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The desktop PC is finally cool

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2017’s all-in-ones will make you rethink what a desktop PC can be

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If you haven’t been paying attention to the PC world lately, you might not have noticed that the lowly PC has seen a bit of a resurgence, with interesting designs and unique concepts. We saw this come to bear at CES just a couple of months ago, where PC makers such as Dell, Lenovo, and HP all trotted out interesting laptop designs.

But the laptop isn’t the only PC that’s seen a design-focused revival. The lowly desktop PC has transformed from a boring beige or black box into a centerpiece of a modern desk space. An all-in-one computer in 2017 is both functional as a computer and beautiful to appreciate as a piece of design.

Microsoft’s Surface Studio really invigorated this category late last year. A 28-inch all-in-one PC that converts to a drafting table for digital artists, the Surface Studio is a stunning computer that changes perceptions on what a PC can look like or do. Virtually anyone that’s seen or used the Surface Studio comes away impressed, even if they aren’t the target market of digital artists.

Fortunately for the rest of us, HP and Dell have been working on their own takes on the all-in-one, and both companies have released new models this year that combine clever and beautiful design with new functionality you might not expect.

HP’s clumsily named Envy Curved All-in-One 34 is nearly as much of a head-turner as the Surface Studio. An update to a rather ugly computer from 2015, this version of the Envy all-in-one combines a massive 34-inch ultrawide 21:9 curved display above a sleek pedestal that houses the computing components, all of the ports, and the speaker system. The effect of having such a large display and a dark-colored minimal base is that the Envy’s giant curved screen appears to “float” in front of you, enveloping you in windows, video, games, or whatever. (A curved TV is problematic for a variety of reasons, but a curved monitor is great because you’re always sitting in the sweet spot.)

The HP has other unique features, too, such as a touch-controlled volume wheel on the right side of the base, and a wireless charging spot on the left side for your smartphone. One of my favorite tricks is the hideaway Windows Hello-compatible webcam that pops up out of the top of the monitor.

Dell’s XPS 27 features a more traditional, iMac-like design, where the computing components are all jammed behind the display. But that’s about where its traditional features end, as it comes loaded with a 4K touchscreen and 10-speaker sound system you won’t find on any iMac. The XPS’s screen measures 27 inches diagonally and is incredibly bright, vibrant, and sharp. Dell says it covers 100 percent of the Adobe RGB color space, which is useful if you work with a lot of photography or graphics.

Though these computers have good-looking and unique designs, they aren’t without fault, however. Much like the relatively underpowered Surface Studio, neither machine is as powerful as a gaming PC, and in my tests, only the HP could really even pass for a casual gaming rig. (The Dell’s weaker graphics card proved just too wimpy for the 4K resolution the panel is equipped with.) Both computers are also very noisy under load, with fans that spin loudly and frequently kick on. (The HP received a firmware update that minimized some of the fan noise, but they are still noticeable even when just doing menial tasks.)

And even though HP and Dell boast about the sound systems included with these computers, I found both of them to be lacking in bass and would want to add a subwoofer to either. But the most annoying thing with either computer is how lousy the included mouse and keyboard are. The Dell’s cheap plastic mouse is borderline unusable, while the HP’s wireless keyboard likes to pick and choose which keystrokes it will register at will. For computers that cost multiple thousands of dollars, the default input devices are astonishingly bad.

But if you’re willing to swap out the crappy mouse and keyboard for a proper wireless set (I like Logitech’s MX Master mouse and K810 keyboard, personally), the HP Envy Curved All-in-One 34 and the Dell XPS 27 are beautiful and competent PCs for everyday tasks and even more intensive stuff such as photo editing.

And, like the Surface Studio, both computers prove that the boring, staid desktop PC is no more and that you might actually want to have a PC on your desk again.

Photography by James Bareham

Video by Phil Esposito and Mark Linsangan