These all-in-one PCs will reclaim your home from your office

The enforced novelty of working from home over the last year-and-a-half may have peaked now, but with so many of us preferring it to a daily commute, it will prove hard to put the genie completely back in the bottle.

It looks like an ordinary monitor but this Apple iMac is a complete computer
It looks like an ordinary monitor but this Apple iMac is a complete computer

But squeezing a fully-functioning office into a lounge or kitchen has challenges of its own. Laptops are often too small for concentrated work, and few of us want to festoon our living spaces with the cabling that a desktop PC involves.

There is a middle way, though. All-in-one computers, known in the business as AIOs, are self-contained units that you can unplug, pick up and move somewhere else several times a day, if necessary, to suit your living arrangements. They’re not exactly portable, but they’re certainly flexible.

All the essential components are encased within the screen, so all you need to add is a wireless keyboard and mouse. The only cable is the one to the mains.

AIOs often have larger and higher resolution screens than conventional desktops, and many double as monitors for games consoles and other equipment.

But there are drawbacks, too. The proprietary design means that upgrading any of the components is usually out of the question. And they’re expensive compared to buying a new desktop for your existing monitor.

You can get both Macs and PCs as all-in-ones, the former being distinguished by their exquisite design and extravagant prices. All the rest run Windows in exactly the same way as a regular laptop or desktop. A few offer touch screens, but it’s a Microsoft gimmick that will wear out your arm and make your eyes ache from sitting too close.

At the top of the range is the Apple iMac Pro, with a 27-inch screen, an incredibly detailed 5K Retina display and a colossal 32 gigabytes of memory. At £4,800 this is expensive even by Apple’s standards, but for just over £2,000 you can have the non-pro version with the same screen but less processing power. Switched off, they look so sleek that you’d never know they were anything other than regular monitors.

A more realistic proposition is the £650 Lenovo IdeaCentre, which has a 23.8in screen and 8GB of memory – the bare minimum these days.

The size of the screen is the first thing you will want to consider. Too small and it will be barely better than a laptop; too big and it might not blend into your room. As it’s likely to be on show all the time, you may also want to consider the design.

But the most important choices are the same as with any computer – processor, memory, graphics and hard drives – and your preference will depend on what you plan to be using it for. Take particular care when looking at the processor, and do some research on the exact model you’re being offered. This is because some AIOs are built with chips designed for laptops, and may not be ideal for the hardware-intensive tasks you expect to be able to accomplish on a full-size machine. If you plan to plug a set-top box or other device into the unit, make sure it has an HDMI input at the back. And insist on a solid state hard drive (SSD) for faster booting. Check as well whether the screen tilts sufficiently, especially if you plan to be using it on a coffee table rather than a desk. And as with any computer, make sure there’s a decent graphics card fitted if you want to play games. Remember, it isn’t something you can add later.

At the end of the day, an all-in-one is a lifestyle choice as much as a technical one. But if you’re looking for an ideal work-life balance in the new office landscape, one of these could be a perfect fit.

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