The earliest form of computer displays were large cathode-ray tubes. Because of the size of the displays, computer systems were comprised of three key components: the monitor, the computer case, and the input devices. As the size of the monitors decreased, computer companies started to integrate the computer case into the monitor to create an all-in-one. These first all-in-one computer systems were still quite large and generally cost a fair amount compared to a standard computer setup.
The most successful of the all-in-one personal computers was the Apple iMac. The original design used the cathode-ray monitor with the computer boards and components integrated below the tube. Many similar designs were developed by PC manufacturers, but they did not catch on. With the advent of LCD monitors for displays and mobile parts getting smaller and more powerful, the size of the all-in-one computer system has decreased dramatically. Now the computer components can be easily integrated behind the LCD panel or in the base of the display.
All-In-One vs. Desktop PCs
All-in-one computers are really just a style of desktop computer system. They still have the same requirements in terms of features and functionality. The only difference is the number of components. All-in-ones have a single box that is the display and computer versus the desktop that is comprised of the computer case plus a separate monitor. This consolidation gives the all-in-one computer system a smaller overall profile than a desktop computer system.
Buying a desktop does have some distinct advantages over an all-in-one PC, though. Because of their small sizes and need for lower power and less heat-generating components, many all-in-one PCs feature mobile designed components including processors, memory, and drives. All of this architecture helps make the all-in-one small but they also hinder the overall performance of the system. Typically these laptop components will not perform as well as a desktop benchmark. For an average user, though, many of these low powered mobile components will often prove to be fast enough.
Another challenge with all-in-one computers is their upgradability. While most desktop computer cases can be easily opened by the consumer to install replacements or upgrades, all-in-one systems tend to restrict access to the components. This design approach typically limits the systems to having their just their memory upgraded. With the rise of high-speed external peripheral connectors such as USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt, internal upgrade options are not as critical as they once were, but they still still make a huge difference for some components such as the graphics processor.
One of the primary reasons for the all-in-one PC is to conserve space over a desktop computer, but laptops have advanced tremendously over the past couple of years. They have advanced so much that comparing them to an all-in-one is almost one-sided.
Because many all-in-one PCs use all the same components as laptops, the performance levels are pretty much identical between the two types of computers. The only really compelling advantage that an all-in-one PC might hold is the size of the screen. While all-in-one PCs generally come with screen sizes between 20 and 27 inches, laptops are still generally restricted to 17-inch and smaller displays.
The all-in-one is smaller than a desktop, but it still is tethered to a desktop space. Laptops move between locations and even supply power through their battery packs. This portability makes them much more flexible than the all-in-one.
The one area that all-in-one systems used to have a huge advantage over laptops was in price. Thanks to advancements, the tables are now almost turned. You'll find many laptop computers for less than $500. The typical all-in-one system now costs roughly $750 or more.