Nov 18 2010

Do All-In-One PCs Offer The Best Bang For Your Buck?

With a Lenovo all-in-one PC, you won't feel like you're taking a gamble with your IT investment.

All-in-one PCs tend to be a compromise. They offer a simple combination of monitor and keyboard and take up less desktop real estate in confined workspaces. Plus, they are easy to deploy and configure. And, with the advent of flat-display all-in-ones, many of these systems consume much less power than desktop computers.

That convenience and compactness can come at a price, though. Some all-in-ones combine the worst features of both desktop PCs and notebooks: Like notebook computers, they're not easily maintained or upgraded in the field, and they typically lack the graphics and processing power of desktops. But because they are desktops, they're not portable, as a notebook would be.

Lenovo's ThinkCentre A70z 0401 makes the compromise a bit less difficult to take: It brings many of the best features of notebook computers and desktops together. It can be easily deployed in nearly any work environment, taking up minimal desk space. And it has enough processing power to handle almost any standard office application, as well as features that expand on the common definition of "all-in-one."

End-User Advantages

The A70z comes ready to go, right out of the box. The system has a built-in handle and "kickstand" that prop it up like a photo frame on the desk; you can order an optional adjustable stand, desk arm or wall mount as well.

If you have a Wi-Fi network, the only cable you need to plug in is the power cord. The A70z comes with built-in 802.11 b, g and n networking, and the model I tested came with a wireless keyboard and mouse, which connects to the A70z through a single USB dongle plugged into one of its six USB ports.

Many of the all-in-one systems I've looked at have been underpowered; the A70z is an exception. It's built specifically for a business environment instead of being designed for consumers. My test unit came equipped with a 2.03-gigahertz Intel Core 2 Duo 64-bit processor with dual cores, 2 gigabytes of memory and a 300G hard drive.

Although it ships with the 32-bit Windows 7 Professional, the A70z is capable of running a 64-bit Windows operating system, and it has enough processing power to handle mainstream desktop applications though I'd recommend upgrading the memory to 4G for high-end applications.

There's plenty of screen real estate for presentations as well. My A70z came configured with a 19-inch widescreen, thin-film transistor LCD, providing a large, high-resolution desktop. The A70z's display has a maximum resolution of 1440x900 pixels, making it suitable for viewing high-definition video.

The system also has built-in stereo speakers, which, with an optional built-in web camera and microphone, make it well-equipped for video conferencing and collaboration as well as Internet telephony applications. Combined with the built-in wireless networking adapter and built-in handle, these features make the A70z well-suited for switching from standard desktop use to use as a video teleconferencing system or presentation system in a small conference room just unplug it and go.

Why It Works for IT

The A70z is single-box deployable. Because of its all-in-one form factor, I was able to get it up and running in less than five minutes. And because it comes packed in a reusable, recyclable protective bag, it's easy to repack and reship where it's needed. Given that it comes with both built-in Gigabit Ethernet and Wi-Fi, it can be easily deployed on both wired and wireless LANs, making it a flexible option in enterprise environments.

Unlike some all-in-one systems, the A70z makes it relatively simple to perform basic upgrades. Six Phillips screws are all that stand between a technician and access to the hard drive, optical drive and memory. This means many repairs to the system could be made by an organization's internal IT support, which will let you extend the life of the system.

While its simple setup certainly cuts initial support costs, it also can save money in the long term through its low power consumption and the included power management software. The A70z complies with Energy Star 5.0 standards, making it a good fit for agencies looking to meet green computing goals. And with Lenovo's ThinkVantage Power Manager software installed by default IT managers can centrally control power management policy across A70z systems and other ThinkCentre PCs.

The desktop power management tool lets users adjust the power management features of the system with a simple slider tool, moving the setting between high performance at one end and high energy savings at the other. But advanced settings let the user or the IT team set policies for things ranging from maximum CPU speed and monitor brightness, idle timers for putting the screen and hard drive to sleep and putting the system into standby or hibernation.

A number of discrete system settings can impact power consumption, and the Power Manager tool displays the effects on system performance, system temperature and power usage.

Other software tools that come with the A70z include Rescue and Recovery (Lenovo's built-in enhanced backup and restore software), and a set of system health and diagnostics tools. These make it easy for desktop support teams to diagnose and maintain the A70z onsite or with user assistance.


The A70z works well for the vast majority of desktop computing tasks. But its Intel Express graphics chipset isn't ideal for intensive graphics applications such as 3D rendering, computer-aided design or modeling.

Although the screen has acceptable resolution for most desktop apps and web video, and it works well for 3D rendering in geospatial applications such as Google Earth, it's less than the 1080p resolution (1,920x1,080 pixels) of full high-definition TV video. That makes it unsuitable for video editing and applications that require the display of multiple megapixel imagery.

Sean Gallagher, who began his career as an IT project manager for the Navy, has spent two decades as a technology writer and reviewer.


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