For the past decade, there have been regular features in newspapers and tech columns all over about how the PC is dying. It's being eaten by notebooks, it's being eaten by netbooks, it's being eaten by tablets, it's being eaten by whatever the current hotness is. This time, however, it appears to be eating itself.
It's no secret that touchscreen computing is being chased by everyone - HP was a progenitor of the concept, though never wildly successful, and new companies have been inspired by the runaway success of Apple's iPhone and iPad to add the capabilities to their product lineup. The shakeup to the desktop PC form factor has been a long time coming; all-in-ones have been driving what OEMs like to call a "wedge" into their offerings.
At the low-end, with a few exceptions, you have the standard tower. Cheap, functional, lasts forever. At the high-end, with a few exceptions, you have a larger tower. Expensive, functional, lasts forever, has lots of upgradeability. In the middle, however, everything is being eaten by all-in-ones. The growth, for this form factor only, is monstrous at the moment. In fact, it's responsible for single-handedly keeping the desktop market propped up.
Unsurprisingly, it's here where we see the most innovation in space; enter the portable all-in-one.
All-in-ones have often taken advantage of mobile architectures in order to attain their sleek, self-contained shapes. Take a notebook, add a desktop hard drive, a huge display, and stop worrying all that much about the mobile parts' power consumption, and you have what most companies call an all-in-one PC.
That's where the similarities ended - until recently, when everyone started coming out with what might charitably be termed a 'portable' all-in-one. It's the all-in-one, but with a big battery inside. Too large to really be called a tablet, these desktops are designed primarily to sit on your desk or table. Then, when the urge strikes, you can pick them up to move outside, to play on the floor, or to sit on a coffee table and share the experience with guests.
Dell XPS 18
Right now, Dell's XPS 18 is our favorite option in the category. With an 18.4-inch display, it's more portable than some options, but manages to deliver tremendous value within that package. With Intel Core CPUs, HD 4000 graphics, and up to 8GB of RAM, the XPS 18 starts at just under $900. Moreover, it features a Full HD, 1920x1080 display, and up to 5ish hours of battery life.
That's something that, so far, the other companies can't seem to match. While the battery life of your desktop is a new variable to think about for most of us, it's definitely an important consideration - if there's no battery life to speak of, why bother picking one up?
Dell XPS 18 on Dell.com
Sony Tap 20
Sony was one of the (if not the) first companies to come up with the idea of the portable all-in-one in the form of the Tap 20 desktop. It's also one of the few to offer different colors - you can pick up a Tap 20 in either white or black.
The Tap 20 has a similar pricing structure to Dell's mobile all-in-one offerings, but offers faster CPUs and more memory and storage for the dollar. It also offers a larger screen, at 20 inches, but with a lower resolution - just 1600x900. Thanks to the bigger screen, it also has worse battery life, offering 2 hours and 45 minutes.
It's one of the best designed options on offer, though, with a sleek finish and nice aluminum stand in back.
Sony Tap 20 on Sony.com
Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon Table PC
Lenovo took the idea and went completely sideways with it, offering a table - not tablet - PC. The IdeaCentre Horizon is a 27-inch all-in-one that can be used as a regular all-in-one, as a completely flat device, at various angles, etc. Like the Dell, it's got a 1920x1080 display, but Lenovo includes their own software interface designed explicitly to take advantage of the huge real estate and multiuser potential that the IdeaCentre Horizon offers.
The company packed in Intel's Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs and, unlike the other options, a discrete GPU in the form of NVIDIA's GeForce GT620M, with 2GB of video memory. As with the rest of the models, Lenovo includes a wireless keyboard and mouse, but they also have a bunch of fun proprietary accessories. There are four joysticks, four "strikers", and what Lenovo calls an "eDice", which is a die with wireless connection - it works great with the included (and very faithful) version of Monopoly that comes packaged in with every Horizon.
At a $1700 starting price, the IdeaCentre Horizon is more expensive than Lenovo hoped, and nearly twice the MSRP of the Dell XPS 18 or Sony Tap 20 - but while it offers more potential, it offers far less battery life thanks to its larger screen. Lenovo says the Horizon can get up to just 2 hours.
Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon on Lenovo.com
Can you see a portable desktop in your future? It's a brave new world when it comes to multitouch and physically dragging your desktop around, but these new lightweight options make it a more enticing option than ever.
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