While no match for a fire-breathing game PC or workstation, the IQ506's specs give it the edge in value over the $1,300 TouchSmart IQ504. That model makes do with a 2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T5750 processor, a 320GB hard disk, and the Intel GM965 Express chipset's Graphics Media Accelerator X3100 integrated graphics, and lacks the TV tuner found in its upscale cousin.
You've noticed that, considering the HP's home-entertainment credentials, there's an obvious omission: Neither model offers a Blu-ray drive for playing HD movies, burning home-video discs, or competing with the small but growing number of Blu-ray home-theater PCs such as Sony's Vaio LV PC/TV.
While we were wrapping up this review, however, HP unveiled a super-deluxe TouchSmart IQ816, which offers a combo Blu-ray player and CD/DVD burner (not, alas, a Blu-ray writer); CPU and GPU upgrades; and a superior 25.5-inch, 1,920 by 1,200-pixel screen for a rather more daunting $2,100. Along with a tamer 25.5-incher priced at $1,900, the wall-mountable PC is slated to reach retailers on October 12, 2008.
Even if it's upstaged by next month's model, the IQ506's 22-inch display is admirable -- bright, sharp (1,680 by 1,050 resolution), and excellent with vivid colors and subtle skin tones alike. HP claims a rapid refresh time of 5 milliseconds.
You're more likely to leave the backlight brightness on full blast, TV-style, rather than adjust it as you do with a laptop, but the screen proved almost as readable at brightness level 1 as it did at level 10.
As with last year's IQ770, the TouchSmart's screen isn't built around a digitizer and special stylus as most Tablet PCs are. Instead, an invisible infrared grid detects a finger, capped pen, or any other pointer coming within a millimeter or so of the glass panel over the LCD. (It clicked like a Geiger counter when our fluffy-tailed cat took his usual walk between keyboard and monitor.)
Obviously, HP doesn't expect you to use the touch screen as your sole input device; there's a mouse, keyboard, and Windows Media Center remote control in the box. Even with practice, we judged the screen too clumsy for everyday mouse replacement, despite equivalents such as holding your finger against the screen for a moment to right-click or swiping with two fingers to scroll in the counterintuitive fashion of Windows Tablet PC Edition's "pen flicks."
The touch screen is OK for tapping most dialog-box buttons or Web-page links, and terrific with HP's provided TouchSmart programs (more on them in a sec) and the enlarged scrolling-and-selecting interface of Windows Media Center. Trying to pick menu items or small icons in regular Windows applications, however, will leave you wishing you had smaller fingers or longer nails.
The HP's power button is located on its right side, along with the DVD±RW drive, audio controls, a FireWire port, and a slot for SD/MMC/xD/MS memory cards. At the left, you'll find two USB 2.0 ports, line-in and headphone jacks, and a switch for a lamp on the TouchSmart's underside that dimly illuminates the keyboard in a dark room.
Removing a rear panel reveals three more USB ports (a sixth, on the bottom edge, holds the preinstalled 2.4GHz keyboard and mouse receiver), along with Ethernet, SPDIF digital audio, and analog line-in and line-out audio ports.
S-Video and coaxial cable connectors serve the TV tuner, which uses Windows Media Center for viewing and recording shows and perusing a program guide. Like most PC tuners these days, it can connect to a cable box but is limited to free over-the-air (antenna instead of cable) HD programming, which ranges from a good choice of local stations to a trackless void depending on where you live.
Benchmark-wise, the TouchSmart rates a 4.0 on Vista's 5.9-point Windows Experience scale, Aero desktop graphics being the low point with CPU and hard disk ratings of 5.0 and 5.9, respectively. Subjectively, the IQ506 feels fast enough for anything short of serious gaming, launching programs promptly and performing operations with no waiting.
It crashed in 3DMark Vantage's Performance-level benchmark but posted an Entry-level score of E2218, and rendered Cinebench R10's sample scene in 3 minutes and 17 seconds with both CPU cores on the case. A tough DirectX 9 game simulator, Gun Metal 2, ran at 23 frames per second at 1,280 by 1,024 resolution with 4X antialiasing.