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YOUR TECH: All-purpose PC offered

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 11, 2009

TriGem, a Korean firm trading as Averatec in this country, has done something rather audacious: It has put together an all-in-one PC that rivals the Apple iMac in appearance but is about two-thirds the cost of the least-expensive iMac. Averatec's D1002UHCE-1 desktop computer is on sale now at the firm's online store - and, apparently, only there - for $849, a good $350 less than the 20-inch iMac unveiled last week.

To be fair to Apple, we are talking "apples" and "oranges" here: The iMac, which I hope to review shortly, is a far different computer from the Averatec D1002UHCE-1, with a different operating system, different hardware specs, and a different target audience from TriGem's model. The D1002UHCE-1 is most likely a computer that'll find its place in a number of homes, at-home offices and dorm rooms, while the iMac could, and often does, work its way into those venues as well as corporate offices. Moreover, iMacs have been, and still are, more solid performers.

It's a bit dicey to play psychologist when one is not trained or licensed to do so, but let me preface this evaluation with a little analysis. The concept of an all-in-one computer, as I've seen it, is to pack the features a user might need, starting with a good display, into a package small enough to make it attractive to many kinds of users. The 22-inch display integrated into the D1002UHCE-1 is a good one, and both computer images and video are pleasing to the eye.

The design of an all-in-one should be pleasing also, and here, too, TriGem/Averatec scores. Apple has the patent on truly stunning design, but the D1002UHCE-1 is no ugly duckling. Its black case and relatively thin profile are good enough for most settings.

One big difference with the D1002UHCE-1 is that it's intended to handle more in terms of multimedia out of the box than just playing music CDs or video DVDs. There's a built-in TV tuner, which, connected to a pair of "rabbit ears," should have pulled in far more analog and HD channels than it did. I had better results last summer with Hewlett-Packard's TouchSmart all-in-one than I did with the D1002UHCE-1, even though both were tested in the same location in my house using the same antenna. It's possible that many more analog stations were turned off in mid-February than I had suspected, but performance is lacking.

It's also sad that TriGem/Averatec didn't include an FM tuner with the system. This should not have added much to the "bill of materials" cost for the unit, the basic total price of components before you figure in manufacturing costs, markups and so forth. But it would have delivered tremendous value to the end user.

The other multimedia challenge, frankly, is that the D1002UHCE-1 is dependent upon Windows Media Center software, not to mention Windows Vista Home edition, to make multimedia work. Windows Media Center is "good enough" if that's all you have, but comparing it with, say, TV-viewing software for the Mac, shows its shortcomings. In the midst of flipping through the few channels available, I got the multimedia equivalent of the operating system's "blue screen of death," a friendly greeting telling me to close Windows Media Center, shut down other running applications, and start all over again if I wanted to watch the 11 p.m. news on WBAL-TV.

Blech.

To be totally fair, a subsequent use of the built-in TV tuner went off without a hitch, and the hi-def picture and sound are stunning. But the frustration experienced PC users might have with Windows Media Center could be exponentially magnified if a beginning user tackles it.

The other great challenge is the aforementioned Windows Vista Home edition. There's no other way to say it: Microsoft Windows Vista is not ready for prime time. It's an albatross around the neck of the D1002UHCE-1, and those who buy this computer will want to upgrade to Microsoft Windows 7 as soon as humanly possible, either with the public Beta or with the shipping version when that is released sometime this year.

The sad thing is this is a computer that, on the surface, should be better than it is. The hardware inside - a 300 GB hard drive, 2 GB of RAM expandable to 4 GB, Ethernet and wireless Internet connections, built-in webcam and even an external monitor port for those seeking an extra display screen - all speak of conscientious design and thoughtful planning. The aesthetics are there, the display and sound quality are quite good.

Now if only the TriGem folks can get the multimedia to work better, and if Win7 would arrive sooner. Then, you might have in this package a killer home computer worthy of a spot in the den or a child's room. For details, go to http://tinyurl.com/djxfjg

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