With my wife and daughter competing for quality time on the domestic PC it seemed like a good time to get a small machine that we could kid safe and allow Rhiannon to use as "her" machine rather than just having a login on the living room PC - and it would have made a good early birthday present as she's been trying so hard in her new school this term.

The criteria was simple. It needed to be small, quiet, reasonable powerful (to give it a decent service lifetime) and ideally minimal pain for me to set up.

Initially I thought I'd buy the bits and put one together decided it wasn't a particularly good use of my time, so we had a look at a few off-the-shelf machines. We looked at things like the Mac Mini (a bit over priced for the spec) and another slimline HP but the bang for the buck on the Acer Aspire L100 looked too good to go past.

Looks however can be pretty deceiving.

We got the first machine home, unboxed it and with much excitement kicked off the Vista install.

It failed. No helpful error message just a message box saying that the installation was unable to proceed.

Subsequent attempts met with the same failure (though more annoying on each try as the Admin user had been created so I had to think up another name and look forward to tidying up the redundant accounts once the install finished).

Neither the supplied Vista on the HDD or a pristine copy of Vista I had at home (thank you MIX07!) were able to install, so back to the store it went to be swapped.

Box #2 fared better. At least the install did. Got Vista up and running without a hiccup this time and set about culling the more obvious bloatware. Does anybody ever use or register any of this cruft? I hate to agree with the Apple marketing folks but it's just a pain, and IMO it does Microsoft no good because it creates a bad first impression. What really bugged me was that one of the less obvious Acer "utilities" actually causes Windows Live Messenger to crash! Great out of the box experience.

So, the machine was now cruft free and running nicely so I started to install a couple of apps on there.

Then it hit me. To be precise then the wall of sound hit me. The CPU got above 40% and the fans kicked in. Now I've been in a room with a Compaq DL380 running at full bore so I know what noisy machines sound like. A quick install of BOINC to test the CPU/Fan noise out and I discovered that this thing not much bigger than a paperback book was pumping out the sort of noise hard core server does. And the fans pulsed in time to CPU load so it wasn't even doing something smart like actually matching a genuine thermal profile.

Neither SpeedFan or the nVidia nTune app could get a reading from the fans or override the tornado generator function. A quick reboot to check from the BIOS screen and it at least was reporting temperature and had the fans apparently set to intelligent control.

So I logged a support request with Acer hoping for a pointer to an updated BIOS or a driver patch that would make the problem go away. A couple of days went back and I got a very friendly response... suggesting that I call a support phone number ideally with the machine in front of me to confirm some details and they'd give me shipping instructions to send it to a repair center for "assessment".

I don't think I'll bother. I'll return it at the weekend. Maybe I'll be able to run up a third machine there in the store and see if (a) it starts and (b) if it sounds like a wind tunnel. If not I'll take my pennies and go buy parts and build my own (after all, I've already wasted the time I was hoping to save on this little exercise) or maybe get the Mac Mini just because the service and support is so good.

Of course, in an ideal world I'd be able to pick up a suitably rugged TabletPC that Rhiannon could use in place of the hulking great folder she has to lug to school each day... but sadly the technology to stand up to an 8 year old isn't quite there yet ;)

Update June 16: So, back to Circuit City I went with the second faulty Acer under my arm. And found out the hard way that returning a piece of equipment that doesn't work incurrs a 15% restocking fee. So it cost me a hundred bucks to return their rubbish because I'd opened the box. Their customer service totally failed to keep me as a customer on side - no offering to fire up a third machine in store to avoid wasting any more of my time; no suggesting I try a different machine; no offer to waive the re-stocking fee to make up for me wasted time (in fact though the person on the till wanted to, their supervisor who had to authorised it decided it wasn't policy)... so it may have cost me a few bucks but it's cost them  customer (and created a negative reference). Just a thought... If I'd have taken a replacement, walked out of the store and then returned the still sealed box would they have still charged the re-stocking fee? Try it next time it happens to you and let me know! Even more scary... the re-stocking fee implies that even knowing about the noise issue they're going to try and pass this off to another customer

We went down to Frys and got an HP S7700n for Rhiannon - hope she enjoys it ;) Setup was quick and easy, the machine runs silently even running BOINC at full load and it was remarkably bloatware free!

Update June 20: Saw this interesting comment on Customer Support vs Marketing with respect to a Sony product. Despite my woes with my Vaio and previous customer support issues kudos to Sony. Shame Circuit City have not yet responded to my first email.