All-in-one computer vs desktop PC: which is right for you?

All-in-one computer vs desktop PC
(Image credit: Future)

To begin with, it is essential to understand that all-in-one (AIO) computers are typically considered desktop computers. However, they differ from the rest of the desktop PCs, such as tower, mini or stick PCs, in terms of several factors; portability, affordability, design, and performance to name a few. 

An AIO computer sports everything that is necessary as a desktop component. So, you’re getting a processor, memory, video card, monitor, and speakers – all in the same device. It even comes with an excellent webcam. On the other hand, all other types of desktop computers mentioned above are machines that host just the processing unit of a computer. They consist of a processor, memory, and a graphics card among other internal parts. Hence, they need to be paired with a monitor, speakers, keyboard, and mouse. 

Both AIO and non-AIO desktop PCs have their fair share of pros and cons. In this guide, we attempt to draw a comparison between regular AIO computers and all other kinds of desktop PCs. We have categorized the discussion below into sections on price, design, and performance. 

All-in-one computer vs desktop PC: price

  • Desktop PCs offer more flexibility in terms of purchasing additional components
  • AIO computers are far more expensive to repair

The flexibility that comes with purchasing a desktop PC makes it more affordable than an AiO computer. This means that you can easily upgrade your desktop PC with a recently released CPU or GPU instead of investing in a new machine. However, in the case of an AIO computer, you don’t have much of a choice. Since AIOs come as a complete package that a brand has already put together, there is little flexibility offered in terms of customization and upgrades. Therefore, you’d have to replace the machine as a whole when the components inside get obsolete. 

Desktop PCs are also more affordable to repair. Overall, it would cost far less to open up a desktop and fix the component that’s causing the issue. In the case of AIO computers, repairs can end up being fairly pricey as they’re harder to tinker with if they even allow for the issue to be fixed.

  • Winner: Desktop PC

iMac on a table

(Image credit: Future)

All-in-one computer vs desktop PC: design

  • AIO computers feature better form factor and take up less space
  • You don’t need any additional shopping with an AIO
  • Desktop PCs are extremely hard to move but easily configurable and repairable

An AIO packs everything in a small body and doesn’t take as much real estate on your desk as a desktop PC does. Not only is the latter considerably bigger in itself, but all its various components take additional space too. You may end up finding a relatively slim and low-profile desktop, but you would still need ample space for all other accessories. 

Closely related to the point mentioned above is the form factor of an AIO computer. An AIO computer beats a desktop PC by a mile. Its body is slimmer and much more appealing than that of a desktop. This isn’t to say that desktop PCs are unpleasant in terms of looks. In fact, the modern ones come equipped with attractive RGB lighting that enhances their overall aesthetic. But if form factor means a lot to you, definitely go for an AIO. 

An AIO computer also takes away the burden of additional shopping. Since you’re getting everything in a single package, you’re not required to spend your time and energy looking up and buying accompanying accessories. This can be particularly helpful if you’re someone who has limited knowledge in this area and wishes to upgrade without delving too deep into research. Whether or not that’s true for you, feel free to check out our guides on the best computer speakers, mice, keyboards, and monitors for some additional help. 

computer peripherals

(Image credit: Shutterstock / EKKAPHAN CHIMPALEE)

Even though AIO computers aren’t exactly what many would call portable, especially compared to laptops, they’re still capable of being moved far more easily than other desktop PCs. Moving a desktop PC, if you ever need to, would be a hassle. Collecting its various peripherals, gathering all of its wires and cables, and managing the weight of it all isn’t easy. Hence, they heavily limit you to your workspace, way more than an AiO computer does. 

There are areas where other desktop PCs shine too. First of all, they offer an easily configurable design. As previously mentioned, it’s very simple to open a desktop and tweak the components inside. This can come in handy when you’re in the mood to upgrade. You can simply replace a specific part with the newest, most recent version of it. 

Whereas, with most AIOs, you’re pretty much stuck with the same body and configuration. You likely won’t have the flexibility to upgrade to newer components that are best suited to your needs. This could also result in problems when any of the features on your AIO gets outdated. 

The fact that an AIO computer is also much more difficult to repair is closely linked to the point above. In a desktop PC, there are several quick fixes that even a layman with little technical knowledge can manage. These include replacing a specific component, cleaning the fan, etc. An AIO, on the other hand, is quite difficult to open. In some cases, it doesn’t even allow the user to tinker with its inside parts. And when it does, its hardware is often extremely unreachable. 

The hardware inside an AIO is often soldered so well that it doesn’t allow tweaking. Moreover, opening up AIO computers is considered to go against the warranty in some cases. Repairs end up being a huge hassle, and the user has no option but to send the entire device to a technician. This doesn’t only cost the user significant money but also deprives them of a PC for a considerable amount of time, causing inconvenience. This also means that if there’s an issue with your display or the speakers inside, you’ll also have to send the whole thing out for repair.

  • Winner: Tie

Acer Predator Orion 7000 desktop gaming PC shown on a desk next to monitor

(Image credit: Acer)

All in one computer vs desktop PC: performance

  • Processing power depends on your device’s model
  • AIOs are easier to set up and often offer brilliant displays with touch control

Performance-wise, both AIOs and other kinds of desktop PCs can be powerful or not depending on their model. For instance, most Windows-powered AIOs are not quite powerful in terms of graphics. This is due to the fact that they feature integrated graphics cards, instead of dedicated ones. These include Intel or AMD graphics, which tend to perform not as well as Nvidia’s RTX cards that you’ll find in more robust desktop computers and gaming PCs.

On the other hand, some Apple AIOs feature an extremely powerful processor chip, the M1, which is excellent for graphics-intensive tasks such as video editing, 3D graphic design, and photo editing. Hence, ultimately, the performance of a machine depends on the processing power and graphics of the model that you’re opting for. 

If your work requires using memory-intensive software or if you’re into hardcore gaming, an AIO computer with integrated graphics may be underwhelming for you. Even if you manage to run intense software on it, it may result in thermal throttling because of the lack of ventilation.

  • Winner: Tie, depending on what you need

All in one computer vs desktop PC: upgradability

  • Desktops are easier to upgrade
  • Most AIO do not give you the option to upgrade their internals

AIO computers are also harder to upgrade as compared to desktop PCs. As mentioned already, desktop PCs are simple to open up, hence resulting in easier upgrades. Technology is constantly advancing and with newer versions being released every few months, you would likely want to get rid of obsolete components. This could include a speedier processor or an improved graphics card, among other things. 

In the case of an AIO, even if you invest in a system that offers the latest features and specs, they will, too, eventually start slowing down in a few years. Desktop PCs are incredibly simple to open up and tweak. You can simply take a graphics card out and install another. AIOs are more difficult to open up, and in most cases, they don’t allow the user to open them up at all. 

AIO computers are preferred over other desktop PCs in terms of how easy they are to set up, however. Offering a plug-and-play option, an AIO computer is practically ready to be used out of the box. In the case of a desktop PC, you’re supposed to pair a number of peripherals and manage several cables before you can use it.

AIO computers now offer quite advanced screen technology. Modern AIOs come equipped with premium displays offering rich colors and sharp picture quality. Often, they also sport touch control and pen support. This makes the device an excellent option for all your art and design-related needs.

  • Winner: Tie

All-in-one computer vs desktop PC: Which one should you go for?

It’s a close competition between the two with desktop PCs winning by a slight margin. While there’s a tie in terms of design and performance, desktop PC aces in the price category. 

All in all, it ultimately depends on your workflow. If you have a very light workflow that involves MS Office and light browsing, then an AIO computer with integrated graphics may be sufficient for you. It would be able to manage your workload without heating up, and you wouldn’t feel the need to upgrade to the latest processor every few months. 

However, if your lifestyle involves playing intense games or your work requires you to use, for instance, professional video-editing software, then investing in either an Apple AIO or a desktop PC with dedicated graphics makes much more sense. It’s also easily configurable and simple to repair. 

Dua is a freelance technology writer who's contributed to TechRadar, PCMag and ScreenRant. She's been a technology fan since she was young, and used to pore over the latest product reviews. When not playing with or researching some new piece of tech, you might find her reading, working out or playing the ukelele.