Sacrificing memory has its consequences, of course, and evidence of the Vizio's smaller RAM allotment turned up across our performance tests. From new and older versions of Photoshop, to iTunes MP3 processing, to our homemade multimedia multitasking test, the Vizio system came in at or near the bottom of the pack on every test. That's not unreasonable given that the Vizio is the most affordable of any other system in our charts, but particularly on our Photoshop CS5 charts, you'll see the huge gap in performance between the 8GB Lenovo and the 4GB Vizio, which use the same Intel Core i5 chip.
If you like the Vizio otherwise, the Photoshop scores for this model might compel you to consider the $1,349
Aside from its PC components, the Vizio has everything I expect to see in a contemporary all-in-one, along with a few useful, less common touches. The pair of HDMI inputs is a start. One HDMI input is common, and Lenovo typically offers one in and one out. Two HDMI inputs mean you can connect both a cable box and a game console to the Vizio (or two game consoles), without an external HDMI hub. That's a huge convenience for those inclined to use this system as a home entertainment hub, and I hope other vendors take note.
Another multimedia-friendly feature is the included remote control. Where many all-in-one PCs offer screen and volume controls built into the display bezel, Vizio has instead incorporated those buttons into a standalone remote control. The remote lets you switch between the video input source, power the display on and off, adjust the volume and also navigate the onscreen display. It suffers some of the same shallow button depth mushiness as the touch pad, but overall the RF-based, watch-battery-powered remote works well. Just don't lose it. The keyboard has volume controls, and a key for swapping between video sources, but you get no secondary display power or onscreen display controls.
The Vizio has a few distinct shortcomings as a home entertainment device, among them the audio output and the lack of an optical drive. Even with the subwoofer, sound never gets quite loud enough to really fill a dorm- or office-size room. Lower tones also tend to break up and lose fidelity at the highest volume settings. Your ability to change the output is also limited, since the system has only a single headphone jack for dedicated audio connectivity. USB or Bluetooth speakers might offer a viable alternative.
For the missing DVD or Blu-ray drive, you can always add an external PC optical drive, or rely on a connected game console or dedicated player. For those with no intention of connecting an external video component, you might already feel encumbered by the subwoofer/power supply module and loathe the idea of adding yet another piece of peripheral hardware. If that describes you, I might suggest you look into a different computer.
Fortunately Vizio mostly hits the key notes in terms of other connectivity and data options. You get four USB 3.0 ports on the unit; three in back, one on the right side. It also offers an eSATA port and an SD card reader. For most common peripherals and external data formats, those ports should suffice. With only four USB ports you might find yourself relying on a USB hub before too long, but aside from some extra audio output jacks, I can think of few other ports I'd like to see here.
The one other feature of note in this system is the dedicated V-key keyboard hot button that sends your directly to Vizio's support Web page. The page also doubles as an advertising destination, with dedicated fields hawking Netflix, Hulu, and other services. Helpfully, though, the support page also recognized the specific review model successfully, and highlighted a touch-pad software update in a clear location at the top of the screen. The update didn't help the touch pad's performance in any discernible way once I applied it, but at least Vizio made discovery and downloading easy.
Vizio's PC-making efforts thus far seem to mirror those of its TV business: offer compelling-enough core features and aggressive pricing, and customers will likely forgive some sacrifices along the way. Not everyone will be so willing, and by leaving off a traditional mouse and an optical drive, Vizio has also taken some bold chances. But as long as you're aware of what you're missing, the CA27-A1 will satisfy those in the market for a large-screen, affordable all-in-one desktop.
Performance testing conducted by Joseph Kaminksi. Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
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