Pre-Built Desktop Buyer's Guide: Holiday 2011 Editionby Dustin Sklavos on November 30, 2011 12:00 AM EST
All-in-One: Toshiba DX735
We haven't seen any of Gateway or Sony's systems in house yet, but between the three all-in-ones we've tested so far, Toshiba's DX735 has been my favorite. Toshiba's touchscreen experience may be about as rudimentary as it gets, but the DX735 isn't about frills and doesn't suffer from the kinds of schizophrenic configurations and design decisions that the competing all-in-one systems have. It's also the least expensive of the lot and the display isn't horrible (which is more than we can say for the Dell Inspiron One we looked at).
A lot of the problem with the other systems is that they're weird chimeras of desktop processors and mobile graphics, making the whole user experience feel a bit top heavy. You're paying more for a CPU that is likely going to be underused, and the graphics still feel like second-class citizens; I appreciated the DX735 for being a capable internet appliance and not having the kinds of perplexing configurations the competing all-in-ones had (not to mention the fact that it doesn't cook the hard drive the way the Dell Inspiron One does). You can certainly find cheaper All-in-One offerings, but only if you're willing to compromise on other elements (e.g. the display, performance, and/or build quality).
Budget Desktop: AVADirect Desktop PC Fusion FM1
This is the one category where I'm not able to make a recommendation based on personal experience with the hardware itself. While I feel like Llano's utility on the desktop is at least somewhat questionable, at the bottom end of the market it feels like the best deal. AMD's concept of a "balanced system" has some flaws, but at its core it's a fundamentally sensible one. I've seen too many people get hamstrung by a weak IGP in a low-end system; in the end you're going to wind up having to spend more money if you ever decide you want to game on a Sandy Bridge or AM3/AM3+ system, but if you absolutely must save money now and don't want to have to invest later, Llano is the way to go.
So why go with AVADirect in this instance? Of the boutiques I've worked with, they're among the best reviewed, and with their Llano-based desktop you get a $500 starting price for a decent system and a strong 3-year warranty along with better, more personalized customer service than you're apt to get going with a major vendor like HP or Dell. While I'm not a fan of the bottom rung HEC power supply, you're at least guaranteed three years of value and it should be enough to handle whatever minor upgrades you may want to pop into the system down the line. I'd just go with the baseline configuration and maybe make a minor tweak here or there; 4GB of DDR3 is cheap enough to upgrade to and you should be good to go.
Recommended Configuration: Baseline plus 4GB Kingston HyperX DDR3-1600
Available from AVADirect at ~$500