Is it Time to Consider an All-In-One Desktop?

With Apple refreshing their market leading iMac line, Sony their wonderful LT and LS lines, and HP their revolutionary Touchsmart (not to mention others coming to market shortly), is it finally time to consider an all-in-one desktop?

I’m not going to focus much on the differences between products, and instead focus on the benefits of the form factor and why you may want to start considering it for a home or small office PC. I’ll even suggest there may be a market for an enterprise all-in-one, but the last true enterprise all-in-one, the X41, was from IBM and they discontinued it long before they spun out their PC division to Lenovo. 

Let’s start with the historical problems with all-in-ones and why they don’t matter as much, the historical advantages of all-in-ones (which are stronger than ever), and then conclude with why the class itself if worth considering seriously again. 

Historic Problems with All-In-Ones 

There are two big problems with all-in-ones that may not really all matter that much anymore. The first is flexibility in terms of being able to upgrade the core system components, and the second is focused on one component (the display), which has a vastly longer service life than the PC component does. 

In terms of the former issue, however, we have learned that most individuals and most companies (with estimates I’ve seen that exceed 95%) never change a single thing on the core personal computer they bought. In many ways, reviewers haven’t caught up to this, but I think this is changing, and I think the iMac is a good portion of the cause of that, because it was high-profile and virtually no one has complained that it can’t be upgraded. 

The bigger problem, though, was the monitor, particularly as we moved to flat panel monitors which initially cost in the $3K range and have an estimated life cycle in excess of 7 years, while PCs were vastly cheaper and had a service life of 4 years or less. Also, monitor prices were dropping and sizes increasing so people could see times when they might want to increase the size of the display, but not replace the PC. This last issue largely stopped being true once displays passed 19”. Much larger didn’t seem that much more attractive, the cost of the displays dropped below $500 (which translated into lower prices for all-in-ones and lower risk), and the result was, while the problem continues, it isn’t anywhere near as pronounced.  

So one major negative really isn’t, and realistically for most, probably never was. And, on the flip side, the other problem has become vastly less important. 

All-In-One Advantages

The biggest advantage is ease of setup and use, followed by high portability, and ending with a reduced hardware footprint. All-in-one computers, particularly those with wireless networking, keyboards and mice, are as close to a one-plug solution as you are likely to get in a PC. Increasingly, they are shipped with a focus on this ease-of-use experience, and it makes them a dream when compared to the typical mini-tower or tower desktop, to get up and running. In fact, if you’ve never messed with one, it is worth wandering into your local computer store and just taking a look at one of the all-in-one display models or talking to someone that has one… setup is comparatively wonderful. 

For an all-in-one desktop system, the installation process is typically as follows: Insert one or two plugs, pick up and go. Very much similar to a large laptop in terms of how easy it is to move (but clearly much heavier), these things can easily be shuffled from cubicle-to-cubicle, office-to-office, home-to-office and room-to-room vastly easier and, in most cases more safely (they actually tend to be lighter than many tower PCs), than a more traditional desktop. If you want a full desktop experience, but still retain some portability, an all-in-one is simply vastly better than any solution – including a laptop, which makes tradeoffs for higher portability in terms of PC performance, screen size and screen performance. 

Finally, an all-in-one not only puts parts like disk drives on the desk (rather than under it), it typically takes up less desk space (over and under) than a more traditional PC. Granted, very small PCs like the Mac Mini (which was my pick for the best desktop PC in 2006) come close, but nothing is as condensed as an all-in-one, and this makes it much more contained.

Additional Advantage: Attractiveness

If you look at the all-in-one boxes from all of the vendors I’ve listed, they are, without exception, the best-looking PCs from each of these vendors. The Apple and Sony products, in particular, are almost pieces of art, and the user interface on the HP is one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever touched.  

If you want to be proud of what you’ve bought, and I mean really proud, it is very hard to beat an all-in-one (at least with respect to a desktop PC). Some of these products, so much so that they can even take your breath away: See Dell’s XPS M2010 which, while positioned as a huge laptop, is actually more of an all-in-one with greater focus on portability (you sure as heck aren’t using one of these on a plane) and will blow onlookers’ minds. 

When you spend money on something, most want to feel proud of what it is you bought, and in the desktop class, any one of these all-in-one machines can provide that. Certainly, there are advantages and disadvantages to each of these products, but as a single product class, they are among the most beautiful machines each vendor makes. Mind you, you can find monitors that come close, but few (Apple is an exception) actually match well with the industrial design of the desktops they are connected to.  

Wrapping Up

In essence, I think that it is high time we all – and I’m speaking to my peers as well as those of you who buy systems off the shelf – took a fresh look at all-in-ones and realized that the advantages for many exceed by a significant magnitude the disadvantages. And, no less, that many computer shoppers who are unhappy with their desktop PC could be much happier with an all-in-one. 

Editors' Recommendations