Introduction

While we at AnandTech recognize that a good portion of our readership prefers to roll their own as far as desktops go, not everyone is that way. Sometimes there are also situations where we'd be better off just recommending a pre-built desktop to family than damning ourselves to being tech support at all hours for the next few years. So whether you want to kick back for a change, send something to family or a friend, or whatever your reason for going with a pre-built system is, we have a recommendation for you this holiday season.

I hope you'll indulge me for a moment. Even working on this guide I can already see a lot of the comments that are going to pop up for it. The fact is, I'm at the point where I sometimes wish I'd been able to just recommend a desktop to family members rather than building one and shipping it, or building one and then having to move away, or whatever the case may be. So for those of you that are able to build a machine on your own, I've no doubt that you can build a lot of these cheaper/better than the manufacturer or boutique can, but that's not really the point. There are myriad situations where a pre-built system is going to be a better choice, so many corner cases that it's not realistic to just say, "Well I could build it or you should find a friend that can." Trust me, if you're of that inclination, this guide simply isn't for you. If you're interested in our DIY recommendations, our Holiday 2011 Budget Guide is already posted, and we'll be following up with midrange and high-end guides in the near future.

However, if you're looking for a good recommendation for a pre-built desktop for this holiday season, you've come to the right place. While recommending notebooks has been pretty easy for us, the notebook market isn't quite as fluid as desktops can be. It's easy to target one thing or another, but the desktop market can be very gray. How do you really define midrange? What's overkill for a high end system? How low do you go on a budget system before it just isn't worth buying anymore? Trying to even target a certain price point can be nigh impossible; all of these machines can be configured within a massive range of prices from the manufacturer or boutique.

I've broken down desktop solutions into six categories: All-in-One, Budget, Budget Gaming, Midrange, High End, and LAN Machine. There's bound to be some overlap, but with these I've tried very hard to only recommend systems or at least boutiques I've reviewed and have experience with, and made an effort to recommend what I think is the most sensible configuration. If you have any other recommendations, by all means, that's what the comments are here for. I've also elected against including an HTPC recommendation; this is something that feels a bit hazy sometimes as even a PlayStation 3 can oftentimes handle HTPC duties for less demanding users. While I've built my own HTPC, my needs there are fairly rudimentary and I'd be doing our HTPC and media streaming enthusiasts a disservice by making some kind of recommendation.

Now, with all that rigamarole out of the way, on with the show!

All-in-One and Budget Desktops
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  • tomek1984 - Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - link

    "Sometimes there are also situations where we'd be better off just recommending a pre-built desktop to family than damning ourselves to being tech support at all hours for the next few years"

    I gave up recommending/building custom computers for my family/friends long time ago, it doesn't get me laid if it works well but if doesn't I become 24/7 support tech. Average user doesn't need latest and greatest hardware, because they simply don't know how to take advantage of it any way. So even though i don't believe it myself when I get a question "where should i buy a new computer", i just tell them Bestbuy or Wallmart, it saves me a lot of headache later on
    Reply
  • Iketh - Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - link

    I'd rather see a laptop buyer's guide. That's what I recommend the average user buy nowadays (and they prefer it anyway). Reply
  • superccs - Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - link

    You can substitute the 3Gbs drive for the 6Gbs drive and save enough to get the 4gb memory upgrade and a Hyper212 HSF at no added cost.

    No bulldozer systems? : / Such a shame. Global foundries conspiracy.
    Reply
  • piroroadkill - Thursday, December 01, 2011 - link

    Of course there are no Bulldozer systems. These are supposed to be systems someone might actually want to buy. Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, December 01, 2011 - link

    Zing! Reply
  • AmishPcFreak - Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - link

    So my 19 year old unemployed brother-in-law needed a new system (he had asked me to build one for him previously and I deferred graciously) and this past weekend I helped him get this system from Office Depot on black Friday:

    HP Pavilion p7-1108p Desktop Computer With AMD A4-3400 Dual-Core, 6GB Ram, 1 Terabyte HD, Windows 7 64 bit--- no monitor, total cost $380

    It was using integrated graphics of course, but it has a PCI express slot and I donated an old 8800GTS card I had lying around gathering dust.

    Whammo! Once the card was installed he was cruising at super fast speeds playing his steam games like a fool.

    Told him 'get a job' and left the room. Hope that keeps him covered for a while and the GTS holds out.
    Reply
  • aylafan - Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - link

    Did you wait in line on Black Friday to buy this? Costco/Sam's Warehouse is selling the HP Pavilion - AMD A6 Processor Quad-Core, 6GB Ram, 750-1Terabyte HD, Windows 7 64 bit for $399. If you wanted a 22 inch widescreen monitor with it then it is an extra $100. Maybe, the price is exclusively in my area, but it's extremely cheap. Reply
  • johnnype - Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - link

    Thanks for this article. I'd love to build my own system but real life makes such a task inconvenient to say the least. In fact real life is all but forcing me to forget gaming on a desktop and go with a laptop instead even though I promised I'd never do it again after the last XPS I bought many moons ago.

    So, any advice on a good sub $1500 gaming laptop? I'm about to pull the trigger on a Cyberpower X6-9300 and up the RAM to 8GB for a total cost of $1388 but I'll pass if you think it's a bad idea. Thoughts?
    Reply
  • frozentundra123456 - Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - link

    I am happy that someone addressed the fact pre-built systems do have their place. I would, however, agree that the prices are pretty high for the categories he selected.

    Also, for low end prebuilt systems, I think most people would be satisfied with a Dell or HP from Best Buy another B/M retailer. Even Costco has a nice selection of PCs and I believe they extend the warranty for another year. Personally, unless I was buying a gaming PC, I would rather look for a good sale at a local store and not have to deal with shipping, especially if a return or repair is needed.

    I also thought that a table or chart would have been nice summarizing the components for each system (CPU, ram, graphics, HDD) rather than having to go to the manufacturer's site to look up the detailed configuration. I also was confused if the price he listed for each configuration included a monitor, and if so what size and kind.
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - link

    Not sure how the Euro-Dollar conversion works out at the moment (usually 1:1 in the past), but I built my brother a PC at the beginning of this year that was kinda high-end (X6 1090, HD6950, 8GB, pretty much silent). He is playing BF3 on high @1080 easily. That worked out to be 900€. And yes, that is with a case, PSU, ODD, HDD etc. as well, not just upgrade of the CPU/GPU.
    Anything above that component list (replace the AMD CPU with an Intel 2500k if you want or the HD6950 with a GTX570), I consider in the territory of enthusiasts who either need to drive a 27"/30" panel or do professional work on the PC.

    So, saying 1k$ (or even 1.2k$) is anywhere near the realm of midrange, is hard to believe.

    And on that Pudget system, does it even have a dedicated GPU? Buying quality is fine, but that's just a rip off.
    Reply

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