Friday, February 19, 2010

Acer Aspire Revo 3610 review

Summary: First look at the Acer Revo 3610 HTPC.

After a long search for a home theater PC (HTPC) and entertaining various options from building my own system (what was I thinking!) to buying something similar to Sony VAIO - VGX-TP1, I finally settled on Acer Aspire Revo AR3610-U9022 Desktop PC:
I chose Revo 3610 for a number of reasons, including:Now, Revo 3610 has a few limitations, but none of them are critical to me:
  • Lack of optical drive
    While it is a major limitation, this is one reason why the system is so cheap, but here is my take on it. I will mostly use Revo 3610 for watching streamed media or media stored on a hard drive. I do not care about Blue-ray at this point, but when I do, I'll buy a Blue-ray player anyway (these things are getting cheaper each month). And for watching regular DVDs/CDs, I already have a DVD player. I will need an external DVD writer, though (to burn system backup disks, etc).
  • Small hard drive
    By current standards, the 160GB hard drive is small, but I have a bunch of external hard drives, which I can plug in, so no biggie here.
  • Small RAM
    The 2 GB RAM is hardly enough to run a 64-bit OS, so I'm planning to upgrade memory to 4 GB when I find DDR2 800 SDRAM on sale (here is a video explaining how to take Revo apart), or more likely, I'll just plug in a ReadyBoost flash drive (find ReadyBoost flash drives on Amazon).
  • Form factor
    I'm not a big fan of the design. Wish the system looked more like a DVD player and were entirely black and/or silver (the "dark blue" color is not offensive, though; it's very close to black). In the vertical position (on the stand), it looks weird.
Once I decided to buy Revo 3610, I could not find it on sale anywhere in the USA. I wasn't sure if it was discontinued, but after a couple of weeks of searching and waiting, I finally managed to snap one from Amazon (when it became available for a few days). I got the system delivered in about 10 days after placing the order. Here are my first impressions.

Where is the optical cable? Duh!
The system supports optical connection via the HDMI or the VGA port, but comes without cables. So how do you connect it to a TV? It would be nice if it came with an HDMI cable (seriously, a stock 6" HDMI cable costs what: $5?). If you decide to get Revo 3610, make sure that you have either a VGA or an HDMI cable ready (the cheap HDMI cable I bought at Meritline works very well; see HDMI cable deals).

Documentation? What documentation?
Once I connected Revo 3610 to my 32" Toshiba HGTV, I could not figure out how to make the supplied wireless keyboard and mouse work. I was expecting to find instructions in the documentation, but there were none. The provided pamphlet includes IKEA-like diagrams and some information explaining how to proceed with OS setup, but there is not a single sentence to explain how to enable the keyboard and mouse. The Revo 3610 documentation is a joke. I'm not kidding. Here is a quote from the User Guide I found on the hard drive after I completed the setup:
"Insert the startup disk you created during Windows setup into the floppy drive and press Ctrl + Alt + Del to restart your computer."
Floppy drive? Anyway, to complete the setup I just plugged in my old USB keyboard and mouse, but I needed to figure out how to actually make the wireless mouse and keyboard work, so I decided to try customer support.

Customer support! What customer support? Ah, that customer support!
I first submitted a question via the web form. It has been over a month, and I haven't received a response, yet. I then tried the online chat, but was told that it only covers Aspire One (whatever it is). I got the support number though (1-800-571-2237). The official version was that the phone support is available Mon-Fri 7 am-9 pm CST and Sat-Sun 8 am-5 pm CST (excluding holidays), but the person I talked to first said that it's available 24 hours. The support technician explained to me that the USB receiver is hidden inside of the battery compartment of the wireless mouse (the receiver is really small, so I did not notice it when I inserted the battery). Once I plugged the receiver into one of the Revo's USB ports and turned the power switch (it's nice that it has one), the mouse started to work, but I still struggled with the keyboard. The support technician told me to push the Connect switch on the bottom of the keyboard (apparently, the keyboard uses the same receiver as the mouse), but I tried and tried and it did not seem to work. After struggling for a few minutes, I finally managed to connect the keyboard, but I'm still not sure what I did differently. So finally I got the devices working.

VESA mount... no mount...
I was planning to mount Revo on the back side of my TV, but the holes in the supplied VESA mount did not match the holes in the TV. I suspect that the VESA mount is intended for smaller monitors. Even if the holes matched I would still be confused by the "instruction" explaining how to use the VESA mount.

Software, badware, goodware.
Revo 3610 comes with 64-bit edition of Windows 7, which is not the optimal choice. Not only the 64-bit OS requires more resources (such as RAM), but since HTPC is intended primarily for media viewing and most of the popular media software (Flash, media players, browsers) only come as 32-bit applications, this seems like a waste of resources. They do work, though, but what's the point! Anyway, as any other system, Revo comes with some bloatware, which took me about two hours to uninstall. I then tried to get the latest updates (OS, NVIDIA drivers, etc), and I screwed up by not following instructions (I did not uninstall Flash before installing Flash 10.1 Beta, forgot to install the latest NVIDIA chipset driver, and made a couple of other goofs, causing a few apps -- mostly web browsers showing videos -- to crash). I finally followed Paul J Roberts' instructions to the letter, and voila: it now works, and seems pretty stable.

One thing that disappointed me was that Revo did not recognize DVD+R in my external DVD writer. It worked fine for burning backup CDs, though. I suspect this is an issue with the DVD writer (I had problems with it before), so I'm currently shopping for another drive (I kinda like Samsung SE-S084C/RSBN, but keep my options open [got the Samsung SE-S084C/RSBN from Amazon for $49.99]).
I do not like the Revo's power switch. Every time I press it, I'm afraid it'll break. I'd rather have a conventional power button.

I connected a 1.5 TB Western Digital Elements USB drive for additional storage, but I did not figure out how to access this drive from my other laptops (running Windows XP and Vista).
Although my display is set to show larger fonts (150%), I wish I could make the fonts even bigger. I'm quite satisfied with HD video quality. Streaming video works fine, but at this point, I'm constrained with the speed limitations of my wireless 802.11b/g router (have been waiting for the price of Netgear Rangemax WNDR3700 to drop), so the quality of streaming video varies. Programs like The Daily Show and Frontline show fine, but HD content is choppy (most likely, the router issue). Local HD videos look great. [Update: I have since bought ASUS RT-N13U Wireless-N Router, Access Point, and Repeater; see my review here.]

I have been using Revo 3610 for just a couple of weeks, so I'm still learning the software (Windows 7 quirks, Windows Media Center, Boxee, etc), but so far, I like it. I'm planning to post an update once I get a better grip on it and get more devices (in addition to wireless-N router, I'm also considering a TV tuner, and maybe a remote).

UPDATE (Feb 22, 2009): Just discovered an issue with x.264-encoded MKV files: it plays them, but the video is really slow and gets out-of-sync with the audio. I suspect that this is an issue with the codec, so looking for a solution. Will post an update once I get it fixed. Also noticed a couple of crashes when watching Flash in full-screen mode (this started to happen after a recent Windows update). Will keep an eye on this one as well. [See update below.]

UPDATE (Feb 23, 2009): The x.264 encoding/MKV issue seems to be solved, thanks to recommendations I found at RevoUser board. Now, I'm too cheap to buy the CoreAV Professional Codec, so I somewhat altered the recommendations. First, I installed the latest release of the ffdshow codec pack. Because ffdshow is available in 32-bit version, I also installed the 32-bit version of Media Player Classic Home Cinema. Other than checking a couple of audio settings in the ffdshow options, I did not make any other changes. I opened a couple of x.264-encoded MKV files (1080p) in Media Player Classic, and they ran flawlessly. And the quality was just breathtaking even on my cheap 32" 720p Toshiba LCD. I'm very pleased with the results.

UPDATE (Nov 22, 2010): I have been using Revo 3610 for over 9 months now, and I'm quite happy with it. The only complaint I have is the performance of the wireless-N adapter for streaming HD video, but I'm not sure if this is and issue with my wireless setup (distance to the router, walls), or with the adapter. I don't stream HD video that often, so not a big deal for now. On another note, I have recently been helping some friends buy HTPCs and noticed a few models that appear to be newer and better alternatives to Revo 3610. These were not available at the time I bought it, but if I were shopping for an HTPC now, I would seriously consider the following models (Amazon prices seem reasonable at the time of this post):

Find more HTPCs on sale.

UPDATE (Jan 15, 2011): A few weeks ago, the mouse started to act (the left button kept getting stuck), so I called Acer and received a free replacement withing a few days. No hassle, whatsoever.

UPDATE (Jan 25, 2011): This week I decided to jump on the Windows Media Center wagon (so to speak), and had all kinds of issues. The major problem was that Windows 7 WMC could not play DVDs (from virtual drives mapped ISO images, as well as VIDEO_TS folders; kept getting error: "Files needed to display video are not installed or are not working correctly."). After 3 nights of investigation and a futile effort to reinstall the OS, I finally found the solution at Windows Client TechCenter (see post by CGTracy). It involves 4 step:
  1. In Windows Media Center, navigate to Settings > DVD > Audio.
  2. Check the Auto volume box.
  3. Click Save.
  4. Reboot computer.
I'll write a post on WMC migration, in which I'll explain how to make it work and play all kinds of media formats.

See also:
Acer Aspire Revo Review
Acer Aspire Revo 3610 Atom ION 330 Review
Why It's Finally Time To Get a Home Theater PC
My Media Center Setup
Guide to Building a HD HTPC
Diary Of My Switch To Internet TV - Part 2
Diary Of My Switch To Internet TV - Part 4
RevoUser.com (Revo user forum)
Beginner's Guide What is an HTPC?
How I Built the Media Center of My Dreams for Under $500

12 comments:

Rarst said...

VESA mount describes not one, but several sets of mounting holes in different dimensions (same mount won't make sense for 17" monitor and 40" tv).

I vaguely remember there are adapters to mount smaller devices on larger screens. Really just a sheet of metal with two sets of holes.

Alek Davis said...

Sure, but this is a desktop intended for use as HTPC, so it's reasonable to expect that the majority would be using it with TVs (32" or bigger) rather than desktop monitors (24" or smaller). I checked a few adapters online, but they seem to cost too much for "a sheet of metal with two sets of holes" (thats's a pretty accurate description.) :-)

Jie said...

Great info!

So it looks like the DDR2 800 RAM are the same as those used in laptops, right?

I've also heard that by using a fast SD card or USB memory stick and enabling ReadyBoost in Windows 7 makes those 2GB RAM units run smoothly. No need to add RAM.

I'm doing my homework on this one before buying it. Currently the only concern seems to be the 1080p h.264 decoding performance...

Alek Davis said...

Seems like this. RAM is expensive these days, so unless prices go down I'm going with ReadyBoost. Will waste one USB port (or multi-media card slot), but I can live with it. Don't eed it now, though. I too am not sure about 1080p performance.

Rory said...

I have a revo 3610 and it performs great with just 2GB of ram. No lag.

Jie said...

Finally I bought one and get it running great with Windows 7 Ultimate (x86). 1080p plays well after some tweaks in the MPC-HC. Also spent $9 buying the CoreCodec but found it does nothing significantly different than MPC-HC internal filters.

Also used a 2G SD card for ReadyBoost.

It's a nice toy!

Alek Davis said...

Jie: Just wondering if you noticed any performance improvements with additional 2 GB of ReadyBoost.

Rory said...

I have the cccp codec pack and it allows me to run anything well with mpc-hc.

I run boxee for all my movies and I haven't had any problems yet.

I did get a VESA mount with mine and I'm very happy with the keyboard and mouse.

Jie said...

Regarding ReadyBoost... no, not really when simply playing movies.

In the BIOS settings I let video card use up to 512MB RAM (so in Windows it shows only 1.5GB available RAM) but that's still enough for 1080p playback.

But I'm going to find out the limit of this tiny thing by adding roles to it one by one. Background downloader, VoIP application, even a small web server for sharing my upcoming wedding information to my friends and family...

DDR2 price is crazy these days, otherwise I won't even think about ReadyBoost.

Alek Davis said...

"DDR2 price is crazy these days, otherwise I won't even think about ReadyBoost."

Exactly! Please keep us posted how it goes. I'd like to find the limit of the Revo, but don't have that many apps to run on it. Btw, congrats on the wedding. ;-)

Paul J Roberts said...

Alek,

Nice post on the Acer Revo 3610 and the plug to my How To acer blog and forum.

Hope the Revo is still living up to your needs.

Thanks
Paul

Alek Davis said...

Thanks Paul. Your post was a life saver for me. The Revo is still living up to my need. :-)