Done up in black and clear plastic, the Aspire U has a clean, modern look. The computer looks like an oversize picture frame, supported in the front by a clear plastic panel running its width and in the back by an articulating kickstand. This design lets you angle the Aspire U from nearly flat on the desk to nearly straight up. It's an effective design if you have plenty of desk space or table area to work with. If you want to buy an all-in-one to maximize storage area in a small workspace, forget it: The area behind the Aspire U is completely blocked off.
The styled-to-match wireless keyboard and mouse bundled with the Aspire U are both pleasant surprises. The keyboard has a slightly sloppy feel, but the keys offer plenty of travel and feel quite nice overall. The up and down arrow keys are half-size, which makes them difficult to use, but the keyboard includes a numeric keypad that you can use for navigation (when Num Lock is turned off). The mouse has a nice heft, and it tracks well on just about any surface.
The touchscreen display responds well to finger movements, and the Aspire U has one of the nicest webcams out there. It's HD, and it provides very smooth video—significantly smoother than usual. The Aspire U can also respond to hand gestures via said webcam, though in truth it's a rather strenuous and inaccurate way to navigate Windows.
Components and performance
The A5600U-UB13 model of the Aspire U that we tested was sprightly enough, subjectively—once the Windows 8 operating system worked its caching magic. Until things were cached, however, the sluggish 1TB, 5400-rpm hard drive caused windows and applications to open rather slowly. This is a machine that you'd rather have hibernate or sleep than shut down, lest all that caching go for naught. Acer doesn't offer an SSD option, which would have worked miracles in both perceived and actual speed.
The A5600U-UB13 is a middle-of-the-road performer, which is why PCWorld decided to use it as the reference machine for Desktop WorldBench 8.1 tests. It's powered by a dual-core Intel Core i5-3230M mobile CPU (all-in-ones often use mobile components because they don't require as much cooling) and 6GB of DDR3/1600 memory. As is typical of lower-priced AIOs, the A5600U-UB13 relies on the Intel HD 4000 graphics processor integrated into the CPU, so don't expect to play hard-core games on this machine. Although it managed to squeeze out 47.5 frames per second in Dirt Showdown (at a dialed-down resolution of 1024 by 768 pixels and with visual quality set to low), it ran Crysis 3 under those same settings at less than 18 fps.
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