HP TouchSmart IQ506 Desktop PC Kalamazoo MI

Sleek, classy all-in-one PC gets points for design, but it lacks the same wow in its performance.

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HP TouchSmart IQ506 Desktop PC

The Hewlett-Packard TouchSmart IQ506 may be worthy of the Jetsons' household. This all-in-one desktop PC is all screen--22 inches of 1650-by-1080-resolution display, with a laptop's guts hiding inside. Though the TouchSmart ($1500 as of 6/25/08) isn't a powerhouse desktop machine meant to run graphics-intensive games or to crunch supercomputer-level data, it is a centerpiece system with a multitouch screen that makes you realize you're playing with a PC that's slightly ahead of its time.

If you didn't know any better, you'd mistake the slim, subtle design of the TouchSmart for that of a handsome LCD TV. Walking into the PC World Test Center and seeing it for the first time, I almost did--and not because of the remote or the NTSC/ATSC tuner, which provides access to both analog and over-the-air HD signals. The colors pop on this display.

Like the Gateway One and waves of Apple iMacs, the TouchSmart IQ506 is all about elegance. I was hypnotized, staring at a beautiful-looking machine with a touch screen--something the competition doesn't offer. This isn't HP's first attempt at an all-in-one, either. However, the first-generation TouchSmart IQ770 more closely resembled a highly stylized desktop than it did a display. As much as it got right, a few things disappointed us back then, namely its poky components and the fact that its 19-inch touch screen would recognize only a single point.

This time around, HP takes advantage of Windows Vista's ability to recognize two points of touch on the screen. Whether you want to zip around documents, enlarge images, or swipe your finger across the display, using the IQ506 is a simple matter of on-screen finger movements. It works just as the iPhone's screen does: You can pinch your fingers together or push them apart to zoom in or out, for example--you know the drill by now. You can even play some basic games with the touch interface. I stabbed at the screen to move solitaire cards around, and that worked smoothly, but my dreams of playing a first-person shooter using only my finger-of-death aren't quite a reality yet.

The new TouchSmart PC pulls ahead of other recent all-in-ones with its ability to handle most productivity tasks easily. Its configuration is reasonable, but since this model uses notebook components, it lacks the processing oomph of competing value desktops. The model we tested came with a 2.16-GHz Core 2 Duo T5850 Intel CPU, 4GB RAM, and a 500GB, 7200-rpm hard drive. The TouchSmart sailed through some of our WorldBench 6 tests--everything from Photoshop to media encoding ran smoother on the TouchSmart than it did on the Gateway One, for example. On our gaming tests, however, the TouchSmart's nVidia GeForce 9300M GS graphics processor brought its performance down (the Gateway ran Doom 3 roughly two times faster, and the iMac did so two and a half times faster). The graphics results torpedoed the IQ506's WorldBench 6 score, dragging it down to a mark of 79; the Gateway had received an 87.

HP nailed the design aesthetic with the new TouchSmart: This model would look equally at home in your living room, bedroom, or office. It comes with five USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire port, gigabit ethernet, a slot-loading DVD player, an S-Video input, and 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth built in. (I would have loved to see an eSATA port for a high-speed external drive.) But it lacks some of the core inputs you might want for a home media hub, such as component or HDMI input and a Blu-ray Disc burner. Unfortunately, you can't crack open the case and pop in upgrades--a drawback that prevents the TouchSmart from growing with you.

A serviceable wireless keyboard/mouse combo is included in the box. The system also comes with HP's excellent, touch-screen-enabled TouchSmart Software Suite. The media-centric software is easy to use and to customize, with mouse or fingers.

Paying the $1500 price buys you a system with classy design, the versatility to handle everyday tasks, and the ability to do some light multimedia lifting. It doesn't have enough power to deal with more graphics-heavy activities. The TouchSmart is appropriate as a second PC or as a lifestyle PC that fits into your living space, but as your primary system it may not do everything you want it to do.

--Darren Gladstone