by Bill Snyder

Desktops: Back from the Dead?

Jan 05, 20123 mins
Computers and PeripheralsLaptops

In the age of tablets, smartphones and Ultrabooks, nothing says old school like a desktop. But HP is giving the old war horse some new paint, and surprise -- it's worth checking out. rnrn

I know, I know. Desktops are boring, dorky, ugly, out-dated and cheap. I haven’t owned one in years, and I bet you haven’t either, though maybe there’s one in your cube at work. So why am I writing about desktops today?

Hewlett-Packard, which recently decided not to exit the PC business, has two new consumer desktops out that are  — I don’t believe I’m going to write this — kind of cool.

One is a striking, 27-inch all-in-one that would work well for a family that wants to hang out together playing games or viewing photos and videos and needs a central place to store everyone’s music and other digital stuff. The HP Omni27 All-in-One PC should be available by next week and will start at $1200.

The other is a system designed for the extreme gamer or user of high-end graphics and video-editing programs. It looks fairly conventional, except for a transparent side panel and red internal lighting. But inside it is loaded with high-end processing and graphics power and as much as 16 GB of memory. Because all of that stuff can run very hot, it sports an optional liquid cooling system, which, I admit, tickles my geek bone. It has the not-too-catchy title of the HP Pavilion HPE Phoenix h9. Also available next week, it will set you back $1150 or more, depending on the configuration.

HP Omni photo_edited-1.jpg

I’m not sure if there really is such a thing as a family room anymore, but the new all-in-one does seem like a machine designed to be used in one. At 27 inches diagonally, the monitor is as big as TVs used to be, with a crisp, bright display that tilts up to 25 degrees and shows up well even if you’re not sitting directly in front of it. It comes with an optional TV tuner and built-in Blu-Ray player, so it would serve as a second television somewhere in the home. There’s plenty of storage as well.  

My biggest quarrel with the system is that it is not touch enabled. The screen looks so good and is so big I instinctively wanted to manipulate the images with my fingers. HP has worked closely with Microsoft to add touch-technology to Windows 8, so it wouldn’t be surprising if later iterations (should there be any) of the Omni contain that feature. For now, though, HP decided it would add too much cost, so you’re stuck mousing around. The system includes HP’s proprietary Magic Canvas software which gives some of the flavor of a touch screen, but ultimately doesn’t add much value. 

The new Pavilion is a very beefy machine. At the higher end, it comes with an eight-core AMD processor, 16 GB of DDR3 memory and can support three internal hard drives. It has a discrete graphics card powerful enough to enable the simultaneous use of three monitors. It has plenty of ports, and on some models, a liquid cooling system that keeps the noise down. HP will even throw in a copy of Trion World’s RIFT. (If you have to ask what that is, you’re no gamer.)

Aside from the gaming crowd, the Phoenix h9 is aimed at video editors and others who need an unusually powerful machine. If that sounds like you, this system is worth checking out.

If you fall into one of the niches they are designed to fill, these HP systems are worth consideration. Although I don’t think desktops have much of a future as a mass product, when they are gussied up and aimed to fill a specific need they could be around for a while.