Budget desktops, with their integrated graphics, nonstandard smaller chassis, and copious, confusing configurations, tend to look like an undifferentiated mass. Finding the best value requires a bit of hunting, plus attention to nuance. We recently gave a big thumbs-up to the Intel-based Acer Aspire TC-895-UA91, and now we’ve received an AMD-based alter ego, the Aspire TC-390-UA92 ($499.99), for review. The Ryzen 5 3400G CPU in this unit, with integrated graphics on-chip, isn’t as speedy as newer no-graphics Ryzen offerings, but this model still delivers some of the best performance in the under-$500 tier. The Intel version costs $70 less for almost-as-good speed plus USB Type-C connectivity, though, so we’re sticking by that specific configuration as our top tested value. That said, if a little extra oomph is what you’re after, this AMD option remains a sound buy.
Hey, This Chassis Looks Familiar…
This marks the third time we’ve reviewed this particular case design from Acer, so there’s not a lot new to say for what is already a simple small tower. The design has a touch more style than some other budget alternatives (mostly thanks to its front panel), but at the end of the day it’s a simple black box.
As such, the Aspire will blend into any home or office setup visually, and it will take up little space with its compact shape. At 13.4 by 6.4 by 13.8 inches (HWD), you can fit this desktop next to your monitor on even a modestly sized desk, or place it on the floor without taking up too much real estate. It’s not quite as small as the trimmer Dell Inspiron Desktop (12.8 by 6.1 by 11.5 inches), another budget tower tested recently, but they’re in the same ballpark.
The interior layout is also identical to that of the last version of the Aspire tower we reviewed, save for which components are being used. (We’ll get to those in a moment.) Removing two rear screws allows you to pull off the left side panel from the chassis, granting access to a basic interior. About a third of it is blocked off by a metal faceplate, onto which you could mount additional hard drives.
Behind that is the housing for the DVD drive, and beneath that (on the motherboard) the sole SSD. In the unobscured area, you can see the rest of the motherboard, including the mounted CPU air cooler and the RAM slots. (Two are occupied here, and two are free.) The power supply is contained in the top left corner, a 250-watt unit. This will limit your upgrade options for a graphics card, and it isn’t swappable with a standard aftermarket ATX supply due to non-standard power connectors at the board end and a narrower body. It’s not the easiest layout to see and get to all of the components, either, but the system is designed to be a plug-and-play setup, not a robust base for upgrades.
The final piece of the physical build are the ports, split between the front and back panel. On the front are two USB 3.1 ports, an SD card reader, a headphone jack, and a microphone jack, as well as a DVD drive. Most of the ports are around back, including four more USB 3.1 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, HDMI and VGA video outputs, and an Ethernet jack.
As mentioned, this model does not include a USB Type-C connection on the front or the back, which is a shame since that was one of the positives for the price on the Intel-based version. USB-C isn’t nearly the standard yet among peripherals, but it’s become fairly popular even on budget systems, so it would’ve been nice to get those faster data transfer speeds and the peripheral versatility here.
Moving on to the wireless connectivity, the Aspire features built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Wi-Fi isn’t always standard on inexpensive desktop towers like this, so a hearty thumbs-up for that.
Component Check: AMD Brings the Value
The focus of our unit is that it comes with an AMD processor, different from the two Intel-based versions of this desktop we’ve reviewed before. The particular processor in our model is the Ryzen 5 3400G, and since the “G” stands for graphics, it’s equipped with Radeon RX Vega 11 on-chip silicon for video acceleration. Non-G-series Ryzen chips require a dedicated graphics card.
This is a third-generation Ryzen processor rather than one of the newer, blistering-fast “Zen 3” chips, but we deemed it a good value in its standalone review back in 2019. Note that just as this review was being written, AMD announced new-generation Ryzen 5000G processors that will appear in upcoming OEM systems, but this chip isn’t one of those, or one of the succeeding (and also OEM-only) Ryzen 4000G CPUs.
In this unit, the processor is paired with 12GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD (partitioned into two smaller drives). The memory is an uncommon capacity, but at least it’s more than the standard 8GB. The 512GB of total storage (at least on paper—you’ll get a bit less than that on each partition in practice) is enough for this type of system.
Testing the Aspire: Speed on a Budget
To see how well these components perform, we put it through our suite of benchmark tests and compared the results with those of other budget desktops. The names and specs of these competitors can be found in the table below so you can see what this new Aspire is up against. (See more about how we test desktops.)
Productivity and Storage Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet work, web browsing, and videoconferencing. PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the system’s boot drive. Both tests yield a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better. Note that the macOS-based Mac mini is excluded from this and any other Windows-based tests in the chart below.
AMD’s chip does well here, the most capable of this bunch for daily home and office multitasking. This is the primary use case for this category of computers, so leading the pack here is a positive sign. The performance lead can also be attributed in part to the greater RAM capacity, but the Ryzen 5 chip still gets credit here. If you need to work on multiple spreadsheets while a few other applications and multiple browser tabs are open, this desktop can handle it.
Media Processing and Content Creation Tests
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video editing trial, another tough, threaded workout that’s highly CPU-dependent and scales well with cores and threads. In it, we put a stopwatch on test systems as they transcode a standard 12-minute clip of 4K video (the open-source Blender demo movie Tears of Steel) to a 1080p MP4 file. Lower (faster) times are better.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and add up the total. The Photoshop test stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so PCs with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost. (The Lenovo IdeaCentre system below could not complete this test.)
On these strenuous media tests, we don’t see the same lead that the Aspire had on PCMark 10, but the results are still capable. The extreme performance of the Zen 2 and Zen 3 processors in the last couple years has conditioned us to expect general AMD dominance in these areas, but this older, more modest chip is more in line with the rest of the pack.
Of course, bear in mind that these are budget PCs. At the end of the day, none of these systems is meant for heavy-duty media editing, so go for something more powerful if you’re a professional in these areas, in the Core i7 or i9, or Ryzen 7 or 9, vein, plus at least a modest dedicated GPU. But this Aspire can do these kinds of jobs in a pinch if you are patient.
UL’s 3DMark suite measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores. (Some of the competitors failed to complete one or both of the Superposition tests, hence the gaps in that bar chart.)
The Ryzen 5 APU includes graphics that should be better than Intel’s integrated fare, and indeed, you can see the step up on these tests. As was evidenced in the media-creation-test results, this still isn’t a specialized 3D work or gaming system, but it is roughly twice as capable as the competitors here. More than muscling up professional graphics-based work, this should at least enable a higher-level of casual gaming, though still a far cry from what a gaming PC with a discrete video card could deliver.
Verdict: A Top Value for AMD Fans
This Acer Aspire model is ultimately very similar to the Intel-based version we reviewed recently, and since we did grant an Editors’ Choice award to that model, it comes from a strong starting point. The AMD chip is the main difference here, but as you saw, it doesn’t launch the Aspire into a whole different tier of performance, comparatively speaking. And given the Aspire TC-390-UA92’s higher list price than the UA91’s, that speed uptick doesn’t immediately make this model a better value.
That edge in general speed, though, may be all that you need to hear about. Still, the Intel-based Aspire TC-895-UA91 is $70 less and includes USB Type-C connectivity, while pushing almost-as-good performance on our tests. Perhaps an updated version with AMD’s latest budget Ryzen 4000G or 5000G processors would make this Aspire a must-buy budget desktop. But the value edge stays with the UA91 model for now.