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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Build a Touch-Screen All-in-One Desktop

Normally 'round these parts we restrict our build projects to standard desktops. After all, those are what most DIYers do, and the vast majority of hardware on the market has them in mind. But you don't need to be left out of the building game just because you don't need (or want) a PC that boxy. With the right kind of help, you can build almost anything—even an all-in-one desktop.
That's right. You may think that these systems, which combine the computer and display in one attractive package, are too complicated or esoteric to put together at home, but you're wrong. You can build one with (almost) all the currently available components you want, at a price you can afford to pay—and you can even get a touch screen as part of the bargain. When you're through, you won't only have a solid system (that you can further upgrade at your discretion), you'll also have an attractive showpiece ready for display in your living room, kitchen, or anywhere else in your home you might want a computer but not a bulky tower.
Did we mention that it's also not that much harder than constructing a regular desktop? That's because you don't have to worry about actually putting together the screen yourself, or even fiddling around in ultra-cramped spaces to get the motherboard installed and working. We found a bare-bones kit that contains all the basics (the chassis, with the screen and the motherboard preinstalled; a heat sink; fan; and even an adjustable stand so you won't need to bother with wall mounting), and runs you just $449. Once you have this, your work is essentially half done.
Admittedly, the ECS AIO G11 LED Multitouch with Motherboard is not the fullest-featured system in the world. Its "extras" count a handful of USB ports, Ethernet, HDMI out, headphone and microphone jacks, a multiformat card reader, one Mini-PCI Express slot for a bit of expansion (in case you want to add Wi-Fi connectivity, for example), and not much else.  And there are certain things, such as play intense 3D games, that you'll never be able to do very well on the G11.  But if you're okay with that, it has a nice 21.5-inch screen and a simple, clean, and attractive design, complete with a glossy finish and a laid-back look that should help it fit snugly into any décor.
As for the rest of the components, you have some limitations, but still a lot of choice. The big boundary is the motherboard, which can only use Intel Sandy Bridge processors with TDPs of 65 watts or less—this means that top-of-the-line chips, like the Core i5-2500K and the Core i7-2600K, are off-limits. RAM needs to be in the form of SO-DIMMs, which are considerably smaller than the DIMMs desktops typically use. And if you want an optical drive, it must be the half-height variety. But you can still choose from a wide selection of processors, memory (the system can hold up to 16GB), and hard drives (you can use full-speed 3.5-inch models), so feel free to go as far as your imagination—and your bank account—will take you.
We wanted to keep our choices (and thus our budget) relatively modest, so we went with an Intel Core i3-2120 CPU (for $117), 8GB of Kingston memory ($39.99), a 2TB Western Digital Caviar Black hard drive ($199.99), and a Lite-On DS-8A5S DVD burner ($32.99). But faster processors, double the memory, and a lot more hard drive space are possible if you want them. On the next pages, we'll demonstrate the process of combining all this hardware into a finished, working all-in-one; even if you think you know the drill, it's worth checking out to see an example of something you might never have known you could build—but that could be just what you need to round out your home technology collection.

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