Introduction and design
The Revo One RL85, Acer’s entry to the ultra-mini PC market, has Apple’s Mac mini and Inte’s NUC micro-computers in its sights. Like the former, this unit comes with everything included, packing room for three RAID-ready SSDs in its tall tic-tac white shell – and like the latter, this is easily upgradable and techie-friendly.
Acer’s marketing has focused on the Revo as a home media centre, with its 7.1 HD sound coming through the HDMI port and its dual-4K support – but those same qualities would make it work well as a funky office computer.
Given that tiny form factor – just over four inches across each way – Acer has skipped on fancy graphics tech completely, opting for Intel integrated graphics across all models. Despite that, the device claims to handle two 4K screens easily – just not anything that requires graphical oomph.
The photos don’t lie – this is a singularly handsome little device, an escapee from the ethereal science-fiction school of design. The only element to break that smooth white design is the Intel Inside sticker on the side. It’s a nice weight in the hand and the four small feet on its bottom let the Revo sit reliably on most surfaces – though they also increase its chance of tipping substantially.
On the rear of the device sits an array of ports. There are two low-speed USB 2.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port, then two USB 3.0 sockets. Finally, there’s an HDMI, a mini-DisplayPort, a Kensington Lock and a 3.5mm audio jack. On top of the Revo, carefully concealed are four status LEDs that glimmer subtly through the translucent surface, and an SD card slot. And it has solid, fast 802.11n Wi-Fi.
This all compares favourably with the Mac Mini, which has a similar number of inputs – albeit with two proprietary Thunderbolt ports as well.
Getting inside the Revo is more of a struggle, given that the package we received had absolutely minimal documentation. There’s a quick start guide which lets you see how everything connects up and how to install SDDs, a warranty and… that’s it.
It turns out that you need to push a small button on the rear between the power button and power input socket, whilst simultaneously pulling up. It took several attempts for us to do this, and it’s not initially clear how it connects together, making it difficult to know how hard you have to pull without breaking the thing.
The design of the two quick-release caddies, in contrast, is extremely well done. The SSDs sit in them squarely and they’re removed simply by being pulled upwards. To replace them, you simply angle the caddy so its nubs line up with the Revo and slide it in, so the connector clicks together. The third disk is buried away between them, and requires a screwdriver to get at – which also gives you access to the RAM slot and the 802.11n wireless card.
The Revo comes with a wireless remote control which doubles as a keyboard. Though it’s packed full of functions, it’s more about packing buttons in than showing off stellar design – it doesn’t match the style of the main casing in any way.
On one side it’s got a power button (which didn’t seem to work for us), a too-sensitive touch pad (which needs activating by clicking the ‘cursor’ button on the unit’s side), a microphone button (which didn’t seem to do anything) and an array of standard Windows buttons, as well as media control buttons.
On the rear, it has a 56-key keyboard, with a function key to access many of the punctuation keys. It’s rather annoying to flip over the unit to use this keyboard. The function and shift keys need to be held down rather than toggled, which makes pressing any buttons near them rather difficult, as both your hands will need to be in the same area. Fat fingers beware!
The controller doesn’t work until the computer’s already set up and everything’s installed so you will need a keyboard and mouse to get your unit working. Indeed, given the controller’s shortcomings, a wireless keyboard and mouse would not be a terrible idea. Moreover, as it needs a separate wireless dongle to work, you’ll be left with just one USB slot if you plug this and a keyboard and mouse in.
Alternatively, you could download Acer Revo Suite for your smartphone. It installs swiftly from iTunes or Play (we tested on Android) and has a fast, easy and automatic Bluetooth connection. It’s actually easier to use as a controller and keyboard, and more accurate than the supplied controller on big screens.
Specifications and performance
It’s worth noting, first off, that the Revo One supplied to us didn’t seem to be a standard British model, but one of the Australian models, which seem to match the US by having a wider range of specifications. The unit that will be on sale at Dixons will have several changes.
Firstly, it’ll have the substantially older Intel Core i3-4005 CPU, which runs at 1.7GHz rather than 2.1GHz. It’ll have a smaller 2TB of storage (no word on whether that’s a single drive or two raided drives) and half as much RAM, coming in at 4GB. It’ll come with a wireless keyboard and mouse, presumably because that controller is so troublesome to use. And it’ll come in at £399 ($499 in the US, which is around AU$620).
Here is the Acer Revo One R85L configuration sheet as given to TechRadar:
- CPU: 2.1GHz Intel Core i3-5010U
- Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 5500
- RAM: 8GB DDR3L SDRAM
- Storage: 2 x 1.4TB drives
- Optical drive: N/A
- Ports: 2 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0, HDMI, mini-DisplayPort, headphone jack
- Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.0, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Gigabit Ethernet
- Size: 4.19 x 4.19 x 6.1-inches (W x D x H)
- OS: 64-bit Windows 8
Despite that huge hardware difference, the lower Dixons specifications are very similar to the low-end Mac mini, which also comes in at £399 (also $499 in the US, which is around AU$620). If you’re looking for better than that, then the higher-end Mac minis should be a good fit, with more processor oomph, extra memory and better integrated graphics – though at a substantially higher price point. Or you could build yourself an Intel NUC instead, for a similar price.
Windows 8 detected the screen’s right resolution but it was incorrectly sized for it (we were running it into a Samsung TV), so we had to manually resize through the screen settings. The HDMI port was extremely tight, but the cable popped in easily – extracting it afterwards was an epic struggle and at times we honestly thought we were going to have to cut it off.
Here’s how the Acer Revo One R85L performed in our suite of benchmark tests:
- 3DMark: Cloud Gate: Failed; Sky Diver: 2,364
- Cinebench: CPU: 179 points; Graphics: 22.53 fps
- PCMark 8 Home Test: 1,978 points
The machine obviously struggled with the 3D tests – it refused to complete Cloud Gate at all, but it did give us a Sky Diver score that was nearly twice the newest Mac mini’s. The Cinebench benchmarks are also relatively respectable, beating out our test NUC and not falling too far behind the Mac mini. Boot times are relatively quick, and it didn’t seem to struggle with outputting at 1080p.
The review model of the Revo we received was running Windows 8 – not our favourite operating system for anything that’s not touchscreen but at least it’s low-powered. The Acer bundled software is all built around the concept of BYOC – bring your own cloud.
So the five pieces of unfamiliar software on the desktop are all designed to work with that, allowing you to leave the Revo on as a remote server at all times, to be accessed from any device you want – the Android software seemed particularly easy to use. Those apps are:
abPhoto: This lets you access all your photography remotely. Theoretically, you should be able to snap a photo on your phone or tablet and it will be automatically stored to your PC, and pushed to any other devices you own. It also organises the photos.
abMedia: Lets you host your own music and videos for remote streaming; it plugs into iTunes.
abFiles: Allows you to remotely access files on the Revo PC from your phone. You can browse everything remotely, acting as something like an FTP. It also lets you sleep and wake your Revo remotely.
abDocs: This syncs your Office documents with the cloud, and allows access even when the Revo is off. The Revo doesn’t come with Office so this is oddly redundant.
The small form factor sector finally feels like it’s coming of age. With super-cheap kit like the Intel NUC coming in at under £100 (around $155, or AU$195) and super-quiet devices like this, there’s a real challenge to Apple. Cupertino will need to step up its game to make the Mac mini the must-have for anything more than the brand name.
Whilst the design doesn’t go for the brushed steel of Apple, it’s a pleasingly robust little device to have ticking away quietly in the corner of the living room, looking just like a turret from Portal. Despite our problems getting into the casing, the design inside and out is pleasing. Those smart little caddies make upgrading a doddle, though the RAM is slightly harder to reach.
While the Build Your Own Cloud element is a bit of a gimmick, we can see it being genuinely useful if you need to access files accidentally left at home, or just want remote backups of your photography. One might argue, though, that Dropbox and Google Drive both already perform this role admirably.
Though the benchmarks were middling, the Revo One showed that it could handle high refresh rates on large screens perfectly well.
The controller was the most dreadful element of the experience, with a dissonant design and an eagerness to cram every function onto something really not suited to this aim. We can see why the UK versions are coming with a wireless keyboard and mouse.
The hardware was also quite tightly packed – opening the casing was unnecessarily tricky and the HDMI port was so tight we were worried we would break the machine whilst extracting the connector.
It might look like a toaster that’s wandered out of the kitchen, but the Acer Revo One does exactly what it set out to. It’s a smart, tiny device that fits well in every environment but is especially designed for home entertainment – gamers will surely go for something like the Alienware Alpha instead.
For this machine, we’d advise you to download XMBC/Kodi as soon as possible, to avoid the inevitable Windows slowdown. The sideline of being able to act as a data server, both at home and when you’re out, is certainly a nice bonus.
And £399 ($500 in the US, which is around AU$620) is really not a bad price, comparing well with the low-end Mac mini and especially the poorer performing Lenovo IdeaCentre Q190. We’d just rather see this form factor without pre-loaded software or hardware and at half this price, so we could set it up ourselves.
We know that we could knock up an NUC with the same CPU and hardware for around the same price – but it just wouldn’t be as attractive (or support RAID 5).