Close Up: HP's sleek TouchSmart IQ770 to ship with Vista, takes on Apple, but imperfect

Make sure you visit our especially edited image gallery of the TouchSmart IQ770 which is chockful of other evaluative data. As the official shipping date for the retail versions of Microsoft's Windows Vista (the versions on shelves for upgrade as well as the versions pre-installed in PCs) draws closer, the race is on between the various system manufacturers to alert buyers to the Vista-ready PC and notebooks that they'll be prepared to sell come the launch.

Make sure you visit our especially edited image gallery of the TouchSmart IQ770 which is chockful of other evaluative data. 

Close Up: HP's sleek TouchSmart IQ770 to ship with Vista, takes on Apple, but imperfect

As the official shipping date for the retail versions of Microsoft's Windows Vista (the versions on shelves for upgrade as well as the versions pre-installed in PCs) draws closer, the race is on between the various system manufacturers to alert buyers to the Vista-ready PC and notebooks that they'll be prepared to sell come the launch. As a side note, one of Microsoft's biggest challenges when it comes to new versions of its franchise software (the Windows operating system and Microsoft Office) is getting people to upgrade. Historically, the primary path for any of Microsoft's recent operating systems into to the market has been through their pre-installation in systems. So, it should come as no suprise that both Microsoft and system manufacturers like IBM, Dell, HP, Toshiba, and others are focused on making sure there's a bumper crop of compelling business and consumer system offerings come January 30, 2007: Vista's big day.

While many of those systems will simply be reincarnations of systems that are already on the market with Windows XP preinstalled, the release of one new and fairly unorthodox system (in terms of its industrial design) from HP has been programmed to coincide with the release of Windows Vista: HP's $1800 TouchSmart IQ770 (pictured right). Earlier this week, our sister department over in CNET reviews published its findings on the IQ770 and I've decided to dovetail those findings as well as some other information I've scraped together from the Web with an image gallery that focuses in on some of the more interesting an unique features of the touch-screen based system.  In the captions, the image gallery also includes some evaluative data that isn't repeated here.

Officially, HP designed the system with home users in mind.  In it's messaging (here and here) regarding the new PC, HP states:

The new HP TouchSmart PC is the industry's first all-in-one PC based on Microsoft Windows Vista. It provides users with one-touch wireless access to information, communication and entertainment through HP SmartCenter, a new customizable user interface that includes HP SmartCalendar for family calendaring and HP PhotoSmart Touch to manage digital photos. Featuring a 19-inch HD widescreen with adjustable touch-screen display, Vista remote control and personal video recorder with HD and SD TV programming, the HP TouchSmart PC enables "walk-up computing," the ability to quickly and easily have touch access to digital content wherever life happens in the home....

....It's designed to fit wherever life happens: in the kitchen, family room, or living room. With one touch, you can check the weather, check your e-mail, or watch your favorite show. It's your life at your fingertips. 

As you can see by way of the special treatment that we've given to the system images of the IQ770 (practically a review in itself), the product is, at least from an industrial-design point of view, crafted to deliver on that promise. It doesn't have the sleek lines of one of Apple's Macs (its uniqueness makes it stick out visually the way older Saabs or AMC's Gremlin's stuck out when they were on the road). But then again, maybe it doesn't have to. I for one wouldn't be ashamed to have this unit centrally located in the kitchen or some other place where the entire family can get to it. 

Even though the system is clearly designed with the home market it mind (it comes with the Home Premium edition of Windows Vista pre-installed), I can imagine it's Hi-Def touch screen as well as some of its other accoutrements making it a good choice in certain business scenarios where an equivalent offering simply doesn't exist. For example, in a lobby or a conference room.  That said, for you business users out there that like to take your passion for technology into the home, the IQ770 might not be a bad investment given all that it can do.

Is it perfect? No. Rich Brown over in our reviews group was quick to point out that for a system in this class, performance was a bit sluggish.  Curiously, the IQ770 packs a dual-core version of AMD's 64-bit Turion processor -- a family of processors that in my communications with AMD was always targeted at the thin and light notebook segment and not desktop systems. I've complained about the confusion around Turion positioning before. My personal experience with the Turion hasn't been that great. It's the processsor inside of my AMD Ferrari 4005 -- a behemoth of a notebook whose fan runs full-blast all the time (a sign that, for what I'm asking the system to do which usually isn't much, the system needs more horsepower than the Turion has to deliver). 

Brown also picked up on the system's lack of playback/burning support for either of the Hi-Def optical "standards" such as Blu-ray or HD-DVD.  HP is already supporting Blu-ray in some of its other systems. Even though the 16:10 aspect ratio display is HD-capable, the only source of HD for this system will be its ATSC-compatible tuner connection which, itself has a big problem.

Over at PC Magazine, Joel Santo Domingo also picked up on the lack of support for Hi-Def and spotted something else that no self-respecting Vista-ready PC with a NTSC/ATSC TV tuner in it (like the TouchSmart has) should be without: support for the relatively new CableCard specification. Domingo correctly dinged HP for the "glaring omission" given that the CableTV providers will eventually require CableCard support in whatever tuner (PC, settop box, etc.) you choose to connect to your cable TV network. Between the CableCard "pipe" to your tuner, and the HDMI pipe between your tuner (eg: settop box) and your hi-definition TV or flat panel, cable TV providers and copyright holders are, amongst other things, hoping to eliminate the analog hole through which content is illegally bootlegged onto the Internet. 

Another problem with the tuner connections is that they're on the side of the unit (seen here in our image gallery). In the TouchSmart IQ770, HP's engineers were clearly shooting for a clean Zen like design that, in addition to concealing certain ports, also conceals a photo printer. While that's one of the great design choices of this system, it is marred by the prospect of having to attach something to the side of the system where it will be in plain sight. 

Further emphasizing my point about how this system make actually work well in kiosk like situations (eg: lobbies and conference rooms), Domingo also wrote:

the IQ770 runs the new Media Center Interface with the new HP SmartCenter front page. Using SmartCenter on the touchscreen gives the IQ770 a kiosk feel, enhancing the interactive computer experience.

Despite it's drawbacks, as the first touchscreen desktop for Windows Vista, the IQ770 has covered enough bases to make the most discriminating of geeks smile. For example, between the two removable memory expansion slots on the front of the IQ770 (one that's primarily CF, the other that's primarily SD... shown here as a part of our image gallery), the IQ770 supports nearly every form of memory that might come out of a still image camera, video camera, smartphone, or audio recorder.

Speaking of imaging, as mentioned earlier, the TouchSmart's industrial design includes the ability to mount an HP 617 PhotoPrinter behind the display in a way that it is concealed from view, but also in a way that the photos are spit out the front through an open air slot under the display (a nice touch). 

One final nit that drives me nuts. According to the system specifications (page 2 on this PDF),  the TouchSmart IQ770 has two PC2-4200 SoDIMM 200-pin DDR2 memory slots. The way the system comes, both slots are occupied by a 1 GB memory card (for a total of 2GB of memory).  On the plus side, using two cards like this improves performance (and from the sounds of what Rich Brown wrote, this system needs all the help it can get). On the down side, by taking up both slots, expanding the system to its max of 4GB (a maximum I don't fully understand since this system has a 64-bit capable processor) means you have to throw away the two existing cards and replace each of them with a 2GB card. A cursory search of the Web reveals that a 2GB PC2-4200 SoDIMM goes for about $470 and up which means that to bring this system up to 4GB (which might improve its sluggish performance) will cost about $940 ($470 per SoDIMM), bringing the total cost of the system to $2740 (not to mention, you have throw away two perfectly good 1GB SoDIMMs).   

Had HP simply put one 2GB SoDIMM in one of the slots or provided four slots (preloading a 1GB SoDIMM in two of them) as it probably could have done in a desktop, the other slot(s) would have been open and all that would have been required to upgrade to 4GB is another 2GB SoDIMM (or two more 1GB SoDIMMs if it had four slots instead of two).

Anyway, here are the tops of the waves on the system specifications:

  • Processor: 1.6 Ghz AMD Turion 64 X2 Dual-Core TL-52 Processor
  • Memory: 2GB DDR2 SDRAM, expandable to 4GB
  • Hard Drive: 320GB 7200 RPM Serial ATA
  • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce Go 7600 graphics card with 256MB video memory.
  • Optical: a slot loading (vs. tray-style) version of HP's SuperMulti DVD Burner with LightScribe Technology; 8x DVD±R, 8x DVD+RW, 6x x DVD-RW, 6x DVD+R DL, 4x DVD-R DL, 5x DVD-RAM, 8x DVD-ROM, 24x CDR, 24x CDRW,CDRW, 24x CD-ROM. Note: the drive doesn't support HD media for burning or playback
  • Wiireless: Built-in Bluetooth, 802.11 a, b, and g-based WiFi
  • Display: 19 inch, HD-capable touch-sensitive (no stylus required), 1440x900 @ 60 Hz, 16:10 aspect ratio
  • Other useful connections: Two FireWire ports (one 4-pin, one 6-pin), 6 USB ports, one NTSC/ATSC(HDTV) coaxial (RG59) connection, one FM tuner antenna connection, two sets of S-Video and L/R audio inputs, one RJ45-based 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet interface

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