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Network World - Computers continue be one of those product categories that make you say, “Yeah, what’s new?” Makers of notebooks and netbooks are facing continued pressure from the likes of the iPad, as people continue to consider what they need or want from their computing environment. Do they want portability? Do they want a powerhouse? Do they want something that can connect to TV, or just something with all of the latest and greatest?
We got a variety of desktops, notebooks, netbooks and other such gear for this year’s gift guide. Here are our picks for what we liked in the computer/notebook space.
Products reviewed in this category:
TouchSmart 310 All-In-One PC, by HP
If there’s anything HP failed to pack into this all-in-one PC, I can’t think of it. For $699, you get an all-in-one with wireless keyboard and mouse, an amazing 20-inch display, powerful AMD Athlon chip, 500GB hard drive, 4GB of RAM, a camera, CD/DVD burner, and some pretty nice speakers. Oh, and did I mention the TV tuner. And the touch screen features. And the ability to plays games that you download from http://hp.wildgames.com. The all-in-one is stylish and sturdy. Moving the screen angle doesn’t make you fear tipping the whole thing over. All of the USB and other inputs are on the sides or the back, so the front of the PC has a simple, sleek look to it. The wireless mouse and keyboard help eliminate that clutter of wires that you typically end up with around a desktop device.
This computer has gaming as one of its primary missions. You can go to the HP Website and download kid-oriented games like Bob the Builder, Dora’s World Adventure and Collapse Crunch. The two-finger touch screen works well, allowing you to drop and drop, scroll, surf, navigate, etc.
In a test scenario, you don’t really have your personal photos, videos, documents, songs, etc., on the test PC. But one can certainly appreciate the potential of being able to use the touch screen to organize and share all types of media. All in all, this is an all-in-one that delivers pretty much everything you could ask for in a device that costs under $700.
Cool Yule rating: 4.5 stars
Company Web site
Reviewed by Neal Weinberg
ideaCentre A7 Series (A700) all-in-one desktop, by Lenovo
It’s hard to figure out the best location for the ideacentre A700 – you could use it for work to save space, since the monitor and CPU are located in the same unit, but there’s a bunch of “fun” features that make it work well within the home as well.
The Windows 7 computer is monster-sized – it has a 23-inch full HD widescreen monitor that also is a touch-screen. The system can support the Intel Core i7-820QM processor, and has up to 8GB of RAM and up to 2TB of storage capacity. The A700 has a slot-loaded DVD player (you can also upgrade to Blu-ray), and an optional TV tuner lets you connect your coax line for viewing TV programming. Another fun feature is a Wii-like remote control and motion-control games, although it seems like this was an afterthought. The remote can also be used as an “air mouse” for controlling options on the screen, and the unit can be wall-mounted (which would likely mean that you’d be using the air mouse). The system also has an integrated Webcam and microphone, allowing you to “video conference” with co-workers, or “video chat” with friends.
My biggest complaint about the system is the use of a Bluetooth keyboard, mouse and remote control – During my tests, I got very poor response from the system with Bluetooth, to the point where the system was skipping in and out of being able to provide a mouse cursor or the ability to type. The remote control was even worse – the included games with the remote showed barely any response. If you plan on using this as your main system, get a non-Bluetooth wireless keyboard and mouse, or just connect to the system with wires – it’s not as pretty, but you’ll be happier with the connectivity.
Some additional software from Lenovo is interesting – the Dynamic Brightness System helps protect your eyes by automatically adjusting the screen brightness based on ambient light conditions, and the Eye Distance System can alert you if you get too close to the screen.
Cool Yule rating: 4 stars (5 stars if you don’t use the Bluetooth keyboard/mouse)
Price: Starts at $1,000
Company Web site
Reviewed by Keith Shaw
ARTiGO A1100 DIY PC Kit, by VIA
I’m a huge fan of VIA’s embedded processors, and I’ve used them in several projects recently. The Artigo 1100 is based on a 1.2 GHz VIA Nano processor (the case at the heart of a Pico-ITX main board, which measures only 70 x 100 mm), which means this is one tiny PC. Our review unit came with Windows XP installed (ugh); we’ve run Ubuntu on these, and any necessary drivers are available for Windows (including Windows 7) and Linux. There’s lots of I/O – five USB 2.0 jacks (including one mini device port), three audio jacks with eight-channel sound, gigabit Ethernet, VGA, and – get this – HDMI, making the Artigo 1100 a reasonable candidate for a home theater PC. Up to 2GB of RAM is supported, and there’s room for one SATA 2.5-inch drive. An SD card slot and 802.11g wireless are optional
Packaging is tight, but anyone experienced in PC assembly and repair should be able to handle configuring this unit.
Responsiveness is surprisingly good, with XP running without any noticeable lag. The compact size of the unit (146 x 52 x 99 mm / 5.7 x 2 x 3.9 inches) allows it to fit almost anywhere, and it’s one of the smallest nettops on the market. One drawback, though – it’s pretty noisy, with a fan you can hear across the room. And there’s no optical drive, so you might need a USB version of one of these to load software or play media. But, hey, most content comes off the Internet these days, so optical drives may be going the way of the floppy disk anyway.
You will need to add your own RAM, hard drive, keyboard, mouse, monitor and operating system, so this gift idea is only for true techies who enjoy a little light tinkering. I’m pretty sure, though, that they’ll be happy with the performance, and especially the form factor. But this unit may not be a good value for someone looking for a primary PC (we have a bunch of those in this guide) or the less technically inclined. Still, everyone will be impressed with the amount of performance and flexibility available in tiny PCs today.
Cool Yule rating: 4 stars (lost one star for a very noisy fan)
Price: Around $300 (street), depending upon configuration
Company Web site
Reviewed by C. J. Mathias