The $363 19-inch dual-core all-in-one LCD PC

The $363 19-inch dual-core all-in-one LCD PC

Summary: Update 11/29/2007 - See updated AIO computer imagesThis is the new all-in-one Intel dual-core 2.0 GHz E2180 19" LCD PC computer I built for the family.

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TOPICS: Hardware, CXO
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Update 11/29/2007 - See updated AIO computer images

This is the new all-in-one Intel dual-core 2.0 GHz E2180 19" LCD PC computer I built for the family. The shocker is that I did it for less than $363 in parts (not including keyboard and mouse). The 19" LCD (1440x900 resolution) was on sale for $140 and the dual-core Intel CPU/Motherboard/graphics was on sale at Fry's for an eye-popping $88 and I just couldn't resist the temptation to build a nice all-in-one for the kitchen/dining area. I got a 300 GB hard drive for $50 and 1 GB of RAM for $30 (with an additional $20 rebate) and I used a $50 energy efficient "80 plus" 220 watt 1U power supply. For the chassis I used some scrap wood I had left over and spent 4 hours on a Sunday afternoon building this computer. [See image gallery.]

I haven't made the top lid or bottom lid for this computer yet but this picture shows the full thickness of the computer bolted on to the back of the 19" LCD display. The entire computer excluding the 19" display consumes 40 watts in idle and 65 watts peak (WPrime with 2 threads).  The 19" LCD consumes 22 watts when it's operating at full resolution regardless of the image being displayed.  If the system is overclocked to 2.66 GHz, then the peak wattage goes up to 100 watts which is still well within safety margins.  Note that this particular motherboard that came free with the CPU isn't a stable overclocker so I don't recommend overclocking on this system with this motherboard. For testing purposes, I loaded Windows Vista Ultimate 64 bit edition and it booted up in less than 35 seconds (10 seconds due to BIOS post).

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With the top and bottom are sealed off (with some holes for venting heat), I wanted to make sure the CPU fan had a fresh supply of cool air so I cut out a hole in the back. I didn't have one of those circular cutters handy so I had to freehand the hole with a jigsaw so I still need to sand it in to something smoother. I also didn't want to make the chassis an extra inch thicker to accommodate the retail box fan that came with the CPU. To minimize cable clutter, I used 1 foot long power cords plugged in to a power strip. That strip also comes in handy for plugging in lots of other things.

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Unlike the VESA stand PC I built a few months ago, this computer uses the monitor's factory stand which allows me the full range in tilt motion. Here in the photo you see that it's tilted all the way back and it's in no danger or tipping over.

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For the photo gallery, I used the Microsoft Wireless Entertainment Desktop keyboard and mouse. Not shown is a tiny USB Bluetooth dongle in the back that connects the keyboard and mouse.

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This photo shows the inside of the system with the back, top, bottom covers off. The hard drive is bolted on to the side but I will need to put some rubber washers on to minimize hard drive noise. Wood has a nasty habit of amplifying sound which is great for musical instruments but not so good for computers so I'll need to spray the inner walls with insulation foam to minimize noise. I'll probably look in to plastic materials in the future.

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This is the back of the computer with the components exposed. As you can see, the box is not much bigger than the Micro ATX motherboard. The hard drive had to overlap the motherboard a little so that the entire box can be narrower than the 17" wide 19" diagonal LCD display. The LCD has a DVI input but the motherboard only had VGA out so a VGA cable was used. Wired Ethernet was used but I have enough room to plug in a PCI wireless LAN adapter using a 90 degrees PCI adapter.  [Update 11:55PM - I'm probably going to go for a cheap 802.11g USB adapter since that saves me the trouble of using a PCI angle adapter.  The fact that I can mount it on top means it will probably get better radio reception.]

This is the full profile view of my new all-in-one computer. Note that I made a mistake of not turning the bad side of the wood in so you can see some flaws in the wood. It's not too late for me to unscrew it and turn it around though.

So the bottom line is that while it isn't pretty from the side or the back, you won't ever notice it from the front and it doesn't take any more space than the LCD display would occupy by itself. The price tag is $1000 cheaper than commercial all-in-one computers from Apple, Gateway, and now Dell. Sure you can get a laptop but laptops don't have 19" displays and they can't safely clock to 2.66 GHz like this one. Having a full size keyboard and a real mouse makes this computer as powerful as a desktop yet it's portable.

[Update 11:59PM] - Instructions for making your own box If you want to make your own box, you just need to cut 6 pieces of board.  The dimensions for front and back plate are 17" by 8.75".  Side plates are 8.75" by 2.5".  Top and bottom are 17" by 3" (thickness of front and back added 0.5").  The top 2 VESA holes are 2.75" from the top (not including thickness of top plate).  The four VESA mounting holes are centered on the box and measure 100mm apart.

The box needs to be mounted to the LCD before the motherboard is installed.  To figure out where to mount the motherboard, place the motherboard and power supply on the wood and mark where the mounting holes will be with a pencil.

My colleague Justin James suggested that I go to the auto supply store and buy some rubber underbody coating (spray or roll on) for spraying on the internal walls to dampen the noise.  That should also pad the contact between the hard drive and the side wall so that the hard drive noise isn't amplified by the wooden box.

[Update 11/27/2007] - A number of people in the talkback want to know about the RF interference characteristics and whether I will paint the box black or not.  On the RF interference issue, all motherboards and electronic components are already FCC certified to be within limits of how much RF noise can be leaked and I haven't had any RF interference issues running my over-the-air HDTV tuner in my home or radio close by to this computer.  As for painting the box black, yes that is what I intend to do so that it will blend in with the LCD.

Update 11/29/2007 - See updated AIO computer images

Topics: Hardware, CXO

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258 comments
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  • Hot Tomale!

    Wow! Better keep a fire extinguisher handy! I don't think overclocking will help keep away the potential flames from breaking out on the wood exterior... :) Do not try getting a UL Listing for this - then again, this is the US.
    jparrott@...
    • Did you read the power consumption on this?

      60W peak for stock clock speed, 100W peak for 2.66 GHz clock speed. That's power usage for the ENTIRE station and the power supply is 220 watts. I'll also be spraying the inside with fire retardant insulation foam to keep the noise down and hard fiber board doesn?t really burn very well to begin with.
      georgeou
      • Hey George...

        ... I was sent an add by Dell for a 15.4" laptop - $399

        Sure the processor is only an AMD x2, and the hard drive is smaller (80 GB), but the mouse and keyboard com with it, as does the OS (I would personally choose Windows XP over Vista).

        No flamable case, no problems moving it, wireless internet is included, a DVD and CD burner come standard, etc. etc. Best of all, I don't have to build it.

        I like your intuitiveness, I have questioned the sanity of all in one computers since Apple came up with the idea. It was obvious to me they were meant to attract people who did not understand computers and had more money than common sense. Maybe this speaks volumes about the knowledge of Apple computer customers, but I digress... I really believe that all in ones are laptops with limited options; and for much more money, in most cases.

        Most people don't use their full CPU's speed. If you want to store large files simply get an external hard drive or buy a USB box and a regular hard drive and make one yourself. Then you can access these large files (say music and movies) from another computer. You can also use it for backup!!!!

        Laptops, while slightly slower than desktops, have become much more attractive since their prices dropped below $500. There are very few things these days that can be done on a desktop that cannot be accomplished on a laptop.

        This is only my perspective...
        Information_z
        • all-in-one justification?

          Sure, a laptop is an affordable portable and fully all in one.

          However, a laptop is an ergnomic nightmare. (Work a couple of years very intensive with one and you will notice...)
          Moreover, I can't imagine a (normal) laptop supporting a 19" screen.

          If you have limited space and don't walk out of your house with your compu I think that an all-in-one is a serious addition in between the conventional desktop and the portable laptop.

          Moreover, the do-it-yourself part that you dislike is just the thrill of this project .... (just like making a sub 100$ beamer out of an old overhead projector and lcd screen)
          vladimirP
      • $10 for 1 GB RAM?

        I'm curious where you got the 1 GB RAM for $10, and the 300GB HD for $50. My hat
        is off to you for finding these once-in-a-lifetime sales, but good luck to anyone else
        trying to get these kinds of deals ever again.

        Just a couple tips, if you're not already doing or have done it: Use a router to round
        the edges off and give it a nice, dark, glossy finish, if you can do it. Pine doesn't stain
        too well.
        Someguy2
  • Not bad for a browsing PC

    Not bad at all for a browing PC, but still nothing I would take to a LAN. Not unless it was some one who was just browsing the web.
    nucrash
    • It's not a LAN party computer

      It's not a LAN party computer, I can build a 22" gaming version for $900 with an 8800GT video card. It's definitely good enough for something like Team Fortress 2 which is more about the game play and less about extreme graphics.
      georgeou
      • 8800GT???

        That would pretty much man-handle anything I currently play.

        Granted, My Core Duo laptop with a 945 Onboard chipset will play almost anything I spend time on.

        8800GT scores pretty well. Sure some junkies want that killer frame rate with SLI, but I prefer to build 2 or 3 Rigs for that price so I can share the wealth with other gamers short on cash but willing to rent the PC.
        nucrash
        • read much?

          he's saying the way it is now can handle TF2. a gaming version would include 8800GT. your first message was only about half this stupid, so maybe the next one you'll come up with something useful to say.
          zupobaloop
          • Actually, I said an 8800GT would handle TF2 well

            Actually, I said an 8800GT would handle TF2 well. I did not say the way this system is now can handle TF2 and I wouldn't even try it. An 8600GTS can barely handle TF2 decently.
            georgeou
          • 8600GTS Performs poorly?

            This is news to me. Just goes to show how out of the loop on games I currently am.

            According to the system reqs on the box, a Direct X 8 card with 32MB or better should be able to run TF2.

            All this time I perceived you as needing mediocre graphics performance. Now I find out otherwise and all for Team Fortress 2.

            That makes about 3 or so things I learned today. So much for that TF2 Tourney that I had planned on my older rigs.
            nucrash
          • I don't look at AVERAGE FPS, I look at MINIMUM FPS

            Minimum FPS can easily be 1/2 of the average FPS in many situations. So to good all the time and stay at 60 FPS (VSYNC should ALWAYS be turned on), your average FPS with VSYNC off should be around 120 FPS. That way when you turn on VSYNC, you will always stay at the optimum 60 FPS which matches the LCD refresh rate.

            So how good your video card is determines how infrequent you're forced to drop down to 30 or 15 FPS.
            georgeou
    • It's also great for watching DVD and HDV footage

      It's also great for watching DVD and HDV footage. I tested it on videos I captured on a Sony 1080i HDV camera and it plays ok. If I put in a cheap USB ATSC card, I can use it as an HDTV too.
      georgeou
      • Where's the optical drive?

        Are you just attaching a USB optical drive to watch the DVDs?

        BTW, I think I'm going to have to build one of these next. Are you going to give more construction details or are you leaving those up to the reader? ;-) I might make mine boot Knoppix off a USB flash drive and use my Windows Home Server for all my storage. With that low power, low cost Intel board that you reviewed some time ago this could be a nice little system.
        shutrbug
        • No need for optical drive when you pull everything off network

          No need for optical drive when you pull everything off network. For loading the OS, I have a USB adapter that lets me use standard internal optical drives.

          I will add the instructions tonight.
          georgeou
        • Actually, this dual-core CPU and motherboard is only $20 more

          Actually, this dual-core CPU and motherboard is only $20 more than that 1.33 GHz single-core CPU/board combo and the embedded graphics is far superior. Unless you're going for passive cooling, there's no need to go that small.
          georgeou
          • Fry's had an AMD BE-2300 with ECS Nforce6-M motherboard for $59 on BF

            I bought one to repair a friend's Emachine. I'm tempted to keep it for this project, LOL.
            shutrbug
          • Yeah I missed that deal

            Yeah I missed that deal though I got the $199 quad-core deal. The Intel E2180 can be clocked to 3 GHz though and it's much faster at stock speed so it's worth the extra $28.
            georgeou
          • Do you think the major manufactures

            are worried this might catch on, steal some sales? :)
            GuidingLight
          • I don't know, but the whitebox makers need to jump on board

            I don't know, but the whitebox makers need to jump on board. I'd buy a standard metal MicroATX chassis that mounts to the VESA holes in a minute if it was commodity priced. It doesn't need to be fancy, just $50 for a quality chassis with no power supply.
            georgeou