But it's less easy to understand the high prices of upgrades charged by big-name manufacturers. In some cases, choosing an SSD or larger hard disk means paying more than double the street value of the equivalent desktop component.
It's refreshing, then, for Scan Computers to buck this trend with its first all-in-one offering, the 3XS Mirage AIO245, with affordable off-the-shelf upgrades. It also offers a wider range of options than other manufacturers. It can be configured with, or without, a touch-screen display, there are five processors to choose from, hard disk capacities ranging from 500 GB to 3 TB and three sizes of mSATA SSD, along with a variety of memory configurations, operating systems and a choice of optical drive.
An aspect of the Mirage that cannot be changed is its chipset, which includes the graphics processor, an nVidia Geforce GT 750M. Although Scan may offer a wider range of graphics options in the future, for now, this comes as standard. It isn't a bad choice, as we found it's more than enough to play games.??The affordable upgrade prices should make any iMac user green with envy. Going from a 500 GB to 3TB hard disk costs just £39.32 extra, while an additional 256 GB Crucial m4 Slim SSD costs just £134.25.
These roughly match the prices Scan would charge if buying those components separately.??We opted for a high-performance configuration, and picked the fastest possible processor, a 3.1GHz Intel Core i7-3700S, with a 1 TB hard disk and a 128 GB SSD.
Also added were the option on a Blu-ray drive, and the standard 23.5-inch touch-sensitive display. This came to £1320, admittedly a considerable sum, but a substantial saving over equivalently specced all-in-ones made by big-name firms.
The base configuration – with a Core i3 processor and 500 GB hard disk – is £1070; but drop the touchscreen, which isn't wholly necessary, and the bundled Windows operating system, and you pay £840.
That's not bad for an all-in-one with a graphics card that's powerful enough to be useful for games and GPU-accelerated functions in certain software. Although no keyboard or mouse is supplied as standard, they can be added as extras on Scan's configuration page. See also: all-in-one PCs buying advice.
Scan all-in-one PC: build quality
We were less impressed by the Mirage's build quality, which is lacking compared with the products of bigger manufacturers. The white plastic rear casing had a small but noticeable gap between the screen and the inside components, a far cry from the seamless aluminium of a Mac. The speakers were tinny, and the plastic brightness controller felt like something from a budget radio. Given how the Mirage is far from being the cheapest AIO on the market, we felt quality should be higher.
The 23.6-inch screen, the centrepiece of any AIO, is more than adequate. Being a twisted-nematic (TN) panel, colours weren't as vibrant as you'd find with an IPS display like the iMac's, but it still looks good, and crucially, doesn't wobble.
Four USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports can be found on the sides, along with analogue audio out, an SD card reader and a gigabit ethernet connector. A great addition is an HDMI input, along with HDMI output for connection to a TV. Having a video input (selected using one of three side-mounted buttons) means the Mirage can be used as a standalone display, to connect a laptop or games console, for example.
The top-end configuration we tested returned a PCMark 7 score of 5752 points, and 3D Mark 11 score of 2994 points. With the help of its mSata SSD, the Windows 8 boot screen appeared 20 seconds after pressing the power button.??Every game we tested ran well too. Civilization V performed brilliantly, and was fun playing with a touchscreen. Dota 2 and Battlefield 3 (tweaked for slightly lower detail settings) also worked well.
In our standard Stalker: Call of Pripyat benchmark we recorded an average framerate of 125fps, a respectable score, but not record-breaking. All-in-one PCs are no substitute for desktop gaming PCs with discrete graphics cards, but having the ability to run most games on the market is a nice addition. Also see: group test - what's the best all-in-one PC?