8 general interface level as well as the virtual keyboard, and the non-Win8 desktop. The ability to quickly recline this big 27-inch screen to a 30 degree angle (virtually flat) is very cool, and allows for the kinds of fast, touch-based sessions we frequently use these types of systems for.
We also like the PointGrab gesture-based interface, which is a little closer to the Kinect-style UI we think All in Ones should have. It's simple, but it works well. And every time it recognizes the palm of our hand, we feel a little rush of awe. (This said, over time we found ourselves not using it as much as we expected.)
How about the Aspire's design? Well, we're not totally sold. Several of our friends and family liked the airy design. Several thought it looked dated. We'll call the aesthetics a wash. At the very least, it's a conversation starter, and you can't say it's ugly. Even if it feels impossible to compete with Apple's sense of style, we're happy to see manufacturers take chances with the industrial design of their systems.
Our biggest problem with this system is that it just isn't fast enough. The 7600U's lack of pep is immediately noticeable upon start-up. And not just by us—friends and family who used the system all had the same reaction. "Is something wrong with this system? It feels slow."
When civilians are saying this, you know you have a problem. When you look at a system's specifications and grow concerned, you also know you have a problem.
For $1,900, you should get a lot more in terms of performance and components. This isn't just idle speculation. Apple and Dell have released systems in the same price range with finer parts. Consider Apple's $1,799 iMac:
•2.9GHz quad-core Core i5 CPU
•GeForce GTX 660M
•2560x1440 IPS display
•1TB 5400RPM hard drive (upgradeable to 1TB Fusion hybrid drive for $250)
Now look at Dell's XPS One 27, which also costs $1,799 in this base configuration:
•2.7GHz quad-core Core i5 3330S
•GeForce GT 640M
•2560x1440 LC display
•1TB 7200RPM hard drive
In both cases, $100 less gets you a faster processor and a better display, with other faster options also available on each side. The quad-core processor is the real kicker because of the advantages it affords in video processing and multi-tasking environments.
Aside from the price-performance concerns, there are way too many unpolished and mid-range features here for such an expensive system. The awkward keyboard. The non-responsive power button.
The 7600U is good for media, and you can play games on it. If it was a $1,300 system, this would be a far more positive review, but at $1,900 it costs too much for what you get.
In terms of mid-high-end AIO design, it seems like Acer is still caught in the old AIO mentality from 3-4 years ago, which unapologetically emphasizes clever aesthetics and design over performance.
Modern PC buyers are smarter than this now, particularly given the amount of time Microsoft has spent emphasizing the performance advantages of Windows 8.
Finally a real-world test. Whenever we test and review an All in One, we place it front and center in the corner of our living rooms. For many of us, our significant others' reaction to the system is an important part of the process. In the case of the Acer PC? Well, they didn't care for the looks ("It's trying to hard."), and quite often they despised the performance. This doesn't count for everything, but it counts for a lot.
The good news for Acer is that the path of redemption is relatively straightforward: Upgrade the CPU and hard drive in this system at the same price, and it immediately becomes an above average buy. Upgrading the display panel to IPS and moving into the performance range of GPUs moves this rig into legendary territory.