Cheap systems have come a long way since the beige box of old, and Acer's new selection of value systems is pushing the envelope in terms of style. The not too dissimilar in looks to the lower-priced HP Compaq business models, such as the CQ2000N, but it's far ahead in grunt.
A brushed-metal chassis and gleaming gunmetal grey front panel exudes an impressive amount of class for a system that is priced from $949. It's not just looks, however. The Aspire X5810 is also robust.The machine's exterior feels tough enough to cope with the bumps and scrapes of life.
The X5810 range comes in several versions, ranging from the lowest-end, a Core 2 Duo model, through to the model we received for review, with Intel Core 2 Quad. The most expensive in the range will set you back $1692 at JB HiFi - the exclusive supplier for now - with speakers, keyboard, mouse and monitor included.
Beneath the shining exterior, the components are packed into a compact design based around an Acer proprietary motherboard. Some components will be tricky to upgrade yourself.
There are two spare slots for RAM, a PCIe x16 slot and a PCIe x1 slot, but you'd have to take out the optical drive and other parts in order to install any additional sticks.
While the cooling is adequate, it's not as successful as others in the same range. The specs are substantial, though: apart from the Quad Core Q8200, there's 4GB DDR3 RAM and 1TB of hard disk capacity.
The performance results reflect the relatively beefy specification. In our CPU megatest earlier this year, we got a benchmark score of 1.37 for the Core 2 Quad Q8200, and the Acer returned an almost textbook 1.32 for its efforts. Having said that, the Office score, in particular, was surprisingly low - we rested several times after tweaking settings, but couldn't obtain a score higher than 0.88.
Compared to the HP s5180a, the Acer feels a touch more zippy and responsive, so it's likely that the performance will feel better in practice than the the 1.32 suggests.
The graphics chipset is the Intel integrated X4500, but it performs well with our benchmarks. It's not at the top of gaming performance by any stretch - we've seen double the framerate on the best performing desktops - but 75fps on our low settings Crysis benchmark is plenty enough to handle most of the games you could throw at this slender desktop.
The more you ask of the graphics subsystem, the less impressive it looks - barely 12 fps at high settings isn't playable for Crysis, at least - but Intel's claims of gaming performance don't look like idle boasts.
The G43 chipset, around which the system is based, is similar to the G45 of more expensive models that form Intel's ‘enthusiast' lineup for the Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad processors, but it lacks fully accelerated hardware encoding/decoding of MPEG2.
That doesn't mean it has poor video playback - we found it smooth and without problems - but it does limit what else you can do on your system while it's performing video related tasks.
Acer has focused on home entertainment with the X5810. Take the sound, for example. Rather than using the Intel HD Audio, Acer has opted to include Dolby Home Theatre 5.1 channel sound, which produces rich, clear soundscapes and ample volume.
The provided speakers are acceptable performers, and should deliver adequate sound unless you plan to make the X5810 your main video screen.
To go with the audio enchancement, there's a hybrid analog/DVB-T TV-tuner. If you use Acer Arcade, the multimedia centre within the device, everything works seamlessly, but thanks to the installation of Windows Home Premium, you could also use Windows Media Center if you preferred.
There's plenty of outputs: HDMI, DVI and S-Video, as well as SP/DIF, will suit most home theatre needs.
You could probably build it yourself for less, but it's a solid, well featured machine, and if you're after something with a bit of pizazz at an entry-level price, it fits the bill.