MSI Wind Top AE2220 unboxing and impressions

In the land of netbooks and nettops, the tried-and-true all-in-one PC still has a place in this world yet. MSI is living proof of that, with its 21.5-inch Wind Top AE2220 bringing Windows 7, multitouch and an eye-pleasing design to the collective masses. Said machine just started shipping to consumers at the tail end of last month, and we've been fortunate enough to spend a few weeks tinkering with one of the most cost effective AIO options on the market right now. Thankfully for those who enjoy doing anything with relative speed, MSI overlooked the Atom range and went straight for the Core 2 Duo lineup, and for those with a bit of extra coin to spend, there's even an optional TV tuner and Blu-ray drive. Care to see how we felt about this touch-friendly rig after some extended play time? Read on to find out.

MSI has three main AE2220 configurations, the cheapest of which is currently selling for $699 and the most expensive of which is listed at $930. Our test unit was that higher-end beast, loaded with a TV tuner, Blu-ray drive, 2.2GHz Core 2 Duo T6600 processor, 4GB of RAM, Windows 7 Home Premium and a 500GB hard drive. The least expensive option doesn't force you to give up too many essentials, however, as it ships with a 2.1GHz Core 2 Duo CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 320GB hard drive, Win7 Home Premium and a DVD optical drive. The whole line comes equipped with NVIDIA's Ion GPU (based on the GeForce 9300), which allows for seamless 720p and 1080p video playback and extremely light-duty gaming. The other vital statistic that's found across the board is this: a native 1,920 x 1,080 resolution on a stunning multitouch panel.

During our time with Lenovo's T400s touch, we noted that there's still a general lack of killer apps for multitouch on a PC. For years now, software has been created for use with a keyboard and mouse, and while touch inputs can be supported in many cases, there's still not a strong case for using them over more conventional control methods. MSI has attempted to give users one more reason to touch their PC with the inclusion of a full-screen app launcher along with a suite of basic programs that cater to fingers. The customizable app launcher has a few main panes that boast loads of panels for placing individual programs (such as Windows Media Player, Hearts and Firefox), and while the responsiveness of the panel was downright amazing, we still found the approach more of a gimmick and less of a revolution.

That said, MSI has done an astounding job with the hardware. Even the slightest digit press was recognized, and on the company's own photo viewer, we were able to swipe from photo to photo effortlessly as we demonstrated a slideshow of a recent journey to onlookers. Granted, it was both easier and less distracting for those watching for us to simply use the arrow key on the keyboard to move images forward and back, but the execution aspect is worthy of laud.

We didn't dive into a lengthy evening of benchmarking, primarily because sub-$800 all-in-one PCs should never be viewed as data sheet monsters. Instead, we simply used the machine in ways that we'd normally use a machine, and we're happy to say that performance was outstanding considering the price. The 1080p panel was nothing short of stunning, with incredible viewing angles and an astonishingly crisp picture. Everyone who dropped by to check out the new kit exclaimed that the display was beautiful. On that topic, the enclosure as a whole really tickled our fancy; it's no iMac, but for the cheddar, it's about as elegant as it gets. It's (comparatively) light, it's plenty thin for the average desktop user and the swank crystal sides with soft blue LED accents added an appreciated touch of pizazz.

The bundled keyboard and mouse combo weren't anything to write home about -- in fact, both were about as basic as they come -- but the side panel buttons for adjusting the volume and turning the machine on / off were perfectly placed and used often. There's also a respectable port layout involving a VGA output, five USB 2.0 sockets, HDMI input, Ethernet, audio in / out, SPDIF, an optional TV tuner connector and a multicard reader to boot. In everyday use, the innards here should be plenty to satisfy most; applications loaded hastily, HD video (from YouTube to movie trailers) played back without a hitch, and even World of Warcraft hummed along just fine with the resolution cranked way down and the details muted. The relatively low-key build sheet also enables the rig to run quietly and coolly, and of course, Windows 7 is largely to thank for the overall responsiveness.

All told, the AE2220 is -- at least in our eyes -- an exceptionally solid AIO rig that's certainly worthy of consideration if you're in the market. It's sleek, mildly sexy, plenty potent and easily capable of being a makeshift media rig with the built-in Blu-ray drive and TV tuner (both of which worked flawlessly in testing). The Core 2 Duo + Ion tandem is plenty to handle today's most demanding multimedia, and while we're still in search of killer uses for the multitouch panel, there's no denying that the 21.5-inches of 1080p real estate are glorious just to look at. Better still, we've a feeling the asking prices for these configurations will drop post-CES, so you may be doing yourself a solid to hold those Santa bucks back just a few weeks longer to see what happens next.