Skip to main content

The benefits and downsides to buying an all-in-one PC

All-in-one (AiO) PCs are sort of like a laptop for your desk. They are self-contained units; you have a display and all the PC hardware behind it in a sleek, slim package. Many popular manufacturers like ASUS, Dell, Microsoft, and Lenovo make AiO PCs, but you might be wondering exactly why you might want one instead of a standard desktop and separate monitor. Here are four benefits and four downsides to buying an AiO PC to help you decide on a final purchase.

All-in-one PCs are easier to transport

Standard desktop PCs are usually constrained to your office or home just based on the fact that transporting a monitor, tower, cables, and peripherals is a bit of a hassle.

In the event that you have to transport an AiO PC, however, you're usually looking at a single unit with a cable; if you have an AiO with a touchscreen, you can also choose to forego carrying any peripherals, like a keyboard and mouse.

Although AiO PCs are easier to transport than their standard desktop counterparts, you still want to grab a laptop if you're someone who is on the move more than you're stationary.

All-in-one PCs take up less space

AiO PCs are getting slimmer every day, pretty much to the point where you can mistake one for a standard monitor. Not so; inside is all the hardware needed to run. Whether you have a small area in your home, you need a multi-PC setup and don't want two or three towers at your feet, or you have a ton of PCs in an office setting, removing the attached tower that comes with a standard desktop PC can free up a lot of space.

On the office note, not having a bunch of cables attaching monitors to towers makes everything look much more proper to any potential customers coming to visit.

All-in-one PCs can give you a touchscreen experience

Touchscreens have come a long way in the last few years, and many Windows laptops and AiO PCs now feature them. The touch feature is great for artwork and design, especially if you get something with pen support like the Microsoft Surface Studio (opens in new tab).

There are also certain apps for Windows 10 that just work better with a touchscreen, and especially a pen. If you've been using a tablet for a long time and now want to upgrade to a more robust PC, an AiO with a touchscreen will be immediately familiar and you won't miss the added functionality.

All-in-one PCs are easier to set up

Not everyone is comfortable around a PC. Maybe they've used Apple products until now, or maybe they've just never taken time to get familiar with how a PC works. If you're shopping for your first PC ever, you might be attracted to the simplicity of an AiO.

To set it up, you basically plug it into a power outlet, hit the power button, and watch Windows 10 boot. A pre-built desktop PC isn't that much harder to set up — you have to plug in your monitor, speakers, and any other cables — and is also a decent option for a new user.

A PC that comes in pieces that you have to put together will likely be way over the head of someone who hasn't spent a lot of time around the hardware. Bottom line: if you're new to the PC game, an AiO is about as simple as it gets.

All-in-one PCs are harder to tinker with

AiO PCs are compact and attractive, but they're usually much harder to tinker with if you can get into them at all. A lot of time the hardware inside is soldered down or unreachable. A standard desktop tower, on the other hand, can be opened and there is plenty of space inside. The hardware can usually all be moved around to your heart's content.

Why tinker with your PC? Perhaps a piece of hardware, like a USB port, fails. On a standard desktop PC, you can repair things yourself as long as you have the know-how. On an AiO PC, however, opening it up might go against the warranty or it might actually be impossible to reach the faulty piece. In that case you'll need to send the entire unit away for repair and you'll be down a PC. This is especially frustrating if it's the display that fails, since with a standard desktop PC you'd be able to keep using the PC while the monitor is replaced or repaired.

All-in-one PCs are harder to upgrade

The hardware available for a PC is in a constant state of improvement. Even if you buy a PC with top-of-the-line parts, it will likely become dated within a few months (if not sooner). Because a computer is an investment, it's hard to reconcile with the fact that this thing you spent a load of money on is now no longer the best out there.

To combat the obsolescence of hardware, standard desktop PCs can be upgraded quite easily. You open up the tower, take out the old hardware (say a graphics card) and pop in a new one you just bought.

AiO PCs don't generally work this way. There is not a lot of room to work with, so even if you could get inside, take out the old hardware, are put something new it, it would have to be a special piece that fit exactly. This also restricts the hardware you can put into an AiO.

All-in-one PCs are stuck with one display

Piggybacking on the hardware upgrade restrictions is the fact that you're stuck with one display for the life of the AiO PC, unless you place the AiO at your feet or to the side on your desk and hook it up to an external monitor.

It might seem like the built-in display on your AiO is suitable right now, but what happens when you want to get something larger or with a higher resolution? There's also the complication that surrounds a faulty display. Instead of being able to buy a new monitor, you either have to get the entire thing repaired or purchase an entirely new AiO PC.

All-in-one PCs are more expensive

When it comes to buying an AiO, you're usually buying something that is put together and branded by a specific company. This means it's going to be more expensive right off the bat than if you were to buy separate pieces of hardware and assemble everything yourself.

For example, if you note the hardware in the Lenovo IdeaCentre Y910 AiO and wait for it to go on sale from various retailers, you can expect to put something similar together for a few hundred dollars less (including a standalone monitor). Keep in mind that you also aren't getting the same sleek, futuristic look as you're getting with the IdeaCentre Y910 AiO.

The best All-in-one PCs available now

Think an AiO PC it right for you? Good! To help you decide where to start, check out our choice for the best options available now.

See the Best All-In-One PC

Cale Hunt
Cale Hunt

Cale Hunt is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. He focuses mainly on laptop reviews, news, and accessory coverage. He's been reviewing laptops and accessories full time since 2016, with hundreds of reviews published for Windows Central. He is an avid PC gamer and multi-platform user, and spends most of his time either tinkering with or writing about tech.

38 Comments
  • What would be really cool if custom AIO with a frontend monitor, empty shell and support components be available.....
  • I went with a touch screen and a mini pc, cubi from msi. This way you get the plus side of an air without the down side. Not as clean looking, but close
  • Was thinking exactly the same thing, mini PCs can give almost the same result for looks, but got to be sure of the internals of the mini PC, a lot of these small ones often have lower end CPUs.
  • I heard of people making their own AiO before. I'm not sure I'd know how to make the case, or mount a small case to the monitor, myself. It occurs to me that someone should make a bare bones AiO kit, made to attach to the Vesa mounts of a monitor. That way, you could fit it onto any monitor without issue.
  • There are msi, cubi mini, intel skull and other they attach right to the back of a monitor.
    https://www.bing.com/images/search?view=detailV2&ccid=Au9dJ0tH&id=350072...
  • They do. Many of the small bookself PCs, Shuttle, NUC, offer VESA mounting kits that lets you mount them on the back of a monitor. Often you then need a VESA stand, as the stand the monitor came with may not attach correctly.
  • the insides of the AIO are basically a laptop, but I don't kow how you would work the power suppluy to both.  
  • I've always sort of been against the all in one design because I've always assembled my own computers, but as I age they seem more attractive to me because their simple.
  • Same here!
  • Me too!
  • I just purchased my first AiO PC a few weeks ago. It was the HP Pavilion with 12GB RAM, 2TB HHD, Intel Core i5, true 1080p touchscreen. I don't regret buying it. I don't really tinker with my main PC's enough for how locked-down AiO's are, so the non-upgradable aspect doesn't really bother me
  • I work in a lot of design and engineering offices where horsepower is everything but at the same time, they're anal about esthetics and nice to see AIO's and laptops have closed the performance gap in recent years. Our girls loved their iMac and it was nice looking. After we upgraded two PC's in out home, they switched because of improved performance. I wish we could afford the current AIO's because they are pretty impressive now. So If anyone has a spare Surface Studion collecting dust, be sure to message me! 
  • All-in-one PCs would be fine for your average user.  The same people for whom a smartphone could really just be their only computer. I must be able to upgrade memory, processor and video card.  I must be able to change monitors (which obviously can include a touch screen).  Why on earth would I be concerned with transporting a PC, regardless of the type? At most, I might move it somewhat within a room, but I'm not going to be mobile like I would a laptop or tablet.  And, really, my PC takes up no more space than an AiO would.  The only space we're really concerned with is the desktop.  You have a monitor, keyboard, mouse, in either case.  My tower is on shelf below my desk, taking up no work space.  Since I have Bluetooth devices and my PC has Bluetooth capability, the only wires I have different from a default AiO are the ones going to my three webcams and my mixer...and I'd have those on an AiO if I were using one anyway.  So, it's no more difficult to setup than an AiO.  So, as I said, the AiO is fine for your average user.
  • These may be just right for some. I think if you know just what you need and can get that, and one of the criterea is that is fixed, great.Usually smaller footprint and easy to get going.  If you have any mobile requirement though, and don't want a desktop and a laptop, I'd recommend a laptop that can do what you need and augment that with a dock, keyboard, mouse and monitor. There are laptops available and on the horizon that support a USB-C (or thunderbolt) dock solution,  where you only need to connect one cable to get power/charge, and all the other peripheral connections you want. Makes a great setup where you have the convenience and ergonimcs of a desktop setup, but can grab and go, taking all your familiar work flows and data with you.
  • Biggest downsize is that I can not buy just the Surface Studio screen :P
  • The hp one is even more beautiful than surface studio
  • With full windows 10 on ARM and Continuum, I believe I will be retiring my desktop, not buying another one.
  • wait really no amd ryzen/ i5 i7
  • I want better hardware, so AiO are not for me, but seriously, I really would love a surface studio for the display and hinge. No one is making a decent equivalent.
  • I saw the Surface Studio for the first time at JB Hi Fi in Australia. I don't need it but damn I want it.
  • As soon as the Surface Studio releases with a refresh with 7th gen. Intel processor, Pascal GPU and 1 TB SSD, I would be in.  I don't really need it, but I deserve it.
  • Agreed. I'm not an artist, so I don't really have a usecase for it, but damn it's lovely.
  • I'm always in dual monitor for my desktop and I always take two identical monitors so they render exactly the same colors on both or else it bothers me.  Kind of hard to find the same monitor to put as a second monitor for an All-in-One.
  • "Even if you buy a PC with top-of-the-line parts, it will likely become dated within a few months (if not sooner). " What kind of baloney is this?
  • It used to be true up to Windows Vista, after that Windows went on a power diet and has be less and less power hungry with each new version.  Windows 10 can run easily on older hardware except with some specific video chipsets that lack support for some DirectX versions.
  • Not so much these dyas, Look at the lastest versions of Intel processors and you will fined they are more or less the same as the last gen speed wise. SSd are getting faster, but again you will not not notice.  
  • It's not strictly true to say you cannot use another monitor - a multi-monitor setup is possible if the primary device has an HDMI, DP or Thunderbolt port (in the case of an iMac). Talking on AIO device, how about a device with in-built Windows 10 PC, wide angle 1080P camera, speakers etc. that plugs into an existing monitor and turns it into an all-in-one device? What's more, it's ideal for video conferencing in huddle rooms or on larger displays for larger meeting rooms. https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B06XQQG9BC
  • You forgot the big one... All-in-ones are almost impossible to repair/replace. If the screen breaks... you can't just buy a new monitor. If the mother board dies... you can't realistically replace it... or just replace the PC box.
  • Why did I read this? Pointless. All-in-ones serve a specific market--75% of computer users :) :) :). Apple's non-AiO desktops are the least popular of their entire line. People are by-and-large looking for a simple experience. EVEN power users fall into that category. It's a very small minority of the market that's in the market for customizable and upgradeable machines. Upgradeability? The vast majority of people who can, never upgrade their video card, RAM, SSD/HDD or even monitor. Of those, the most likely thing to be replaced is a monitor, and, even in that case, it will likely fail after the tower has become obsolete in which case there's little reason to buy one specifically for the computer. Ultimately, if you know you're the type of person who will upgrade your hardware, it's worth buying a tower separate from the monitor. Otherwise, you're simply adding to the clutter in your life with the plethora of cables required for a desktop. And, I build my own towers from scratch. I've overclocked machines. I've got them to run OSes designed for other platforms. I've maxed out memory. HDDs, etc. But, nearly all of that has happened when the machine was built. The economics of upgrading old hardware just don't make sense, even when you're building your own. The only thing I've done in recent years is swap in an SSD for an HDD and add a spare 2 GB stick to a 4 GB laptop. The one thing that I dislike AiOs for is that a failed monitor is the end of an AiO machine, and, it's often the monitor that fails the first anyway. But, most people dispose of their computers before they fail (modern build quality is so much better than it used to be) so even that is not such an argument against AiOs. Look at the most popular personal computing form factor--the laptop. It's the epitome of an AiO. Monitor, CPU, GPU are not upgradeable (or, you can get yourself an overpriced and poorly constructed laptop). RAM and HDD/SSD are about the only thing people might change. Now, with the switch from HDD to SSD technology that swap happens frequently, but, it's been my experience that laptops that use HDDs are also the type of laptops that allow for such a swap to happen anyway (old tech). So, for the vast majority of users the ability to upgrade is a moot point.
  • I'm sure a lot of people who just have a computer to check emails at home or need a PC in the office can benifit from these, but I need my video cards and I need to be able to fix it myself so it's a pass for me. But they are pretty and look very futuristic 
  • The Imac is an AIO and is pretty poky and you can certainly do more than justy use it for email,. I seen Imacs run  final cut. I have also seen AIO windows based machines run premier pro with no problems. Sure Games could be a bit of a problem I suppose.
    I am pretty sure somehwere this is a AIO that have a decent video card, the problem is the price.  
  • Most AIO these days have glossy screen. I don't like those especially if it doesn't come with anti-glare coating. You can easily buy a large touchscreen monitor and a NUC or even Intel Compute Stick (Core m-edition) and you effectively have the same thing which you can upgrade and extend.  
  • some nice ITX cases around that can fit to the back of a monitor if you want something with a bit more poke.   
  • ITX is a bit big to mount behind the monitor. I think the perfect size if NUC. You can still change up your SSD and those even feature LAN + WIFI + BT.
  • Depends on the size of the monitor, but you have more choice with processors and main boards with ITX, the NUK is an Intel thing. 
    I suppose it is ok if you want to be stuck with Intel, but a little pricy for what they are.    
  • Seriously, if your idea is a kiosk or office PC, there are many brands making NUC like Gigabyte, Asus, E.mini, Minix, etc. Not just Intel. Based on my professional experience, I'd say for office use, a Core m3 is more than sufficient. If you don't need LAN, you could just buy a Stick PC, again made by many PC makers and the top-end model is a Core m5. ITX only make sense if you need more thermal allowance like running Core i7 with a half-length GPU like the RX580 or GTX1060. It would be pretty noisy though. Before Stick PC & NUC, I would recommend ITX factored PC to clients but not anymore.
  • I know a few people that got AIO machines, 2 that have Apple Imacs, one that have a AIO Android machine and another who have a AIO lenovo, but it is getting on now, but still does what they want. the only problem is replacing things that can  go wrong like the hard drive or updating the memory, possible, but a pain.  
  • Actually, if you know what you're doing, it's entirely possible to upgrade your AIO. I just upgraded a new Acer Core-i7 machine from a 1TB HDD to a 250GB SSD. My client was complaining after loading all his office program, the PC slows down to a crawl, Windows 10 Home was taking 90sec to reach desktop. After upgrade, it took less than 12sec, including login. While I was poking around the AIO, I see that all of the parts are actually standard laptop parts like mini-PCI cards (WiFi+BT), SO-DIMM, 2.5" HDD, laptop DVD-burner. You can easily find these STANDARD parts online. The BIOS is as restricted as laptop BIOS though so not much overclocking potential. You also wouldn't benefit from buying faster or lower latency RAM modules because the mobo is most likely stuck with the SPD setting that it shipped with. However, if you have experience upgrading laptops, I think AIO should not be a huge issue. The biggest issue I faced was forgetting to disable SecureBoot before I changed the HDD for cloning. That said, some parts of the mobo is shielded, you may have to desolder the shield before you can upgrade the RAM. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=484606121847&l=fb95ed3a11