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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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  • Iketh - Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - link

    You didn't read the first page did you? Reply
  • geofharries - Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - link

    If you're a Canadian, I really recommend shopping at <a href="http://www.ncix.com/">NCIX</a>. We've bought both fully customized and pre-built machines from them, and in all cases, get terrific customer service and buying assistance.

    In fact, if you go the custom PC route, just pick all of your desired parts and NCIX will follow up with recommendations or changes (if necessary) at no extra charge. Compared to the Dell, HP and Lenovo's of this world, NCIX, and others like it, are worth branching out to try something different.
    Reply
  • Tigashark - Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - link

    I just checked "War Factory" out of curiosity as I built a similar system today for a friend...

    I dropped all the parts onto their website... and a similarly configured system, including windows cost ~ $400-450 more when Compared the one i just built from newegg (at regular prices)

    Admittedly I went with the 880g because he isnt a hardcore gamer and the built in HD4250 is ample for browsing and video playback.. and went with a PhenomX6 1090t becuase he intends to do photo editing, so for the budget it fit perfectly.

    But still... for 400 more I easily could throw in a GF 570 and turn it into a well performing gaming system and still have some change left over AND totally outperform the WF system in every way, with better quality parts too...

    Not dissing that particular vendor... but also not seeing the value for a 35% markup over newegg pricing..

    Then again ive had people ask me if "this is a good prebuilt" for gaming and took one quick look and seen GF520 so... very much a case of buyer beware ...

    Shopping around pays off too..
    Reply
  • Penti - Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - link

    I have actually never really got why you would want a store/internetretailer built or boutique built machine built on retail components, it's not like they would give any sort of support that would be acceptable to ordinary home users. From a real systems vendor you can get better prices, less overhead and simply machines you can't build cheaper yourself, since they order their parts according to their specs from the contract manufacturers and ODM's. The only drawback is that it can be hard to get a machine configured properly for example for gaming. However when it comes to quality and formfactor you can hardly build a machine like HP's workstation lineup with z800, z600, z400 and z200. Chassis the boutique builders and other small system builders use don't compare. Reply
  • Scannall - Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - link

    A couple years ago now I was about to build a gaming rig. And right as I was getting ready to buy parts, I saw a really good sale on a Cyberpower PC that was just about identical to what I was going to build. And it was just over $200 LESS than buying the parts and building it myself. So, I went the pre-built route instead.

    When Ivy Bridge comes out I'll look at building a replacement. Maybe I will see another sale? Only time will tell.
    Reply
  • Penti - Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - link

    Alienware is btw a bit on it's way out just like Voodoo PC was thrown out of HP, you'd be better off just buying/getting a XPS line PC. Most of the time. The Auroraline seems pointless. On another note at least the MAINGEAR Shift looks better when it's built with a custom chassi which other small vendor systems don't use most of the time. All still have stock retail components though.

    For 1200 you get a whole gaming machine with SSD when you build yourself yet you recommend a Puget system that starts at above 1200 USD without a graphics card. When you get an XPS 8300 with 560Ti/6870 for 1200 for example. They are only not options when you need faster graphics cards. (Preinstalled any way). But you can get the Alienware Aurora or HP H8XT with a better graphics card like GTX 580 for about 1500 dollars for the HP and about 1800 for a Aurora with 2x6870, so I fail to see the value of the Pugets systems here. Your recommended configure for the Deluge A2 is 2200. Maybe you should take a look at systems like HP h8xt when it's prebuilt machines we are talking about anyway. I see no reason to promote Puget and AVADirect really any way. Btw for ~900 you can at least get a PC with GTX 550Ti graphics. Yet you recommend a machine for 800 with way worse. Sentinel as suggested costs 1000 USD.
    Reply
  • MrCrispy - Thursday, December 01, 2011 - link

    1. If you want a pc for normal usage, buy a Dell/HP. They go on sale all the time (Dell pretty much have a coupon always), there's the Factory Outlet etc. Just can't beat the price, esp if its refurb/used.

    2. For a more custom pc, pick Cyberpower/iBuypower, and pick your own parts. Both have an excellent selection and you pay maybe $50-$100 max premium over Newegg, which when you count the Windows license comes out to a wash. And these go on sale too. If you don't like something, you can always replace/fix/upgrade it since it is a custom build unlike the specialized cases/mobos used by option #1.
    Reply
  • Toughbook - Thursday, December 01, 2011 - link

    I was recently in the market for a desktop, having never actually built one myself, I really wanted to try it. Being self employed did not help with the time factor too well, so I ended up going into my local MicroCenter and got a Lenovo K330 for $649.00. I feel the specs are pretty darn good, but I can't seem to figure out what segment this would fall into. Any help out there?

    i5-2300K
    Nvidia GTX 520
    1TB 6Gbps HDD
    Intel 82579 Lan
    Wi-Fi
    USB 3.0 x2
    6GB Ram
    16N1 Card Reader

    I just can't seem to find a comparable unit at this price. I had an Intel 80Gb G2 SSD laying around that I wasn't using and made it the boot drive and geez this thing screams!
    Reply
  • piroroadkill - Thursday, December 01, 2011 - link

    A 2300K would be an interesting bargain if it existed. I had to double check, because I was certain only the 2500K and 2600K were unlocked in the SB line.

    And they are.
    Reply
  • LoneWolf15 - Saturday, December 03, 2011 - link

    I find that if you want solid, reliable, without being flashy, the Dell Vostro desktop line gets the job done. The 260 minitower can be had in no-frills configurations (sans monitor) for $300-400, the 460 for a bit more. Reply

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