What happened to all the good Windows 10 all-in-one PCs?

Surface Studio 2
Surface Studio 2 (Image credit: Windows Central)

I've been in the market for a new PC these last few months. Up until recently, I was using a mid-tier first-generation Surface Studio from 2016, which I absolutely adored. It's a beautiful all-in-one with a display that's unmatched, but its aging processor and graphics chip were starting to become noticeable in my workflow. Naturally, my first port of call was the Surface Studio 2. I ordered one, but I just couldn't justify the price I was paying for specs that aren't much better than the first Surface Studio (Microsoft continues to sell the Surface Studio 2 for full price, which is $4,250 for the mid-tier option that I was interested in).

So I returned the Studio 2 and begun my hunt for a new PC. I really like the all-in-one form factor, so that's what I was sticking with, but it became apparent rather quickly that the all-in-one market for Windows 10 PCs isn't very… good. There was a brief period of great PC all-in-ones from HP, Dell, and Lenovo in 2017 and 2018, but many of those products haven't been updated and aren't even sold anymore.

Dell latest all-in-ones are kind of ugly and low-powered, and Lenovo's aren't much better, with meddling specs designed for light usage at most. I was looking for a real PC that was designed for video editing, gaming, and everything else. I wanted an iMac that was built for Windows, but that kind of device does not seem to exist.

HP ENVY 32 All-in-One with mouse

Source: Daniel Rubino/Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino/Windows Central)

The closest thing to an iMac of any kind in the PC space that's also recent is the HP Envy 32. This is the PC I ended up going with, and I love it a lot. It's the best all-in-one PC out there right now. It's beautiful, with built-in wireless charging, incredible audio, a 4K display, RTX 2070 GPU, and a full desktop-class 10th-generation processor that I can upgrade to something newer down the line.

It's exactly what I was looking for, but that doesn't mean I wasn't disheartened by the lack of good options from other OEMs. HP shouldn't be the only PC maker shipping a good all-in-one PC in 2021. I wish other OEMs would up their game and ship something more recent that's designed for the power user at heart.

I wish OEMs would up their game and ship something more recent that's designed for the power user at heart.

The Surface Studio was built to encourage OEMs to manufacture good all-in-one PCs, and they did for a short time with options like the Dell XPS 27, but that time appears to be over as most OEMs are now shipping cheap, low-powered all-in-ones designed for your grandmother. I think it's a real shame, as the all-in-one has real potential among a mainstream audience.

I can't be the only one out there who wants an iMac but built for Windows, right? The Surface Studio 2 isn't that, because it's absurdly expensive and also outdated, and the latest options from Dell and Lenovo don't come close in quality or performance. HP's the only one with something even remotely close to the iMac, and I'm grateful at least one OEM is still trying.

Perhaps the all-in-one is a dying breed? I hope not, but that might be the reality of the situation. The mainstream PC market continues to shift more and more towards mobile computing, with most innovations taking place in the laptops, tablets, and 2-in-1 space. All the OEMs are shipping amazing laptops in 2021, but most of them are not shipping amazing all-in-ones.

Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows 10 on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

34 Comments
  • Zac, have you considered an mATX or ITX PC mounted under your desk? It allows you to upgrade piecemeal as you like, still takes up almost no space, and you keep whatever monitor and peripherals you like. I really wish they'd release a Surface a studio monitor precisely for that reason.
  • The thing is, I don’t know of any monitors in existence that look as good as the iMac or Surface Studio. So if you want a premium experience, and separate desktop and monitor really isn’t it.
  • You mean aesthetically speaking? There are very many monitors that have better color accuracy, better clarity, etc. The monitors on both the iMac and studio are fine but definitely not the best. Aesthetics are subjective because I think there are a lot of great looking monitors on the market.
  • Yes aesthetically pleasing. Most creatives are perfectly fine with the color accuracy and display quality of the iMac and Studio. But both look so good as an actual unit.
  • Yeah there's a lot to be said for a good looking piece of hardware. Creative types seem to be more form over function anyways. With that said, the studio's killer feature is that unrivaled hinge and pen input. Nothing else on the market. I really wish they sold this as just a display without the underpowered PC. It would be a drafter's dream!
  • I don't understand, there are a few Dell monitors that look beautiful, even better than the iMac and its ENORMOUS bezels. I just got one that it's a monitor and hub for anything, including a rj45 port. The only cable that connects it to my laptop is a usb-c, all goes through it: power, connection, video and sound signals, keyboard and mouse.
  • There are some Dell and BenQ that are good looking with thin bezels even on 4 sides and very color accurate (some even factory calibrated) monitors out there. I forgot the model number but they are their recent models since last year. I was planning to get those, but they are expensive and quickly ran out of stocks due to massive demand from Working-from-Home since last year. Having seperate system unit can look good and you can hide them if you have the console size case. But I understand that not everybody has the time to really personalised their workstation setup to be like that, let alone assemble their own PC. Thus All-In-One comes into play.
  • Maybe what people realized is that they want modular All in Ones that can be upgraded after purchase, so their expensive touch monitors don't get wasted on hardware that will never change. Too few All in Ones include a video-in option for people who want to repurpose their monitor to display something else, and they end up becoming paperweights.
  • I tried really hard to find a justification for a Surface Studio but just couldn't get there. I think I was hoping new devices would come out and affordable options would arise. So this article is a little disheartening. I think MS killing off their stores doesn't help sales of the Studio either. The wow factor of seeing it in person has to be a big factor. Afterall, nobody will ever see an AIO device at a coffee shop or even at work. If you can't see it in person, you don't understand what you are missing. All that, plus it's a niche market cause not many people have a place to put one of these giants in their home even if you can afford it.
  • AIOs are a waste. Just buy a nuc and vesa mount it to the back of a really nice display if you want one that bad.
  • I guess you never saw a Studio in person? Like comparing watching a video of a sports car vs driving a sports car.
  • I've played with them. Just don't like them. If I'm going to spend that kind of money, I want to be able to upgrade. Plus if anything does go wrong they are a PITA to fix. Speaking from experience.
  • In terms of fixing, same logic goes for any tablet, 2-in-1, or even many laptops now. But yea, super expensive so I agree with you on the value. That said, just getting any old screen on a vesa mount doesn't replicate that Studio screen/hinge with full touch.
  • Sadly there is nothing like it on the market, and Surface Studio didn't manage to make that form factor popular like how Surface Pro form-factor become popular to OEM's and now we have options other than Surface. I guess if Surface Studio weren't so expensive, OEM's might actually try to make more since they see the demand. But thing is, demand for Surface Studio is low due to cost and to justify it due to lack of upgradability and constant hardware refresh. OEM's will have to risk to make one for cheaper and hoping there is a demand for it. It's the paradox of All-in-One PC since they seem meant for average consumers due to its simplicity and everything is in box, no frills machine that pretty much an appliance. Yet it's so niche that few people buy them, is expensive and yet not even good for more advance PC enthusiasts since most can't be upgraded. There are all-in-ones that are cheaper, but they become ugly, specs being too low for its price, thus relatively expensive than pre built PC with a seperate monitor and system unit.
  • Expensive and pretty, but not that functional. The hardware is poor for the price and a touchscreen on a desktop is kinda pointless. The screen is nice, but not $3k nice.
  • A touchscreen on a desktop is no more or less pointless than anywhere else.
  • It seems like some people have reported finding the touchscreen useful.
  • "touchscreen on a desktop is kinda pointless. ", considering the hinge, tell that to artists.
  • Surface Studio? Touch screen useless? There is a reason why the hinge is like that, because it is meant for digital canvas since its got a pen input. You don't buy Surface Studio for touchscreen alone, you buy it because you can actually draw on it on a all-in-one form factor.
  • Loving my envy 32 (rtx 2060)... Coming from a modular /nuc setup without the graphics chops.
    I found it hard (though not impossible) to get the same combination via nuc+high quality display for any cheaper (often more expensive) than the hp... Also, got mine at ~$500 off msrp via ebay, which made it a no Brainer to me, so there's that 😊
  • You're not wrong. Which is why, after trying 5 different laptop PCs last summer, I just bought an iMac and put Windows on it. It's been perfect.
  • I think AIOs are going out of style. In terms of the cost, you can almost get a laptop for the same price and you get the convenience of it being far more portable.
  • I completely agree. Aside from the way overpriced Surface Studio, the current crop of AIOs are just terrible looking. I'm trying to buy some AIOs for our organizations and the pickings are slim. The specs we need are minimal but we're finding mostly unappealing designs. The HP EliteOne 800 G6 looks pretty good, and so does the Lenovo IdeaCentre AIO 5i. Then there's a huge drop off for a AIO that has decent specs, a good design, and is around the $1,000 range. We don't need iMac level specs. We just want something that doesn't look like a block with a CD drive attached.
  • Surface Studio isn't perfect (like Surface Book), but there is just nothing like it!
  • I prefer a good laptop combined with an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse plugged into a USB C dock.
  • I agree. Even better if the dock is the monitor itself, then only a single cable goes from the laptop to the monitor.
  • I assume those devices don’t exist anymore because they didn’t sell.... and they didn’t sell because they were either ugly or underpowered. The Dell that was so loved by the original reviews here, was ugly as heck with its huge speakers below the screen. The new HP AIO has the same issue, the previous gen 27” and was it 36”? This were beautiful, but they replaced them with the new one which isn’t nearly as good looking. The surface studio is underpowered and outdated (and was when it was released). All other brands seem to have low end all in ones with no power behind them even if some of them have looked pretty (like some of that asus zen ones). So until they get it together and put out both a classy looking all in one that doesn’t scream “I’m a business PC” mixed with power, it makes it hard to want one. Apple can do it, surely PC manufactures can too. The 2017-2019 Hp Envy 27” was gorgeous. If they added modern processors, thinner bezels, an out the webcam INSIDE of the screen instead of popping out, that’d be a killer device.... or you know... the surface studio could be updated with current gen hardware and a real graphics card. If the Surface Studio was slightly lower priced, and had beefy equipment, it would be the AIO to beat.
  • I just want a Surface Studio level monitor, the base could include a GPU plugged straight into the USB-C otherwise its just a monitor.
  • "and a full desktop-class 10th-generation processor that I can upgrade to something newer down the line.", that is nice, though I think I would still prefer either 2-1 laptop/Surface with dock if I would need pen or touch support. Or build my own mini-itx desktop with a mini gpu and mount that on a monitor at the back or hide it somewhere else. Both have some huge advantages that AIO just does not offer (mobility or modularity). AIO offers only better looks. The exception is of course the Surface Studio or its clones as big canvasses for artists.
  • AIO also offers simplicity and simply works out of the box. That's its main point. But it's a pradaox since most average consumers don't buy AIO, they mostly buy cheap laptops. I guess the issue is the cost, most AIOs is kinda overpriced for its specs. Once you go with really good ones, it also inflated the price even more and on that territory, it became even more niche since users with those kind of money will rather go buy a high-end system unit either a pre built or build by themselves. That leaves hight AIO for only with specific want to have AIO form factor and will to pay for it. For me, OEMs needs to balance aesthetics, price and performance for AIOs to be more attractive to average consumers. It doesn't need Core i7, but please don't flood with Pentiums and even still shop with HDD as the only drive, making its performance for 202X slow. Also make it better looking since most affordable AIO started to look ugly at that point. At least many cheaper laptop still looks decent and some even manage to look great, deceivingly looks more premium than what it is.
  • You can always get a Dell Optiplex, it's just the stand with the cpu in it: www.dell.com/en-us/work/shop/desktops-all-in-one-pcs/optiplex-7070-ultra... Then get a monitor of your choice.
  • The Surface Studio is a digital canvas. It competes with something like a Wacom Cintiq which is 1 to 3 k without a CPU. Stop thinking and comparing the Studio to an AIO, it is not. The Studio was not made for your usage an AIO, good thing you found one. When you think of the Surface Studio as a Cintiq with a CPU its price is not as bad.
  • Thanks for this article. I just went through the same search with the same conclusion. I've got all the portability I need, and I still want a decent, beautiful, desktop. And prefer the compact, space-freeing, AIO design.
  • I can't honestly see or understand how you think a processor show its age. Maybe a GPU. But a CPU... hardly changes enough through the generations to justify an upgrade. 7th generation Intel is still absolutely fine.