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HP Touchsmart 520 All-in-One PC Review
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Date: Jan 23, 2012
Section:Systems
Author: Paul Lilly
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Introduction & Specifications
Considering how close HP came to selling off or severing its world leading PC division, it's products like the new TouchSmart 520-1070 all-in-one (AIO) that make us glad somebody switched out the company's water supply. Actually, it's HP's old CEO, Leo Apotheker, who was responsible for the OEM's temporary insanity, and not some tainted H2O, but that's a rant for another time and another place. What we're focusing on here is an AIO system that comes well spec'd and offers a surprising amount of performance in a form factor typically more focused on aesthetics and convenience than raw computing power.



The TouchSmart 520-1070 is a fairly remarkable AIO equipped with high-end hardware and a robust selection of software, all of which comes wrapped in a 23-inch touchscreen display with a speaker bar blasting out Beats Audio. Any fears that HP's preoccupation with righting its ship would result in a degraded product line go right out the window when you run your finger down the 520's spec sheet, which includes an Intel Core i7 2600S processor clocked at 2.8GHz, 8GB of DDR3 system memory, a capacious 2TB hard drive, discrete graphics powered by AMD's Radeon HD 6450A GPU, and even a Blu-ray burner. Oh, and there's a TV tuner shoved inside too, for good measure.

These are low-power, desktop-class components crammed into an AIO form factor as part of a redesigned TouchSmart series meant to be "light, thin, and altogether stylish." Other than the part about this being a lightweight PC (the folks at HP must work out), HP delivers on its promises, and quite frankly exceeds our expectations at nearly every turn. Before we proceed with our full-on groping, let's take a look at the TouchSmart 520's specifications.

Hewlett-Packard TouchSmart 520-1070 23" All-In-One Desktop
Specifications and Features (as tested)
  • Intel Core i7 2600S (2.80GHz) quad-core CPU
  • 8GB of 1333MHz DDR3 RAM
  • 23" LCD (1920x1080); LED backlight; Multi-touch
  • AMD Radeon HD 6450A graphics
  • 2TB 5400RPM hard drive
  • 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth
  • Slot-load SuperMulti Blu-ray burner
  • HD webcam
  • HDMI input
  • USB 2.0 x 4; USB 3.0 x 2
  • RJ-45 (Ethernet 10/100/1000)
  • Headphone / Mic input jacks
  • 6-in-1 Multimedia Card Reader
  • Subwoofer output; Line-out
  • RF input; IR blaster jack
  • Wireless keyboard / mouse combo
  • Integrated speakers w/ Beats Audio
  • Built-in TV tuner w/ TouchSmart remote
  • 25.77 Pounds
  • 22.85" (L/D) x 8.54" (W) x 18.01" (H)- (Dimensions)
  • Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
  • Price (as tested): $1,399.99
  • 1-year warranty






It's been a couple of months since we last reviewed an all-in-one system, and we've never spent significant hands-on time with one this powerful or flexible before. Whereas the ET2410 by Asus reviewed in November 2011 screamed "average PC" at first glance, the HP TouchSmart 520-1070 appears to have a bit of a chip on its shoulder and is out to prove that the "all-in-one" moniker doesn't have to only refer to the physical form factor, but also a PC's ability to perform all types of tasks, whether it's burning Blu-ray backups, flipping through TV channels, or even *gulp* a bit of gaming.
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Software, Accessories, & First Boot
For some people, the biggest part of the TouchSmart 520-1070's bundle will be the built-in HDTV tuner, which lets you watch, pause, rewind, and record live TV using the included HP TouchSmart remote control. This gives the 520 added appeal for college-bound students, studio apartment dwellers, or couch potatoes in general.



HP also throws in a wireless keyboard and mouse combination that connects via Bluetooth, neither of which are real fancy but are plenty sufficient for pounding out a Word document or knocking around the Web. Batteries are included with all three wireless components (keyboard, mouse, and remote), and they're of the name-brand variety rather than some funky label you've never heard of before.

At this point, we have to take a moment to mention the packaging, a lame topic we almost always avoid discussing unless it's so thoughtlessly bad or, inversely, so well prepped that it warrants a mention. In this case, it's the latter. There's a velcro strap that attaches the top portion of the large box to the bottom, saving you the trouble of jabbing at any tape with an X-Acto knife or that Samurai sword you just had to have. Inside the box HP packs everything neatly into convenient foam cutouts, and it takes all of 15 seconds to remove everything. But enough about packing, as good as it is, we want to give ourselves a wedgie for talking about it.

As for the remaining accessories, you get a large power brick, IR cable, and various paperwork.



We clocked a cold boot at 1 minute 15 seconds and a full shutdown at 13 seconds. Startup time is a little longer than we'd like, which we attribute to a slow spinning hard drive (5400 RPM) and a mixture of bloatware and useful software utilities preloaded on the 520. For security chores, HP includes a 60-day trial of Norton Internet Security 2012, an excellent AV package that performs much better and eats up far fewer resources than Norton products of the past (before it was completely overhauled and rewritten in 2009), but also adds to the time it takes to boot the system.



HP's redesigned Magic Canvas software makes its debut on the new TouchSmart models. Magic Canvas is essentially a dynamic background with movable tiles, and new to this version is the ability to access the Start Menu. It almost resembles a mobile OS, a logical design choice considering today's mobile platforms (smartphones, tablet PCs) are primed for touch interaction, and so is this all-in-one PC.



You don't have to use HP's custom UI, nor does it even load by default. You should give it a whirl, however, as it's actually a fun piece of software that enhances the touch experience and is better suited for this type of computing than Windows 7's standard interface.



Another neat addition is the HP TouchSmart Browser software designed to make surfing the Web easier via touch than with a standard browser. Everything is bigger and tuned for touch input, though you lose power user features found on other browsers. It's a good choice for quick browsing sessions, but we still prefer our regular browsers to this one, which runs on top of Internet Explorer.



There's a ton of software included with the TouchSmart 520-1070, and yes, some of it is bloatware, but the vast majority is comprised of useful applications and utilities, and a few gimmicky programs thrown in for good measure.
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Overall Design & Layout
Hewlett-Packard advertises its TouchSmart 520-1070 as being "lighter, thinner, and altogether stylish," and perhaps it is lighter than previous models, but at more than 25 pounds (and closer to 26 pounds), this isn't a machine you're going to tuck under your arm like a laptop or toss around the living room like a Nerf football (which, by the way, you shouldn't do with any PC, no matter how light).



It might not be a featherweight machine, but the 520 is fairly svelte for an all-in-one desktop. It's also a bit subdued in its presentation with a two-tone plastic motif rather than a glossy finish as found on the Asus ET2410. HP's design is a little less stylish all around, though it still has a modern flair that shouldn't have trouble blending into most living rooms or kitchen counter tops.

 A giant metal hinge extends down and secures the 23-inch panel to a silver base made of plastic. It offers a generous amount of tilt (-5 degrees to 30 degrees), giving you a bit of flexibility in a form factor that typically errs on the side of being static. At the same time, the entire unit is sturdy and doesn't wobble or wiggle in reaction to enthusiastic finger taps.

The 23-inch LED backlit multi-touch display features a Full HD 1920x1080 screen resolution and is rated at 250 nits brightness (typical) with a 5ms response time and 1,000:1 contrast ratio (typical). It's not going to blow you away with super wide viewing angles and professional grade color accuracy like an IPS panel will, however, we found it more than sufficient for day-to-day computing and watching Blu-ray movies.

 

A speaker bar runs across the bottom and hides what sound like merely average speakers only capable of producing tinny audio, albeit at high volume. That is, until you mash the Beats Audio button on the wireless keyboard. Do that and you'll wake up their full potential. In this case, Beats Audio makes a world of difference, not only giving you fine grain control over various aspects of the audio, including an adjustable EQ, but also in producing full, rich sound not typically found on integrated speakers. It won't blow away your thousand dollar home theater setup, but the speakers will fill a room with pleasant sound, whether it's for listening to music, watching movies, or even playing games.



There's a fair amount of connectivity options included with the 520. On the back of the unit you'll find four USB 2.0 ports, a GbE LAN port for wired Internet (802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi is built-in), a coaxial cable port to use with the built-in TV tuner, an IR blaster jack for HP's bundled TouchSmart remote and accompanying cable, a subwoofer output, and an audio line-out port.

 

 
 

 

A slot-load Blu-ray burner (yes, burner) is located on the right-hand side and sits above a series of physical on-screen display buttons, four in all. Underneath that is a handy HDMI input for plugging in your Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 console, or anything else that utilizes an HDMI connection (like your notebook or tablet PC). This is a great selling point, especially for college bound students who might not have enough space in their dorm to accommodate both a PC and a television.

Over on the right side is a 6-in-1 media card reader, a pair of SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports, and mic/headphone inputs. It's a nice collection of ports, though noticeably missing is an eSATA port or HDMI output, both minor quibbles for an otherwise well connected all-in-one.



The all-in-one form factor isn't known for being friendly for tech savvy tweakers who know their way around the inside of a PC, and bulk OEMs sometimes go to great lengths to keep users from mucking around. Imagine our surprise, then, when we discovered how easy it was to expose the TouchSmart 520's guts. A plastic panel in the lower middle of the 520's backside pops right off, giving you access to one of three screws you need to loosen to get at the inside. The other two are on each of the lower corners. The screws don't remove completely so there's no chance of losing them in your shag carpet. Once loosened, the plastic back panel pries off with just a little finagling, allowing you to service the machine or upgrade certain parts, like the RAM or hard drive. You might also be able to replace the GPU, but considering this system is only rocking a 180W power supply, we don't recommend trying to swap out the included AMD Radeon HD 6450A.
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PCMark & 3DMark Tests
To kick things off we fired up Futuremark's system performance benchmark, PCMark Vantage. This synthetic benchmark suite simulates a range of real-world scenarios and workloads, stressing various system subsets in the process. Everything you'd want to do with your PC -- watching HD movies, music compression, image editing, gaming, and so forth -- is represented here.  Also, most of the tests are multi-threaded, making this a good indicator of all-around performance.

Futuremark PCMark Vantage
Simulated Application Performance


Talk about getting off to an impressive start. The HP TouchSmart 520-1070 is clearly in class of its own when it comes to all-in-one PCs, and not only did it thoroughly trounce the competition, it performed nearly as well as the three desktop systems in our recent back-to-school roundup from a few months ago. We can attribute the disparity compared to other AIO PCs to the combination of a Core i7 quad-core processor (4 cores / 8 threads) and discrete graphics, which together provide enough muscle to help overcome a slow spinning 5400 RPM hard drive.

Futuremark's PCMark 7 suite is a newer collection of benchmarks, and because of its age, we're still working on building a database of scores to compare with. As we would expect, the 520 strutted through the Computation portion of the benchmark run with little problem, and struggled with the Storage metrics.

Futuremark 3DMark Vantage
Synthetic DirectX Gaming

The latest version of Futuremark's synthetic 3D gaming benchmark, 3DMark Vantage, is specifically bound to Windows Vista-based systems because it uses some advanced visual technologies that are only available with DirectX 10, which isn't available on previous versions of Windows.  3DMark Vantage isn't simply a port of 3DMark06 to DirectX 10 though.  With this latest version of the benchmark, Futuremark has incorporated two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, in addition to support for the latest PC hardware.  We tested the graphics cards here with 3DMark Vantage's Performance preset option, which uses a resolution of 1280x1024



Pitting the TouchSmart 520-1070 against the recently reviewed Asus ET2410 is like putting the class nerd in the ring with the schoolyard bully. This isn't Hollywood where the underdog has a shot at upsetting the frontrunner. Armed with an AMD Radeon HD 6450A graphics card, the 520 performed almost three times better than the ET2410, which only had an Intel HD Graphics 3000 core to work with. Equally impressive is the performance gap between the HP system and the Asus ET2011, which features an AMD E-350APU and Radeon HD 6310 GPU.


Like PCMark 7, Futuremark's 3DMark 11 is a newer version of the same benchmark, so there's not a lot for us to compare scores with just yet. This does, however, put things into perspective. While the Radeon HD 6450A is able to outrun systems using integrated graphics, it is by no means a high-end gaming solution, and the 3DMark 11 score highlights this.


We also ran the 520 through 3DMark 11's Extreme preset just for good measure. Brownie points go the HP for the mere fact that its all-in-one was able to run the benchmark, even if it did limp across the finish line.
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SiSoft Sandra & CineBench
We continued our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests (CPU Arithmetic, Multimedia, Memory Bandwidth, Physical Disks).
 
Preliminary Testing with SiSoft SANDRA
Synthetic Benchmarks

   

We don't want to seem overly impressed with the TouchSmart 520-1070, but several times during testing we had to remind ourselves that this is an all-in-one machine and not a desktop tower. This was one of those times. To put the above numbers in perspective, both scores are around double what the Asus ET2410 posted. The 520 has the added benefit of two additional cores to play with, as the Core i7 2600S is a quad-core part clocked at 2.8GHz with a maximum Turbo frequency of 3.8GHz and 8MB of cache.

   

Things go a little more tight in Sandra's memory and storage tests. The HP system posted stronger memory bandwidth numbers (17.17GB/s versus 15.64GB/s), but its 5400 RPM hard drive wasn't able to keep up with the 7200 RPM HDD in the ET2410 (94.38MB/s versus 110MB/s). HP chose storage capacity over spindle speed, though if it were up to us, we'd compromise between the two.

Cinebench R11.5 64bit
Content Creation Performance

Maxon's Cinebench R11.5 benchmark is based on Maxon's Cinema 4D software used for 3D content creation chores and tests both the CPU and GPU in separate benchmark runs. On the CPU side, Cinebench renders a photorealistic 3D scene by tapping into up to 64 processing threads (CPU) to process more than 300,000 total polygons, while the GPU benchmark measures graphics performance by manipulating nearly 1 million polygons and huge amounts of textures.

Asus ET2410 (Core i3 2100 / Intel HD Graphics 3000)

HP TouchSmart 520-1070

With four cores, eight processing threads, discrete graphics, and 8GB of DDR3-1333 memory at its disposal, the TouchSmart system is plenty capable of handling content creation chores and could probably handle a bit of CAD work, though if workstation level performance is what you're after, the 520's going to fall a bit short. Impressive showing in Cinebench, nonetheless.

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Gaming Performance

Lost Planet 2
DX9 Gaming Performance

 
Lost Planet 2

A follow-up to Capcom’s Lost Planet : Extreme Condition, Lost Planet 2 is a third person shooter that takes place again on E.D.N. III ten years after the story line of the first title. We ran the game’s DX9 mode simply because the Core i3 2100 processor doesn't support DX11 visuals.  We used the Test B option built into the benchmark tool and with all graphics options set to their High Quality values.

We did something a little different with our Lost Planet 2 benchmark this time, and that was to test and compare DirectX 9 and DirectX 11 performance, simply because the Radeon HD 6450A graphics card can handle both. In case it's not immediately clear, Lost Planet 2 is a punishing benchmark, and it wasn't until we dialed down the settings considerably that the framerates approached anything playable, and only in DX9 mode. That's not indicative of all DX11 gaming, but for more demanding titles, the TouchSmart 520-1070's limitations will be exposed.

Left 4 Dead 2
Gaming Performance

 
Left 4 Dead 2

In our Left 4 Dead 2 test, we use a custom Time Demo that involves plenty of fast action, some explosions, and plenty of people and objects on the screen at the same time.

Left 4 Dead 2 results were much more encouraging, as they usually are. The takeaway from this is that the TouchSmart system is able to game at its native 1920x1080 resolution in some situations. L4D2 isn't particularly taxing, and after we dialed down some of the settings, it was more than playable at Full HD. Note that we kept the settings on Medium, meaning there's even more wiggle room to play with by dialing things down to Low. Well played, HP.
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Power Consumption

Total System Power Consumption
Tested at the Outlet

We used SeaSonic's Power Angel Power Meter to measure the amount of power our test system pulled from the wall. You'll find three figures below: power supply's maximum rated wattage, peak power consumption under a full CPU/GPU load, and how much the system pulled from the wall when idle, following a fresh system boot.

To get a sense of an absolute worst case scenario, we loaded up Prime95 and FurMark, a brutal combination that's even a little bit dangerous the way we run them, allowing the videocard to go full bore with reckless abandon. In doing so, the TouchSmart 520-1070 topped out at 130W, pretty well short of the power supply's maximum rating of 180W. It isn't a big PSU, but plenty enough to handle what's already a fairly well spec'd machine.

At idle, the TouchSmart system pulled 60W from wall, more than the ET2410 (42W), but acceptable for an all-in-one system powering a PC and monitor combined.

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Performance Summary & Conclusion
Performance Summary: All-in-one machines aren't known for their raw performance, but such is the march of technology that a system like HP's TouchSmart 520-1070 can exist. Our gamut of benchmarks and subjective analysis of real-world performance reflect the hardware's capabilities, not the form factor. And in terms of the former, the 520 brings some serious components to the all-in-one party, including a Core i7-2600S, AMD Radeon HD 6450A graphics, and 8GB of DDR3-1333 memory. The GPU isn't going to warrant a second glance from serious gamers, but as evidenced by our PCMark, 3DMark, and Left 4 Dead 2 benchmarks, there's enough pixel pushing power to handle a bit of gaming, something not every AIO can claim. The 520 even held its own in the Cinebench benchmark.

Content creation, light gaming, and multimedia chores are where the TouchSmart 520-1070 really excels, and while we would have preferred a faster spinning hard drive or, even better, a solid state drive + HDD combo, HP opted to give users oodles of storage, probably banking on the fact that this will end up as a multi-user PC for the whole family. There's an argument to be made there, we just hate to see an otherwise strongly equipped machine miss an occasional step.

It won't be until Windows 8 launches presumably later this year that touchscreen computing on the desktop really has a chance at taking off, but in the meantime, companies like HP are finding ways to manipulate Windows 7 with custom overlays more suited for touch interaction. HP's answer is Magic Canvas, a well thought out UI that deserves recognition as more than just a gimmick. We don't know how well it works on other systems, but on the TouchSmart 520-1070, HP's Magic Canvas software is smooth, responsive, and full of tricks that enhance the Windows experience for touch computing, which is likely one of the reasons you're considering an all-in-one PC in the first place.

If not, there's still a lot to like with this PC. This isn't an underpowered machine content to settle on a space saving form factor and call it a day. There's some strong hardware inside this thing, and it's flanked by robust connectivity options, a TV tuner, Blu-ray burner, and an audio solution (Beats Audio) that you won't be embarrassed to fire up in front of company. We wish the storage subsystem was a little faster, and the discrete graphics, while superior to what you'll find in most all-in-one systems, isn't suited to high end gaming. But it will handle some games, even at the display's native 1920x1080 resolution. We also have to give HP major props for making it so easy to remove the back panel to service or upgrade some of the parts, like the hard drive and RAM. OEMs have only recently begun trusting its customers to handle a screwdriver, by making their machines more accessible to home servicing, but it's a level of trust rarely found on the AIO form factor. It's just another area the TouchSmart 520-1070 separates itself from the pack.

In this economy, the TouchSmart 520 is a bit steep at $1,400 direct from HP, though it's often marked down several hundred Benjamins via other retailers and HP itself, bringing the price down closer to $1,200. Either way, this is a solid machine for the money and a great example of how to build an all-in-one PC.

 

  

  • High-end hardware not typically found in most all-in-one systems
  • Discrete graphics opens the door to game play
  • Lots of storage space
  • Wireless mouse and keyboard
  • HP's Magic Canvas software works extremely well with the touchscreen
  • Beats Audio works wonders with the integrated speakers
  • You won't be playing overly demanding DX11 titles on this
  • Slow spinning hard drive


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