Best budget all-in-one PCs (20 inches or smaller)
If you’re willing to accept a display of 20 inches or smaller, you can pick up a good all-in-one for a little over $500
HP Pavilion MS214 All-in-One PC
Pavilion MS214 All-in-One PC Review, by David Murphy, PC World December 10, 2009
CPU: AMD Athlon 64 X2; CPU speed: 1.5GHz; Hard drive size: 320GB
Very good performance
Upgradable hard disk and RAM
Only 802.11g Wi-Fi (no N)
Bottom Line: The 18.5-inch MS214 delivers a decent mix of features, performance, and price--so long as you can do without a touchscreen and slow networking.
In the past, most budget all-in-one PCs (20 inches or smaller) have come with an Intel Atom processor--a low-powered netbook favorite. So it's interesting to see HP use a faster 1.5GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 CPU for the MS214 ($600 as of December 8, 2009).The move pays off for the system's general performance, as its WorldBench 6 score of 59 is among the highest of any all-in-one desktop of this size and price.
Only two other sub 20-inch all-in-ones that have also ditched Atom beat the MS214: The $650, 20-inch MSI Wind Top AE2010 (with a 1.5GHz Athlon X2 dual-core 3250e) scored 60; and Dell's $944 Studio One 19 (with a 2.5GHz Pentium dual-core E5200) is way out in front with a WorldBench 6 score of 93. But as good as the 19-inch Dell is, $900 will now also get your the 23-inch Acer Aspire Z5610 all-in-one; it scored 101 in WorldBench.
Integrated graphics don't do much to assist the MS214 with games--it reached a wimpy (and unplayable) 11 frames per second in our Unreal Tournament 3 benchmark (even at a high-quality resolution of 1024 by 768). No surprise there, though, that's pretty much standard for all-in-ones at this price.
Two gigabytes of DDR2 memory are double what you'd typically find on an all-in-one system of this size (or smaller). So is the system's included storage capacity of 320GB (where typically we used to see 160GB). Unfortunately, the MS214 only has 802.11g Wi-Fi (not wireless-N), and 10/100 ethernet, instead of gigabit speeds. You do get a DVD writer, though. You're also able to rip off the MS214's back panel and upgrade the system's hard drive and memory should you so desire--a tricky process, but HP does spell it out in the online documentation. It's rare to see a company outright supporting the direct tweaking of an all-in-one system, given the complexity involved in doing so. For that, I applaud HP.
Although the MS214's 18.5-inch (1366-by-768 resolution) screen doesn't do 1080p, the matte panel offers excellent contrasts without any of the unfortunate glare found on glossy-based systems. Picture saturation is as impressive as it is colorful, adding a rich vibrancy to images and movies that does much to make up for a drab exterior.
One of the biggest drawbacks of the MS214, however, is that, unlike its TouchSmart brethren, it is not equipped for multitouch. The lack of a touchscreen is a notable omission given that its 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium operating system begs to be touched, and less expensive all-in-one PCs often include at least single-touch functionality. And although the MS214's included speakers don't sound that bad given their small, laptop-quality size, the volume itself tends to run a bit lower than what you might otherwise expect to hear (get ready to turn it up to 11).
Instead of mindless bloatware, the collection of preinstalled HP software actually adds a bit of useful functionality. For example, the software dashboard is a great tool for inexperienced users to get a basic, graphics-heavy handle on what exactly their PC is doing in terms of storage capacity, security features, and other important tidbits. A number of MediaSmart programs for viewing movies and pictures are fun additions as well, but they'll likely frustrate you by forcing you to think about how much better it would be to manipulate your media by jabbing and swiping your finger around the screen. Bummer.
Another way HP shaved cost from MS214 was to cut back on connectivity. Two of the six USB ports will likely be taken up by the generic mouse and keyboard that HP's shoved in the box alongside the rig. That leaves you with a very low number of single-connection offerings for additional devices, as the system has no alternative connection standard, be it FireWire, eSATA, DisplayPort, or HDMI.
HP's MS214 is a big, fast (for its price) all-in-one system that's really rivaled only by the MSI and Dell machines mentioned earlier. So if you're looking to balance budget and speed, you'll find lots of appeal in the MS214.