The all-in-one PC has developed in stages over the years, and with Window 8 on the horizon the next big step could be closer than you think.
All-in-one PCs might be hot right now, but they’re not exactly new. In fact, the first all-in-one computer debuted way back in 1972 in the form of the HP 9830. Looking more like an oversized pocket calculator than a computer, it had one major difference to today’s all-in-ones: it was basically a computer case with a tiny monitor built in. In contrast, today’s all-in-ones are monitors with a computer built in, with the CPU/GPU, motherboard, memory and storage crammed into the back of their widescreen displays.
The first all-in-one, the HP 9830 (image: HPmuseum.org).
This display-oriented type of all-in-one has been around for a while, but until recently it suffered two major problems: overheating and lacklustre performance. The explosive growth of notebooks solved both. You see, notebooks need components with the same strengths as all-in-ones: small, powerful yet cool to run. With notebooks being the highest growth segment in computing, companies like Intel, AMD and Nvidia are increasingly focusing on products that do all three. As a result, many of today’s all-in-ones have been made possible by tech designed for notebooks.
Another recent innovation in the all-in-one space is the inclusion of a touchscreen and most bear the greasy fingerprints to prove it. Unfortunately, Windows 7 doesn’t work so well without a mouse, so the touch-revolution hasn’t quite taken off, but Windows 8 will change all that. Designed from the ground up to deliver a touching experience, we think it’ll do wonders for the popularity of all-in-ones later this year. It sounds like Apple thinks so, too, as there are strong rumours that the iMac will finally get some touchscreen love sometime this year, a feature that’s noticeably absent from the existing range.
Buying an all-in-one is even trickier than buying a normal PC. Not only do you have to pay attention to all of the standard PC buying decisions, there’s also a raft of new considerations. Once you’ve found an all-in-one that has a good set of internal specs and a solid warranty, you’ll need to check out the screen. Is the touchscreen nice and accurate when you touch it without a stylus, especially in the corners of the display where accuracy can go haywire? How many points of contact can it track at once? More is inevitably better. With heat still being a concern, many makers pack their all-in-ones with more fans than a wind farm, so it’s wise to check how noisy the unit is after running some serious software. If you’re going to be using it as a multimedia machine, make sure it’s got a decent built-in TV tuner and even a Blu-ray drive if you’ve got the HD screen to make the most of it.
Despite all of the recent advances that have made all-in-ones a seductive buy for the average PC user, they’ve still got one major issue that nobody can fix: their inability to be upgraded. The components are packed so tightly into the monitor case that most parts are custom-mounted and there isn’t room for additional components. Once you buy an all-in-one, you’re basically stuck with the exact same specs for the rest of its life, give or take a CPU or hard drive upgrade.
Yet for most, this won’t be a concern. The convenience of these space-saving PCs combines well with their visual appeal to make them a desirable piece of tech to show off in the living room. With Windows 8 finally delivering the features necessary to unlock their potential and better hardware delivering a smooth experience, expect all-in-ones to become one of the hottest form factors of 2012.