HP TouchSmart IQ506 Full Review (with video)

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The HP TouchSmart IQ506 is HP’s new top of the line, all-in-one computer.  There are several companies that put out all-in-ones, these days;  Apple famously has the iMac series, Gateway(Acer) has the Gateway One, Dell has the XPS One, and Sony recently came out with a series of high-end all-in-one computers.  HP’s TouchSmart line is very different from all the others, however, because it’s built around one idea, one concept: touch.  Is it just a gimmick, though, or is it a worthwhile addition?  Read on for our full review of the IQ506.

Specifications

Our review unit had the following specifications:

  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo T5850 (2.16GHz, 2MB L2 Cache)
  • Memory: 4GB PC2-5300 DDR2 RAM
  • Hard Drive: 500GB 7200RPM SATA
  • Optical Drive: SuperMulti DVD Burner
  • Graphics: NVIDIA Geforce 9300 M GS (256MB dedicated, up to 2GB shared)
  • Network: Gigabit ethernet
  • Wireless Networking: 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth
  • Audio: Integrated HD Audio, stereo speakers
  • 5-in-1 memory card reader
  • 5 USB 2.0 ports, 1 FireWire
  • Headphone, line in, line out and digital audio out jacks
  • Integrated webcam and array microphone
  • Dual-format NTSC/ATSC television tuner
  • Exterior LED lighting with four levels of brightness
  • 22-inch widescreen 1680×1050 touch display
  • Dimensions: 21 x 2.6 x 17.4 inches
  • Weight: 24.0 pounds

The TouchSmart IQ506 models are sold pre-built and this configuration has a suggested retail price of $1499.99.

Click here for a video overview of the HP TouchSmart IQ506.

Build and Design

When I first opened the box containing the TouchSmart IQ506 it was obvious that HP put a lot of thought into the styling behind the IQ506.  It manages to be very high-tech without looking it; there aren’t a lot of buttons or cords to get in the way.  In fact, HP went to significant effort to achieve just that effect.  The IQ506 rests on two clear acrylic wedges which, when combined with the folding stand in the back, give the effect that the TouchSmart actually floats about an inch above your working surface.  The most striking feature on the IQ506 is the really nice 22″ touchscreen display.  It’s recessed into the surface and surrounded by a glossy black frame.  A speakerbar is permanently attached on the bottom. 

Most desktop computers suffer from terminal tangled wire disease, and HP is trying very hard to avoid that with the TouchSmart series.  In fact, you can get online and start using the computer right out of the box with just one cable, and that’s for power.  The IQ506 comes with 802.11n networking, so no cord is needed to connect to the internet or another computer.  HP also includes a wireless keyboard and mouse desktop set to further avoid clutter. 

The folding stand on the back is very tight; you don’t have to worry about the computer falling over.  It is a bit scary opening it for the first time, however, as it falls into place with a very loud click and you spend five minutes frantically going over the machine thinking you’ve broken it.  Hidden directly behind the display is the bulk of the computer, with a slot-loading optical drive and multiple ports.  HP used mostly notebook components in the design of the TouchSmart IQ506, allowing them to construct a compact machine.  The recessed back of the IQ506, while a good design choice to make the TouchSmart look much slimmer, poses a few problems, too.  The biggest of these is that the it’s difficult to see where the optical drive is when you’re sitting in front of the computer, and until you get the hang of it, you may bang discs against the side of the machine.

The optical drive in the IQ506 is a SuperMulti DVD burner; no Blu-Ray.  HP was originally cagey when I asked them about the possibility of Blu-Ray in the future, no doubt because of the recent release of the 25.5″ TouchSmart models, which do offer the hi-def format.  One handy feature that HP included on the IQ506 is a row of LED lights along the bottom of the machine.  A button on the side controls the lighting, and you can set it to one of three different brightnesses.  None of them are very bright, but the brightest is easily enough to help illuminate the keyboard in case you have an emergency midnight TouchSmart session.

As I touched on earlier, HP designed and built the TouchSmart series using largely notebook components.  It lets them put all of this technology in a pretty compact package.  The IQ506 isn’t limited to only notebook components, however, as HP did use a full desktop-sized hard drive in the computer.  This is helpful since desktop drives are typically significantly faster than their notebook counterparts, lending a little more pep to the everyday functions of the TouchSmart.

Once you’ve got the screws off of the back (and there are several), you’re rewarded with a large shield as well as access to the upgradeable components of the TouchSmart.  You can see the notebook RAM almost in the middle of the machine, each of the 2 SO-DIMMs is 2GB.  On the right rests the 500GB 3.5″ hard drive and slot-loading optical device.


HP designed the TouchSmart to essentially never need to be upgraded; in case of malfunction (or a lack of space), however, both the hard drive and optical drives are user replaceable.

It’s interesting that HP chose to put an MXM graphics card in the TouchSmart IQ506, opening up the possibility that it could be upgraded at some point in the future.  I have no doubt, however, that any such upgrade would not be supported by HP.  Obviously, a graphics card puts out a lot of heat, which is why you can see a heatpipe leading from the 9300M GS to a large copper heatsink at the top of the machine.  A similar setup is used to cool the CPU.  As a result, most of the heat that the machine generates is radiated out from the top of the computer, meaning that it doesn’t get blown directly onto the user.

Inputs and Expansion

Given the all-in-one nature of the HP TouchSmart IQ506, the subject of expansion is always a complicated matter.  You can’t really add any additional cards inside like you can with traditional desktops, so the number of available ports becomes important.  On the right side of the machine there is a memory card reader and FireWire port port, while the left has two USB2.0 ports, a microphone port, headphone port and switch to control the under machine lighting.  There is technically one more USB port on the back of the machine, but it’s built to fit and support only the USB dongle for the supplied wireless keyboard and mouse. 

Fortunately, however, HP did have the foresight to build in a lot of the equipment that many people consider as aftermarket add-ons.  Built into the back of the TouchSmart is an integrated NTSC/ATSC TV tuner and with the Vista Home Premium OS, helps make the TouchSmart into a perfectly serviceable DVR, if capable of recording only one transmission at a time.  Next to the coaxial input are S/PDIF out, analog audio out, a gigabit ethernet port and three more USB2.0 ports.  It would have been interesting to see something like an ExpressCard slot somewhere on the TouchSmart, but I suspect that for most people, 5 USB ports and one FireWire will suffice, especially given everything that’s already supplied.

HP TouchSmart Software

Here’s where the TouchSmart IQ506 really starts to shine.  Touch screens in computing have been slow to really take off, except in limited circumstances (tablet notebooks, for instance and Wacom’s Cintiq line of displays), and this is largely a result of problems with software.  Sometimes it’s a lack of software, but generally it comes down to the fact that the software is just terrible.  Modern operating systems haven’t really been designed with touch capabilities in mind and so it’s up to the manufacturer to supply applications designed to take advantage of the touch functionality.  HP has really come through for users, here.  There are still some bugs in the software, and there aren’t hundreds of applications available for it, not yet.  Those will come, however, and it would serve HP well to release an API so that third party developers can get some help to grow the application library.  Vista at least has tablet features built in, and the touch display can take advantage those features.  Pictures and text alone can’t really do justice to how the software works, however, so we’ve set up a special page with several more videos that go a little more in-depth.

Keyboard and Mouse

HP actually put a fair amount of engineering into the keyboard and mouse that come with the TouchSmart line of computers.  To be honest, the mouse isn’t really much to write home about; it’s a wireless optical mouse with left and right buttons, and a scroll/click wheel.  Both peripherals take two ‘AA’ batteries, the charge of which is monitored by little icons that sit in the taskbar.  The keyboard, however, really shines.

As you can probably tell from the pictures, this keyboard is flat.  It’s one of the thinnest keyboards I have ever used outside of a laptop, and that’s clearly where they draw the inspiration for this one.  The keys are mounted with same double-hinge mechanism seen on most laptop keyboards, with a similarly small travel distance.  The keys are spread wide enough to allow for clear typing, and the laptop-esque construction allow you to type very fast.  In addition to the traditional keyboard keys, there is a small button in the upper left-hand corner that puts the machine in sleep mode and three buttons on the right for mute, volume down and volume up.  The only issue I have with the keyboard is that it would have been nice to have a couple of status LEDs for caps lock and low battery status, but those can impact battery life in general.

HP also included a remote control to use mainly with Vista’s media center; while it’s nicely designed and perfectly functional, it does suffer from button creep as do so many remotes these days.  Too many buttons can make something difficult to use effectively.  Sometimes, less really is more.

Performance and Benchmarks

The TouchSmart line of computers are not traditional desktops.  They’re not gaming machines; HP is really trying to change the paradigm of how people interact with their computers.  While it would be remiss for benchmarks not to be included in the review, keep in mind that they’re certainly not the focus of the TouchSmart series.

wPrime is a PC performance benchmarking program that forces the computer to perform recursive mathematical calculations.  This program is multithreaded, meaning we can take advantage of more than one core of a processor at a time, resulting in a more realistic estimate of a computer’s performance.

wPrime benchmark comparison results (lower numbers mean better performance):

Desktop wPrime 32M time
Lenovo ThinkStation S10 (Core 2 Extreme QX6850 @ 3GHz) 13.869s
Lenovo ThinkCentre M57 Eco (Core 2 Duo E8400 @ 3GHz) 25.879s
Gateway GT5670 (AMD Phenom 8400 @ 2.1GHz) 27.65s
HP Pavilion Slimeline s3500f (Athlon X2 5400 @ 2.8GHz) 29.733s
Dell Studio Hybrid (Core 2 Duo T8100 @ 2.10GHz) 35.582s
HP TouchSmart IQ506 (Core 2 Duo T5850 @ 2.16 GHz) 39.544s

PCMark05 overall system performance comparison results (higher scores mean better performance):

Desktop PCMark05 Score
Lenovo ThinkStation S10 (Core 2 Extreme QX6850 @ 3GHz) 9999 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkCentre M57 Eco (Core 2 Duo E8400 @ 3GHz) 5275 PCMarks
HP TouchSmart IQ506 (Core 2 Duo T5850 @ 2.16 GHz) 5189 PCMarks
Gateway GT5670 (AMD Phenom 8400 @ 2.1GHz) 4981 PCMarks
HP Pavilion Slimeline s3500f (Athlon X2 5400 @ 2.8GHz) 4593 PCMarks
Dell Studio Hybrid (Core 2 Duo T8100 @ 2.10GHz) 4305 PCMarks

3DMark06 overall gaming performance comparison results (higher scores mean better performance):

Desktop 3DMark06 Score
Lenovo ThinkStation S10 (Core 2 Extreme QX6850, NVIDIA FX4600) 10,327 3DMarks
HP TouchSmart IQ506 (Core 2 Duo T5850, NVIDIA 9300M GS) 1714 3DMarks
Dell Studio Hybrid (Core 2 Duo T8100, Intel X3100) 528 3DMarks
Gateway GT5670 (AMD Phenom 8400, NVIDIA 6150SE) 403 3DMarks
HP Pavilion Slimeline s3500f (Athlon X2 5400, NVIDIA 6150SE) 350 3DMarks
Lenovo ThinkCentre M57 Eco (Core 2 Duo E8400, Intel X3100) 240 3DMarks

HDTune Results:

While I don’t want to go too in-depth on the benchmark results, I will note that the hard drive is obviously faster than most desktops that use notebook components thanks to HP using a full-sized 3.5″ drive.  It would be interesting to see how something like Western Digital’s VelociRaptor would affect the TouchSmart.

Power Consumption, Heat and Noise

By and large the IQ506 is a quiet machine, though the fans do spin at maximum for a couple of seconds when first starting or when waking from sleep.  Even when pushing the computer, the fans never get loud enough to really be a distraction.  Similarly, the machine generally stays cool, with most regions registering in the seventies Fahrenheit.  The air that is expelled from the top, however, will get above 110 degrees Fahrenheit thanks to the heatsinks that cool the graphics card and CPU.

At idle, the TouchSmart used around 56 Watts of electricity, which isn’t so bad considering that it’s also driving a 22″ display.  While watching high-definition content, it consumed 68 Watts, and when really pushed, I could get it to use between 99 and 100 Watts of electricity.  The sleep mode used a significant amount more of electricity than I expected, but after speaking with HP, it looks as if there may have been some kind of bug at play.  We’re going to take a further look at the issue, and I’ll update this section when after we’ve had a chance to examine it a little more in depth.

Conclusion

HP has a really intriguing product on their hands.  In order to stand out from the rest of the desktop market, they’ve taken a line of computers in a whole new direction, and I think the gamble is paying off.  The touch experience is just so compelling that it’s hard not to get excited.  I let my very young niece paint around the touchscreen and she had a blast, making it a nice way of getting children comfortable around technology.  The question is whether HP can continue to innovate in the space, and I think they can, but they need to be aggressive with adding new features, especially when it comes to software.  As Apple likes to tout, software sells hardware, and with the right set of applications, HP could really have a hit on their hands.  As it is, the TouchSmart line is an appealing option; even mahjongg was made new again when you could just tap two tiles with your finger to make them disappear.  It would really shine, though, if HP encouraged users to write some applications designed with the TouchSmart in mind.  Then it could be more than just a computer with a touchscreen and closer to what HP wants it to be: a lifestyle device that anyone and everyone could use; the good news is that they’re almost there.

Pros

  • Outstanding display; 22″ touchscreen is a novel experience
  • Built-in TV tuners
  • Great speakers for an all-in-one device
  • TouchSmart software suite is functional and fun to use
  • One-button youtube webcam and video uploads

Cons

  • Optical drive difficult to see when sitting in front of the machine
  • Too many buttons on remote
  • Power brick is enormous



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