Buyer’s guide to all-in-one PCs
Compact, convenient and powerful, the all-in-one PC is a perfect fit for many classrooms. Jamie Stephens helps you select the right one for your school
In recent years, the desktop PC has undergone a reinvention. It wasn’t long ago that your only choice was whether a beige box sat vertically or horizontally on your desk – but now you can have PCs in a myriad of styles, form-factors and plastic or metallic finishes, ranging from tiny nano-sized systems to mighty, high-performance towers. The all-in-one PC has long been at the forefront of this process. Apple pretty much invented the stylish system with the all-in-one iMac in 1998, and has redefined it with new designs in the years since. Now Sony, Lenovo, Dell, Toshiba and HP have all put their own spin on the one-box formula, with PCs that would be as at home in the living room as in the boardroom.
Yet the growing popularity of the all-in-one PC in the classroom isn’t down to looks. Opting for this type of PC brings many advantages over the traditional desktop, the biggest of which is in saving space. Typically, an all-in-one has a footprint not much different than a standalone monitor, which means you regain the space that was previously taken up by your old desktop PC’s base units. You’ll also notice a reduction in the number of wires: since the monitor is combined with the PC, there’s one less power cable and no signal cable running between the two. This ensures your ICT suite looks tidier, and also gives the kids a few less leads to unplug. Everything being in one box also makes it easier to move equipment between rooms – and all-in- ones are also a lot faster to unbox and install.
On the inside
You may notice that all-in ones share many of their advantages with laptops – and to a large extent the all-in-one is a less portable laptop with a much larger screen. The slimline nature of most all-in-one PCs is largely due to the use of laptop components to save space. This results in an all-in-one typically running cooler, quieter and with better energy efficiency than a regular desktop PC.
Alas, as with laptops this comes with a price premium, and with a drawback in that all-in-ones often offer slightly lower performance than a traditional desktop PC. The laptop components and the nature of the design also make them potentially more difficult to repair if something goes wrong. The ability to upgrade components is rather limited in most all-in-ones and is usually more expensive, too.
When looking at all-in-one PCs, you may notice the very different approaches taken by traditional school suppliers and by the big mainstream PC manufacturers. The mainstream PC manufacturers have all gone down the route popularised by the iMac: a sleek, slimline system, designed to be as thin as possible with the components built into the back of the display. RM has taken a different path, with more emphasis on durability and robust build quality than aesthetics. This typically results in a bulkier chassis but one that’s arguably more suited to being poked and prodded by students for several hours a day. Education systems are also more likely to use desktop components and allow more flexibility in upgrading components further down the line.
As with most other modern PCs, a large proportion of all-in-ones are equipped with Intel’s range of i3/i5/i7 processors – but it isn’t the only option. Although the current-generation Intel chips arguably offer better performance than the AMD equivalents at the higher end of the market, AMD remains competitive at the low to middle-range price points and can provide better value for money.