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All for one

What’s the bare minimum a user wants from a desktop PC?

Apple’s latest 27-inch iMac is by far the best machine for both home and office use

A screen and input devices like the keyboard and mouse. The days of a clunky black metal box hogging space on the desk, or taking up valuable foot room, and catching the occasional errant kick from an unintentional swinging foot could soon be a thing of the past, thanks to the All-in-One (AIO) PC form factor.

The AIO aims to deliver the full computing package in sleek and elegant design without the traditional cable-clutter – as a standard, these devices are bundled with a wireless keyboard and mouse. All of the internal processing hardware is mostly located behind the screen with additional components such as a webcam and speakers usually found above and below the display.

The inherent downside to all of this tight integration, as with laptops, is that upgrading or customising internal components is more of a challenge since access to the inside usually isn’t as convenient as with conventional desktop systems. Some manufacturers have tried to anticipate this by adding easy access to some of the internal components.

For this comparative review, we put five AIO PCs through their paces to find out which one is the best hybrid device for serious business tasks, as well as more family oriented activities like casual gaming and the consumption of video, music and photos. As a result, each machine has been evaluated and rated with an equal weighting to business and leisure use.

Test information

The AIO PCs of five major brands were put through their paces. As a minimum, each PC had at least a 23-inch screen. To give each brand some technical freedom, and see what they’re ultimately capable of without restrictions, no maximum retail price was set. That said, we aimed at configurations that offer both a good balance between the hardware they offer and their price.

Per brand, one specific configuration was put to the test, but models with varying specifications and pricing are also available. Areas of variance include more (or less) storage space and RAM, better (touch) screens or a slightly more advanced CPU or GPU. Although each of the tested AIO PCs has a minimum diagonal screen measurement of 23-inch, smaller (21-inch) and larger versions (27-inch) are optional in most cases.

Before commencing the test-run, all AIO PCs were given a simultaneous once-off update opportunity of both the pre-installed operating system, as well as all the other brand specific software and drivers. After that, all settings were left to their original values as defined by the manufacturer to rule out any form of optimisation.

The overall score was calculated by carefully weighing and evaluating a set of relevant aspects with the help of industry-standard benchmarks, dedicated measuring equipment and straightforward practical, hands-on experience. Screen quality was determined by aspects such as resolution, brightness, contrast and viewing angles while performance reflects how fast certain tasks could be dealt with. The hardware aspect was quantified by the technical specifications for all components combined. Build quality was rated by the level of sturdiness of both the main casing, as well as the included accessories.

Versatility was mainly determined by all of the connectivity options. The ergonomics factor was determined by how comfortable and efficient the AIOs, and included accessories, were.

Acer Aspire U27
Starting RRP:
R19 999
Distributor: Tarsus
Display: 27-inch, 1920 x 1080
Processor: Intel Core i5-7400T (2.4 GHz)
Memory: 8 GB (max 32GB)
Storage: 1 TB HDD
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce 930MX (4 GB)
Connectivity: WiFi, Bluetooth, USB, audio in/out, card reader, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI in/out
Additional information

Acer’s brand new AIO PC features a touch screen with support for 10-finger input and is equipped with an additional infrared camera to support Windows Hello facial recognition technology. Its design is extremely thin with barely a bulge to indicate any components inside.

The LiquidLoop fanless cooling system facilitates quiet operation and efficient cooling by using liquid evaporation and condensation for the transport and dispersion of heat. Sound quality leaves some room for improvement, despite the Dolby certified built-in subwoofer. It also lacks front-driving speakers, so the sound isn’t as crisp and clear as expected.

The Aspire U27 features an HDMI input and output connector so the screen can also be used for non-PC purposes, like connecting it to a game console or second screen.

A smart leather cable management holder keeps the workspace neat and clutter-free, while a screen that tilts from -5 to 25 degrees allows for easy adjusting of viewing angles for maximum comfort when browsing, watching movies, and taking video calls. Screen quality is quite good, but the 1920 x 1080 resolution on a 27-inch diagonal results in a relatively low 82 pixel per inch count. As a result, you can see the individual pixels from a normal sitting distance, which can become be quite distracting.

Pros
* Fanless cooling system
* Slim design
* Good build quality
* Additional infrared camera
* Touch sensitive screen

Cons
* Relative low screen resolution
* Unimpressive speaker quality

Best features
* Build quality 8/10
* Versatility 8/10
* Ergonomics 8/10

Worst features
* Screen quality 6/10

Overall
7.4/10



Apple iMac 27-inch (2017)

RRP:
R30 000
Distributor: Core Group
Display: 27-inch IPS LED (5120 x 2880)
Processor: Intel Core i5-7500 (3.4 GHz)
Memory: 8 GB (max 32 GB)
Storage: 1 TB Fusion drive (SSD + HDD)
Graphics: AMD Radeon Pro 570 (4 GB)
Connectivity: WiFi, Bluetooth, USB, audio in/out, card reader, Gigabit Ethernet, Thunderbolt
Product page

Apple’s latest 27-inch iMac is an incremental upgrade when directly compared to the 2015 model. This 2017 iteration features an even brighter, extremely high-resolution (Retina) screen and more advanced internal hardware than its predecessor. Although the aluminium design remains unchanged, it looks incredibly sleek and almost timeless. Small annoyances, like the inability to adjust the display height and slightly difficult access to the ports in the back, remain in this new model. The hinge mechanism, though, works like a charm.

This tested iMac houses a 1 TB Fusion drive, which combines both solid state storage (SSD) for the operating system and the more traditional hard disk for user files and additional applications. For the high price, we really would have hoped Apple fitted this iMac with a complete, and much faster SSD solution. The internal memory is easily upgradeable by opening a small cover on the back and simply clicking the memory modules inside.

With this 2017 iMac, Apple bundles the excellent, compact and elegant Magic Keyboard which is completely rechargeable. There’s no need to replace batteries, it offers excellent key travel, feels extremely solid and pairs with the AIO straight out of the box.

The included Magic Mouse 2 also comes standard with this system and looks great, feels solid and sturdy, and features a handy touch sensitive surface as well as a built-in rechargeable battery.

Pros
* Beautiful, solid design
* Jaw-dropping screen
* Hinge mechanism
* High-quality keyboard and mouse
* Easily upgradable memory

Cons
* High price
* Lacks full SSD

Best features
* Build quality 9/10
* Screen quality 9/10
* Ergonomics 9/10

Worst features
* Hardware 7.5/10

Overall
8.4

Dell Inspiron 5488

Indicative Retail Price: R19 990
Distributors: Axiz, Drive Control Corporation, Pinnacle, Tarsus
Display: 23.8-inch IPS LED (1920 x 1080)
Processor: Intel Core i5-7400T (2.4 GHz)
Memory: 8 GB (max 16 GB)
Storage: TB HDD
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce 930MX (4 GB)
Connectivity: WiFi, Bluetooth, USB, audio in/out, card reader, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI in/out

Dell’s Inspiron 5488 AIO features a smaller touch-sensitive screen than the Acer Aspire U27 while showing off the exact same resolution of 1920 x 1080 (Full-HD). As a result, pixel density is slightly higher at 93 ppi so at normal sitting distance individual pixels aren’t as visible. In terms of performance, it matches the Acer while image quality is slightly better thanks to its high maximum brightness, contrast levels and comfortable viewing angles. Nonetheless, it pales when compared to the 5K Retina screen of the iMac. Build quality is sufficient, but unable to seriously compete with the Acer or Apple models.

The Dell Inspiron 5488 is very easy to set up and ready to use once it’s out of the box. Sound quality is quite good, considerably better than that of the Acer. If you’re not a big fan of Windows 10, Dell can also supply this machine with a pre-installed version of the Linux Ubuntu operating system. As with
all the other tested AIO PCs, this Dell houses a complete range of both physical and wireless connectivity options. The HDMI in and out connectors enable the display to be connected to various other sources and display devices like game consoles and projectors. The design and build quality of the included wireless keyboard and mouse aren’t as good as those of the Apple iMac, though.

Pros
* Great sound quality
* Touch sensitive screen
* Good screen brightness, contrast and viewing angle
* Easy to set up
* Ubuntu as alternative operating system

Cons
* System build quality
* Keyboard and mouse build quality

Best features
Hardware 8/10
Versatility 8/10

Worst feature
Build quality 6.5/10
Overall 7.3

HP ProOne 440 G3

Estimated retail price: R12 000
Distributor: Axiz, Drive Control Corporation, Pinnnacle, Tarsus
Display: 23.8-inch IPS LED (1920 x 1080)
Processor: Intel Core i5-7500T (2.7 GHz)
Memory: 8 GB (max 16 GB)
Storage: 1 TB HDD
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 630
Connectivity: WiFi, Bluetooth, USB, audio in/out, card reader, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI out
Product page

This HP ProOne 440 G3 features a stylish design with some great sounding Bang & Olufsen speakers right underneath the adequate 23.8-inch Full-HD IPS LED screen. Although its CPU is on par with the rest of the tested machines, the GPU lacks horsepower since it isn’t a dedicated video card with its own video memory. As a result, this specific configuration can’t smoothly render the latest 3D-games at high detail levels. A faster Nvidia GeForce 930MX card with 2 GB of video memory is available at an additional price, however.

The ProOne also lacks an HDMI in connector but can be hooked up to a second screen using the HDMI out port. However, the HP AIO features easy to reach expansion ports on the back for additional SSD storage and additional wireless functionality. The included keyboard and mouse, unfortunately, have
a distinct plastic feel to them and don’t feel particularly solid.

Pros
* Good speaker system
* Stylish design
* Easy to reach expansion ports

Cons
* Lacks dedicated video card
* No HDMI in
* Keyboard and mouse feel flimsy

Best features
* Ergonomics 7.5/10
* Versatility 7/10

Worst features
* Hardware 6/10
* Overall 6.7

Lenovo V510z
RRP: R13 860
Distributor: Rectron
Display: 23-inch IPS LED (1920 x 1080)
Processor: Intel Core i7-7700T (2.9 GHz)
Memory: 8 GB (max 32 GB)
Storage: 1 TB HDD
Graphics: Nvidia Geforce 940MX (2 GB)
Connectivity: WiFi, Bluetooth, USB, audio in/out, card reader, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI in/out
Product page

This Lenovo AIO is clearly designed more for office, retail or reception environments than the four other tested machines. Its design is bulkier than the other AIO PCs but compensates that with the fastest CPU and GPU in this test. Unfortunately, it lacks an SSD drive so it couldn’t blow the competition away completely. It features both an HDMI in and out port to connect it to a second screen or games console.

The V510z has a functional, borderless design that facilitates relatively easy replacement of some internal components. In addition, it offers a range of screen stands featuring functional tilt and height adjustments, meaning you can easily adapt it to nearly every working style. Like the Acer, this machine houses an additional infrared camera to support the Windows Hello facial recognition login functionality. Lenovo’s Bluetooth Lock technology locks this AIO when you step away from it, which is a pretty smart idea. Build quality is quite good. While its screen is adequate, it won’t blow you away either. The included keyboard and mouse are functional yet nothing fancy.

Pros
* Fast CPU and GPU
* Borderless screen
* HDMI in/out
* Relatively easy to upgrade components
* Adjustable tilt and height
* Infrared camera

Cons
* Bulky design
* Dull looking keyboard and mouse

Best features
* Hardware 9/10
* Performance 8.5/10

Worst feature
* Screen quality 6.5/10
* Overall 7.7


In conclusion

Having put all five AIO PCs through their paces, it won’t come as a complete surprise that Apple’s latest 27-inch iMac is by far the best machine for both home and office use. It simply beats the competition hands down, but that comes at an incredibly steep price.

If budget is a consideration, or for those who aren’t particularly fond of the Apple operating system, the 23-inch Lenovo is the next best choice because of its fast hardware, relatively easy upgrade options, adjustable tilt and height functionality and additional infrared camera. It isn’t the best looker, though.

Acer’s Aspire U27 is also worth a mention. The fanless cooling system, slim design, good build quality, infrared camera and touch sensitive screen make it a good alternative. Do keep in mind that the relatively low pixel per inch count and speaker quality might turn into a deal breaker in the long run, however.

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