People under the age of 25 are too young to be able to afford cynicism - Diogenes the Pseudo Pesky Cynic
Product: MSI Wind Top AE2220
Website: Wind Top AE2220
System Specifications: Intel Core 2 Duo T6600 2.2GHz, 4GB, 640GV HDD, DVD, 21.5-inch 16:9 1920x1080 LCD Display, HDMI, WiFi
HAS THE multi-media all-in-one (AIO) PC finally come of age?
When Windows Media Centre came out as a simple GUI extension on Windows XP in 2004, vendors thought the world was ready for multi-media AIO PCs. They'd ping off the shelves like hotcakes and Microsoft's stamp of approval required a series of specifications and features that system builders had to incorporate into their designs. AIO PCs would fulfill specific criteria as proclaimed by the word of the Vole but punters would get systems that only offered best in show multi-media functionality. And sellers waited, and waited, but the world did not bite.
Scroll forward to 2007, after three years of tinkering away in a shed with HP as a launch partner, Bill Gates showcased Windows Vista at a UK event running on HP's AIO Touchsmart PC. Gates envisioned HP's touch-based PC to be the perfect hardware complement to Windows Vista, thereby damming HP's touch PC before it was even on the shelf in the UK. HP's system was a good stab at an AIO multi-media PC but it was too heavy, too expensive and its single touch gesture recognition was less than charmingly anachronistic in a world of multi-touch devices.
Fast forward again to an Indian summer in October 2009 when Gates showed off Microsoft's Window 7 with native multi-touch support. Cries of "it's less bad than Vista" echoed in the industry convention halls and hardware manufacturers saw the dawning of a new age for AIO multi-media PCs. MSI always has a can do attitude with innovative PC or laptop systems. While not all of its efforts have been successful, this time MSI has hit a crest of new technologies and it is in the right place at the right time with its Wind Top AE2220.
Last year we reviewed MSI's predecessor to the Wind Top AE2220. We loved the design and price point but it was bogged down by novelty touch support and Win XP. The Intel Atom N230 processor and Intel 945GC chipset chugged along to no avail and the 18.5-inch screen had a 16:9 aspect ratio but only ran to 1366x768, lacking serious HD multimedia playback capability. It felt more like a work in progress than a final product.
On paper, the Wind Top AE2220 excels. It's priced £150 more than its predecessor but MSI has stretched that extra cash to the breaking point for you, so we really can't tell where the profit margins are on this one. MSI has put an extra three inches of real estate on the screen, bumping the display up to 21.5 inches. The screen has also been given the full HD treatment with a 16:9 widescreen display and a 1920x1080 resolution. The PC sports a 640GB SATA2 hard drive and an Intel Core 2 Duo T6600 CPU running at 2.2GHz and packs in Nvidia netbook ION graphics. In theory, it should be able to handle HD Youtube playback with ease. It also comes with two pretty good 5W 5.1-channel surround speakers and a HDMI port around the back that you can hook up to another PC or a widescreen display. The model we tested lacked a Blu-ray optical drive but it did have a multi-format drive and you can buy the Blu-ray flavour for another £100. Finally, MSI has taken advantage of multi touch support in Windows 7 Home Premium and bundled its Wind Touch software with work, fun, tool and web tabs to navigate applications.
Personally, the ersatz Macbook livery doesn't do it for me but the Wind Top AE2220 is a beautifully designed piece of kit. It‘s small and light enough to serve as a second PC around the home. It also comes with a VESA wall mount so kudos to MSI for letting punters wall hang it straight out of the box.
When your hardware is really just a display with a computer built in, that display has to be the crowning glory of the product and the Wind Top AE2220's doesn't disappoint. It is very sharp with excellent colour definition, accuracy and there's enough flexibility in the viewing angle so you're not confined to one optimal viewing spot. It's a shame Blu-ray playback was denied by the lack of an optical drive and next generation games can't deliver full HD on the Nvidia ION graphics. We installed Modern Warfare 2 and Crysis, only managing acceptable frame rates at 1024x768. 1280x1080 pushed the Wind Top AE2220 to a staccato frame delivery and 1920x1080 - even dropping all the graphical bells and whistles - was too much for it. If you want HD gaming, you're confined to Hearts or Solitaire. However, HD playback on Youtube was excellent and it's worth noting that music and movie audio on the SRS Premium sound was better than we expected. We're still doubters about claims that SRS Premium offers 5.1 channel experience on 2.1 channel speakers. But the audio range certainly sounded richer with the technology deployed, aided by the decent speakers.
We were also impressed with responsiveness on the touch screen. However, stacked up against HP's TouchSmart PC, that offers a more responsive interactive display and MSI's Wind Touch software doesn't lift the touch functionality beyond a novelty. HP's Touchsuite at least offered limited touch photo editing, but MSI's Wind Touch amounts to little more than an application management hub. That said, Windows Media Centre, with its idiot-proof oversized icons, is great to use with touch interaction. What we need is for third-party software developers come up with innovative applications to drive the multi-touch technology MSI has presented to give it legs. At the moment, that hasn't happened yet.
The Windows Experience Index score of 4.8 and the data disc transfer rate of 5.9 show that the Wind Top AE2220 has some surprising performance grunt for the cash. In fact, the price and specifications put this MSI model in a much higher category than any of Asus' Eee Top PC range. We're intrigued to see if Asus will fight fire with fire and show a similar product at CeBit this year.
The Wind Top AE2220 is one of the better AIO PCs we've seen. It was never meant to be the last word in gaming hardware and wasn't designed as the primary PC in the home. It's an AIO that is better than most cheap AIOs at multi-media playback. That MSI packs in good performance and full HD on an incredible display for such a reasonable cost is good news. Our biggest bone of contention is the touch screen. Single or multi-touch gesture, it's still just a novelty in our book. µ
Full HD 21.5-inch display, good performance capabilities.
Netbook graphics, lack of a Blu-ray drive.
Apart from Window Media Centre, touch is still just a novelty longing for a decent application.
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