Review: 4 all-in-one PCs sip energy, save money

Save up to $60 a year in electricity costs

All-in-one desktop PCs have long been touted as space-saving wonders, squeezing an entire computer into a frame that's only slightly bigger than the monitor itself. They've also represented some of the computer industry's best bargains, typically selling for about one-third less than a standard desktop PC with a separate monitor.

HP Pavilion MS214
HP Pavilion MS214

But did you know they can cut your electricity bill significantly compared with a traditional desktop system?

All-in-one PCs are stingy on electricity consumption because many of their parts have a laptop lineage. Some models use notebook-style external AC adapters, low-power processors, and downsized hard drives and DVD drives, all of which use less electricity than traditional desktop components.

Lower energy use means a slashed electricity bill and smaller amounts of greenhouse gases pumped from power plants into the atmosphere. No surprise, then, that some all-in-one manufacturers are marketing the green aspects of their products with phrases such as "achieving the perfect balance between efficiency and power usage."

I decided to put these claims to the test with four of the newest power-saving systems.

Since saving money on electricity bills doesn't do you much good if you paid a lot for the computer in the first place, I looked at four models that cost $600 or less: the Acer Veriton Z280G, the Averatec D1133, the HP Pavilion MS214 and the MSI Wind Top AE1900.

All have approximately 18.5-in. screens and are Energy Star 5.0 certified by the U.S. Department of Energy. While Averatec doesn't actively tout its all-in-one's low energy use like the other manufacturers do, the company readily agreed to be graded on energy consumption for this roundup.

To my delight, I found that all the models I tested consumed about one-quarter to one-third of the 160 watts used by a typical desktop PC and stand-alone monitor, including my Dell Dimension 8500 and other desktop PCs I've tested. The savings add up quickly and could keep as much as $60 a year in your pocket. (See "How I tested" and the performance results chart for details.)

Of course, all-in-one desktops still use about twice as much electricity as a typical laptop, but you're getting a comfortably large screen and a more ergonomic setup in the bargain.

A low price tag and low energy use inevitably bring some compromises, which means you can forget about luxuries like a high-performance processor, lots of RAM or a Blu-ray drive. The MSI AE1900, for instance, comes with just 1GB of RAM and it can't be upgraded. Clearly, these are meant to be basic PCs that perform on par with a netbook. (The term "net-top" is sometimes bandied about to indicate the desktop equivalent of a netbook.)

But if your computing needs are modest, all-in-ones are well worth a look for the savings they can bring, both at the time of purchase and throughout the years. Keep reading to find out which model struck the best balance among price, performance and power use.

First review: Acer Veriton Z280G »

Features and specifications

  Acer Veriton Z280G Averatec D1133 HP Pavilion MS214 MSI Wind Top AE1900
Screen size 18.5 in. 18.4 in. 18.5 in. 18.5 in.
Resolution 1366 x 768 1680 x 945 1366 x 768 1366 x 768

Footprint

(W x D)
19.1 x 8.5 in. 17.5 x 8.5 in. 18.2 x 8 in. 19 x 8 in.
Touch screen No No No Yes
Processor 1.6-GHz Intel Atom N270 1.5-GHz AMD Athlon X2 3250e 1.5-GHz AMD Athlon X2 3250e 1.6-GHz Intel Atom 230
RAM 2GB 2GB 2GB 1GB
Graphics engine Intel GMA 950 ATI Radeon HD 3200 ATI Radeon HD 3200 Intel 82945G
Video memory 128MB 512MB 256MB 128MB
Hard drive size / speed

160GB /

5,400 rpm

250GB /

5,400 rpm

320GB /

7,200 rpm

160GB /

5,400 rpm
Optical drive DVD Super Multi DVD Super Multi DVD Super Multi DVD Super Multi
Ports and connections 5 USB, 2 PS/2, headphone, microphone, flash card reader, Ethernet 4 USB, headphone, microphone, flash card reader, SATA, DVI, Ethernet 6 USB, headphone, microphone, flash card reader, SPDIF, Ethernet 4 USB, headphone, microphone, flash card reader, Ethernet
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g 802.11g 802.11g 802.11b/g/n
Webcam NoYes Yes Yes
Operating system Windows XP Professional Windows Vista Home Premium Windows 7 Home Premium Windows XP Home
Warranty 1 year 1 year 1 year 1 year

Price

(as tested)
$500 $500 $600 $500
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