How to Choose an All-in-One PC
The top performers in our review are the Gold Award winning Apple iMac, the Silver Award winning Lenovo Ideacentre AIO 700 and the Bronze Award winning Dell XPS 27 Touch. Here’s more on choosing an all-in-one computer to meet your needs, along with details on how we arrived at our ranking of the top 10.
Most desktop PCs quickly become a tangle of wires and extra devices. Fortunately, all-in-one computers store all their components right in the monitor, saving valuable space on and under your desk. The typically high-quality display, measuring anywhere from 23 to 27 inches corner to corner, becomes the centerpiece of the system, and once you’ve connected its power cord, you’re good to go. Since the majority of all-in-ones these days have wireless keyboards and mice, you don’t even need to plug them in before you boot the computer up.
If you’re looking for a more conventional desktop computer with a separate monitor and CPU case, consider our home computer reviews. Multimedia computers are excellent for home entertainment and connect to other media devices, while business computers are best for offices that need networked computers able to handle a variety of professional tasks.
All-in-one PCs make great all-purpose machines. You can surf the web, stream videos, listen to music or run office software. The systems are capable of document processing, image editing or just letting family members watch movies and play games through an attached console. With stereo speakers, a webcam and a microphone right in the chassis, they’re ideal for video chatting, and many feature a touchscreen, providing you with a quick, intuitive way to interact with your computer. The one downside to all-in-one systems is gaming: They’re not very good at running high-end computer games, since there isn’t enough space in a monitor to include a powerful graphics card.
All-in-One PCs: What We Evaluated, What We Found
We look for three basic things in an all-in-one desktop computer: a big screen, high resolution and a fast processor. Screen size and resolution should be considered together, which is why we list them next to each other in our comparisons above.
Screen Size & Resolution
If you stretch a low-resolution display out to 27 inches, it can look grainy; if you pack a high-resolution display into a small package, text can get very small and hard to read. The three 27-inch systems we reviewed all have big screens and high resolutions, so they’re safe bets if you can afford them.
Resolution is a measurement of the number of pixels in a computer’s screen. Full HD, or 1080p, is the most common, measuring 1920 x 1080 pixels. A step up from that is QHD, which measures 2560 x 1440 pixels. Even more impressive is Ultra-HD, better known as 4K, which packs 3840 x 2160 pixels into its frame – literally four times as many points of light as a 1080p screen.
4K is generally considered the high water mark for resolution, but Apple’s iMac ups the ante with its 5K screen, measuring in at 5120 x 2880 pixels. Apple calls this resolution a Retina display, since at the distance most people sit from their monitors, it’s nigh impossible to see individual pixels. Apple’s display is impressive, but anything over 1080p gives you a quality experience.
The single biggest factor we considered in our evaluations was performance: specifically, the type and speed of the computer’s processor. Intel has a virtual monopoly on CPUs these days, and every all-in-one computer we reviewed uses an Intel processor. However, not all Intel chips are created equal. The chipmaker releases its processors in generations – batches of CPU models that use a particular underlying architecture to get the job done. Generally speaking, the more recent the generation, the faster the processor, but there can be outliers. In fact, the fastest all-in-one in our lineup is running a processor two generations old.
To take the guesswork out of figuring which processor is best, we turn to PassMark, a widely trusted and cited testing body that aggregates user results for virtually every CPU ever made. Its database is expansive, and its scores are reliable. Whether a given score is right for you depends on your needs, but a higher score is always better.
What Else Is Important When Selecting an All-in-One PC?
Having a fast processor and a big, high-resolution screen is important, but there are a few other factors to consider when looking for the best all-in-one computer.
If you plan to keep lots of photos, documents, music and videos, it's important to factor storage into your buying equation. Most all-in-one PCs use high-capacity hard drives, but some combine them with solid-state drives (SSDs), either by default or as an available upgrade. Hard drives are great for storing huge numbers of files, while SSDs are great for your operating system. Install Windows on an SSD and you’ll see your boot times and application load times drop like a stone.
Most all-in-one computers can handle HD video streaming, but they aren't meant for playing games. To be suitable for high-end, graphically intensive gaming, you need to have an impressive graphics card under the hood. All-in-ones simply don’t have the space to fit top-quality, dedicated graphics cards. Nevertheless, even with a lower-end card you can get some fun gaming sessions in.
There are two types of graphics cards: integrated and discrete. All modern Intel CPUs have integrated graphics, so you can watch movies and stream videos without hassle. Unfortunately, integrated graphics quickly falter if you try to play even basic games, which is why a discrete card – a separate, distinct component dedicated to handling all your PC’s graphical needs – can be so useful. Both AMD’s Radeon cards and NVIDIA’s GeForce cards offer huge steps up in performance over integrated graphics.
In the event you need technical support for your all-in-one computer, all manufacturers offer at least a one-year limited warranty. They typically provide phone and email support for the duration of that warranty, but once the year is up, you have to pay for technical support or search for solutions online. For extra peace of mind, several manufacturers offer extended warranties at an additional cost.
Judging the quality of technical support can be difficult, but fortunately our sister site Laptop Magazine has solved the problem. Every year, it runs a hands-on support survey of the 10 biggest computer manufacturers in the industry. We’ve distilled its findings into grades in our comparison above, but you can read explanations of what those grades mean in the individual reviews or by reading Laptop’s Tech Support Showdown yourself.
All-in-One Computers: Our Verdict & Recommendations
With all the different options out there, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when you’re looking for a new all-in-one. Depending on your needs, though, we have a couple recommendations to guide you on your way.
The Best All-in-One for the Whole Family: Apple iMac
Apple creates computers with excellent design and superb build quality. Its iMac has long set the standard for all-in-one computing, and that still holds true today. With the biggest display, the sharpest resolution and some of the best internal components you can buy, there’s tons to love, but the kicker here is Apple’s operating system. OS X is usually easier for people to use than Windows if they aren’t particularly tech-savvy, and that can be a big boon if you’re shopping for a system everyone in your family will use.
The Best Windows All-in-One: Lenovo Ideacentre AIO
Macs are great, but for people who grew up using and loving Windows, its operating system can be frustrating to use. Lenovo’s Ideacentre AIO is a very close second to the Apple iMac in our overall picks and is far-and-away the best Windows all-in-one you can buy. With gorgeous 4K resolution in a wide, 27-inch display, as well as HDMI input so you can plug a game console or cable box right into your PC, the Ideacentre is a multimedia machine.
The Best All-in-One for Gaming: MSI Gaming 24GE 2QE
Gaming on an all-in-one computer isn’t common, but it can free up much-needed desk and floor space in a tiny apartment or let the gamers in your house enjoy themselves on the same computer mom uses to get her work done. MSI’s gaming all-in-one features a top-tier Intel processor and the best graphics card you’ll find in the category. It even comes with a wired gaming keyboard and mouse for lag-free gameplay.
When it comes to buying a new all-in-one computer, we’re here to make the process as simple and easy as the systems themselves. Compare what’s available, read our reviews, and should you have additional questions, feel free to check out the articles on all-in-one PCs we’ve put together.