HP TouchSmart 520 All-In-One Review

“What’s the first thing you noticed when unboxing the system?” asked an HP representative during a briefing call regarding the TouchSmart 520 all-in-one PC I’d received for evaluation a week or so earlier. I told the rep that the system was extremely heavy which prompted a discussion regarding the weighted aluminum base, freestanding configuration and more.

Bill Gates unveiled the first HP TouchSmart at CES in 2007 and we’ve seen a number of updates throughout the years since. The latest rendition sports some serious hardware and a slightly revised design but had it not been for some corporate restructuring at HP, the unit likely would never have seen the light of day; but I digress.

HP supplied us with their TouchSmart model 520-1070 which they described as the star of their current all-in-one lineup that features a lighter, thinner design and an upgraded version of HP’s Magic Canvas software.

 

 

The 23-inch multi-touch AIO is powered by a 2nd generation Intel Core i7-2600S processorclocked at 2.8GHz, 8GB of DDR3 system memory, a 2TB Western Digital Caviar Green hard drive, Radeon HD 6450A graphics and Beats Audio. Additional perks include a built-in TV tuner and HDMI-in, essentially transforming the 520 into a venerable entertainment / gaming station.

Despite the heavy multi-touch focus, HP knows that most users won’t rely strictly on physical interaction with the interface. As such, they’ve also included a wireless keyboard, wireless mouse and media remote control for wire-free control. There’s also a power cord, power adapter with a relatively large ‘brick’, IR blaster cable and some various documentation that round out the bundle. Our price as configured here today is $1,399.

 

  

Aesthetically, HP has a great looking system on their hands. The dual-purpose aluminum base keeps the system firmly planted on the ground even when adjusting the angle of the display. It also serves as a keyboard shelf should you need more space on your desktop or when you go into touch-only mode.

Across the bottom of the display is a sound bar powered by Beats Audio. We’ve seen Beats branding on HP notebooks in the past but results are typically best achieved when listening with a pair of headphones. After all, one can only ask so much from a pair of laptop speakers. HP certainly has the room to add a decent set of speakers here; let’s hope they did just that.

The 23-inch backlit LED display features a native resolution of 1920 x 1080, 250 nits brightness, 1000:1 contrast ratio and a 5ms response time. The non-glossy black bezel houses an HD webcam with built-in microphone just above the screen.

 

 

On the left side of the computer we find storage and card reader LED indicators, a 6-in-1 card reader, two USB 3.0 ports, a microphone jack and a headphone jack. The rear I/O panel features four USB 2.0 ports, line-out and subwoofer-out jacks, a Gigabit Ethernet jack, power jack, IR blaster jack and the TV tuner coaxial jack.

HP has installed a slot-loading SuperMulti Blu-ray Burner on the right edge of the system just above four buttons used to manipulate on-screen display options. Finally there is an HDMI-in port, allowing you to use the display as a secondary screen for your notebook or even better, a primary display for your gaming console.

Out of the Box, Performance

Setting up the TouchSmart PC couldn’t be easier – just plug in the power cable and go. Since the keyboard and mouse are wireless and there’s built-in Wi-Fi, you only need to plug in the single power cable to operate the computer. Or at least that should be how it works.

In the case of our evaluation unit, I ran into a problem right from the get-go. When I turned on the computer for the first time, I was greeted with a hard drive error similar to what you might get if you’re trying to boot from a USB or flash drive. I checked the BIOS but nothing appeared out of the ordinary. My next step was to run the HP diagnostics program which told me the hard drive was disconnected or not installed.

 

  

Instead of calling HP, I decided to take matters into my own hand. I wanted to check and see if: A) there was a hard drive installed and B) if it was connected or not. I was able to remove the rear panel of the system by popping off a plastic cover and unscrewing a handful of screws. Once open I could somewhat see where the back plane for the hard drive might not be making a solid connection. I removed a screw, took the drive out and then reinstalled it as firmly as I could. Putting everything back together, the system booted right into Windows without incident. My only guess here is that the drive got bumped loose during shipping and we can only hope it’s an isolated event.

All versions of the TouchSmart ship with Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit. The first thing I checked with this system was the boot time, recorded from when I press the power button until the system is in Windows and ready to go. For the 520, this measured out to be 1 minute and 8 seconds. This number didn’t change after I uninstalled various bloatware.

 

 

Speaking of bloatware, there’s no kind way to put it – this system is filled to the brim with it. I removed a full two dozen programs from the Add/Remove Programs list prior to running any tests on this system. It’s not uncommon for me to remove several programs from a OEM test system, but HP went overboard here. After all, do you really need more than one e-reader application and multiple search toolbars?

Additionally I found 28 TouchSmart-specific programs, all related to the multi-touch interface. I decided to leave these intact as one would presume the average consumer would take advantage of some of these.

 

  

One other quibble I had with the system was the default color profile. The display had a heavy ‘cool’ tone that made everything overly blue. Fortunately, this was an easy fix using the ‘HP My Display’ application which had presets for Movie, Text and Gaming modes. I ultimately chose Movie which most resembled what a normal monitor should look like.

HP’s Magic Canvas got a facelift earlier this year and is your one-stop shop for all things touch. The UI is in its fifth iteration and now resembles something you’d find on a tablet or Android smartphone. Users can flick from side to side in the software, revealing new sections of the page as they go – sort of like a giant carousel. There are plenty of touch-specific apps to work with but more importantly, users can now access the start menu and taskbar from within the UI. Working with the software is pretty cool but there was a bit of noticeable lag which surprised me given the Core i7 processor under the hood.

Benchmarks Results

 

Synthetic Tests TouchSmart 520 IdeaCentre K330 Envy 14 (2011)
3DMark 06
3DMark Score 4095 3DMarks 21840 3DMarks 7486 3DMarks
PCMark Vantage
PCMark Suite 9105 PCMarks 10904 PCMarks 5734 PCMarks

 

 

Application Tests TouchSmart 520 IdeaCentre K330 Envy 14 (2011)
iTunes Encoding Test 01 min 1 sec 01 min 2 sec
File Transfer Test
Small files 1 min 28 sec 1 min 4 sec 1 min 21 sec
Large file 52 sec 38 sec 52 sec

 

The iTunes encoding tests consist of converting 14 MP3s (119MB) to 128Kbps ACC files and measuring the operation’s duration in seconds. For the file transfer test, we measure how long it takes to copy two sets of files from one location to another on the same hard drive. On the small files test we transfer 557 MP3s, totaling 2.56GB. For the large file, these same MP3s were zipped into a single file measuring 2.52GB.

 

Gaming Performance TouchSmart 520 IdeaCentre K330 Envy 14 (2011)
Far Cry 2
1024×768 Medium Quality 24.0 fps 41.8 fps
1920×1080 Resolution, High Quality 13.6 fps 58.9 fps
StarCraft 2
1024×768 Medium Quality 39.0 fps 67.5 fps
1920×1080, High Quality 23.1 fps 60.8 fps

 

HP TouchSmart 520 All-In-One Specs

 

 

  • 23″ multi-touch 1920 x 1080 display
  • Intel Core i7-2600S (2.8GHz, quad-core)
  • 8GB DDR3-1333 RAM
  • Radeon HD 6450A graphics
  • 2TB WD Caviar Green 5400 RPM hard drive
  • SuperMulti Blu-ray Burner
  • Built-in TV tuner, HDMI-in
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit

 

 

 

  • Intel Core i7-2600 (3.4GHz, quad-core)
  • 12GB Samsung DDR3-1333 RAM
  • OEM microATX motherboard
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 460
  • 2TB Hitachi 7200 RPM hard drive
  • Blu-ray / DVD Combo
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit

 

 

 

  • 14.5″ HD BrightView Infinity LED 1366 x 768 display
  • Intel Core i5-2430M (2.4GHz – 3GHz, 3MB L3 cache)
  • 6GB DDR3 SDRAM
  • AMD Radeon HD 6630M
  • Western Digital 750GB hard drive
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
  • Usage, Audio, Touch & Conclusion

    I measured the power draw of the TouchSmart 520 using a Kill A Watt power consumption meter. At Idle, the system fluctuated between 60-65 watts. I used a combination of Prime 95 and OCCT’s PSU stress tool to generate a full load on the system of 132 watts. The system remained virtually silent throughout stress testing.

    I had high hopes for the Beats Audio on this system given the ample space for sizable speakers and HP didn’t disappoint. While still not aftermarket desktop speaker quality, the integrated speakers were more than powerful enough to fill an entire room with good-sounding music without having to crank the volume to the max. The size of the speakers allow for a good bit of bass as well. I made a note to ask HP if there were any plans to bundle Beats Audio headphones with future systems and was told it wasn’t in the mix.

    Gaming performance from the AMD Radeon HD 6450A graphics was pretty decent. You can get by playing some mainstream titles at moderate resolutions and graphics settings, but you shouldn’t expect much more than that. Additionally, given the system’s all-in-one configuration and limited power supply capacity, upgrading the graphics isn’t really an option either.

     

     

    HD videos and the like, however, are all fair game. Our informal YouTube 4K resolution video test taxed the CPU to around 33 percent – far less than we have seen on recent notebooks with lesser processors.

    The 1,920 x 1,080 display was very impressive. After changing the color tone using HP’s My Display software, color reproduction seemed very accurate and everything was nice and vibrant. Being a touch panel, I half expected the display to look pretty terrible but that certainly wasn’t the case.

    Windows 7 wasn’t exactly designed with touch interfaces in mind – that will come with Windows 8– but HP has done a pretty good job with the foundation they have to work with at present. The Magic Canvas software was a bit laggy for my taste, but it does demonstrate what is possible and where touch is headed. I’m still not entirely sold on the concept of a touch screen desktop but it is a nice novelty and as a family system, I could see where kids would get hours of enjoyment from it. As an enthusiast, however, it seems that touch is best left for tablets and smartphones. Maybe Windows 8 will change my thinking, but it’s doubtful.

    Editor’s side note: As part of our testing, we upgraded the TouchSmart 520 to Windows 8 Consumer Preview to see how it performed with the Metro UI. Unfortunately though, HP drivers are not working with the new operating system. We contacted HP for a solution but for now they are not offering support for the beta OS, which is a shame.

     

     

    HP did a great job with the connectivity options on this system. There are plenty of USB ports (even USB 3.0 support) and the HDMI-in allows users to utilize the screen as a display for a gaming system. The integrated TV tuner could effectively replace a television in a cramped environment like a college dorm. An included remote allows easy control over media functions without having to fiddle with the keyboard and mouse.

    Speaking of, the bundled wireless keyboard and mouse didn’t give me any trouble during evaluation. The mouse even tracked just fine the surface of a white folding table, something that more expensive mice have had issue with.

    In the end, my two major complaints about this system: first is the sheer and unnecessary amount of bloatware that HP loaded onto the machine. Second, while I appreciate the gobs of storage afforded by the 2TB hard drive, the 5400 RPM drive seriously slows down the entire system. I realize that solid state storage still isn’t at a point price-wise to where big name manufacturers will install them as a stock option, but I’d gladly trade the extra space for enhanced performance any day.

    Overall, the HP TouchSmart 520 is a really nice all-in-one and probably one of the best I’ve spent time with thus far, with a classy design and a powerful processor that ensures it will remain relevant for several years. A system like this would likely work best as a family PC, an office replacement where mid-level content creation happens or a college dorm room where space is extremely limited. At $1,399, it’s a little on the steep side, but if you configure it a bit differently, with a slightly slower processor you can get it closer to $1,000.

    75

    Pros: Great looking all-in-one. Good performance, great display with touch control and audio output.

    Cons: Touch is not as smooth as it should be. Bloatware detracts from the experience.


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