The Aspire E300 comes in two flavours -- an E300 dual-core Media Center PC, and this E300 64-bit Gamer system. The difference between the two is significant -- the former uses an Athlon 64 X2 3800+ CPU and the Windows XP Media Center Edition operating system. Our review model, the 64-bit Gamer system, uses a single-core Athlon 64 3500+ CPU, Windows XP Home Edition and a smaller hard drive. Both models are part of the budget end of the Acer Aspire consumer range, with the sub-£600 64-bit Gamer System representing particularly good value for money.
The Aspire E300 is a good-looking PC. It's a far cry from the aesthetic monstrosities that litter the gaming desktop arena, so it won't intimidate your grandmother, scare your cat or get you mistaken for a boy racer. It gives off a futuristic air that should appeal to a variety of tastes. The front end of the chassis has a sliding panel that drops to reveal a memory card reader, two USB ports, and mic and headphone jacks. These reduce the need to reach around the back of the PC -- which can be very fiddly.
The PC's DVD rewriter drive is shielded by a plastic panel. Accessing the eject button on PCs with shielded drives can be tricky, and the Aspire E300 is no different. We found ourselves pushing the entire PC backwards along the desk when pressing the eject button, such was the resistance of the plastic button cover. This isn't a major problem, but it could have been avoided had Acer fitted non-slip rubber stands at the base of the PC.
The top of the chassis has an unusual ridged rubber strip etched with the Acer logo. We're sure not of its exact purpose, but it makes a great stand for a coffee mug. Just in case you forget what type of PC this is, the E300 has a blue, backlit Aspire logo at the bottom of the front panel. The base unit's overall look would have been more tasteful were it not littered with logos, but it's still an attractive design, all things considered.
The rest of the case is standard fare. It has a large exhaust fan shunting hot air from the inside. This isn't very noisy, but you probably wouldn't hear it above the din of the CPU cooling fan even if it were. It's just as well the inside of the case is easily accessible, as we'd probably swap the standard AMD cooling fan for a quieter aftermarket model. It's easy to chop and change components within seconds, as the PC's side panel opens up via a pair of thumb screws, and the PCI cards are clipped in place by a detatchable plastic retainer.
The PC is based around the Nvidia nForce 4 chipset. It's not quite as feature-packed as the newer nForce 4 SLI version, so it lacks dual graphics-card support and is incompatible with DDR2 memory. To its credit, the motherboard has both 16x and 1x PCI Express slots, as well as a pair of standard PCI slots. Unfortunately, all ports except the 1x PCI Express port are either occupied or blocked, so there's not much scope for upgrading in this manner.
Asus has chosen an AMD Athlon 64 3500+ CPU and 1GB of DDR 400 memory. This would have been a fearsome combination a year ago, and while the processor in particular has been superseded by faster components, it still copes with demanding tasks like video rendering and audio encoding without much drama. One notable feature is that the onboard audio card on the nForce 4 chipset only supports 5.1-channel surround sound -- not 7.1-channel as is seen on more modern PCs.
The Aspire E300 is a capable gaming machine. Acer's decision to equip it with an Nvidia Geforce 6600 graphics card is a good one -- the card offers strong performance on most titles, provided they're run at modest resolutions. It struggles when running games above 1,280x1,024, particularly when full-screen anti-aliasing (FSAA) and anisotropic filtering (AA) techniques are applied to improve image quality and reduce the appearance of jagged edges, so if you're a demanding gamer you may want to consider upgrading to a faster card.