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Buyer’s guide to all-in-one PCs

Buyer’s guide to all-in-one PCs

Posted on 17 Jun 2012 at 16:13

Intel also produces a range of low-powered processors in its Atom range, and while these are primarily designed to be used in compact and mobile systems, they can be found in lower-end, entry-level all-in-ones as well.

Atom processors are a long way off their Core equivalents for performance, and while an Atom-powered system will be fast enough for day-to-day tasks such as word processing or web browsing, you shouldn’t expect it to cope with video editing or other multimedia-heavy tasks.

Of course, the processor isn’t the only component we should be looking at when purchasing a new PC. While all but the cheapest modern processors are more than capable of powering a system that can cope with day-to-day demands, the modern curriculum is introducing more and more multimedia elements such as video editing, games programming and animation.

A hands-on approach

A growing trend in all-in-ones is to provide a touchscreen display, which allows you to operate the PC in much that same way as you would a tablet such as the iPad. With OS X 10.7 or Windows 7, the value was debatable; the touchscreen experience on Windows-based PCs wasn’t great and there aren’t a huge number of Windows applications available to use the feature. However, this is changing. The Consumer Preview release of Windows 8 is now available, and this features a new interface called “Metro” that’s written specifically for touchscreen and tablet computers, plus an app store that might eventually host a good selection of touchscreen- friendly educational apps.

It’s still too early to say how much the experience will improve and how many apps will follow, but opting for a touchscreen model now could be an effective way of future-proofing your investment should Metro and its apps take off.

If your all-in-one will be used for such tasks, it’s important to opt for a model with a graphics processor. While the processors integrated into the current Sandy Bridge Core i3, i5 and i7 processors are a huge improvement on previous Intel graphics hardware, they still can’t match the performance of even budget Nvidia or AMD graphics processors. What’s more, in an all-in-one this won’t be something you can easily upgrade later.

Maximise memory

Memory is cheap at the moment, so opt for as close to the maximum supported as possible. While you can work with 2GB, going up to 4GB or above will ensure a smoother experience and better performance than going up a class of processor – and the more memory your PC has, the better it will cope with running multiple applications at once. Fortunately, it’s something that can be added to at a later date.

Probably the most important thing to consider in an all-in-one is the screen; after all, this is what users will spend most of their time looking at, and you can’t upgrade it later. Image quality, colour accuracy and brightness are important, but it’s also worth thinking about how robust it feels. An all-in-one screen will have to last the lifetime of the PC, and it will be difficult to replace; the last thing you want is to make a support call because someone has accidentally put a pencil through it.

In an age of dwindling budgets, it’s tempting to make savings when it comes to warranties. On-site and extended warranties can add a significant premium onto the purchase price of a new PC, and there’s a great temptation to scrimp here and reduce the initial outlay. However, we’d strongly advise against this. Since all-in-ones are potentially more difficult to repair and the use of laptop or proprietary parts makes it more difficult to get hold of components, you might end up ruing such a decision. Either opt for a good, long-term on-site warranty or a fast return-to-base option; in practice, and particularly if your school is out of the way, the latter can sometimes be a more rapid solution than the former.

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