April 16, 2010
| by Stephen Hopkins
Building an HTPC (home theater PC) can be a daunting task. Picking the right components to balance price and performance. Fitting everything in a tiny case without killing airflow. Deciding between software and hardware video decoding. There’s enough to drive an intelligent person batty. Purpose-built HTPCs often come at a hefty premium over the hardware and software they’re composed of, so pre-built is rarely a great value either.
Fortunately, from time to time, a manufacturer will combine everything you need into a near-perfect HTPC form-factor at a low price, and not even know they did it! I don’t think Acer was aiming at the HTPC market with its AX1301 series, but it really hit the mark.
The AX1301-U9052 small form-factor desktop hit an especially great performance and budget balance, with a dual-core AMD processor, 4GB of DDR2 memory, 750GB HD, GeForce 210 discrete graphics, and Windows 7 Home Premium with Media Center. At the original $500 MSRP, it was already a great HTPC deal. At $369 with free shipping for a refurbished model from Buy.com, it’s a steal. I don’t think you could build this PC for this price, especially if you include the price of a Windows 7 license.
This is actually the HTPC I use in my own theater. I’ve added some extra storage, but with XBMC, an MCE IR Receiver, and some programming of my Harmony remote, it’s been one of the easiest and most fruitful projects I’ve added to my theater. I even use is as a server to several other HTPCs and Media Streamers around the house. If you’re interested in HTPC but don’t have the coin for a more expensive purpose-built unit, and don’t want to get your hands dirty with a bottom-up build, the Acer AX1301 might be ideal for you.
Note: Deals subject to availability and price changes.
Stephen Hopkins is chief technology editor for EH Publishing. He writes product reviews, features, and focuses heavily on 3D TV, iPhone and iPad apps, and digital content.