Advent AIO-156 review

£374
Price when reviewed

Just a few months ago the Advent AIO-100 charmed its way to a Best Value award in our All-In-One Labs. Though neither fast nor upgradeable, we found it a surprisingly usable and flexible machine – more so than similarly-priced offerings from Asus and MSI. Now, we have the AIO-156.

At first glance, it’s much the same as its predecessor: rather than hiding the innards away behind the screen, as with most all-in-one nettops, Advent has placed them in a flattish base, from which the monitor rises up on a hinged arm. It’s not as kitchen-friendly as the one-piece designs of the Asus Eee Top and the Shuttle X5000TA, but it’s more adjustable, and hence a better machine to use for protracted periods.

The technical formula is largely unchanged as well: the 156 is powered by a 1.6GHz single-core Atom N270 processor, supported by 1GB of DDR2 RAM and a 160GB hard disk. Integrated graphics are the order of the day, and the standard operating system is XP Home.

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What’s new is the screen. The 18.4in TFT of the AIO-100 has been replaced by a smaller 15.6in display, with a native resolution of 1,366 x 768. A smaller panel, then – but this time it’s a touchscreen.

Of course, XP Home was never designed for touchscreen input, and it relies on third-party extensions to enable basic operations like scrolling, clicking and so on. It works, but as usual it’s a mixed experience, not least because typical desktop applications simply aren’t designed for touch control.

And don’t expect the sophistication of Windows 7’s gestures and multi-touch support. This panel is strictly a single-touch device, and if you do install the newer OS you’ll find the touchscreen isn’t recognised at all. Compatible drivers may come in time, but there’s no guarantee, so for now don’t bank on upgrading.

Typically, we’ve seen touchscreen PCs come with a special front-end to help you launch common applications with the stab of a finger. Advent hasn’t done that here, but such interfaces do very little for usability anyway – we don’t consider that a loss.

What is a problem, however, is the way the AIO-156’s screen is mounted. That hinged arm sets it above its rivals when it comes to ergonomics, but its free-floating design also means that when you touch the display it wobbles. Using the touchscreen for more than the odd prod becomes a profoundly irritating experience as the display constantly shakes around.

Touchscreen aside, the AIO-156 is a compact everyday PC. It comes with a wired full-sized keyboard and mouse, which are a little plasticky but perfectly usable. Add in five USB ports, a memory card reader, 10/100 Ethernet, 802.11bg wireless and a DVD writer, and it should be equal to most desktop tasks.

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Naturally, it’s not a stellar performer. In our benchmarks it scored 0.37 – a wholly predictable score for a basic Atom processor and chipset. That means it’s fast enough for web browsing and typical office tasks, as long as you’re not in too much of a hurry, but processor-intensive jobs like ripping CDs to MP3 are likely to leave you yawning.

And with an Intel GMA950 IGP running the graphics, you can forget about all but the most basic gaming: our 3D tests wouldn’t run at all.

Media playback isn’t a strong point, either. The screen lacks the bold contrast of the AIO-100’s, instead presenting a rather drab, subdued appearance, as with the touchscreen panels found in Shuttle’s X5000TA and Asus’ Eee Top ET1602.

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