capsule review

Acer Aspire AM3970: Power and a Low Price, but Not Much Else

At a Glance
  • Acer Aspire AM3970-U5022

    PCWorld Rating

    If you're looking for one of the most inexpensive Sandy Bridge offerings short of building a desktop yourself, the AM3970 doesn't disappoint. It just doesn't offer much else beyond that.

“There was a time,” as the song goes, when desktop systems that earned high performance scores on our benchmark tests were heralded as best-in-class devices; a time when pushing a performance score into the 100s, the 130s, and even the 150s meant that a system was primed for perfection. And these speed kings often brought with them the best technology, the highest gaming frames per second, and the largest storage capacities.

Acer’s Aspire AM3970 is decidedly not that. While we commend this supremely inexpensive system ($500 as of 10/13/2011) for delivering Sandy Bridge without breaking a user’s bank account, this otherwise humdrum rig offers little else to celebrate--unless you really like USB ports. If you do, this system is your gold mine.

An Intel Core i3-2100 CPU serves as this system’s heart and soul. And the 3.1GHz Sandy Bridge chip truly highlights the power of the platform on our WorldBench 6 suite of tests: The AM3970’s final score of 131 doesn’t set speed records among other Sandy Bridge-equipped budget desktops, but it surges past all other similarly priced offerings with AMD or lesser Intel chips (go figure). A full 6 gigabytes of DDR3-1333 memory and a terabyte drive give this all-black machine the appearance of power at first glance.

But that’s as far as the accolades go. The AM3970 completely wusses out on gaming: Integrated graphics deliver nothing on our standard Unreal Tournament 3 benchmark (2560-by-2100-pixel resolution, both medium- and high-quality levels). We had to dial the game’s display back to 1024 by 768 just to achieve frame rates in the 30s, which doesn’t bode well for the graphical quality of more modern titles that you might try to play. And don’t think you can upgrade your way out of this issue: The AM3970’s motherboard comes with only one free PCI slot and two free PCI Express x1 slots, which means no PCI Express x16-based graphics card for you.

Though it might not be a graphical powerhouse, the AM3970 can at least hold a ton of your data. No fewer than five 3.5-inch bays await you on the inside of the system--one of them taken up by the aforementioned terabyte drive. One of two 5.25-inch bays remains free; the other is occupied by the system’s generic DVD burner. Finagling your way around the case’s interior won’t be too difficult even with the AM3970’s clumpy wiring job, but we do frown at the need to use screws to install drives.

As for getting data on and off this system, well, that’s another story. Aside from the multiformat card reader built into the front of the case, the name of the AM3970’s game is “Universal Serial Bus.” A total of 12 USB ports are split across the system, four on its front and eight on its rear. If you have that many USB devices currently sitting around, we salute you.

And that’s all you get: No FireWire, no eSATA, and certainly not USB 3.0. (Would you expect as much on a $500 rig?) The AM3970 doesn’t even come with a DVI connection. It’s VGA or HDMI for you, and we sure didn’t see an HDMI-to-DVI converter in the materials shipped with this system. The omission is painful, and it’s not one that can be balanced out by the AM3970’s more noteworthy connection offerings--specifically, its excellent combination of gigabit ethernet (one port) and integrated wireless-N connectivity.

We applaud Acer’s decision to throw in a keyboard with slightly more oomph than your garden-variety input device. A few extra function buttons let you launch applications, put your computer to sleep, and control your media with the gentle mash of a finger. The keyboard itself is a bit small, however. It takes a little getting used to for those expecting a typical 104-key layout. Plus, it’s wired--just like the AM3970’s included mouse, a generic two-button device (with scroll wheel).

If you’re clamoring for Sandy Bridge on the cheap, and the thought of building your own system scares you off, then you can’t really go wrong with Acer’s Aspire AM3970. But the processor and the storage capacity are the best parts of this PC. Everything else might not seem inadequate for a $500 desktop, but it’s certainly a letdown for the various ways you might want to tinker with, set up, or otherwise connect to this meager desktop. That’s the power of Sandy Bridge, folks: It forces you to consider mediocre builds for the price-to-performance ratio they can bring to the table.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    If you're looking for one of the most inexpensive Sandy Bridge offerings short of building a desktop yourself, the AM3970 doesn't disappoint. It just doesn't offer much else beyond that.

    Pros

    • Great price to performance ratio
    • Ample storage

    Cons

    • Lacks room for significant upgrades
    • Limited port selection
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