he allure of an all-in-one PC is one of plain, unbridled simplicity. Year upon year, desktop PCs grow in power and stature, but while it's easy to be wowed by their sheer bravado, few people actually require the cutting-edge performance that the latest hardware can muster.
MSI's Wind Top AE1900 comes as a breath of fresh air then, partnering a generously proportioned screen with slim, sleek design and an equally skinny price tag.
Sit the MSI on a desk and you can immediately see the appeal. Gloss white gleams alongside silver accents, with see-through plastic bordering the screen and reaching around to the slender stand at the rear. And at just 49mm deep, it can be squeezed into spaces that just wouldn't accommodate the average desktop PC.
The Wind Top AE1900 is one of the few PCs that can be stowed away in the corner of a cramped kitchen, or in a cluttered study, without swallowing acres of space in the process.
Perhaps the most striking thing about the MSI, though, is its broad, 18.5in glossy display. It isn't just large, it's also a resistive touchscreen, which means you can navigate Windows and launch applications with the prod of a finger.
Inevitably, image quality suffers as a result, with the touchscreen layer adding a tell-tale graininess, and contrast is mediocre. But it's perfectly acceptable for browsing the internet and tapping out the odd document, and its high brightness ensures it remains legible in the most sun-drenched of rooms.
Windows XP Home is the operating system of choice, and MSI has layered its own interface over the top of it to make operating the Wind Top by touch straightforward. Dubbed Wind Touch, it splits tasks into four main headings: Work, Fun, Tools and Web. Large icons make it simple to select the program you want.
And, at least for lighter pursuits, and in environments where mouse control isn't ideal - the kitchen, for instance - you can get by without using a mouse. Navigating websites such as the YouTube proves rather successful, allowing you to substitute mouse control for the intuitive dab of a digit.
As with most other touch-driven Windows PCs we've used, however, it soon becomes clear that, for the most part, you'll need to revert to using the mouse and keyboard. Alas, the wired MSI-branded peripherals supplied with the Wind Top fail to make up for this, with a cheap, plasticky feel that doesn't match the build quality of the rest of the system.
With that in mind, we were surprised that the system wasn't supplied with a different operating system.
In fact, if it had been shipped with Windows Vista Home Premium, notwithstanding the negative impact this would have had on performance, you'd have been entitled to a free upgrade to Windows 7 once it launches on October 22. And Windows 7, with its touchscreen enhancements, would surely make for a better partner to the Wind Top than the XP and Wind Touch combination.
At least the core hardware throws up no surprises - it's standard nettop fare. The processor is a low-powered Intel Atom 230, running at 1.6GHz, and with a single gigabyte of memory to work with it wasn't surprising to see the MSI stumble to a result of 0.36 in our application-based benchmarks. About what we'd expect of a machine of its type.
There's no solace to be found in the integrated Intel GMA 950 graphics either, which will struggle with even the most ancient of 3D games.
The rest of the specification does at least try to make amends, though, with a 160GB hard disk, integrated draft-n wireless for a nippy connection wherever you decide to place the machine, Gigabit Ethernet, a DVD writer, card reader and four USB ports scattered around the MSI's shapely rear and sides.
In the final reckoning, though, it's the MSI Wind Top's price that proves its undoing: it's simply too high. With full-blown all-in-ones such as the Dell Studio One 19 available for not much more, and the compact 15.6in Asus Eee Top 1602 nettop costing less, the AE1900 WT is caught between two stools and - despite its plus points - becomes impossible to recommend.