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

Save up to $60 a year in electricity costs

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How I tested

To see how these all-in-one desktops compare with each other, I examined all their components and features, then put them through their paces with a series of tests, including typical home and office tasks.

After setting them up and measuring how much desk space each occupied, I ran PassMark's PerformanceTest 7.0 benchmark, software that pushes each component and subsystem and records the system's overall performance. I also used each system to work with complex spreadsheets, write and give presentations, watch online TV shows, listen to Internet radio stations and play DVD movies.

Finally, I ran a copy of Auran's Trainz Simulator 2009, a resource-heavy game that simulates a working railroad. With the train running at full speed, I checked for video choppiness and which background details were present.

Along the way, I measured how much electricity these systems use with a Kill A Watt P4400 power meter. On top of peak power consumption (while the benchmark was running), I looked at its sleep-mode use.

Using this data, I estimated how much each system costs to operate over a year, assuming that the system will be on for 12 hours a day and that electricity costs 12 cents per kilowatt-hour, approximately the current national average, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Conclusions

These all-in-one PCs succeed beyond my wildest dreams in terms of power use, with each using less electricity than a 60-watt reading light. It's truly amazing that even the most expensive of the computers can save more than $60 a year compared with a traditional desktop PC.

These systems certainly take up less space and do the basics adequately, but the two Intel Atom systems -- the MSI Wind Top AE1900 and Acer Veriton Z280G -- just can't keep up with the needs of most users. They're fine for things like writing, online wandering, and watching streaming video or DVDs, but as soon as the system is stressed, such as with a resource-hungry game, they can't keep up.

While Averatec's D1133 did well in graphics and system performance, it uses too much power. Overall, I really like the design of this system, but the screen wobbles too much.

Of the four all-in-one PCs reviewed, the one for me is HP's Pavilion MS214. Not only did it outperform the others, but it did so within a reasonable energy budget. It costs $100 more than the others, but it is money well spent for the hardware and software you get. And the savings in electricity costs you'll earn over time put it ahead of traditional desktops that may cost less at the outset. In other words, it's an energy-saving bargain.

Performance results

  Acer Veriton Z280G Averatec D1133 HP Pavilion MS214 MSI Wind Top AE1900

PassMark PerformanceTest

7.0 benchmark*
263.8 320.7 366.6 270.3
Peak power use 37 watts 48 watts 44 watts 38 watts
Sleep power use 1 watt 3 watts 1 watt 2 watts

Estimated annual

electricity cost
$19.99 $26.80 $23.12 $21.02
* Higher is better

Brian Nadel is a frequent contributor to Computerworld and the former editor in chief of Mobile Computing & Communications magazine.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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