5 Desktop PCs for under £500

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In this smartphone and tablet-powered era, the traditional desktop PC is looking rather antiquated. Moore’s Law continues to facilitate the development of smaller and smaller devices, and even laptops – historically the most functional of business tools – are becoming slimline and cool, with fully rotating screens that can also be detached as standalone devices.

Against this streamlined assault, the time-honoured desk-mounted black box is looking like an endangered species. To investigate whether rumours of the desktop’s demise have been exaggerated, Latest Gadgets has assembled a top five list of PCs that can be purchased for less than £500 – the price of a mid-level tablet – to see whether there’s life in the old warhorse yet.

Acer Aspire XC/TC series
Unveiled last week, Acer’s AMD-powered PCs come in desktop (XC) and micro-tower (TC) guises, with a stylish exterior far removed from the drab boxes of yore. TC models nod to progress by featuring a recess on top where tablets and smartphones can rest, although these computers still pack plenty of punch, with up to 16GB of memory and the ability to get users online in 2.5 seconds.
Price: between £279.99 and £599.99, from stockists including Amazon and John Lewis

Dell Inspiron 660
Let’s be honest, Dell is probably the first name that springs to mind in terms of black-box PC towers, and their Inspiron range of desktops has powered countless homes and offices over the years. The 660 is pretty uninspiring aesthetically, but it retaliates through the sheer brute force of its specifications, including a 1TB hard drive, the newest Intel Core i5 processor, and 4GB of RAM.
Price: £449 when bought from the Dell website

HP Pavilion p6
HP have been keeping pace with the industry trend-setters, and their Pavilion p6 incorporates some features that will attract knowing nods from cognoscenti. For one thing, Beats Audio is installed, with support for 7.1 surround sound, while the p6 can even be controlled remotely via an Android or iOS app from your tablet or smartphone. Two HD ports and 6GB of RAM reinforce its appeal.
Price: £449.99 from PC World (current discounted price)

Lenovo H520
With its brushed-steel-effect frontage and compact dimensions, Lenovo’s H520 series is probably the desktop to choose if you’re going to be looking at it all day, rather than hiding it out of sight. Price is another H520 strength, retailing at less than £430 despite a spec list that encompasses a 3 GHz clock speed, a terabyte hard drive, built-in wifi, and Lenovo’s proprietary content management software.
Price: £429.99 from Currys

ADMI FX-4100
Gamers may be spoiled for choice on tablets nowadays, but complex games require sophisticated hardware, and ADMI’s player-friendly tower fits the bill nicely. That striking red exterior houses a 4 GHz Intel processor, a 2GB graphics card and a 1TB hard drive, as well as full 1080p HDMI output. Uniquely among this round-up, it comes with Windows 7, but the price point is impressive nonetheless.
Price: £414.95 from Amazon (at time of writing)

Best of Computex 2013

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Running until June 8, Taiwan’s largest consumer electronics show Computex is taking place this week with over 1,700 exhibitors showing off their wares – here’s what caught our eye.

Asus unveiled yet more post-pc devices, with their newly announced Transformer Book Trio. It’s the world’s first three-in-one mobile device. The device has a detachable 11.6-inch display and comes with dual operating systems. The device can switch from Windows 8 notebook to Android tablet to Windows 8 desktop – a world first for a hybrid tablet/notebook.

The Transformer Book Trio switches easily between operating systems to give users access to over 700,000 Android apps on Google’s Play Store and access to 50,000 Windows apps from Microsoft’s app store.

Despite running two different operating systems, ASUS has spent a lot time making switching between the two systems a pain-free as possible, allowing users to sync data or continue to surf the web when moving from notebook to tablet mode.

The PC station comes with an Intel Core i7 processor, full QWERTY keyboard, 750GB of internal storage and, when the tablet is detached it can be connected to an external display for us as a full desktop PC. The PC dock serves as a charger for the tablet so to extend its battery life, whilst, the tablet-side of the device features a 2.0 GHz Intel Atom processor, 16:9 full HD 1920 x 1080 screen and up to 64GB internal flash storage.

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Sonostar e-ink watches

Wearable technology is likely to be big growth industry in the coming years, with everyone from Apple and Google looking into the burgeoning technology. E Ink, the company behind the screen technology for a variety of e-readers including Amazon’s Kindle, announced a brand-new e-ink display and collaboration with Sonostar for a second-screen watch that connects to your smartphone or tablet.

E ink’s new 1.73-inch touchscreen display comes with resolution of 320 x 240 and is capable of producing 16 levels of greyscale. Obviously e-ink screens aren’t colour screens. And while this might seem like a massive oversight, e-ink technology actually has several benefits over colour screens. The technology is incredibly frugal when it comes to power consumption compared to coloured screens, and they’re a lot easier to read in direct sunlight compared to normal colour screens.

The Sonostar Smart Watch connects to either your iPhone or Android device using Bluetooth, and displays information on calls, messages, social networking updates, and emails. Also, the screen is flexible which means the watch face doesn’t have to be flat, allowing Sonostar to craft a watch that better matches the curve of your arm.

The Sonostar Smart Watch is set to be released sometime after the summer, and has been priced at £100 for either the black or white models.

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Project Shield, Nvidia

Chipset maker Nvidia were at Computex, too, showing off their new handheld Android-powered games console: Shield (yes, they’re dropping the “project” part from the name). Shield consists of a console game controller with a flip-up display housing a pin sharp 5-inch, 720p, multi-touch display.

Powering Shield is Nvidia’s Tegra 4 mobile processor with a quad-core CPU, 72 GPU cores, and 2GB of RAM. The handheld also carries 16GB of onboard storage and features GPS, Bluetooth 3.0, a mini-HDMI output, micro-USB 2.0, a microSD storage slot for memory expansion, and an 3.5 mm stereo headphone jack. Shield runs Android 4.2.1 Jelly Bean and can play both Tegra-optimised and regular Android games – as well as having access to Android’s 700,000 non-gaming apps. Nvidia has said it’s working on streaming your favorite PC games to Shield, too, including titles from Steam in the near future.

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ASUS Ultra HD PC screen

At Computex ASUS showcased the world’s first Ultra HD PC monitors. The new 31.5-inch monitor costs a not unreasonable £2,500 and comes with a staggering resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 – four times as many pixels as a standard 1080p PC monitor. The company is also going to be prepping a 39-inch version too. ASUS expects to begin shipping the 31.5-inch model in June, with its big brother will follow sometime in Q3.

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Acer Iconia W3

Acer were at Computex and are the first company to unveil a smaller form factor Windows 8 tablet. The 8-inch Iconia W3 comes with a 1280 x 800 display. On the tablet-side of things there’s front- and rear-facing two-megapixel cameras, plus connectivity through Bluetooth 4.0 and micro-USB.

The Iconia is packing impressive specs considering its size; there’s an Intel dual-core 1.8GHz Atom Z2760 processor, and the choice of either 32 or 64GB of internal storage, which can supplemented via the tablet’s microSD expansion slot. There’s also a built-in micro-HDMI for outputting the screen onto larger screens.

Acer P3 Ultrabook: Uncompromised Computing

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Acer’s newly unveiled P3 Ultrabook looks to deliver the benefits of a full-featured laptop with the portability of a tablet, whilst trying to solve the age-old problem of choosing between a notebook, hybrid-laptop or tablet.

The idea behind the P3 is to combine the portability of a laptop, the easy of use of a tablet and the functionality of a full-featured laptop, in a sleek form factor, without compromising on performance. Weighing in at 1.39kg and measuring a 19.75mm thin, the P3 delivers good performance and a long battery life in a portable for factor. The chiclet keyboard built into the cover is a full-sized QWERTY keyboard, making it comfortable to use for tasks such as writing documents, and creating spreadsheets.

The keyboard cover is a snap-on case. It’s attached fairly elegantly, but it can’t match the simplicity or seamlessness of Microsoft’s Surface keyboard covers, which lock firmly to the bottom edge of the tablet and make use of the Surface’s built in kickstand to provide extra support.

The design of the tablet itself good with matte-silver edges and a white plastic strip on the rear. It’s also quite a hefty beast with the case snapped onto the rear, and when propped up in laptop mode, there’s no way of adjusting the angle of the tablet, which is a bit annoying for finding the optimal viewing angle.

The Acer Aspire P3 also comes with an optional stylus that fits in the case, ideal of for users who want to do some light photoshop work. Packing an 11.6-inch HD display, utilising IPS screen technology, the P3’s screen isn’t going to satisfy everyone – but it does a great job of representing photo, videos and games with accurate colour and clarity. The IPS display, although not Full HD, is perfectly crisp at 1,600×900. Sound is taken care of with Dolby Home Theater, which adds some extra punch to both headphones and built-in speakers. Audio and video on the Acer P3 can be shared with additional displays via its external HDMI port. The built-in Acer Crystal Eye HD front webcam captures video in 720p HD, bringing life to video web chats while the 5MP back camera captures photos in high resolution. Storage-wise the new P3 Ultrabook features a 60GB or 120GB SSD for incredibly fast startup times and swift performance across a range of programs whether it’s gaming or photoshop.

At the heart of the P3 is either an Intel Core i3 or Core i5 processors, which deliver decent levels of performance whilst still managing an impressive battery life of up to six hours. Closing the case puts the Acer Aspire P3 into sleep mode, and opening it wakes the device up in only a few seconds. Since it runs Windows 8, it can handle all Office programs as well as legacy Windows programs, too.
Acer Aspire P3 will be available now starting at €599, which is quite bit cheaper than Microsoft’s own Surface Pro hybrid tablet.

Acer Aspire R7: Lifestyle Laptop Computing

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Despite Windows 8’s poor sales, there’s never been a better time to invest in a new laptop computer. With the new operating system, Microsoft has gone to great lengths to make Windows more of a lifestyle product by introducing touch capabilities and a completely new user interface, and this week Acer has just launched a notebook that really makes Windows 8 a compelling alternative to a MacBook and Mac OS. At a glitzy New York press launch, Acer unveiled a slew of new notebooks specifically designed for Windows 8. The top-of-the-range model is the Aspire R7.

Spec-wise the R7 is no slouch as well as the Full HD 1920×1080 touchscreen display, there’s a Intel Core i5 processor, up to 12GB of memory, up to 1TB hard drive, or up to 256GB SSD and a full-size backlit keyboard. It also includes a volume control button, HDMI port, SD card reader, audio jacks, three USB ports, WiFi, Bluetooth and a convenient converter port supporting VGA, RJ45 and USB.
The R7’s main selling point, apart from the impressive specs, is a clever hinge that allows the screen to be moved into 4 differing positions so you can really utilise the high definition touchscreen to it fullest.

Ezel mode is the most interesting and allows you to pull display closer, removing the need to reach across the laptop to use the touch screen. By pulling the display closer, switching between touchscreen, keyboard and touchpad is as seamlessly as you can get on Windows 8.

Notebook mode is pretty self-explanatory: it allows you to slide the display behind the keyboard for a traditional notebook setup.
If you flip the screen over into display mode and it’s positioned perfectly for watching a movie, showing photos or giving a presentation. With Acer’s proven dual-torque design, the screen flips easily yet remains rigid when touched.

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Pad Mode allows you to pull the touchscreen down and lay it on top of the keyboard with the screen facing up – essentially it turns the R7 into a rather bulky iPad. But the ergonomic 4-degree tilting angle makes it perfect for browsing, writing or playing casual touch games.

The R7’s impressive specs are also complemented with a decent sound system courtesy of Dolby Home Theater and four 8-watt speakers. Due to its transformative design, Acer has cleverly made sure the audio channels automatically reverse when switching modes, so stereo sound is always perfect no matter which way you use the notebook.

In addition, Acer also relocated the dual microphones to the front and at the base of the notebook below the keyboard. This provides for the best voice sound quality, and enhances the aesthetics of the touchscreen without have unnecessary speakers holes spoiling the design.

The Acer Aspire R7 is available in June with a starting price of £899.

Acer All-In-One: Style Over Substance on Windows 8

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All-in-one desktop computers have been around for a good few years, with Apple cornering the high-end look-at-me market a couple of years ago with the stunning iMac. Now it’s time for Windows 8 users to be treated to the style-over-substance world of all-in-one PC desktops available from the likes of Sony, Acer, HP and Dell.

What is not understood by many is an all-in-one desktop computer has more in common, components-wise, with a laptop than a traditional tower and screen PC setup. Now, that used to mean style over performance; but these days an all-in-one isn’t necessarily a by-word for slow.

Acer’s latest offering, the ZC-605, is a low-cost all-in-one that isn’t going to compete with the iMacs of this world, but it does have some redeeming features including: a 19.5-inch display, Dolby Home Theater v4 surround sound and 16 GB of onboard RAM.

The weakest part of the ZC-605 specs list is the processor, a dual-core Pentium 2117U, clocked at 1.8Ghz, which as far as were aware, is a new chipset from Intel that’s only been on the market since January 2013, and while it’s not going to blow your socks off it’s not a bad base for a mid-range all-in-one.

One saving grace for the ZC-605 is that comes with a healthy dollop of RAM: 16 GB DDR3, to be exact – which is impressive. But we can’t help but feel it might be a bit wasted when it’s paired up with a less-than-stellar dual-core processor, with a built-in graphics chip – a gaming rig this is not.

Elsewhere the ZC-605 continues the all-in-one aesthetic on a shoestring, with the 19.5-inch screen, which comes with a huge bezel, again, compared to an iMac it doesn’t do the ZC-605 any favours in the looks department, but it’s actually not all that bad, because it allows more space for some decent speakers – a massive bugbear of most all-in-ones.

The screen does have 10°-30° tilt adjustment so you’ll be able to find a comfortable position, whether you are relaxing watching a film, playing a game or working. The screen has a reasonably impressive resolution of 1600×900, though, it’s quite someway off 1080p. There’s also an adjustable 720p HD webcam, but there’s no touchscreen capability, which really could have seen the ZC-605 stand apart from the competition, especially alongside the new touchy feely Windows 8.

The most frequently used ports, including a USB 3.0, are all grouped together in a handy port capsule to the side.

Sound is handled by Dolby Home Theater v4 Surround Sound and compared to some all-in-one desktops it’s quite impressive, with decent bass levels and even there’s even an attempt to create virtual surround sound via cleverly shaped speakers in the screen’s case.

Acer Liquid Express: Because smartphones certainly aren’t getting any dumber!

Acer is extending its range of smartphones with the Acer Liquid Express – But will it live up to other premium smartphones?
Following on from the launch of Acer’s first Liquid smartphone equipped with Android, Acer’s latest model is the company’s first NFC-equipped device. For those of you unaware of what NFC is abbreviated for, it is Near Field Technology, which is basically technology designed to make life easier and more convenient for consumers around the world – Isn’t that what all modern technology is striving to create?

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Convenience, nonetheless, is a staple of the Acer Liquid Express, which, according to Acer, “has been designed with your comfort in mind.” This ‘convenience’ is achieved by the ‘contactless’ technology embedded in the smartphone, which adapts to its users’ requirements by reading NFC tags or targets, identification, virtualisation of loyalty or payment cards. As our stomach’s lurch at the suggestion that technology has the ability to ‘virtualise’ payment cards, Acer assure us that only the tightest security standards are maintained to achieve such ‘contactless’ technology.

Great, we all love comfort and convenience, but how does Acer’s latest answer to reading a user’s mind compare with the smartphone ‘big boys’?

In possessing a 5 megapixel camera with LED flash, it’s certainly ‘en par’ with the iPhone 4 in the camera stakes, although remains significantly inferior to the 4S’s 8 megapixel camera – Not bad but not the best!

With a 3.5 inch screen the Liquid Express’s screen matches Apple’s iPhone 4S in screen dynamics, of which some have complained about being too small.

All-in-all the Acer Liquid Express sounds pretty impressive, although, as yet, is only available to buy in the UK from both T-Mobile and Orange, the former costing £15.32 per month for a 24-month contract and the latter costing £20.50 per month for a 24-month contract. Although 24 months is a fairly long time to be tied up to a phone if it doesn’t live up to its hype.

The Acer Aspire S3 – Move over Notebooks, the Ultrabook generation has arrived!

What do you get if you combine the design of a notebook with the mobility of a Smartphone? Acer’s first Ultrabook, the Aspire S3 of course. With the benefit of hindsight we should have seen this one coming – a manoeuvre that conveniently blends the unique advantages of notebooks, tablet PCs and smartphones, into one smart-looking device. Although we have to admire Acer, which, without the benefit of hindsight, apart from exceptional technological  retrospection, have introduced a new generation of notebooks, designed to satisfy user’s needs from these multiple devices in one convenient package – no wonder it’s been referred to as being an “ultrabook”.

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The Acer Aspire S3 wants its users to be able to maximise their time and effort, after all this is the most desirable constituent on a modern technology user’s wish list. Does it deliver? Well in being equipped with Acer’s innovative Green Instant On Technology, we are told that the Aspire S3 resumes in a mega-quick 1.5 seconds, connects to the Internet in a barely able to blink 2.5 seconds, and delivers a remarkably long  battery life – we’d say that the Aspire S3 is likely to ‘aspire’ to expectations.

Aesthetically the Aspire S3 is equally unlikely to disappoint. Encased in an aerodynamic ‘fingerprint-free’ metal frame, measuring just 1.3cm in depth and weighing less than 3lbs, the Aspire S3 promises to be both ultra-portable and pleasing to the eye. With a full-size Acer FineTip Chiclet keyboard, it is also designed for maximum productivity and supreme ease of use.

In featuring the latest second generation Intel Core i3/i5/i9 processors, the Aspire S3 full computing and digital creation capability and with a choice of 240 GB SSD or 320/500 GB HDD with embedded SSD [7], mega-rapid access is obtainable as well as ample media and data storage.

Looking this stylish and providing such quick and simple access, we are probably right to assume this machine’s listening experiences will be equally as impressive. And in featuring professionally-tuned Dolby Home Theatre v4, who are we to argue that the Aspire S3 won’t deliver enhanced dialogue quality for an ‘optimum listening experience’.

Other noteworthy features? Its integrated Acer Crystal Eye 1.3 megapixel camera and microphone, with superior Wi-Fi connections guaranteed by Acer InviLink Nplify 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Technology, shouldn’t miss out on having a mention, which, in simpler terms, means ‘on-the-go’ users can keep in touch with family, friends and colleagues with high-clarity video conferences.

Well the Aspire S3 certainly sounds impressive and it is hardly surprising that it has been predicted to become Acer’s star product during the last quarter of this year.

The financial damage? Between $799 and $1199 and in combining the very best of Smartphones and Notebooks, we can definitely live with those prices.

Acer Aspire Z5761: A touching performance

Acer is bringing its latest all-in-one to a somewhat crowded market, with the likes of HP and Sony having recently released their own all-in-ones. But what just might make this one stand apart from the rest is Acer’s own TouchPortal interface (powered, by the way, by Sandy Bridge processors).

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The ‘Touch’ family of functions includes:

  • TouchBrowser: a touch-friendly web browser designed for searching, retrieving and presenting information from the Internet;
  • TouchCam: a handy touch controls to add fun video effects while chatting online, or do theme-style recording and share with friends on YouTube;
  • TouchMusic, which lets you browse, manage and play your favourite music;
  • TouchPhoto, which integrates photo management with photo sharing capabilities and is designed to interact with both local images and online albums, and
  • TouchVideo, which includes video management and sharing features. It allows you to enjoy Blu-ray or DVD movies and home videos, as well as browse and share your videos to YouTube.

Acer has also included its new media sharing system – called Clear.fi – which brings all your multimedia content into a single system with a common interface. Out of the box, it promises to identify all your Clear.fi-enabled devices on the home network and then allow any digital content stored on them to be shared seamlessly.

Acer has done its best to make this new computer look like a part of the decor, rather than a piece of gadgetry – its sharp lines combine aluminium with matt and glossy black surfaces, along with cool blue lighting to light up the keyboard. The keyboard can be slid under the PC when not in use, to help achieve that minimalist look. The silver stand has a window for organising cables.

Spec-wise, it features Intel Turbo Boost Technology 2.0, making it powerful enough for editing multimedia files and playing fast-action games, a 23in Full HD 1080p display, an integrated 5W stereo speaker system and Dolby Home Theater v4.

There’s an optional Blue-Ray Disc optical drive and TV tuner, and connectivity wise it offers support for 802.11b/g/n, Gigabit LAN and optional built-in Bluetooth 2.1, as well as featuring an onboard microphone and high-def webcam.

Storage-wise, you’ll get up to 1.5TB plus up to 8GB of DDR3 memory and eight USB ports. Sounds like quite a lot for your money, with an expected retail price starting at £799.

More details from www.acer-euro.com

The Aspire Z5761 will be available in early May with prices starting from £799 inc Vat