Smith Corona Acer PC 330/386SX HD. (microcomputer) (Evaluation)
by David Sears
At one time or another, most people acknowledge that they could use a personal computer for something. Of course, today's extravagance-shy consumer can hardly justify shelling out a few thousand dollars just to organize recipes and manage the home budget. Besides, everyone knows that prices fall as technology matures--why not wait a year and buy today's PC for next to nothing?
But what if you could find a fast machine that comes equipped with everything you need to get started and promises to keep pace with the next generation of software? Well, Smith Corona offers a good reason to buy today--the Acer PC 330/386SX HD.
A prime example of mature technology at an affordable price, the Acer allows even the most uncertain beginners to fulfill their dreams of what a home computer should do almost from the moment they unpack the boxes. Smartly bundled with Smith Corona's Personal Work Processor, Microsoft Works 2.0, MS-DOS 5.0, and an assortment of desktop accessories, the Acer arrives with this software already installed. The proud owner need only flip through the Getting Started booklet and follow the plain-English instructions. In less than ten minutes, the up-and-running Acer will take users to exactly the software they want or need to run--courtesy of a simple graphical interface. Just point and click on the adeptly fashioned icons or use the function keys to select programs to run.
Most notable of all the software packages provided, Works allows data exchange between the spreadsheet, the database, the telecommunications program, and the word processor. Even the most inexperienced user will soon grasp the principles of opening multiple windows and copying text or numbers from one window to another. The concise paperback manual explains Works' functions in all the necessary detail, but the on-disk walk-through puts a first-time user right in the thick of things. Although the constituent programs seem a bit on the simplistic side, they'll serve the average user quite well. And as an introduction to the principles of word processing, telecommunications, and spreadsheet and database management, these applications can offer a gentle and productive education.
More powerful than the Works word processor, Smith Corona's Personal Word Processor offers most of the features that anyone could need in a text editor. With its online thesaurus, 90,000-word correct-as-you-type spelling checker, and handy keyboard template to remind users of available functions, Personal Word will quickly become a favorite way both to handle all correspondence and to type all papers.
The Desktop Reference accessories--accessible from Personal Word or the main menu--include a calculator, a calendar/personal scheduler, a spelling checker, and a thesaurus. Selection of these utilities from the main menu may occur via mouse pointer or function keys, but once loaded most programs operate under keyboard control. Newcomers to PCs probably won't miss extensive mouse support, but the Acer has more than enough speed to support a truly graphical environment. I have to wonder why Windows 3.0 didn't earn a spot in the initial software lineup. After all, the only thing more fun than having your brand new computer put you to work immediately is having it do so with mouse-controlled, pull-down menus. Installed later, though, Windows works its usual wonders on the traditionally somber PC operating system. Many purchasers of the Acer will want to consider a trip to the software boutique to pick up a copy of Windows for themselves.
The Acer itself will look right at home in almost any environment. While its gray and white plastic case will hardly win any beauty contests, the exterior of the machine wins some points for simple functioning. No one will mistake the tiny, recessed reset button for the larger, flush-with-the-case power button. Both of these reside on the front of the machine along with a number of indicator lights. The 3 1/2-inch and 5 1/4-inch high-density disk drives sit to the right of the buttons and indicators. Interior access to the machine poses little difficulty; the top slides off after you release two latches hidden behind the front panel.
Most people won't need more than the Acer's two internal 16-bit expansion slot, though with the addition of a sound card for game playing and an increasingly necessary modem connected to the serial port, expansion's limited to a single card. A printer connects via its own port, and the included two-button mouse also claims its own socket. The boxy Acer merits a smaller footprint for its slot sacrifies, but purchasers should note that the upper limits of expandability loom on the horizon at all times. Still, with an 80386SX machine running at 20 MHz, sMB of RAM, and a speedy 80MB hard drive, only jaded PC veterans will complain. The .39-mm dot pitch VGA color monitor, with its nonglare, 14-inch screen crowns the system. Its crystalline displays will rarely draw a negative comment from anyone. Both the monitor and the computer have a 12-month limited warranty that covers parts and labor.
Running a wide variety of software gave the Acer no trouble at all. Nothing--not even the latest wave of Origin high-end entertainments, not even Windows-based multitasking--caused a crash. Notoriously cranky items of hardware, such as scanners, worked on the first try, and inserting cards into the Acer's expansion slots took only moments. The Acer might not offer many slots, but, unlike some other PCs, this machine willingly accepts and surrenders expansion cards.
In every way a trooper, the Smith Corona Acer PC 330/386SX HD could serve as a model for PC congeniality. Its friendly tutorials will squelch new-user technofears, and the bundled software affirms that computers can offer some productivity right out of the box. Recommended for the first-time computer shopper, the Acer earns high marks for convenience, reliability, and a benevolent attitude toward its users.