All-in-one (AIO) computers make a lot of sense if you want to minimise the clutter on and around your desktop, but need more computing muscle and/or screen space than your average notebook delivers. Apple's iMac is the benchmark for this kind of system, but there are plenty of 'Wintel' contenders too. Lenovo's glossy black ThinkCentre Edge 91z is a neat-looking and affordable business-focused AIO system — but is there substance behind the surface appeal?
ThinkCentre Edge 91z: an affordable business-focused 21.5in. AIO (All-In-One) system
The ThinkCentre Edge 91z is built around a 21.5in. HD (1,920 by 1,080 pixels) LED-backlit display that delivers good image quality once you boost the default brightness level a bit. However, we don't like the screen's glossy coating, which seems to be de rigeur for consumer AIOs, but arguably has no place on a business-focused product such as the Edge 91z that's likely to be used in a brightly lit office.
The screen stands on short, removable, rubber-footed legs, with space in between to stow the keyboard (of which more later). At the back there's a useful carrying handle, and a rather awkward kickstand. If you need height adjustment, you'll have to remove the kickstand and attach an optional £52.25 (ex. VAT) Extend Arm to the Edge 91z's VESA mounting.
If you need more positional adjustability, the kickstand can be removed and the system fitted (via a VESA mount) to an optional Extend Arm
At 8.4kg, this is a relatively hefty system, although the dimensions are reasonably trim: 54.52cm wide by 41.43cm tall by 8.1cm deep. There's a multi-format DVD rewriter on the right-hand side (this is a tray-loading unit, whereas an iMac-style slot-loader would be more practical and stylish), a selection of ports on the left-hand side, and more connectors at the back (see below for details).
Beneath the 6cm lower screen bezel, on the right-hand side, are four control buttons: the leftmost one switches the system between the default AIO mode and VGA mode — the latter allowing you to use the Edge 91z as an external monitor for another system; the other three buttons control brightness up, brightness down and power on/off.
The middle of the upper screen bezel, which is some 3cm deep, carries a 2-megapixel webcam and the integrated dual array microphone.
We don't much care for Lenovo's UltraSlim Plus wireless mouse and (in particular) keyboard
Our review system came with Lenovo's UltraSlim Plus wireless keyboard/mouse combo, whose dongle takes up a USB 2.0 port. We don't like either device much, but the keyboard is a particular bone of contention: we'll overlook the US layout on our review unit, but it's also flimsily built and features an oversized Delete key right next to the Enter key. If you tried to design a keyboard to trap the unwary into deleting when they meant to enter, you could hardly do better. For anyone used to Lenovo's excellent ThinkPad keyboards, this is disappointing.
Our ThinkCentre Edge 91z was powered by a quad-core Intel Core i5-2400S running at 2.5GHz (3.3GHz with Turbo Boost under the right circumstances), supported by 4GB of 1,333MHz DDR3 RAM occupying one of the system's two DIMM slots. Windows 7 Professional 64-bit was installed on our review unit, along with Lenovo's usual ThinkVantage Tools plus software bundle including Microsoft Office 2010 Starter and a trial of Norton Internet Security.
Storage comes in the form of a 500GB Seagate Barracuda ST3500413AS SATA II (3Gbps) hard disk spinning at 7,200rpm. There is no option on Lenovo's UK web site to specify a faster solid-state drive (SSD).
Graphics are handled by the CPU-integrated HD Graphics 2000 module, which can dynamically command up between 128MB and 1,760MB of system memory for graphics purposes. There is currently no option on Lenovo's UK online store to specify a faster discrete GPU with dedicated video RAM, although the web site mentions 'up to 1GB AMD Radeon discrete graphics'.
The ThinkCentre Edge 91z has wireless connectivity in the shape of 2.4GHz 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, to complement its wired Gigabit Ethernet. The latter's RJ-45 port is at the back, along with HDMI-out, VGA-in, the main power socket and four USB 2.0 ports. There are two further USB ports on the left-hand side (2.0 again, there's no USB 3.0 support here), along with a pair of audio jacks and an SD card reader.
Performance & power consumption
The ThinkCentre Edge 91z, which boots to the Windows 7 desktop in about 30 seconds, delivers a Windows Experience Index (WEI) of 4.7 (out of 7.9), this score corresponding to the lowest-performing subsystem. That 'honour' goes to Graphics (Desktop performance for Windows Aero). There's a trio of component scores on 5.9 – Gaming Graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance), Memory (RAM) (Memory operations per second) and Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate). Top of the form is Processor (Calculations per second) with an impressive 7.3.
This adds up to plenty of computing power for mainstream business workloads. If you run graphically demanding applications, or like to do a bit of gaming on the side, you may want to consider a system with a discrete GPU and a decent chunk of dedicated video memory.
If power consumption is an important issue for you, then the ThinkCentre Edge 91z is admirably restrained with the watts. Idling at the Windows 7 desktop with Wi-Fi on and screen brightness at 100 percent, it consumed 38.47W on average (measured with a Voltcraft VC940 Plus multimeter). This rose to 72.19W when running the demanding CineBench 11.5 CPU test. By comparison, a (bigger-screen) 27in. iMac we tested 18 months ago returned figures of 133.5W and 202.3W respectively in the same tests.
The ThinkCentre Edge 91z performs well, although a discrete GPU option would be welcome for graphically demanding workloads. We'd also appreciate dual-band Wi-Fi, USB 3.0 support, a less glossy screen, a slot-loading optical drive and a better keyboard. The price is certainly attractive, but given the number of drawbacks we'd be prepared to pay the £214 (ex. VAT) extra to get a much classier Core i5/4GB/500GB 21.5in. iMac with discrete AMD Radeon HD 6750M graphics.