The all-in-one PC is a great way to get a large-screen computer without the inconvenience of a full desktop system. Here we review the best, latest all-in-one PCs, ranging from £299 to £1,999. We find very different features and performance levels, from 19.5in budget systems for light web browsing, to 27in professional powerhouses.
A good all-in-one PC can provide the power of a full desktop PC in a fraction of the space. They offer much bigger screens than laptops, often with multi-touch capability, but cut out most of the ugly cables you need on a traditional desktop using a single power connector instead. All-in-ones make great home entertainment PCs too, often featuring better internal speakers than laptops and providing HDMI inputs to allow you to hook up external devices such as Blu-ray players, games consoles, set-top boxes or media players such as a Google Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV.
Choosing an all-in-one PC: all-in-one PC buying advice
When selecting an all-in-one, it's a good idea to start by considering the screen size you need, although this may be constrained largely by your budget.
In choosing an all-in-one, you should take into account more than its performance. Due to its compact size an all-in-one is unlikely to be able to match the performance of a high-end desktop which may include heavy duty internal cooling, but it should be able to offer a much more stylish and visually appealing appearance, with design considerations much like a TV or any other piece of home-entertainment equipment.
Some all-in-ones use mobile or low-power processors to reduce heat and power consumption – the U, S and T suffixes denote Intel low-power chips. These PCs are generally quieter in use, while third- and fourth-gen Intel processors pack more than enough power for the vast majority of users. CPU specs can be a little confusing. It's important to look not only at the headline speed in GHz but also the maximum 'turbo' speed available. Low-power chips often run at a slower clock speed when running lighter tasks, but boost their speeds by a larger amount when required for serious number-crunching. Also watch out for Celeron chips which are slower than Core i5 or Core i7 processors even when running at similar clock speeds.
Due to space and cooling constraints, all-in-one systems rarely offer strong gaming performance. Haswell and Ivy Bridge processors provide enough built-in graphics power for HD video playback and low-level gaming, so for many people there's no need to pay for discrete graphics. However, some of the systems here incorporate a discrete graphics processor to boost gaming performance. If you really want to enjoy games to the full, the 27in iMac offers by far the quickest graphics of the group – at a price, and with a much reduced choice of titles, unless you install Windows alongside Mac OS X. Discrete graphics processors also increasingly allow better performance in non-gaming applications such as video editing and processing tasks.
Some systems incorporate Blu-ray drives and Freeview TV tuners, and are supplied with a remote to control them from across the room. Most of the PCs reviewed here incorporate a touchscreen interface, freeing you from the keyboard and mouse in some activities.
Other all-in-ones, most notably Apple's iMac, don't offer touch control – favouring traditional input methods instead. Although Apple's use of multi-gesture control on its mice and trackpads is anything but traditional. Touch input is often available as an option, so if you like a PC in this review but would prefer it with the touch control either added or removed, you will usually be able to order a version meeting your preference.
Most of the PCs we look at here have flexible configuration options and can be tweaked to fit your requirements and budget. If one is too expensive, consider cutting back on some of the options. Faster versions of the less-expensive systems are often available by selecting a quicker processor at the time of purchase.
However, we wouldn't advise trying to save money by opting for processors slower than the ones reviewed here: Microsoft's operating system needs a certain performance of chip to process its touch control. By a Celeron-based PC and the lack of responsiveness will certainly be noticeable if not actually frustrating.
If you're considering making use of touchscreen input, look for a system that tilts a long way towards the horizontal, to enable comfortable prolonged use. Holding your arms out to control a PC will otherwise soon prove tiring. Windows 8 increased the demands made on touchscreens with Microsoft requesting its hardware makers to create flush, frameless screens with 10 touch points for a satisfactory experience. All the touchscreens here meet this requirement.