- Review Price: £785.00
Considering the integrated speakers on any TV smaller than 32in are generally rubbish, we were somewhat sceptical of MSI’s claims that a 22in all-in-one (AIO) PC could deliver Hi-Fi quality sound. Nonetheless, with phrases like “perfect sound reproduction” and “the zenith of perfection” being bandied around by MSI, there must surely be some truth in it? Let’s find out.
The Wind Top range spans all the way from the 19in Wind Top AE1900 to the 23.6in AE2400, with 18.5in and 21.5in models in between. Our AE2220 Hi-Fi falls into this latter category and packs in a Full HD touch-screen, nVidia ION graphics, those all important high-quality speakers, a Blu-ray drive, Wireless N, and an integrated TV tuner and tops it all off with a wireless keyboard, mouse and remote to control it.
The machine comes securely packaged and of course is a doddle to set up as the main unit comes pre-assembled, while a multi-lingual quick start guide does a decent job of showing you what to plug in where, etc. In addition to manuals, software discs and peripherals, the AE2220 Hi-Fi comes with a retail, two-CD edition of Il Divo’s album The Promise, just to convince you it’s serious about the whole audio angle.
What really surprised us about this AIO PC was its weight: it’s significantly heavier than similarly-sized competitors and at just under 8cm thick is also a tad thicker. Of course, both these factors give us hope for its audio capabilities. Overall build quality is excellent, with not a hint of unwanted flex or creak anywhere. Adjusting the height and angle of the PC, with its spring-loaded rear leg, is easy if not exactly smooth.
Aside from the bevy of colourful stickers along its bezel, the AE2220 Hi-Fi is also a fairly attractive machine. There are no model names or numbers to mar the bezel, and the 1.3 megapixel webcam is nicely integrated. The main unit is coated in piano black, though it’s no more forgiving of fingerprints and dust than this finish usually is.
On the other hand, the dot-patterned section that disguises much of the lower bezel and houses the speakers is attractive from a distance but looks cheap close to, and the large chromed inset doesn’t quite have the impact MSI was undoubtedly aiming for. Overall the AE2220 Hi-Fi could have done with taking a few design cues from the Asus EeeTop ET2203T, which has a simpler, cleaner look.
One particularly cool touch in the MSI’s favour is the way the status LEDs are handled. These are found along the right edge, where a selection of well-spaced physical buttons is hidden behind the bezel. The controls are easy to find and use, and are marked by icons etched into the transparent frame. The neat touch is that LEDs for power, HDD activity, etc, shine into the transparent frame’s edge, giving the cool illusion of a diffused light in the outer edge with no visible source.
Getting onto connectivity, the AE2220 Hi-Fi offers significantly more than most AIO PCs we’ve come across. Along the left side we have a Blu-ray reader, twin USB 2.0 ports which are just a tad too close together, and a memory card reader that takes SD/HC, MMC, and MS/Pro.
At the back is an unusually generous selection all packed into a neatly recessed panel. Along with the round power input we have a TV aerial socket, VGA and HDMI video inputs, four USB 2.0 inputs (three of which are rather inconveniently sandwiched between the two video connections), an eSATA connector for fast external storage, a Gigabit Ethernet port, an optical audio output for outputting surround sound, and finally headphone and microphone jacks.
Our only real complaint is that the headphone and microphone jacks should have been located at the PC’s side rather than the back. Obviously those with analogue-only surround sound systems are also out of luck, but then the whole point of the AE2220 Hi-Fi is that you shouldn’t need to hook up an external speaker system at all.
Speaking of external devices, MSI’s included wireless mouse and keyboard are decent. Unlike some other AIO PCs, the set here comes with its own dongle. While this does mean the peripherals will use up a free USB port, we actually prefer this approach to the integrated transceiver found in some AIOs, as it means you can use the set with other computers.
Another slightly unusual touch is that the mouse is not ambidextrous: south-paws need not apply. The advantage is that it allows for an ergonomically contoured shape that’s more comfortable than most bundled mice. Aside from this it’s a basic two-button affair with a rubberized two-way scroll wheel offering lightly-notched feedback. The mouse runs on twin AAA batteries so rechargeable ones can be used.
The wireless keyboard is a lightweight affair, even with its two AA batteries installed, and sports an isolation-style layout. In terms of looks it’s quite similar to the corded one provided with the Asus EeeTop ET2203T with its matt keys on top of a glossy base, except that MSI has managed to squeeze in a full number pad. Keys are spaced just a tad too far apart for optimal comfort, but feedback is surprisingly good. Controls for volume, multimedia and shortcuts are available as secondary functions. Unlike the ET2203T there’s no holder for the included MSI stylus, which is a pity.
Finishing things off we have a generic Windows media remote: an indifferently-styled matt black device with rubberized buttons. Its boxy shape doesn’t make it particularly comfortable in the hand and the buttons are too thin, but at least its layout is intuitive. Like the mouse it runs on twin AAA batteries.
MSI’s AE2220 Hi-Fi uses the same optical touch-screen technology (with optical sensors in the bezel that pick up objects near the screen) as many large touch-capable AIOs, but multi-touch is supported so you can use two-fingers to pinch-to-zoom, rotate and flick up/down/forward/back through image galleries and the like. Your touch will be registered without even needing to make contact with the screen’s surface, and you can use anything to interact with the screen: not just your fingers and the included stylus, but pieces of paper, cloth, or anything that takes your fancy.
Thanks to its weight and solidity, the AE2220 Hi-Fi exhibits minimal wobble when interacting with it via touch, and unlike the Asus EeeTop ET2203T, touch input was correctly configured from the get-go. The install of Windows 7 comes with Microsoft’s Surface Touch Pack, which provides interactive touch wallpapers and games. Easy-to-prod shortcuts to most Windows apps are also provided by MSI’s Wind Touch interface, though unlike HP’s TouchSmart range there are no custom finger-friendly apps.
With the emphasis on its audio performance, this AIO PCs 21.5in screen takes a back seat, but it doesn’t really deserve to. Its 1,920 x 1,080 resolution is exactly what you would hope for, as it is ideal for Full HD films and hooking up consoles – though it’s also got aspect ratio controls for those rare situations when 16:9 isn’t desirable. Physical controls call up an onscreen display, giving access to the usual monitor adjustments like brightness, contrast, input selection, etc. Several of the AE2220 Hi-Fi’s side buttons also give direct access to handy things like image presets.
One down-side of the display is its incredibly glossy coating, which picks up more reflections than a Swarovski crystal in a hall of mirrors; watching a dark film in daylight can be impossible. Depending on angle, fingerprints are also obvious, though as already mentioned you can avoid these by using the stylus. Speaking of angle, as with all TN-based displays vertical viewing angles are particularly poor (though horizontal ones are good). It should also come as no surprise that the screen only tilts back: there’s no height adjustment or portrait mode.
Despite these negatives, this is still a generally good quality display. Thanks in part to its fine dot pitch it’s nice and sharp, making even tiny fonts legible, The backlighting is also impressive with nice even coverage and no sign of light bleed. Though we’ve yet to come across a TN-based display with impressive contrast, if you’re willing to lose out on white detail you can also get impressive levels of shadow detailing – provided you can see any of it past the screen’s reflections. Finally there’s so little banding as to be negligible, and the image presets are fairly well configured (with the exception of Movie, which gives you deeper blacks but at the cost of dark detail).
So far so good, but what’s the audio like? Well, in a word, loud! The “full-range 5W hi-fi speakers” featuring “an independent right and left channel speaker acoustic suspension system and a magnesium-aluminium alloy membrane” are quite simply the loudest speakers we’ve ever come across on an AIO PC, and impressively they don’t even distort significantly at their maximum. The Wind Top AE2220 Hi-Fi effortlessly filled the office with strong midtones, clear highs and a respectable level of detail.
However, there are two problems with its billing as a hi-fi replacement: first the level of detail and clarity on offer, while certainly impressive for an integrated sound setup, doesn’t begin to match a half-decent dedicated system. Second and more importantly, its bass performance generally fails to impress. Overall then, picking up an £80 set of stereo speakers will give you better performance by far. That said, the integrated efforts are certainly better than most and good enough that you’ll be happy to use them rather than clutter your home with extra speakers – especially it you plan to have it in the kitchen, say.
Moving onto the internals, the cast is headed by an Intel Core 2 Duo T6600 running at 2.2GHz; exactly the same as found in the Asus’ ET2203T. It’s a choice that’s getting slightly long in the tooth, what with Core i3 having been out for a while now, but it’s still a vastly superior alternative to the Atom processors that power many AIO PCs. Perhaps more importantly, it’s still more than adequate for everyday computing – only enthusiasts and gamers should look elsewhere.
It’s backed by the usual 4GB of 800MHz DDR2 RAM, though MSI has stuck with a 32-bit version of Windows 7, perhaps to enhance backwards compatibility. For storage there’s a relatively generous 640GB 3.5in hard drive, while on the wireless front we have Wi-Fi N, though Bluetooth is absent.
Not to be confused with the non-Hi-Fi AE2220, which features inferior Intel integrated graphics, the AE2220 Hi-Fi sports nVidia’s ION GPU (which is essentially an integrated GeForce 9300/9400). This means the machine won’t have the slightest trouble running even the most demanding HD video, and older games should be just about playable. Any recent titles will only run at their lowest settings however, aptly demonstrated by MSI’s machine scoring a lowly 26.3fps in TrackMania Nations Forever (medium detail, 1,920 x 1,080 resolution) – a very basic game by today’s standards.
Overall, the AE2220 is an impressive device. It’s packed with features, has ample performance (gaming aside), and at £785 it’s very competitively priced. If you aren’t too fussed about a TV tuner and remote then the Asus Eee Top ET2203T is a better-looking alternative, but if you want an all-round package little beats it.
Of course, the 21.5in Full HD version of the new Apple iMac, with its superior IPS panel, faster CPU, more impressive brushed metal chassis and arguably better OS is also an interesting option for only £184 more, but you lose out on the Blu-ray drive, TV tuner, media remote and touch capabilities.
A reasonably attractive all-in-one PC, MSI’s Wind Top AE2220 Hi-Fi might not live up to its billing as a Hi-Fi replacement, but nonetheless offers excellent value and – gaming aside – does most things you might want.
Score in detail
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