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Despite new gadgets, PC sales are strong

With all the excitement about iPhones, iPads, Android smartphones and other new devices, it’s easy to forget about the old standby personal computer. But despite the explosive growth of choices, PCs continue to do well in the marketplace.

Market research firm iSupply reported last week that the PC market hit “record growth” during the first quarter of 2010, with global sales up nearly 23 percent over the same quarter last year. Of course, one reason for the growth was weak sales in 2009 because of the economic downturn. Still, the good news is worth noting.

The strongest growth came in notebook PCs (26.5 percent), but even desktop sales reversed their previous decline and grew by 1 percent. As I was reading about the rise in PC sales, my doorbell rang with the delivery of a new Gateway One ZX Series all-in-one desktop PC that Gateway is lending me to evaluate.

I don’t particularly like struggling over setting up new PCs, but I was able to unbox and set up this one on my kitchen table in less than 10 minutes.

The first thing I noticed is that the power cord was the only wire in the box. The keyboard and mouse were wireless and there was no need for an Ethernet cord because it comes with 802.11n Wi-Fi. The hardest part of installing the machine was putting the batteries in the keyboard and mouse and connecting the small wireless adapter in one of the USB ports.

With that accomplished, I turned on the machine, logged

onto my Wi-Fi network and started streaming a Netflix movie that looked great on the 1080p HD display and sounded amazingly good on the built-in speakers. I then grabbed a Blue-ray disc and started watching Tom Hanks’ “Big,” which really did look big on the device’s 23-inch screen.

After watching part of the movie, I started experimenting with the software, including games, painting and writing applications that take advantage of the touch screen. While I think touch screens are great on tablets and smartphones, I’m still not sold on having one on a desktop PC. But I liked having access to both the touch screen and a mouse. One of my frustrations with Apple’s optional Bluetooth keyboard on the iPad is that I kept reaching for the nonexistent mouse to select menu items but was forced to use the touch screen. I like that Gateway gives you a choice.

When I was done experimenting, I launched the 60-day trial copy of Microsoft Office and started writing this review. My only complaint about using this Gateway as a word processor is that the screen is actually too big — a bit overwhelming at close range.

The 23-inch model I’m testing costs $1,120 and comes with a 2.93 GHz Intel processor, 4 gigabytes of memory, a 640 GB hard drive and a Blu-ray player/burner. Models with a 20-inch screen start at $720. All models support an optional TV tuner.

A few years ago I reviewed an early Hewlett-Packard all-in-one computer and remember liking the hardware but hating the way Windows XP performed. But those days are over. While it’s not perfect, Microsoft’s Windows 7 (which comes on this and virtually all new PCs), is far better, making it possible to work, play and be entertained via a PC with relatively few crashes or problems. Like all Windows machines, you need to run security software to protect against malware (the Gateway comes with a trial copy of Norton Internet Security).

Another change from a few years ago is that the processing power of modern mid- to-high-end computers more than compensates for any sluggishness in the software. In the past, I was reluctant to run Windows Media Center or other media players such as the CyberLink PowerCinema that come with this machine. But the Gateway’s 2.93 GHz Intel processor and standard 4 gigabytes of memory is more than adequate for the task.

With the exception of the relatively few people in the world who need the expandability of a traditional desktop PC, all-in-ones like this Gateway, Apple’s iMacs and Hewlett-Packard’s Presario, Pavillion and Touch Smart PCs make a lot of sense.

Their biggest competition isn’t other desktop PCs but notebooks, which are becoming the machine of choice now that they’re no longer priced at a premium. Notebook PCs have their place — especially for people who are always on the go — but for enjoying multimedia or the ability to spread out your work over a lot of screen real estate, desktops and all-in-ones can be a good choice.

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