We've seen a steady stream of new all-in-one desktop PCs in the past year, and manufacturers are showing no sign of diminishing the flow. It makes sense, really: With so much user attention being diverted to small, simple, finger-friendly hardware, the large metal boxes that live on or under our desks need a makeover if they're to remain relevant.
All-in-ones have numerous advantages over traditional tower desktops. They take up significantly less space because the guts of the machine are tucked right behind the screen. They offer functionality that you can't get from a traditional desktop PC, including high-fidelity speakers and multitouch displays. And perhaps most obviously, when paired with a wireless keyboard and mouse, they present you with only a single power cord to worry about, all but eliminating cable clutter.
Nevertheless, caveats abound. You'll be hard pressed to find an all-in-one PC that you can upgrade yourself, which means that you must rely on the manufacturer for repairs and that you pretty much have to resign yourself to buying a new machine when your PC loses its luster. The svelte all-in-one shape also imposes technical limitations, as you can pack only so much hardware into a chassis before you bump up against space and temperature constraints. As a result, all-in-one desktop PCs tend to lag behind their tower-based brethren in raw power, despite commanding a price premium.
Still, these limitations amount to little more than design challenges. Strides in CPU design from AMD's Fusion and Intel's Sandy Bridge platforms cut power consumption while improving performance, resulting in faster, thinner machines--or in powerful big-screen juggernauts with favorable price-to-performance ratios. Desktop manufacturers know which way the wind is blowing. In June, Toshiba announced that it will return to the desktop PC market (having halted sales back in 2001), with the aim of giving all-in-ones a go.
Fret not--the timeworn, tower-based workhorse isn't obsolete yet. But if you're in the market for a desktop that's big on functionality and form, here are five options that have recently worked their way through the PCWorld Labs:
Click the links above to read our PCWorld Labs hands-on assessments of each model. For a full-size, ranked comparison chart of these all-in-one desktop PCs, click the chart image at right.