5 ‘all-one-computers’ to suit anyone’s computing needs

Having a powerful, dependable computer in your home office will keep you productive when you’re away from the cubicle farm. As seasoned travelers know, Lenovo’s ThinkPad laptops offer business-centric software and functionality designed to keep the machines running smoothly.

If you’re looking for the familiar ThinkPad touch in a large, powerful package, Lenovo’s ThinkCentre M90z all-in-one has you covered.

Much like the laptops in Lenovo’s ThinkPad line, the ThinkCentre M90z is a sleek, black box. It’s attractive in its simplicity, with a spacious 23-inch display sitting on metal brackets. A 3.2GHz Core i5-650 processor powers the computer, which packs 4GB of DDR3 RAM and a 500GB hard drive. The M90z netted a score of 117 on our WorldBench 6 test suite: Few all-in-ones have more muscle, other than the significantly more expensive Apple iMac.

Toolbox Extras

The ThinkCentre M90z comes bundled with Lenovo’s ThinkVantage Toolbox software. Like the corresponding utilities on Lenovo’s business laptops, the ThinkVantage tools help keep your machine in working order–always handy, since your home office lacks a dedicated IT staff. The Toolbox can automate data backups and monitor your software and hardware drivers to ensure that they remain up to date.

The Toolbox tools regularly scan and analyze the M90z’s hardware as well, to verify that the All-in-One’s innards are working as expected, cataloging any hardware or software changes. That way, if something goes wrong, you’ll have a concise timeline of critical events, which should make troubleshooting your software or rolling it back to an earlier, trouble-free state less of a hassle.

The M90z’s screen supports Windows 7’s multitouch gestures, if you’d like to add a bit of poking and prodding to your workflow. Lenovo has also added its own finger-friendly magic, with SimpleTap.

A two-fingered double-tap on the display fires up the SimpleTap overlay, which presents a grid of large tiles that serve as shortcuts to frequently used apps and hardware controls. You can add shortcuts to any file, program, or Web site you like, speeding up your workflow with an intuitive gesture.

Saddled with integrated graphics, the M90z is inadequate for serious gaming. The display offers a native 1080p resolution, and HD video playback is smooth and stutter-free, but images are far from vibrant. Colors appear muted even at the brightest display settings–which tends to leave images looking a bit dull. You’ll also want to replace the lackluster built-in speakers with a set of headphones or proper speakers.

The M90z comes with a total of six USB ports to accommodate external devices. Notably absent, however, are advanced connectivity options like Fire­Wire and eSATA, a disappointment for storage buffs. A multiformat card reader makes getting photos onto the M90z a snap, and the unit also offers a DVD burn­­er. Built-in Wi-Fi connectivity helps reduce cable clutter, and VGA and DisplayPort connectors invite you to add a second monitor to your workstation.

Lenovo’s ThinkCentre M90z packs a lot of muscle into a svelte package. The home-theater experience is a bit lackluster, despite excellent video playback, due to subpar speakers and a dull picture. But for a work-focused PC user, the M90z combines strong performance and a robust software platform in a package that will simplify your workspace.

For the Living Room: A Media Maven’s High-Def Hub

The Internet is a treasure trove, with music, movies, and television shows available on demand, so you aren’t be­­holden to your cable provider’s schedule or programming lineup. You could wait for a Web-connected TV to hit all the right notes.

But if you want a taste of what the Web has to offer, without having to replace your television set, HP’s TouchSmart 600 Quad offers you a lush display, great speakers, and an intuitive, touch-optimized interface.

A 1.6GHz Core i7-720QM processor and 6GB of RAM power this 23-inch all-in-one. The i7-720QM (a CPU more commonly used in notebooks) supports Intel’s hyperthreading and Turbo Boost technologies, delivering power and performance while keeping energy consumption and heat levels lower than a full-fledged desktop processor would. The TouchSmart 600 Quad earned a score of 104 on our WorldBench 6 test suite–not bad, but a bit low for an all-in-one of this size. The PC comes with a 1TB hard drive, providing lots of room for your music and movie collections.

The 23-inch display has a native resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels–perfect for viewing 1080p high-def video–and the machine includes a slot-loading Blu-ray drive and customizable ambient lighting for setting the movie-watching mood.

HP’s TouchSmart software features touch-friendly desktop versions of Hulu, Netflix, and Twitter, and other popular Web destinations. These full-screen widgets are snappy and responsive, thanks to the PC’s quad-core processor, and they make sifting through your music, movies, or favorite Websites simple.

Keep Your Head Ringin’

But HP’s TouchSmart 600 Quad has another trick up its sleeve: Beats Audio, the high-def audio processing technology that powers Dr. Dre’s signature headphone line.

The system’s stereo speakers deliver impressive audio fidelity, filling a room with sound without sacrificing quality. As you’d expect from equipment endorsed by a hip-hop legend, the bass is strong, but it doesn’t overwhelm the experience. Audio is crisp and lively, and the Beats audio processing lets you fine-tune the sound to suit your preferences.

Of course media aficionados won’t rely on HP’s bundled speakers. Audio output ports let you connect a proper stereo system, so Beats’ audio processing technology can really shine.

The all-in-one’s five USB ports leave room for external devices, in case your media collection exceeds the available hard-drive space (1TB); and a multiformat card reader makes loading pictures onto the PC easy. From there, you can use TouchSmart widgets to browse image files and create sharable collages. The system’s Blue­tooth connectivity, wireless keyboard and mouse, and in­­cluded remote control optimize your on-the-couch experience. The Touch­Smart 600 Quad also provides a range of display input ports, so you can plug in your video game console of choice and use the TouchSmart as a display.

Plenty of connectivity options, stellar audio and video quality, the flexibility to serve up whatever media you’re in the mood for, along with room for a spot of gaming: HP’s TouchSmart 600 Quad is a solid buy for the multimedia enthusiast who wants it all.

For the Kitchen: A Master Chef’s Digital Cookbook

Touchscreens are showing up in many all-in-one desktops these days, but your kitchen is one place where planting and dragging your fingers all over a screen probably isn’t the best idea. The chef de cuisine needs a compact, Internet-connected hub that’s strictly a hands-off experience–and HP’s All-in-One 200-5020 fits the bill.

This 21.5-inch all-in-one PC is armed with a 2.7GHz Pentium Dual Core processor, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, and a 500GB hard drive. The processor falls toward the lower end of the performance scale, but it’s no slouch, earning a strong score of 104 on our WorldBench 6 test suite. The All-in-One 200-5020 forgoes multitouch, too, leaving you to rely on a keyboard and mouse.

With a native resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels, the All-in-One 200-5020 is just right for high-definition (1080p) video, so you can easily catch up on an episode of Iron Chef while waiting for your bread dough to rise. The LED-backlit screen does an excellent job of color reproduction, preserving minute details without fuzziness or distortion.

The View From the Range

A wide range of viewing angles keeps the screen’s content visible at all but the most extreme angles. You’ll appreciate the display’s clarity as you steal occasional glances at your culinary Webcast of choice while working at a stove located several feet away.

Size is the key factor here: 21.5 inches of screen real estate is a fairly generous amount, yet the slender chassis prevents the all-in-one from gobbling up too much counter space.

Wi-Fi connectivity is crucial when you want a system with as few wires running out of it as possible, and the 802.11n connection keeps the unit tied to the Web without introducing any new cables into the mix. The bundled keyboard and mouse are wireless, too, complementing the clutter-free package.

A multiformat card reader makes loading pictures onto the machine and sharing them with friends a snap. For an even more interactive approach, you can record your gastronomical exploits via the included Webcam, so your YouTube fan base can marvel as you prep peerless grilled cheese sandwiches. And with the included DVD burner, you can document your expertise, and mail the resulting DVDs to friends who missed out on your live Webcasts.

Kitchen space is precious, of course. But in case you have some extra room for expanding your hardware options, the all-in-one’s seven USB ports give you ample opportunities for connecting various external devices. The audio quality of the built-in speaker bar is passable on its own, but you also get audio outputs for a proper 7.1-channel surround-sound system.
Though it lacks some of the niceties that you’d find in a larger, touchscreen-equipped model, HP’s All-in-One 200-5020 will be right at home wherever desk or counter space is scarce.

For the Dorm Room: A Cash-Strapped Student’s Bargain

Faced with the daunting prospect of paying for books, food, lodging, and tuition, a cash-strapped college student is bound to scrimp wherever possible. But you should resist the temptation to save money by purchasing a bottom-of-the-line laptop.

Notebook PCs do have portability on their side, but finding one that delivers competent performance and adequate storage without breaking the bank is a dicey proposition. An all-in-one PC is too large to tote to class, but the money you’ll save on it over a similarly equipped laptop will buy a lot of peanut butter.

The Acer AZ5700-U2112 serves up a plenty of speed and media features for a cool $1000–and if a mobile PC is a must, you’ll have saved enough cash over a comparable laptop to pick up a decently equipped netbook, too.
The 23-inch AZ5700 runs on a 3.2GHz Core i5-650 processor and carries 4GB of RAM. It earned a mark of 119 on WorldBench 6, easily outpacing similarly priced laptops and finishing near the top of the all-in-one PC food chain.

Beyond its very solid performance, the AZ5700 provides 1TB of storage space; that’s plenty of room for archiv­ing every last assignment and–who are we kidding?–holding music, movies, and whatever else students need to pass the time between deadlines.

The Screen’s the Thing

The all-in-one’s main draw is its 23-inch screen. Its multitouch screen supports Windows 7’s gestures, as well as Acer’s Touch Portal software–a collection of widgets that offer quick access to popular Web destinations and to music and videos stored on the PC. Large, bright buttons located on the touch-optimized browser simplify fingertip browsing. The Asus has a program for automating software and hardware driver updates, which should help keep your machine in prime shape while minimizing the need for manual intervention in the process.

The AZ5700’s HD-oriented display has a native resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels. Video playback is smooth and crisp, despite the system’s integrated graphics. Image quality is impressive, too, with excellent color reproduction, so the pictures you load onto the ma­­chine via the multiformat card reader will look great. The system also offers a DVD burner–for the price, a Blu-ray player just isn’t feasible.

A built-in TV tuner completes the media-friendly package. Thanks to Windows 7’s built-in DVR functionality, you can record all of your favorite shows, and the bundled remote control invites you to re-create the living-room experience in your cramped dorm room. The included keyboard and mouse are wireless, so you can switch back to the paper you’re supposed to be writing, should friends swing by to check in.

The built-in Webcam offers a convenient way to keep in touch with your folks back home, and included software lets you spice up your video chats with silly animations and the like. A video surveillance mode gives you the technology to catch your roommate red-handed and demand compensation for pilfered beverages and snacks.

There’s a lot to like in this all-in-one, but the AZ5700’s strongest asset is its price tag. The PC is a great machine for work and play, and its price won’t re­­duce you to subsisting on ramen for the next se­­mester. You get good value in a fairly attractive frame, and the system is versatile enough to power you quickly through your work assignments, while shining as an after-hours media hub.

For the Child’s Room: A Multipurpose Machine for the Gaming Tween

For the youngest computer users in your household, you’ll want to set up an all-in-one that meets their not-too-demanding needs for work and play. But a dollop of panache doesn’t hurt. For the tween in your life, we turn to Lenovo. Though the company generally means business, the Lenovo IdeaCentre B500 all-in-one is anything but plain.

If you have any familiarity with the Transformers–or if you have an affinity for motorcycles–the B500’s angular chassis should bring a twinkle to your eye. Clad in a shell of black, chrome, and orange, with sharp lines and ac­­cents, the B500 has a strikingly handsome, almost aggressive appearance.

Equipped with a 2.66GHz Core 2 Quad processor and 4GB of DDR3 memory, the B500 earned a WorldBench 6 score of 108, marking it as a strong performer. And the all-in-one’s 1TB of hard-drive storage space leaves plenty of room for your child’s music, movies, and homework.

Worker’s Playtime

Once the chores are done, the system’s nVidia GeForce GTS 250M graphics card lets your kid celebrate with some games. The B500 earned impressive scores on our gaming benchmarks: 73 frames per second in our Unreal Tournament 3 test, and 80 fps in Call of Duty 4, at a resolution of 1680 by 1050 pixels, with the settings cranked up high.

The screen is bright and attractive, with a native 1920-by-1080-pixel resolution. The included Blu-ray player lets Junior view his favorite flicks without tying up your dedicated media center. For youngsters who prefer to obtain their media from traditional sources, the built-in TV tuner will help keep them in touch with their favorite television shows. There’s a remote control too, for replicating the couch-potato experience in the comfort of their own kid-cave.

The rear end of the B500 is as striking as the front, with a bright, almost neon-orange grille that accents the chrome backplate. Six open USB ports are available for adding external devices such as portable hard drives or gaming peripherals. The system’s built-in Wi-Fi connectivity means that you don’t have to figure out how to snake an ethernet cable into your child’s room without tripping everyone who enters. The bundled keyboard and mouse are wireless, too, and they connect to the B500 over the machine’s integrated Bluetooth transceiver.

Missing from this all-in-one’s feature set is a touchscreen. That means your tween won’t be able to take advantage of Windows 7’s gesture support; but on the other hand, it also means you won’t have to research how to safely remove gummy-bear fingerprints and Cheetos residue from the display panel.

The system affords some measure of built-in protection against your child’s roving curiosity, too: the B500 includes Lenovo’s Vantage Technology suite, a consumer-oriented version of the company’s ThinkVantage software utilities, which handle hardware drivers and software updates automatically, and provide system recovery tools for fixing mishaps more easily, should your progeny have an unfortunate propensity for indiscriminately downloading toolbars that stubbornly resist uninstalling.

Lenovo is well known for its relatively drab business machines, but the Idea­Centre B500 couples performance with an expressive flair that kids (and adults) are likely to appreciate.

And What About iMacs?

We can’t have a complete discussion of all-in-one PCs without mentioning the line of machines that has come to define the category: Apple’s iMac. The latest model in that line, the 27-inch Core i7 iMac is the largest of the all-in-ones we’ve seen. Equipped with 4GB of RAM and a 2.8GHz quad-core processor, it’s also the fastest, netting a score of 128 on WorldBench 6. And it’s gorgeous, if you’re a fan of brushed metal.

Alas, the iMac ships without a Blu-ray drive, a TV tuner, and HDMI or eSATA ports. And the Apple all-in-one is pricier than most of its Windows-based counterparts, too; keep that in mind as you ogle the chassis and weigh your options.

All-in-One PCs to Suit Diverse Needs

Each of the five all-in-one PCs we recommend in this article delivers excellent service for a specific group of tasks: home office use, kitchen service, home entertainment, college student support, or preteen activities.

Click the thumbnail image at left to see a full-size chart appraising each system’s design and performance, and detailing its features and specifications.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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