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It wasn’t so long ago that the PC industry made a big fuss about sub £1,000 desktops - machines deemed to be affordable without too much compromise. More recently, we hit the sub £1,000 laptop market, and again these machines were deemed “affordable” yet powerful. But £1,000, or even close to that figure is still a lot of money for the average person to spend on a computer. In real world terms, you can pay less for a second hand car. Thankfully, for those on a tighter budget, desktop bundles are now regularly advertised for less than £500, and laptops are feeling the squeeze too, even if the quality of many of these machines has left a lot to be desired. But is the situation improving? Based on our testing of the Acer Aspire 1355XC, which is available for just under £600, it most certainly is.
Now, because this is a budget machine, I’m going to start off by telling you what you don’t get. This should draw some boundaries, and help us be realistic from the start. Perhaps the first and most obvious omission from the Aspire 1355XC is built in wireless. Wireless technology has really taken off in the last year and, thanks largely to Intel’s Centrino platform, it has become a standard feature on most £1,000+ machines; it is however absent here. As the 1355XC uses the same chassis as some of Acer’s more expensive models there is actually a wireless button positioned above the keys, but don’t let that fool you.
The second omission is that of a separate graphics card. Playing sophisticated 3D games is becoming a reality with a lot of the latest mobile chipsets, but certainly not yet for people on a budget, those days are still some way off. Instead, what Acer has supplied is an integrated S3 Savage 8 graphics core, which shares 64MB of the system memory.
The final compromise at this price bracket is size. You simply are not going to get a thin and light system at this price. The reduced size components required for such a machine are still too expensive and consequently the Aspire 1355XC measures up at a rather hefty 334 x 49 x 286mm (WxHxD) but despite its large frame it weighs little more than your average desktop replacement at 3.6kg. The 1355XC will still sit comfortably on the knee, which is where I am typing this review right now.
So, having cleaned the skeletons from the cupboard, lets move onto the more positive elements because there are quite a few, and the big news is that £586.33 buys you a lot of laptop. At the heart of the Aspire 1355XC is an AMD Athlon XP-M 2600+ which is supported by 256MB of DDR333 SDRAM. You also get a 30GB ATA100 hard disk, and a 14.1in screen. Yes, there could perhaps be a little more RAM, but extra modules are fairly cheap these days if you wish to upgrade. A further bonus is the inclusion of a DVD/CD-RW combo drive that reads DVDs at eight-speed, reads CDs at 24-speed, writes CD-Rs at 16-speed, and rewrites CD-RW discs at 12-speed. A two-speed DVD writer is available at extra cost, but for the money the supplied drive is excellent value and because of the size of the 1355XC’s chassis, you also get a built in floppy drive.
In fact, the size of the machine in general actually proves to be a big plus because, as I explained earlier, the Aspire 1355XC uses the same chassis as more expensive models and consequently you reap the benefits of a well designed and well equipped layout. For instance you get four USB 2.0 ports instead of the two that are normally allocated on budget machines. You get the usual modem, headphone socket, microphone socket, infrared port, serial and parallel ports but you also get 10/100 Ethernet, FireWire, S-Video out and one Type III/two Type II PC Card slots.