Love it or (mostly) hate it, Windows 8 has made touch a central feature of Microsoft's operating system. Though next year's Windows 9 release will likely give mouse-bound users some type of escape hatch, touch will remain a key element of that operating system as well. As such, opting for a touch screen is probably a good idea for those whose budget will bear it. You can purchase a touch-screen monitor for most Windows 8 desktop computers, but another and certainly more elegant choice is to opt for a touch-enabled all-in-one computer.
Among Windows all-in-one computers, the Dell XPS 27 Touch (Est. $1,600 and up) sits near the top of the list. It earns Editors' Choice picks from almost every reviewer that tests it, which includes CNET, PCMag.com, HotHardware.com, DigitalTrends.com and others. ComputerShopper.com awards the Dell XPS 27 Touch an Editors' Choice as well but also names it the Desktop of the Year. PC World puts the XPS 27 on its list of the 50 best tech products of 2013 and adds, "This was by far the fastest and most beautiful all-in-one PC to come through the Lab this year." If there's a fly in the ointment, it's that user reviews are neither plentiful nor particularly positive; the largest collection of them can be found on Dell's website, but there's less than 50 at last glance.
While the base XPS 27 Touch is no slouch in the performance department, most reviewers look at a step-up version (Est. $2,100) that includes a 4th generation Intel Core i7 processor, 8 GB of RAM, a 2 TB 7,200 rpm hard drive, a 32 GB solid-state drive, discrete Nvidia GeForce GT 750M graphics with 2 GB of dedicated memory, and a DVD burner. Of this configuration, PC World says: "This family-oriented PC can play games, tackle high-end jobs such as photo and video editing, and play HD movies better than many tower PCs." Not enough? A further step up (Est. $2,600) bumps up memory to 16 GB, swaps the DVD burner for a Blu-ray drive and comes with Windows 8.1 Pro.
This Dell all-in-one desktop computer is feature-packed. The 27-inch 10-point touch screen boasts a resolution of 2560 by 1440 pixels. Connectivity options include HDMI out and HDMI in, so that the display can be used with a cable box, video game console, etc. There are also six USB 3.0 ports, a Thunderbolt port and a 7-in-1 memory card reader. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless connectivity are built in, and there's an Ethernet port.
The Toshiba PX35T also gets some recommendations. This system is available in a wide range of configurations, with both 3rd generation and 4th generation Intel Core processors. The top-end Toshiba PX35T-AST2G01 (Est. $1,500) is generously outfitted with a 4th generation i7 Core processor, discrete Nvidia GeForce GT 740M graphics with 2 GB of dedicated video RAM, 8 GB of system RAM, a 2 TB hard drive, DVD burner, a 23-inch 1920-by-1080 touch screen, and more. One top reviewer finds no significant downsides but grouses a little that the touch screen seems a bit laggy. This system is sold directly by Toshiba; all but one of the handful of users who review this all-in-one at Toshiba's site rate it either 4 or 5 stars.
Lower-end configurations -- all with 3rd generation processors -- get more feedback. The base Toshiba PX35T-A2210 (Est. $930 and up) gets decent reviews from experts and good -- albeit limited -- feedback from owners. Both PC World and Tom's Guide rate it 4 stars, though Tom's Guide is decidedly less impressed. It's powered by a 3rd generation (Ivy Bridge) Core i3 processor. That could be a deal-killer if this were a laptop, but the biggest advantage of Intel's latest Core processors is their ability to stretch out battery life, which is less of an issue with a desktop computer.
The rest of the hardware lineup includes 6 GB of RAM, a 1 TB hard drive, DVD burner, 23-inch touch screen and Intel integrated graphics. Calling it a great choice for college students who want to "balance work and play," PC World's Sarah Jacobsson Purewal says, "The Toshiba PX35T-A2210 is attractive, usable and relatively powerful."
Most all-in-one computers are pricier affairs with enough computational power to tackle serious work and even semi-serious play. But some are priced low enough to be considered by those on a budget.
One example is the Dell Inspiron One 20 (Est. $550 and up). You won't find the latest or most powerful processors in this all-in-one -- instead a dual-core Pentium in the base versions and a 3rd generation Intel Core i3 processor in the top of the line configuration. Most reviewers look at the latter, which in its current incarnation also offers 6 GB of memory, a 1 TB hard drive, a touch-enabled screen and a price of just under $700. Performance is described as "competent" by PCMag.com but "ho-hum" by PC World -- or, according to ComputerShopper.com, "an excellent choice for the typical consumer with basic needs." Reviewers do say to skip the cheaper, but lower configured versions, however.
For those who aren't completely wedded to Windows, the Apple iMac remains a terrific choice. Compared to the all-in-ones above, the display isn't touch enabled, but that's not a concern if you'll be doing all your work (or most of it) under Apple OS X. We talk more about the various versions of the Apple iMac in the section on Apple desktop computers.