The Avant Gaming All-in-One systems by AVADirect are, to put it mildly, weird.
The company sent me a decked out loaner to see what they were like in practice, and after spending a few weeks with the system I can both see the appeal while stating that the target audience is likely very, very small.
The Avant systems are gaming PCs built into a 34-inch curved WQHD monitor with a 21:9 aspect ratio and native resolution of 3440 by 1440. It’s easy to set up and get running; you screw the system into the heavy metal base, you connect a single power cable to the wall, and you’re done. There is no tower to connect to the monitor. You don’t have to juggle multiple cables. A USB webcam attaches to the top of the system, but it can be removed if you’d like to get that USB port back.
The hardware also comes with a wall mount for people who are more confident than I am about their wall mounting skills.
The power button is located on the bottom right of the system, along with two USB ports, a four-in-one card reader, an audio output and a microphone input on the rear of the system. The rest of the connections, including things like the HDMI port that would allow you to connect a head-mounted display or additional monitor, are located on the bottom of the screen, in a recessed cavity. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to connect things by feel, and the heavy all-in-one display can make in a bit tricky.
You can crack this thing open and go to town on upgrades, but be aware that even opening it is a bit of a pain
"It’s a sleek form factor; it’s compact and it’s an all-in-one," Travis Bortz, executive vice-president of AVADirect told Polygon. "It’s great for your college students, great for your dormitories, great for when space is of the essence."
It’s an interesting contradiction: You definitely save space by removing the need to have a separate tower as well as a monitor, but that monitor is both incredibly wide (great!) and surprisingly deep (eh). There’s no getting around that; it’s not like it’s possible to cram a competitive gaming PC with a modern GPU into something the size of an iMac, and AVADirect offers systems with some serious power behind them.
There’s also the selling point that this isn’t using super-custom parts. You can open the beast up to upgrade components or tweak your configuration ... in theory.
"Is it upgradeable? Yeah, sure," Bortz said. "As it relates to whether a consumer is capable of upgrading, it comes down to their knowledge base and how familiar they are with the hardware and how technical they are."
You access the components by popping off the the back plate, but doing so takes finding and removing 11 screws, some of which are a bit fiddly to get to. It’s not a huge problem, but this is not a system you’re going to want to open up every week if you want to poke around.
This is what it looks like when the back removed:
So I mean, yeah. You can work on it. But it won’t be easy, and everything is crammed pretty tightly into the case. Here’s another angle:
Yes, you can crack this thing open and go to town on upgrades, but be aware that even opening it is a bit of a pain. That being said, moving around the case in practice is much easier than the pictures would suggest; the cables are all bundled securely and can simply be shifted out of the way if you’d like to unseat the RAM or remove the CPU’s cooler.
"It comes down to knowledge base," Bortz explained. "You could probably upgrade it, but not every person would be able to." With a little bit of exploration and fiddling, I was actually pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to disconnect
The neat thing is that none of these components are specialized for this build. "Most all-in-one (AIO) computers use parts designed for laptops to achieve their compact share," the official website states. "The AVADirect 34" All-in-One uses full-powered components from desktop PCs so you won’t have to sacrifice performance with this appealing form factor." If you’re willing to put in the elbow grease needed to upgrade this thing, it’s very possible.
To get a sense of how subjective this sort of thing can be, I showed these pictures to my boss, and he was delighted at how little space the build uses and said it looked fun to work on. He is a bit over-zealous in his love of small cases, but he’s unlikely to be alone in loving the idea of full-sized components in such a small all-in-one.
Another interesting detail, shown below, is that the GPU connects to the "monitor" portion of the system via an external cable ... which is a bit long, so it loops around and covers the other two ports.
This is nice for cleanliness — there are no cables hanging down due to the L-shaped connector on both ends of the included HDMI cable — but it’s a pain in the butt if you’d like to use the monitor with other inputs. If you don’t mind a bit of dangle, you can easily replace the included cable with a standard HDMI cable as well.
OK, but what’s it like to use the damned thing?
The novelty of this system lies in its ability to take up the minimal amount of space while giving you a massive screen and a lot of gaming power if you’re willing to pay for a powerful GPU. You pay for that efficiency of space; systems start at $1,799.
The loaner system AVADirect sent me to test included a Skylake Intel Core i7-6700 CPU, an Nvidia Geforce GTC 1080 Founders Edition GPU and 16GB of RAM, which would run you $3,110 if you purchased it today.
It’s a beast, but pushing the newest games at a resolution of 3440 by 1440 takes a pretty significant amount of power. Running games like Doom at a 21:9 aspect ratio is also a whole new experience; being able to see things in your peripheral vision helps you to feel much more locked into the game’s experience. It’s a neat middle ground between a standard monitor and virtual reality.
There are also built-in speakers, and they sound as good as you'd expect speakers built into a computer case would sound. They're not bad, but if you're serious about sound, you'll want to invest in standalone speakers or at least a good headset. The system itself is a bit on the loud side, but it's nothing that will bother you once you're wearing a headset or using even moderately powered speakers. Those fans have to do a lot of work to make sure the densely packed components don't melt, even with a water-cooled CPU, and all that mechanical movement is taking place literally behind the screen.
The system itself is a bit thicker than it looks from the front, but it's impressively svelte, considering everything that's packed in.
You can also just buy a 21:9 monitor if you want to enjoy widescreen gaming, and you can cram components into a small case if you want to save room. This is a system that asks you to pay a premium to keep everything together, which leads to a few minor annoyances while in use. But it is cool, especially if you want something that can be set up or torn down quickly. You basically just have to plug it in and go. This would make for a hell of a LAN box, even though the system is a bit on the heavy side and can be awkward to carry.
The Avant Gaming All-in-One an interesting product, and I’m a bit curious about what people in the comments think of it. This is a great example of a gaming PC and monitor in a single piece of hardware, but I'm not sure if that's something people have ever asked for.