HP Touchsmart 520 review: HP Touchsmart 520

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The Good The retail-only HP TouchSmart 520-1050y offers solid performance for its price, and has most of the features we look for in a midrange all-in-one.

The Bad The lack of an HDMI input is inexcusable, but worse is the fact that you can get the same model for $50 less via HP.com.

The Bottom Line HP does shoppers a disservice with the inconsistent pricing between this otherwise decent retail-only desktop and the more affordable, identical model available via HP's Web site.

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6.2 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 5
  • Performance 7
  • Support 7

Hewlett-Packard missed the mark with its retail-only HP TouchSmart 520-1050y. Yes, this system hits most of the major notes I expect of a $1,049 all-in-one, but the fact is that you can buy an identical version of the TouchSmart 520 directly from HP for $50 less. You can also buy a more useful, though slower, Toshiba all-in-one for $899, which--unlike this HP system--has a versatile HDMI input. Or you can add an HDMI input to the TouchSmart 520 on HP.com to bring the price back up to $1,049.

In short, as I hope is obvious by now, I can't recommend that you buy this retail model when you can get the same thing for less directly from HP.

As of this writing, you can buy a TouchSmart 520xt that's identical to the retail-only TouchSmart review unit for $50 less on HP.com.

The TouchSmart 520-1050y is the lower-end cousin of the TouchSmart 520xt we reviewed a few weeks ago. We found that model bumped up too closely to HP's flagship TouchSmart 610 line, but had HP sent me a 520 configuration around $1,000 or so, it would have seemed just about right for a midrange all-in-one. Too bad, then, that HP didn't get the pricing right on this in-store-only TouchSmart 520, since it mostly makes sense on paper.

HP TouchSmart 520-1050y Samsung Series 7 Toshiba DX735-D3201
Price $1,049 $1,099 $899
Display size/resolution 23-inch, 1,920x1,080 pixels 23-inch, 1,920x1,080 pixels 23-inch, 1,920x1,080 pixels
CPU 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-2400 2.7GHz Intel Core i5-2390T 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-2430M
Memory 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM 4GB 1,333MHZ DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 64MB Intel HD Graphics 1000 64MB Intel HD Graphics 1000 64MB Intel HD Graphics 3000
Hard drives 1TB, 7,200rpm 1TB, 7,200rpm 1TB, 7,200rpm
Optical drive Blu-ray/DVD burner combo drive dual-layer DVD burner dual-layer DVD burner
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)

Next to the competing Samsung Series 7 all-in-one and Toshiba's lower-end $899 DX735, the TouchSmart 520-1050y seems reasonably, almost aggressively priced given its Blu-ray drive. But, again, not listed on the above chart is the rather salient fact that the HP unit lacks an HDMI input.

HDMI inputs bring more versatility to all-in-one desktops than almost any other feature. By letting you use the large all-in-one as a standalone monitor for a game console, a cable box, or some other external video device, an HDMI input essentially fulfills the promise of the all-in-one as a one-stop home entertainment kiosk.

I'd trade a Blu-ray drive for an HDMI input in an instant, and especially if you care more about using a computer for consuming digital entertainment than for productivity, the cheaper, HDMI-equipped Toshiba will look very tempting next to this HP system. Or you can purchase the HP TouchSmart 520xt from HP.com and configure it with the HDMI input option for an additional $50, taking it up to the same price as the retail HP TouchSmart 520-1050y.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

CineBench 11.5 (score)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
Dell Inspiron One 2320 (Core i5-2400S, fall 2011)
HP TouchSmart 520-1050y (Core i5 2.5GHz, fall 2011)

The value confusion is also frustrating on this model since it's a decent performer for its price. Our benchmark tests show that the TouchSmart 520-1050y is at least as fast, and in most cases faster than, the competing systems from Samsung and Toshiba. I don't believe that performance is the prime driver behind all-in-one sales, particularly models like these designed with home entertainment in mind. Still, it's fair to demand a certain baseline capability, and the scores show that this TouchSmart indeed meets those expectations.

I've already lamented the absence of an HDMI input on this PC, but I can at least give HP credit for providing a pair of USB 3.0 jacks. USB 3.0 is becoming more common on mainstream PCs; the industry is perhaps even at the point where you would be right to demand USB 3.0 in a PC at the $1,000 price point. I thought that was the case with HDMI inputs as well, though, so you never know.

For other inputs, the TouchSmart 520-1050y has the usual assortment of older USB 2.0 and analog audio jacks. The one standout hardware feature other than USB 3.0 on this system is its TV tuner. Not that TV tuners are all that exotic, but it at least gives you one point of interactivity with the non-PC-based media world.

The only other factor of the TouchSmart 520-1050y that might draw you in is HP's TouchSmart 5.0 touch software suite. HP has put more resources into the PC-based touch experience than any other vendor, and it shows in the overall polish and breadth of its software.