A small-footprint, all-in-one PC isn't everyone's cup of tea. Conventional desktops are cheaper, and more expandable and upgradeable. Notebooks are just as good at saving desk space, and more portable.
But for an apartment or small office without much room, and for a bigger display than all but the bulkiest notebooks and the ability to sit back and enjoy it, thanks to a keyboard that's not attached to the display a PC built into a svelte LCD monitor is a neat idea. And MPC's ClientPro All-in-One is one of the neatest, although pricey when fully loaded ($2,683 for our 2.8GHz Pentium 4 test system with 1GB of DDR333 memory, a 120GB hard disk, DVD-RW drive, and Microsoft Office XP Small Business Edition).
Not Really a Media Center
ClientPro is the brand MPC (formerly MicronPC) uses for its business desktops, as opposed to the Millennia series of home gaming and multimedia systems. But the All-in-One, though clearly a good fit for a cubicle worker, is meant to tempt consumers, too: Our test configuration's 17-inch LCD monitor came with a TV tuner and infrared remote control, letting the unit double as a TV set with InterVideo's WinDVR 3 software offering TiVo-like recording of shows to the hard disk.
There's also an MP3 button and play/pause, stop, mute, and previous/next track buttons on the front bezel, so you can listen to an audio CD or files in a C:\MP3 folder on the hard disk without booting up Windows. (In PC mode, the buttons control Windows Media Player.) And though the ClientPro's built-in stereo speakers are predictably ordinary, there are subwoofer/center, satellite, and rear-speaker jacks and an S/PDIF connector so you can connect a 5.1 speaker system.
Unfortunately, while it's a great DVD-watching system, the Windows XP Professional-based ClientPro has a few too many rough edges to compete with a Windows XP Media Center PC, Sony Vaio with Giga Pocket, or even the remote-control-operated Linux alternatives to the Windows TV and audio players provided with the WinBook Fusion PC we reviewed last month.
The remote control has a full complement of buttons plus a thumb dial for makeshift mouse maneuvering, but didn't work as reliably as the front-panel buttons or most of the latter, since our test unit's front-panel TV button did nothing. (Besides, the regular Windows desktop isn't usable or visible from more than a few feet away as the jumbo-sized Media Center interface is.) Unlike the Fusion PC, the MPC provides no on-screen interface or playlist for the standalone (non-Windows) media player, obliging you to squint at the small, dim LCD below the main display. And while it's a handy substitute for a separate TV set, there's no on-screen program guide to help with video recording as with Media Center PCs or ATI's All-in-Wonder cards.
But while we'd vote to save $50 by skipping the TV tuner and other home-entertainment aspirations, the ClientPro All-in-One is an attractive productivity PC. Even more than Gateway's category-pioneering Profile series, it's easily mistaken for just an LCD monitor, without a computer built in 16 by 17.3 by less than two inches thick, although its tilt-adjustable stand is 8.3 inches deep. There's no swivel, though it's easy enough to move the whole 17.2-pound system, or height adjustment.
The 17-inch, 1,280 by 1,024-resolution display is sharp and bright; our test model was free from bad pixels, but we missed everyday brightness and contrast adjustments the online reference manual said that pressing the TV and track or channel buttons simultaneously would increase or decrease brightness, but we tried with no effect
No Screamer, But No Slouch
While penny-pinchers can order the ClientPro with a Celeron CPU, the default processor is Intel's previous-generation, 533MHz-bus Pentium 4; our test unit had the fastest available on MPC's Web site, the 2.8GHz chip (the 3.06GHz model with Hyper-Threading isn't listed). The motherboard features SiS' 645DX chipset and two SODIMM sockets holding a maximum of 1GB of DDR333 memory.
While an 800MHz front-side bus and Hyper-Threading might be nice, the Pentium 4/2.8 is hardly a slowpoke, especially when matched with the maximum memory and a speedy 7,200-rpm Seagate Barracuda 120GB hard disk. The MPC All-in-One motored to an eminently respectable score of 252 in BAPco's SysMark 2002, with Internet Content Creation and Office Productivity ratings of 358 and 178, respectively, and passed FutureMark's PCMark 2002 tests with scores of 6,865 (CPU), 5,717 (memory), and 1,078 (hard disk). That's more or less a match for some Pentium 4/3.06 systems we've seen.
The ClientPro drops one or two notches when it comes to video performance, but that still leaves it a notch above the WinBook Fusion PC, Sony W series, and other rivals with weakling integrated-graphics chipsets. The system's ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 graphics controller has 64MB of dedicated memory and ran our DirectX 8.1, though not 9.0, benchmarks ably enough: Its FutureMark 3DMark 2001 SE score was 7,347, and it played three of the four game simulations en route to a 3DMark03 score of 1,170.
The MPC even sailed through the free version of AquaMark3, albeit at a leisurely 11.9 frames per second (GFX 1,311; CPU 6,222; overall 11,872), and managed 13.6 fps in the Codecreatures benchmark at 1,024 by 768 resolution with 4X antialiasing. The venerable Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby and Quake III Arena (1,024 by 768 High Quality) tests moved right along at 74 and 142 fps, respectively. In other words, while (despite its transportability) you won't want to take it to any LAN parties, the ClientPro won't crumple like a Kleenex if you attempt to run a game on it.
Gateway's Profile beats the MPC's ergonomics, due to the former's front-loading floppy and optical drives the All-in-One's floppy is on the right side and its Toshiba SD-R6012 DVD-RW drive (a slow 1X DVD writer, compared to conventional desktops' 4X and new 8X burners) is on the left. One Type II PC Card slot is even less accessibly located behind the DVD-RW.
On the other hand, we're hard pressed to imagine what you'd use the PC Card slot for; the ClientPro makes up for its lack of conventional slots and bays with plenty of back-side ports and connectors, including an 802.11g wireless network adapter behind a Mini PCI panel. In addition to the previously mentioned S/PDIF and front, rear, and center speaker ports, you'll find four USB 2.0; one USB 1.1; one 4-pin IEEE 1394; one PS/2, 56Kbps modem, 10/100Mbps Ethernet, microphone, parallel, and VGA ports. The TV tuner adds coaxial cable, RCA, and S-Video in and S-Video output ports.
To help keep your desk neat, MPC offers the small-footprint ClientPro with Microsoft's cord-free Wireless Optical Desktop keyboard and mouse, which share a radio receiver that plugs into the PS/2 and one of the USB ports. They're the first-generation models instead of Microsoft's new 2.0 devices with the horizontal-scrolling Tilt Wheel mouse, but still superbly comfortable, smooth, and precise. An unavoidable minor complaint in the neat-freak department is that the All-in-One has a bulky, notebook-style AC adapter instead of an internal power supply.
Our test system came with a solid software bundle, including not only Microsoft Office XP Small Business but WinDVR 3, WinDVD 4, the Pinnacle Studio 8 video editor, and Ahead Software's Nero Express 6 CD/DVD burning utilities.
Overall, the ClientPro All-in-One is a tempting, space-saving system, though we like it better as a, well, client a capable computer, minus the TV tuner and remote control that lack the polish of today's Media Center PCs. Dropping the tuner and settling for 512MB of memory, an 80GB hard disk, and a DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive would also trim its price to a nicer $2,263, especially with the new Gateway Profile 5 all-in-one offering tough (if slightly bulkier) competition in the form of both 17- and 19-inch-screened models with faster Pentium 4 processors.
Adapted from HardwareCentral.com.