4 all-in-one PCs sip energy, save money

All-in-one desktop PCs have long been touted as space-saving wonders, squeezing an entire computer into a frame that's only slightly bigger than the monitor itself.

Averatec D1133

Rather than building an all-in-one PC around a slightly enlarged monitor case, as is the case with the other systems here, Averatec's D1133 goes its own way. Designers put most of its electronics in a small base, yielding an enviably thin monitor. Available for around $US500, it provides a lot of PC for the money, including the best graphics hardware in the roundup, but with the highest power use of the bunch.

Clothed in shiny black plastic with silver accents, the D1133 has an elegant appearance and takes up 17.5 by 8.5 in. of desk space, about average for the group. Its monitor is only two-thirds of an inch thick -- easily the thinnest of the group -- and is connected to the base with an arm that looks like a modernist sculpture.

The arm allows the monitor to not only pivot in and out but to move up and down for more flexible positioning than any of the others. Unfortunately, the monitor wobbles when bumped into.

The base has a convenient power switch up front, along with volume and brightness controls. Inside, its configuration mirrors the HP MS214's, with a 1.5-GHz dual-core AMD Athlon X2 processor, 2GB of RAM and a DVD Super Multi drive. Its 250GB hard drive is slower and has less capacity than that of the MS214. The D1133 has a basic wired keyboard and mouse -- much less impressive than the MSI AE1900's keyboard with its instant-access buttons, media controls and volume keys.

The D1133 is equipped with the best graphics of this gang of four all-in-ones, with an ATI Radeon HD 3200 accelerator and 512MB of video memory, twice the level of the HP MS214's similar video hardware. As a result, its 18.4-in. display runs at a 1680-by-945 native resolution, 60 per cent sharper than any of the other all-in-ones here.

On the other hand, its screen is the shiniest and picks up more reflections than the others. There's a webcam above the monitor, but the system's speakers sound tinny and distorted.

At a Glance

Averatec D1133

TriGem Computer Inc.

Price (as tested): $US500

Pros: Excellent price, variety of ports, swivel monitor stand, high-resolution graphics

Cons: Unimpressive power use, inconvenient audio jacks, basic keyboard, wobbly screen

To make connections, the D1133 has four USB ports (two fewer than the HP MS214), an Ethernet port and a flash card reader, and it supports 802.11g Wi-Fi networking. The headphone and microphone jacks are inconveniently located on the side, but the D1133 has the bonus of SATA and DVI ports for connecting with a hard drive and a second monitor.

It all adds up to a competent PC that was slightly behind the HP MS214 in performance, with a PassMark Performance 7.0 score of 320.7. The Trainz simulation ran smoothly, with a good degree of background detail. On the other hand, it had unimpressive energy use, consuming 48 watts of power, the highest of the group. It's still one-third the power draw of a traditional desktop PC, but expect to spend about $US27 a year on electricity.

The D1133 is inexpensive but doesn't include much in the way of software other than Windows Vista Home Premium. It is easily the coolest-looking all-in-one of the lot and should satisfy most users, but it uses much more power than the rest.

HP Pavilion MS214

It's ironic that one of the smallest all-in-one PCs available is also a top performer. HP's Pavilion MS214 does a lot with a little, packing in a high-performance hard drive and Windows 7, but it looks bulky and is the most expensive of the group.

The black and silver system occupies just 18.2 by 8 in. of desk space, the smallest of the four all-in-one PCs that I looked at. On the other hand, its monitor has a wider bezel that includes speakers below the screen, making it look bulky. There's a webcam above the display.

As with the Acer Z280G and MSI AE1900, all the MS214's working parts are housed inside the monitor case. There's a curved arm that holds the display up and allows the screen to be pivoted up and down, but it's not as flexible as the D1133's stand.

The MS214's 18.5-in. screen uses the same ATI Radeon HD 3200 graphics processor as the Averatec D1133 but has 256MB of video memory versus the D1133's 512MB. As a result, it displays at a native 1366-by-768 resolution, not the D1133's sharper 1680-by-945 resolution. The MS214 also lacks the touch-screen capabilities of the MSI AE1900.

Inside the MS214 is a 1.5-GHz dual-core AMD Athlon X2 processor (the same chip used by the Averatec D1133), 2GB of RAM, a DVD Super Multi drive and a 320GB high-performance hard drive, the only one of the bunch that spins at 7,200 rpm. The system comes with a wired optical mouse and a keyboard with buttons for volume and mute. Its built-in speakers get quite loud and sound great compared with the others.

While the other all-in-ones get by with four or five USB ports, the MS214 delivers six, so you probably won't need a USB hub to connect all your gizmos and gadgets. On top of wired and wireless (802.11g Wi-Fi) networking connections, the system has a flash card reader, microphone and headphone jacks, and an SPDIF port for a set of digital speakers. The MS214 doesn't have a DVI port for a second monitor as the Averatec D1133 does.

At a Glance

HP Pavilion MS214

Hewlett-Packard Development Company LP

Price (as tested): $US600

Pros: Best performance of the bunch, 6 USB ports, great audio, 7,200 rpm hard drive, Windows 7

Cons: Looks bulky, most expensive of group

It won't set any records, but the MS214 outperformed the others in the PassMark Performance 7.0 benchmark with a score of 366.6. It is a midrange consumer of power for this group, using 44 watts. That adds up to an electric bill of around $US23 per year, about one quarter that of a traditional desktop PC.

The only all-in-one of the four to come with Windows 7, the MS214 comes with lots of software, including Microsoft Works 9 and HP's MediaSmart suite for managing all your photos, videos and digital tracks. My favorite is HP's Total Care Advisor diagnostic program that interrogates every major system and reports on the results.

All told, HP's Pavilion MS214 is balanced between power use and performance, but at $US600, it costs $US100 more than the others. Still, it's worth it for a PC that can get the job done while saving money and the environment at the same time.

Next: MSI Wind Top AE1900-01SUS

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Brian Nadel

Computerworld (US)
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