HP TouchSmart 520: Great Performance, Great Value
At a Glance
HP TouchSmart 520 PC
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This is a great deal: an excellent performer with premium specs for less than $1400
If you're in the market for an all-purpose all-in-one PC, look no further. HP has done a fantastic job on its TouchSmart 520--it's got most everything you need, including a Blu-ray burner and USB 3.0, and it's one of the best performers we've seen in the category.
Our review model, priced at $1400, features a Core i7-2600S processor, 8GB of RAM, an AMD Radeon HD 6450A graphics card, and a roomy 1.5TB hard drive. Besides the Blu-ray burner, it has built-in Bluetooth and a built-in webcam and microphone, and it runs a 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium. It sports a glossy 23-inch touchscreen.
The TouchSmart 520 performs very well for the AIO category. In PCWorld's WorldBench 6 test suite, the TouchSmart 520 scored an impressive 142. However, our current top-ranked model among big-screen all-in-ones, the Lenovo IdeaCentre B520, scored somewhat higher, at 156, which is a record for the category. (Note: If you're on a tight budget, see our chart of smaller AIOs.)
Graphics performance is acceptable, but much less impressive than the TouchSmart 520's general performance. In PCWorld's Unreal Tournament 3 graphics test, the TouchSmart 520 managed a frame rate of 61 frames per second at medium-quality settings and 1024-by-768-pixel resolution, and 28.1 fps at the same quality settings, but 1680-by-1050-pixel resolution. By comparison, the aforementioned Idea Centre B520 managed over 70 fps in the medium-quality/1680-by-1050-resolution test.
The touchscreen is highly responsive but not terribly attractive to look at. The screen isn't very bright, even at its brightest setting, and it has a slight bluish tint. This drawback is unfortunate, because the screen's touch functionality is excellent--it's one of the more accurate and responsive touchscreens I've tried.
Surrounding the touchscreen is a slim black, matte bezel that sits on a silver, easel-like frame. A small curved silver stand supports the system, and you can tilt the screen back and forth easily by pressing or pulling on it. While the easel design looks and feels sturdy, I don't find it that attractive. The TouchSmart 520 is mostly undecorated, save for a few unassuming logos--HP in the lower left, Beats Audio in the upper left, and the make and model number in the lower right corner.
The TouchSmart 520 comes with a wireless mouse and keyboard. They're both basic: The keyboard has flat, Chiclet-style keys that are widely spaced and easy to type on. The mouse is a bit big and blocky, but it's fine for basic work.
In ports, the TouchSmart 520 is well-equipped for an all-in-one. It has two USB 3.0 ports and four USB 2.0 ports (both 3.0 ports are on the left side, for easy access), plus a gigabit ethernet port, a TV tuner, a line-out port, and a Kensington lock slot. Headphone and microphone jacks are on the left side, as is a multiformat card reader. On the right side is a slot-loading Blu-ray drive, as well as some basic settings buttons (input, menu, and so on) and an HDMI-out port. All the ports are easy to access, including those on the back, which are all together in one corner.
Multimedia playback on the TouchSmart 520 is good--video is decent, though the dimness of the screen is definitely annoying, and audio is excellent thanks to the built-in Beats Audio technology. HD video streaming is very smooth, and I saw very little artifacting or blurriness in my testing. Playback from Blu-ray discs looks great, but DVD upconversion is less impressive. In my testing I saw significant loss of detail and slight artifacting in DVD scenes.
The speakers, located below the screen, are very loud (almost too loud), and decently full when you don't have the Beats Audio technology turned on. Beats Audio makes sound on the TouchSmart awesome, though--full, deep, with lots of bass, plus a good surround-sound simulation. You can turn on Beats Audio by pressing the dedicated Beats Audio button on the wireless keyboard.
This HP AIO isn't too loaded down with bloatware. It does come with the HP TouchSmart software suite, which is designed to make your user experience a little easier. The suite includes a user manual, as well as help and support software.
Despite the slightly blue, dim screen, I can't recommend the TouchSmart 520 enough. It's decently priced--at $1400, it packs a nice assortment of high-end features, and it makes a decent Blu-ray machine.