The vast majority (and by that we mean 99.9999 percent) of so-called "built-in microwaves" are simply countertop microwaves that give you the option of building them in, either as an over-the-range microwave, or in a custom installation; for example, under a bank of cabinets, on a shelf, tucked into a cabinet or behind an appliance door. The obvious advantage to this is that you get the microwave off the counter, thus freeing up valuable real estate. You can also place them at a friendlier, eye-level height that might make them easier to use.
Another advantage of custom built-ins is aesthetics and flexibility. Putting a microwave somewhere other than above the range allows you to consider adding a range hood for better ventilation. An attractively placed microwave in an unusual area of the kitchen also can add a pleasing visual element to a custom kitchen.
If you're handy, you can install a built-in microwave yourself, but it requires proper venting and a dedicated electrical outlet, so, unless you have the skills and knowledge, be safe and hire a professional.
The GE Profile line of microwaves is an impressive series, earning raves across the board for performance and durability. And none get quite the praise of the GE Profile PVM9179SFSS (Est. $600). Some retail stores offer free installation and haul away (if you have an old microwave you're replacing) included with purchase, owners say. It comes in stainless steel, black, white and slate, making it even easier to match your kitchen's dŽcor.
At 1.7 cubic feet, the GE Profile is large enough for all but the biggest families, and is reported as very powerful. It is rated at 1,000 watts, but owners say that it performs like a more powerful microwave, making quick work of most tasks. Best of all, it has a convection feature, making it more versatile than the standard over-the-range microwave-only appliance. One professional testing source ranks this microwave number one in two different categories, adding that in this case, GE should stand for "General Excellence."
We were hard-pressed to find any complaints about this workhorse, although some say it has a learning curve to master, but that's true of all convection/microwave combos. The GE Profile PVM9179SFSS gets very few durability complaints; although we saw a recent cluster that may relate to a specific production run due to their coincidental appearance. The PVM9179SFSS has the standard presets you see on most convection microwaves -- though that translates to a few less microwave presets than you see on some microwave-only models, if for no other reason than to keep the control pad from becoming overly large and complex. The sensor is said to be extremely accurate -- set it and forget it because it will do its job.
Another type of built-in microwave is called a microwave drawer, and that is exactly what it is: a microwave oven that opens like a drawer. These are great for saving space because one can be installed under a breakfast counter or on a work island. They are safe, easy for children to reach, and look very upscale. Because it's located in a low space, and you slide is out like a drawer, you don't have to remove the dish to stir or check the food.
Currently, there is only a very limited selection of drawer-style microwaves and they are quite a bit more expensive than other types. There are also very few reviews, professional or otherwise. The reviews we did see are not as positive as those for traditional built-in or countertop microwaves.
For now, a top choice in drawer-style microwaves is the Sharp KB-6524PS 24-Inch Microwave Drawer Oven (Est. $800). Sharp invented this technology and, in fact, makes the internals for all current microwave drawers, regardless of branding. Most user reports say that the KB-6524PS works very well and is powerful and convenient, with intuitive cooking controls and preset options. It does not get very good feedback for durability, however, although plenty of users say it's still going strong after a couple of years.
If a drawer-type microwave is right for you and your kitchen set-up, the Sharp KB-6524PS earns our qualified recommendation, but we also might recommend waiting a while until this style of built-in microwave builds up a better track record, or until the selection improves and prices drop.
Elsewhere in this report: