MSI Wind Top AE2050: Low-cost all-in-one

Hot on the heels of the Wind Top AE2220 comes the MSI Wind Top AE2050, a budget all-in-one PC that’s all about compromise. For this model, MSI shed a few hundred bucks off the asking price ($680 as of April 26, 2011), but also gone are the AE220’s Blu-ray drive, speed, 1080p resolution, and connections. What’s left is a low-power alternative that’s less expensive but challenged by tough competition.

The Wind Top AE2050 runs the lower-cost AMD Fusion E-350, a 1.6GHz CPU that’s part of the new AMD (Nasdaq: AMD) Brazos platform (AMD’s equivalent to Intel‘s (NASDAQ: INTC) Atom). To AMD’s credit, Fusion chips produce better graphics and achieve faster video-decoding speeds than their rivals do. Still, the E-350 CPU is the Achilles’ heel of the AE2050: Although the processor reduces power consumption, general performance suffers dramatically.

Jumping from the Wind Top AE2220 all-in-one’s Intel Core 2 Duo T6600 platform to AMD’s Brazos is kind of like going from a motorcycle to a moped, and the benchmarks for the AE2050’s 1.6GHz CPU (alongside 4GB of DDR3-667 memory) tell the tale. General performance on this all-in-one desktop is nearly half that of its predecessor, dropping to a score of 53 on our WorldBench 6 suite of tests from the AE220’s mark of 90. Competing systems at similar price points, such as the HP All-in-One 200-5020, managed a score of 104 on our test suite.

The graphics integrated into the system’s E-350 CPU–AMD’s Radeon HD 6310–failed to run our gaming benchmarks on the PC’s default 1600-by-900-pixel resolution. In our Unreal Tournament 3 benchmark, the AE2050 couldn’t get off the ground regardless of whether we ran the test on a high or medium graphical setting. We were able to achieve play time only by dropping the game down to a resolution of 1024 by 768, and we’d hardly call the PC’s 23 frames per second on medium quality settings to be all that “playable.” This is par for the course for the all-in-one category, but keep it in mind when you’re considering your PC entertainment options.

As far as the display goes, we were pleased with the AE2050’s saturation, which brought more of a lifelike quality to movies and images than competing systems such as the HP Omni 200 Quad did. The AE2050’s grayscales are a little murkier; we would have liked to see a crisper and brighter full white instead of the darker, duller levels presented. A bit of glare from the glossy panel can be an annoyance in darker scenes, too, depending on the lighting setup of your environment.

Video playback performance is the AMD E-350 CPU’s strong point, and it showed in our tests–high-definition (720p) media was stutter-free. The Blu-ray combo drive on the MSI AE2220 has been replaced here by a DVD burner, befitting the loss of native 1080p resolution. The AE2050’s two speakers offer a less-than-stellar movie experience, delivering laptop-quality sound that’s driven from the centre of the rig.

We were quite surprised to see the inclusion of two USB 3.0 ports on the system’s side–a delightful addition given this system’s sub-$1,000 price. Also of note is MSI’s Super Charger technology, which converts one of the USB 3.0 ports into a dedicated device charger; the company claims that it will reduce charging time by up to 40 per cent. You’ll have to turn the functionality on by way of an applet on the PC; but once you’ve set it, devices can charge through it even when the PC is off. A multiformat card reader joins the ports on the system’s side, while the rear of the AE2050 hosts a single HDMI port, four more USB ports (2.0 this time), and a gigabit Ethernet port.

While we’d love to see more diversity in the connections, the inclusion of USB 3.0 and HDMI on a budget all-in-one is both unique and welcome. And, of course, we can’t forget about the wireless aspect of the AE2050: 802.11n networking is built right into the system. That’s the second best-hidden part of this PC. The first is its use of a 1TB hard drive, double the capacity of MSI’s AE2220 desktop. Thank goodness that drive is beefy, because MSI offers no instructions for going into the system’s insides and performing upgrades of your own (or any indication that you can even do so).

Another addition to this model is the latest version of MSI’s Wind Touch software, Wind Touch 4. During CES 2011 in January, we looked at Wind Touch 4 running on a system equipped with one of Intel’s Sandy Bridge processors. The software provides touch-optimized applications in a custom overlay, including a calendar, a photo gallery, and a media player; you can also add shortcuts to your own application with ease. We did take issue with the stand that props the AE2050 up at a particular angle. It’s difficult to manage and set, so performing minute tweaks of the setup to achieve the perfect viewing angle for the all-in-one is a challenge. The wired keyboard and mouse that MSI bundled with our test machine are as generic as generic can be, offering no additional buttons or features beyond the standard layouts that you’d find on any run-of-the-mill input device.

The MSI Wind Top AE2050 is a step back from the company’s AE2220 desktop, and the features that are missing don’t leave much to go on when comparing this budget all-in-one desktop with some of the category’s best. The display is fairly attractive, the hard drive is roomy, and the inclusion of USB 3.0 ports and HDMI at such a low price is great. But lackluster performance from an underpowered chip leaves the AE2050 staggering behind several low-cost competitors, and as a result there’s no killer reason to pick this PC over its budget peers–or MSI’s slightly pricier offerings.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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