CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

HP TouchSmart 520xt review: HP TouchSmart 520xt

HP TouchSmart 520xt

Rich Brown Former Senior Editorial Director - Home and Wellness
Rich was the editorial lead for CNET's Home and Wellness sections, based in Louisville, Kentucky. Before moving to Louisville in 2013, Rich ran CNET's desktop computer review section for 10 years in New York City. He has worked as a tech journalist since 1994, covering everything from 3D printing to Z-Wave smart locks.
Expertise Smart home | Windows PCs | Cooking (sometimes) | Woodworking tools (getting there...)
Rich Brown
8 min read

Editors' note (October 3, 2011): You may find this system available for less than on our reviewed price, depending on HP rebate offers. You may also find a fixed-configuration TouchSmart 520 1070 with the same specifications for $1,399. While better than the $1,549 price we configured, that's still too close to HP's similar TouchSmart 600 series, as well as faster all-in-ones from competing vendors.


HP TouchSmart 520xt

The Good

HP's new <b>TouchSmart 520xt</b> has a reasonable selection of up-to-date features, including USB 3.0 and HDMI input.

The Bad

Touch all-in-ones from competing vendors, and from HP itself, offer similar or better performance at lower prices.

The Bottom Line

An off-kilter value equation makes it hard for us to recommend the otherwise serviceable HP TouchSmart 520xt.

HP's TouchSmart 520xt is designed to offer a more affordable alternative to its higher-end TouchSmart 610, but thinly sliced differentiations between models prevent this system from having a real identity of its own. The fact that HP sent us a fully loaded TouchSmart 520xt with a $1,549 price tag doesn't help. On its own, this is a respectable all-in-one with the unique draw of HP's robust TouchSmart software suite. In the larger picture, we can't recommend the TouchSmart 520xt over HP's already successful TouchSmart 610 series.

The most significant difference between the two TouchSmarts might be in their design. Where the TouchSmart 610 debuted a display with a wide tilt range, the TouchSmart 520 is a more traditional all-in-one, albeit a new design for HP. You can tilt the display back and forth with relative ease, although it doesn't have the same range of motion as the 610. The 520 also has a tray mounted underneath the display upon which you can rest the wireless mouse and keyboard. The tray helps you keep the work area organized; it's useful enough, but it's not what we'd call a product-defining feature.

With the announcement of the TouchSmart 520, HP also introduced its TouchSmart Software Suite 5.0, the latest version of what has been the best touch software environment among Windows 7 all-in-ones. As before, you can use the TouchSmart Software as almost a second operating system on top of Windows. New to version 5.0 is the ability to use the TouchSmart suite at the same time as the standard Windows desktop, making the touch software and its accompanying applications essentially a desktop background. In addition to the TouchSmart 520, this update is available to all of HP's new TouchSmarts, as well as the older 610 series.

HP told us that it merged the mouse and touch-driven environments in response to customer requests. We don't have any complaints about the hybrid interface, but it does feel as if the TouchSmart suite is not as responsive as we've seen from HP before. The touch environment is roughly three or four screen widths, which means you have a nice, wide touch surface on which to pin shortcuts or leave notes. Unfortunately, we were met with noticeable input lag when we tried scrolling back and forth across the width of the touch workspace.

Lag aside, HP's TouchSmart software is still the most comprehensive touch-based desktop software available. Along with the usual assortment of touch-specific media apps, games, and other familiar touch apps, you'll find HP's excellent Recipe Box that scrapes recipes from the Web and stores them in a touch-friendly format, as well as a Roxio-drive movie download store. You won't find as many media applications as HP has included in the past, though, as Hulu and Netflix apps seem to have gone missing.

HP TouchSmart 520 HP TouchSmart 610q 1065qd Lenovo IdeaCentre B520
Price $1,549 $1,789 $1,299
Display size/resolution 23-inch, 1,920x1,080 23-inch, 1,920x1,080 23-inch, 1,920x1,080
CPU 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 2600s 2.93GHz Intel Core i7 870 3.4 GHz Intel Core i7 2600
Memory 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM 8GB 1,333MHZ DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 1GB AMD Radeon HD 6450A graphics card 2GB AMD Radeon HD 5570 graphics card 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 555M graphics card
Hard drives 2TB, 5,400 rpm 1TB, 7,200 rpm 2TB, 7,200rpm
Optical drive Blu-ray RW burner Blu-ray/DVD burner combo drive Blu-ray/DVD burner combo drive
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)

Our comparison between the TouchSmart 520 and 610 above is based on the 610's review from April. Since then, HP has updated the 610's CPU offerings to Intel's second-generation Core-series, and with the same Core i7 2600 chip in the TouchSmart 520, the price for a TouchSmart 610 with the same surrounding specs as the model we reviewed above comes out to a far more approachable $1,399. Match the TouchSmart 610's specs to those of our 520 review unit, and the higher-end model comes out to $1,489, or $60 less than the supposedly more affordable TouchSmart 520xt.

Based on that price comparison, HP has done a poor job of differentiating between these variants according to their supposed price bands. HP also has trouble accounting for the sheer value we found in the Lenovo IdeaCentre B520.

Lenovo's gaming-oriented all-in-one uses a desktop Core i7 2600, rather than the laptop version in the TouchSmart 520. It also includes a faster Nvidia graphics card, as well as Nvidia's 3D Vision glasses. Arguably, HP's touch software makes the TouchSmart 520 better suited as a family entertainment kiosk, but the Lenovo's raw performance for-the-dollar gives the TouchSmart 520 a glaring value problem. We like HP's touch software well enough, but it's not worth a $250 premium, nor does it make up for the HP's slower performance.

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)

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  

We would not argue that the HP TouchSmart 520 is a slow computer overall, but it is not as fast as the more affordable Lenovo IdeaCentre B520. On every application test, the Lenovo system outperforms the HP by a noticeable margin. The TouchSmart 520 will handle common consumer tasks with acceptable speed, but if you need a desktop for more-demanding chores like HD video editing, large batch image file processing, or gaming, the Lenovo IdeaCentre B520 is a better choice.

The connectivity options on the TouchSmart 520 are useful, but the IdeaCentre B520 wins out here as well in terms of multimedia versatility. Highlights of the TouchSmart 520 include an HDMI input for using the display with external video components (cable box, game console, etc.), a pair of USB 3.0 jacks, a TV tuner, and a coaxial digital audio output. You also get a useful set of hard-display control buttons on the side of the TouchSmart for adjusting the brightness and other settings.

On the Lenovo, alternatively, you get an HDMI in and output, which lets you use the IdeaCentre B520 with an external monitor. You also get component video input for connecting legacy devices, as well as a set of backlit, touch capacitive controls on the front of the Lenovo for swapping between video signals, volume control, and display settings management. Those control buttons not only offer more functionality than the HP's side-located menu controls, but they're also easier to use since Lenovo put them on the front of the system. And they don't add visual clutter since the LED backlighting fades when you're not using the buttons. The HP's only connectivity edge comes by way of its USB 3.0 jacks. Those inputs are welcome, but USB 3.0 devices have not become overly common yet. Given the choice, we'd prefer the Lenovo's HDMI output.

Juice box
HP Touchsmart 520 Average watts per hour
Off (watts) 2.39
Sleep (watts) 35.48
Idle (watts) 100.8
Load (watts) 48.21
Raw (annual kWh) 357.22404
Annual operating cost (@$0.1135/kWh) $40.54

The TouchSmart 520 commits the cardinal sin of providing no power consumption advantage over a faster competitor. Both the TouchSmart and the IdeaCentre B520 fall in the higher range of power draw among all-in-ones in general, but it's a shame that HP can't at least extract some benefit from using a lower power laptop CPU.

HP includes a two-year parts and labor warranty with the TouchSmart 520, an uncommonly generous departure from the industry-standard one-year coverage plan. You also get 24-7 toll-free phone support and a variety of support resources available on HP's Web site, as well as on the system itself.

The HP TouchSmart 520xt has difficulty standing out among HP's own touch-screen all-in-ones, as well as those from other vendors. We could like this system if it had a more aggressive price for its given components, but unless HP makes some value adjustments, we can't recommend this desktop.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:

HP TouchSmart 520 Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (SP1); 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 2600s; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB AMD Radeon HD 6450A graphics card; 2TB 5,400rpm hard drive

Apple iMac 21.5-inch (2.5GHz, Summer 2011)
Apple OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.7; 2.5GHz Intel Core i5 2400; 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 512MB AMD Radeon HD 6750 graphics card; 500GB 7,200rpm hard drive

Apple iMac 27-inch (3.1GHz, Summer 2011)
Apple OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.7; 3.1GHz Intel Core i5 2500; 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB ATI Radeon HD 6970M graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive

Lenovo IdeaCentre B520
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (SP1); 3.4GHz Intel Core i7 2600; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 555 graphics card; 2TB 7,200rpm hard drive

Sony Vaio L-Series 3D Signature Edition
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (SP1); 3.3GHz Intel Core i7 2720QM; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 540 graphics card; 3TB 5,400rpm hard drive


HP TouchSmart 520xt

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 5Performance 5Support 8