ViewSonic VPC100 desktop PC review

ViewSonic aren't the first company you'd think of to release an all-in-one PC, but given their experience in displays, it’s a move that perhaps makes sense. But can they challenge the likes of Sony, offering a cheaper alternative all-in-one?

The VPC100 picks up the Intel Atom platform, similar to those found in the likes of Asus's Eee Top or MSI's Wind Top. Of course the model presented here is a regular display, rather than the touchscreen offered by both those mentioned.

But the hardware specs breakdown in a familiar way: an Intel Atom N270 processor running at 1.6GHz, with 1GB RAM and 160GB hard drive. Wireless networking of the b/g variety is included.

The design is interesting and perhaps won't appeal to some. It is finished in black gloss plastic, which isn't a problem in itself as you won't need to touch it much so fingerprints won't be a problem. The problem is the size of the screen compared to the overall unit, means you have a large expanse under the display that looks pretty ugly.

In fact this space under the screen houses pretty much all the computing hardware, with a chrome-effect line drawing out a divide (73mm up) which we think looks like the end of a regular 18.5-inch monitor slapped on top of a netbook, which is essentially what we have here.

The result of the decision to elongate things vertically is that the unit is pretty slim – slimmer than rival offerings, at only 35mm deep at it's thickest part. Otherwise it measures 360mm high by 450mm wide.

These slimmer dimensions mean the VPC100 doesn't have a lean-on stand like some AIOs, instead having a regular stand, which offers a small degree of tilt fore and aft. In effect, this outlines it more as a desk-based computer and less as a home computer for your kitchen like the touchscreen rivals.

However, you could remove the stand completely and take advantage of the VESA mount on the back and mount the VPC100 on the wall, allowing space for the connections on the back of course.

In terms of connections the back panel gives you Ethernet, 2x USB 2.0, headphone and mic sockets and – perhaps unusually – PS/2 connections for the keyboard and mouse. It's perhaps a little antiquated and we’d have rather seen the PS/2 connections swapped for more regular USB connections.

The location of the mic and headphone 3.5mm jacks is fine for a permanent installation of higher-quality mic or speakers, but for occasional headphone use a connection on the side would have been more practical.

However, you will find 2x USB 2.0 connections on the side along with a multicard (xD-Picture, SD, MMC, MS), providing easy access. A 1.3-megapixel webcam is built into the bezel at the top of the screen accompanied by a mic, so you'll be good for video calls over Skype or the application of your choice.

But taking a step over some of the other cheap all-in-one offerings around, you'll find a DVD rewriter in the side of the unit, making it a little more versatile for those who want to backup or store files on DVD. The build quality looks a little questionable here as there are gaping holes around the DVD player, so it does look a little messy.

The other advantage you get here is a great 16:9 display. With a resolution of 1366 x 768, Windows XP has a noticeable sharpness that will follow through into viewing documents and images, although it lacks the power to exploit the display to any extent, so you won't be playing games or able to watch your HD content back.

But that said, the colours are natural and vibrant, with a noticeable punch to things as after all, this is pretty much an average 19-inch monitor. What you don't get in that regard is any sort of monitor controls – you can't change the brightness, the contrast, colour or anything else, except what can be adjusted through Windows XP itself.

There are two on-board 3W speakers that are a little boomy, but are perfectly good for system sounds and the odd bit of internet video. We found BBC iPlayer watched in the office was fine, but if you are looking at regular music playback, you might want to invest in some speakers.

Those two PS/2 connections on the back are put into play with the bundled keyboard and mouse. Both bear the hallmarks of cheaply sourced items. The mouse is a lightweight two-button scrolling mouse which can cheaply and easily be bettered.

The keyboard is much worse, with a disturbing clatter to the keys and a cheap plastic feel. It does have some media controls which are useful, but it is not nice to use and we'd recommend swapping it for a third-party keyboard at the earliest opportunity, our preference would be for wireless versions in keeping with the VPC100's all-in-one status.

Performance is pretty much as you'd expect from a low-powered PC. It is happy online, which is where this spec of machine is useful, but step into more demanding territory and it really drags it's feet. Software is at a minimum, with NTI burning software bundled and a Trend Micro security trial.

It does run quietly enough however with only the occasional chirp from the drive accessing and we found it would sit happily enough in the corner of the office without being a distraction.

Verdict

Overall you pretty much get what you expect from the ViewSonic VPC100. It lacks the novelty of touchscreen models which can be had for a similar price which might be more appealing to home users, who want the simplicity of steering clear of the mouse or keyboard for basic tasks.

The other question you have to ask is whether the VPC100 stands-up against the sort of offering being made by a new wave of boxes, such as the Acer Aspire Revo or the Packard Bell equivalent, which when connected to a similar spec monitor, would give improved graphics handling for much the same cost with an equally small footprint on your desk.

As a low powered all-in-one it performs much as a netbook does, but with the added boost of sharp display. Whilst good for low-level computing tasks such as surfing the internet, basic word processing or watching DVDs, the performance won't match that of an entry-level desktop model, which could be had for less, making the £499 price look a little high.