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All-in-one PCs buying advice, group test

What to look for when buying an all-in-one PC

All-in-one PC buying advice: Conclusion

If your all-in-one PC is for use in the home, perhaps as a lounge entertainment centre, appearance can be crucially important. In terms of sheer aesthetics, Lenovo's IdeaCentre A720 is streets ahead of Windows competition. It may cost more but many will find it worth the extra for design alone. It incorporates one of the largest screens, incorporating superior panel technology and a frameless 10-point touchscreen which gives it a headstart if you're considering Windows 8. It also comes with great pre-installed software, all making it our Best Buy system.

For serious work, HP's 27in Z1 workstation is in a class of its own. Most will find it prohibitively expensive, but for those who require the ultimate reliability and easy maintenance, it can't be beaten – most core components can be swapped out without tools. It has no touchscreen, but it's the only PC here with a professional-grade display. You'll also be able to rely on a three-year on-site warranty with guaranteed next-day service.

The Asus ET2411INTI is a good mid-range system which retains a high-level of build quality in a smaller, 24in package. It delivers good all-round-performance and friendly pre-installed software which enables you to try a touchscreen environment today, although it won't be so usable under Windows 8.

For the budget conscious, MSI's Wind Top AE2281G is the least expensive of the bunch yet still retains a decent level of performance. You'll have to make do with a smaller screen and forego the Blu-ray player. It too comes pre-installed with software designed for home users.

If you prefer to install your own software and would rather have a more configurable or upgradable system you could go for one of the options from Chillblast or PC Specialist, who have taken a pre-built housings and added their own components.

Build quality suffers with these PCs, which have a distinctly DIY feel to them, but they also use many standard PC components so can to some extent be user-upgraded like a regular desktop PC.

Lenovo IdeaCentre A720

All-in-one PCs: How we test

All-in-one PC: Application performance

Core system performance is measured using WorldBench 6. This customised test suite runs several desktop Windows applications with real-world workloads, mimicking how PCs are used on a daily basis.

These workloads include tasks such as editing documents and images, compressing files, browsing the web and encoding video. Some tasks are then run simultaneously to form an additional test of the PC's multitasking capabilities.

In total, eight applications are used: Adobe Photoshop Creative Suite 2.0, AutoDesk 3ds Max 8.0, Firefox 2.0, Microsoft Office 2003, Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9.0, Nero 7.0 Ultra Edition, Roxio ViewWave Movie Creator 1.5 and WinZip Computing WinZip 10.0.

Results from 10 individual tests are combined and weighted to produce a numerical score relative to a baseline PC.

Our baseline configuration runs a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo E6600 processor, 2GB of DDR2 RAM, an nVidia GeForce 7900 GS graphics card, twin Western Digital Caviar WD3200KS hard drives in a striped Raid array, and Windows Vista Home Premium 32bit. This PC scored 100 points in WorldBench 6.

All-in-one PC: Transcoding performance

We set each PC the task of converting a batch of 1080p Mpeg4 video clips for use on the iPad 2 and recorded how long it took to complete. We used CyberLink's MediaEspresso software.

This software is able to make use of hardware-accelerated decoding and encoding built into graphic cards and CPUs with integrated graphics-processing capabilities. These techniques can often shorten conversion times by a factor of 10. Multiple CPU threads are also fully exploited, allowing quad-core CPUs to shine when compared to dual-core versions.

All-in-one PC: Power consumption

Unlike most desktop machines, all-in-one computers may often be left switched on for extended periods. We measure power consumption when idle and when running the CyberLink MediaEspresso test with the display panel set to the default brightness.

All-in-one PC: Gaming performance

These PCs aren't designed for gamers, but we run two tests using Crysis, which still has the power to stretch modern graphics to the limit.

We've included a 720p Crysis test to give PCs running integrated graphics processors a chance. For those with discrete chips we crank up the resolution to 1080p, set the quality to Very High and use 16x anti-aliasing.

All-in-one PC: Display quality

We use a Datacolor Spyder4 calibrator to measure colour gamut and accuracy, contrast and uniformity across the surface of the screen. We also take into account the viewing angles afforded by the display technology each panel uses. We have produced an score out of five each for accurate and uniform brightness and colour reproduction.

All-in-one PC: Subjective assessment

It's not all about speed. We also pay close attention to the physical characteristics of each all-in-one PC, its noise output and build-quality, and take note of important features such as the quality of components.

All-in-one PC: Support

Differences in warranty terms can have a big effect on our verdict. Longer warranties are better, but we also look at the terms and conditions – specifically, whether faulty systems must be returned to the vendor at your own cost, and whether parts, labour or both are included.

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