Solid performance. Lots of storage. HDMI-in and HDMI-out ports.
Grainy display. Slow hard drive; no SSD option. Lacks USB-C connectivity. Optical drive is DVD, not Blu-ray.
- Bottom Line
The Acer Aspire Z3 is a powerful all-in-one PC that handily speeds through tasks, but a coarse screen, a slow hard drive, and a dated design are turnoffs.
The Acer Aspire Z3 (AZ3-715-UR15) ($1,199.99) is a midrange all-in-one desktop with a 23.8-inch Full HD touch panel, a large hard drive, and very good multimedia and day-to-day performance, thanks to a powerful Core i7 processor and 16GB of RAM. However, its grainy display, slow-booting hard drive, aging design, and lack of forward-thinking ports like USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 seem like questionable choices when you're paying more than $1,000 for an AIO PC.
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The Design Is Familiar
The Aspire Z3's components are built in behind its 23.8-inch In-Plane Switching (IPS) display. The body measures 18.4 by 23.3 by 1.4 inches (HWD), a bit larger than the Apple iMac 21.5-inch, but similar in height and width to other AIO desktops like the Lenovo ThinkCentre X1, which also has a 23.8-inch screen. The display floats above your work surface on a non-removable, bright silver-colored, L-shaped stand, that looks very much like the stand on the latest Apple iMac. The stand, which allows tilt, but not height or swivel adjustments, and a silver-colored lip offset the black plastic back panel and thick black bezel around the screen. The design hasn't changed much from the Acer Aspire AZ3-710-UR54 we reviewed in 2015. It's a look that's attractive, if a bit dated.
The 1,920-by-1,080 resolution Full HD display offers wide viewing angles, but if you look closely you'll see the individual square pixels. As a result, text doesn't look as smooth as it does on competitors like the Lenovo ThinkCentre X1 or the Lenovo B50, our current top pick for midrange all-in-ones. (Both of those also have Full HD displays.) The pixels really stand out when viewing wide swaths of color that are supposed to be smooth, like the solid blue window when you first launch the Mail app. It's a usable display for web surfing and working on office documents, but a deal-breaker if you've budgeted $1,200 for a PC for photo or video work. At this price point, you should expect a clear display with no blockiness.
The built-in speakers lack meaningful bass. When I turned up the volume to maximum, the mid-low notes a few seconds into one of our test tracks, "Silent Shout" by The Knife, sounded distorted. I'd recommend using headphones for any critical listening. There is a full HD webcam centered above the screen, but it doesn't have a privacy shutter like the one on the Dell Optiplex 7450 or the Acer Veriton Z4820G-I5650TZ.
Inputs and Outputs
The system comes with a wireless keyboard and mouse, both of which use a USB RF adapter rather than Bluetooth. RF adapters are still common on Windows all-in-one desktops because they are inexpensive, and they give PC makers some flexibility when creating retail configrations. The mouse is a standard optical pointer; the mushy keyboard reminds us of a bargain-basement model.
The left side of the display has a recessed bank of I/O ports, including a headset jack, an SD card reader, two USB 3.0 ports, and a button to switch screen inputs. Around back, you'll find an Ethernet port, an HDMI-in jack, an HDMI-out jack, a USB 2.0 port (for the aforementioned RF adapter), and two more USB 3.0 ports (for a total of four). Notably absent are USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 ports, which would come in handy with the many new hard drives and SSDs using this faster, more modern connectivity standard. The HDMI-in jack is handy because you can continue to use the display after the internal components become obsolete. Wireless connections include 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.
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Spacious (but Slow) Storage
The Aspire Z3 comes with Windows 10, 16GB of RAM, a 2-terabyte 5,400rpm SATA hard drive, and an 8X DVD-writing optical drive (a surprise for a 2017 system, but there are still many folks who have large DVD movie collections). That's more than enough memory for extreme multitasking, including, say, a dozen browser tabs and a photo editor open, while making a Skype video call. Other systems in this price range, like the Apple iMac and Lenovo ThinkCentre X1, come with just 8GB.
The 2TB hard drive is the real head scratcher. While capacious, the hard drive is slow, especially compared with the speedy SSDs found in desktops like the ThinkCentre X1. Most PCs that use an SSD boot up in about 5 to 10 seconds, but in testing, the Aspire Z3 took 45 seconds—almost an eternity by comparison. Programs and files likewise took longer to open than we've become used to. Acer likely took this path to keep costs down, but other AIOs like the HP Envy All-in-One (27-b010) offer the best of both worlds, with a 128GB boot SSD for speed combined with a 1TB data drive for extra storage space. And there's no SSD upgrade available, since this is a pre-configured retail PC. Acer backs the system with a one-year standard warranty.
Speedy Multimedia Performance
Equipped with an Intel Core i7-7700T processor and a discrete Nvidia GeForce 940MX GPU, the Aspire Z3 placed first among competitors on the PCMark 8 Work Conventional test with a score of 3,341 points. The HP Envy All-in-One and Acer Veriton Z4820G were just behind, with the Dell Optiplex 7450 and Lenovo ThinkCentre X1 a little further back. The only other benchmark win for the Aspire Z3 was the CineBench test (730 points), on the strength of its quad-core processor. On the other multimedia tests, Handbrake (1:08) and Photoshop (3:03), the Aspire Z3 placed second, behind the Optiplex 7450. (Scores under 1 minute for Handbrake and under 3 minutes for Photoshop are considered excellent.)
When it comes to 3D gaming, the Aspire Z3 proved to be playable, with average scores at medium quality settings of 31 frames per second (fps) in our Heaven test, and 36fps on the Valley test. Like on other all-in-one systems, though, the frame rates dropped to the single digits at Ultra quality settings at Full HD resolution. 30fps is the bare minimum for smooth gameplay, but 8 to 9fps will seem like a slideshow. The system's other 3D benchmark test scores were good compared with other AIOs we've tested, especially those with integrated graphics, like the Acer Veriton Z4820G and the Lenovo ThinkCentre X1. You'll be able to play the occasional game like Minecraft in a small window, or blown up to full screen from 1,366-by-768 resolution.
Powerful, but With Fatal Flaws
The Acer Aspire Z3 (AZ3-715-UR15) is a powerful all-in-one desktop PC, and has plenty of memory and computing power for, say, mathematical or scientific tasks. It has more than a few flaws, however, including an aging design, lack of USB-C ports, and a slow hard drive. The system's grainy screen is perhaps its most obvious detriment. If you need a higher-quality screen for photos or video, we'd recommend the Lenovo ThinkCentre X1, which also costs $130 less. The 21.5-inch Apple iMac or the HP Envy All-in-One are other solid AIO alternatives, if you have a more flexible budget.
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Joel Santo Domingo is the Lead Analyst for the Desktops team at PC Magazine Labs. He joined PC Magazine in 2000, after 7 years of IT work for companies large and small. His background includes managing mobile, desktop and network infrastructure on both the Macintosh and Windows platforms. Joel is proof that you can escape the retail grind: he wore a yellow polo shirt early in his tech career. Along the way Joel earned a BA in English Literature and an MBA in Information Technology… More »
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