Can it really be so hard to make a great all-in-one computer? Apple keeps doing it over and over again with its iMac series -- and not just because of the Macintosh operating system. But PC makers seem to have a much harder time.
Take Gateway's new Profile 6. On paper, it looks like the perfect iMac killer for PC users: everything you need in one sleek black case. But when you actually put it on your desk, it comes off as more clunky than cool.
The Gateway Profile 6. Click image to enlarge.
First the good stuff: Starting at around $1,000, the Profile 6 that I tested came with a 2.8GHz Intel Pentium 4 processor with an 800MHz front side bus and 2MB of L2 cache. It had 512MB of 533MHz DDR2 SDRAM and an 80GB 7200rpm hard drive (special deals currently offer free upgrades to a 160GB drive and 1GB of RAM). A 48x/32x/48x CD-RW / 8x DVD combo drive is standard, but the machine I tested had the $30 upgrade to a DVD+R/+RW/CD-RW drive. (Frankly, since anything less doesn't make sense for a machine like this, I don't know why Gateway would even offer it without a DVD burner.)
All that hardware delivers respectable but not outstanding performance on standard computing tasks. The Profile 6 garnered a COSBI OpenSourceMark (OSMark) benchmark score of 967.5. That's respectable for a desktop system in this price range, but the real test for a machine like this comes in the ergonomics, usability, and style of the all-in-one package.
Here the Profile 6 scores some hits and a few misses. The Profile's best feature is its big, exceptionally bright 19-inch, 1280 x 1024 LCD (a 17-inch version is also available). Unfortunately, the display is attached to the main box by a strong but relatively inflexible hinge assembly. As a result, it can only move up and down about four inches, and tilt forward and back about 30 degrees. It can't swivel sideways at all. For that you'd have to turn the whole machine. (At least the screen offers a wide viewing angle, so you can still see it even if you're not right in front of it.)
Worse, although the front of the screen is even with the front edge of the unit's base, the back of the base sticks out, as do the sides of the display. The flimsy-feeling plastic behind the screen is shiny, while the rest of the machine sports a matte finish. The whole thing just isn't very tidy or attractive.
Similarly, while putting the optical drive and an optional nine-in-one media card reader ($10) on the front panel makes sense, the mouse and keyboard cords attach on the side behind a flimsy plastic panel, and emerge to the rear, further spoiling the neat appearance. Seriously, how much more expensive would it have been to use a wireless mouse and keyboard? It's not even an option, though you can get wireless Bluetooth for another $29.99 (and 802.11b/g wireless networking for another $45). Meanwhile, the two-piece 3-watt built-in speakers sound pretty good, and also eliminate a couple more pieces of potential clutter.
The big question, I guess, is: Why anyone would buy this machine instead of a laptop? The processor is faster than those on most laptops, and few laptops offer a 19-inch screen -- though some do have 17-inchers. More to the point, the Profile 6 sports a full-height PCI slot, half-height PCI slot, and full-height PCI Express x16 graphics slot -- far more expansion options than your average laptop can muster. And its vertical design and full-size keyboard and mouse, give it an significant ergonomic advantage over any laptop. Perhaps more importantly, the Profile costs less than a comparable laptop, and not much more than a standard PC and monitor with similar specs.
But just about any garden-variety laptop would look better (and if for some reason you don't like the way the laptop looks, you can always pick it up and use it elsewhere). And if you have room to stash the CPU under your desk, even a regular desktop machine might be more attractive (not to mention easier to deal with if you want to replace, say, the display). In the end, for all the Gateway Profile 6's all-in-one-ness, most people will be better off with either of the alternatives.
Gateway Profile 6
Price: $1,009.99 for base model with 17-inch display
Summary: Gateway's attempt at an iMac killer offers some interesting features, but in the end, doesn't quite make it.
Fredric Paul is director of online editorial development for CMP Media and executive editor of CMP Healthcare.