If you haven't noticed, we've been providing a lot of holiday shopping advice for the computer geeks of the world this week. So far, we've covered most of the major components: motherboards, memory, graphics cards, displays, and power supplies and cases. We still have a few component guides remaining, but plenty of people would just as soon avoid dealing with the hassle and instead purchase a prebuilt system. There's nothing wrong with doing that, and in some cases you can actually get a reasonable system for less money than it would cost to build the same system on your own (although without some of the upgradability and/or quality). So that's the topic for this article.

One question some of you are inevitably asking is: why all these holiday shopping guides when Christmas is less than a week away? Should we have posted these earlier in the month? Certainly we won't dispute that earlier might have been better, but it's also important to remember that holiday shopping doesn't end with Christmas. Plenty of people will get cash and will be looking for a good deal after Christmas, and there's no reason why you can't try to return that ugly sweater to Wal-Mart and trade it in for a game or some computer hardware instead.

Keep in mind that all of the pricing we discuss in this article is at the time of writing, and around the holidays it's not unusual to see a ton of flux as sales come and go. Don't be afraid to shop around, as we can pretty much guarantee that someone is going to come out with a better price/performance system than some of our choices; it's the nature of the beast. And if you would just as soon put together a system yourself, don't worry -- we will have a guide tailored towards system builders in the near future.

Today, we are going to be looking at four different options: an entry-level system, a midrange system, a high-end system, and a small form factor system. We searched around at some of the major OEMs as well as the smaller system builders and have come up with a pared down list of candidates. We certainly aren't going to try and pretend that these are the only four system builders worth consulting, but instead we provide these as a baseline of what you might look for in the market and what you can expect to pay. Customer service, support, and system warranty are all factors to consider as well, so look at some of the company reviews available online before taking the plunge.

And with that out of the way, let's begin by looking at entry-level system.

Entry-Level
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  • quan111000 - Wednesday, March 17, 2010 - link


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  • strikeback03 - Monday, December 22, 2008 - link

    That you would bring up that systems are for sale at Newegg that state the recommended usage is Gaming, and have only GMA3100 for graphics. Reply
  • Dadofamunky - Saturday, December 20, 2008 - link

    I have! I think their config is overpriced, though. Reply
  • crimson117 - Friday, December 19, 2008 - link

    Why spend extra for a core i7 on a midrange machine? The CPU itself may be well priced at around $300, but there's no motherboard under $200 and the ram is pricier as well.

    For expandability in the future, it's one thing, but for price/performance today the core i7 platform is not worth the premium.
    Reply
  • 7Enigma - Tuesday, December 23, 2008 - link

    I think expandability in the future is key for this particular price segment. You're not at the point where someone drops $8k without thinking, and you're also not at the disposable PC price range either. So figuring that someone buying this is not comfortable building their own system (or they wouldn't be shopping for this in the first place) probably does not have the technical ability to replace a CPU in the future. Much more likely then would be the buyer to simply replace the GPU in a year or two and still have a fantastic gaming system.

    I mean does anyone honestly think the core i7 will be hampered (in games) in the next 2-3 years? GPU definitely, but the cpu I highly doubt it.

    Putting yourself in the mindset of what a typical buyer of this system wants (a prebuilt system with longevity of the main core componenets (mobo, cpu, etc.), while offering an easy upgrade path for the GPU when additional power is needed), it is a very wise decision.

    And actually for the system builder that doesn't want to rebuild every 12 months (I typically go 3-4 years between builds and am still on my Athlon64 3200+ and GeForce6800GT) I take the same methodology. I normally will splurge a bit on the cpu/mobo combo that is slightly above the $/performance sweet spot to hopefully have an extra year or two while doing 1-2 gpu upgrades during the life of the system.

    My biggest regret was my last system build. It was right as PCIe came out and the current mobo's were similar in price to those for the i7 cpu's. It was also the very early beginning of DDR2 ram. Actually it was almost a mirror image of right now (where the core2 and DDR2 are very inexpensive but the future looks dim). Instead of having a nice upgrade path to get one of the last 2 generations of GPU (which would have been an inexpensive upgrade path that would have kept me happy the last year or two), I've been stuck with the 6800GT because it's AGP (few newer cards had AGP, and they were overpriced for the performance increase). Along the same page 2-4gigs of DDR2 ram can now be had for $10-20 with some of the great sales/rebates out now. Guess how much an extra gig of DDR ram costs? More than the extra "performance" would justify for me.

    So I'm stuck wanting to build a new system but the writing is on the wall that I should go with the i7 and DDR3, but will have to shell out quite a bit more money up front, in the hopes that the decision was the smart one to make.
    Reply
  • aeternitas - Thursday, December 25, 2008 - link

    Some bizzar logic here.

    What did you expect to happen waiting until the beginning of a new architecture launch? Generally the MB will follow the CPU. You will get new MB designs incorporating new tech like PCIe about the time a major new CPU comes out. Common business. You will always see legacy but that is not the norm and is a grace period for people unwilling to upgrade old-ass hardware.

    News of i7 has been out for well over half a year. Where were you then? Still lugging away with your 6800GT? Come on. You only have you to blame here.

    You complain about how much $$ it all costs, when you're talking about skipping two whole generations of CPU die shrinks! Its like you're upgrading TWICE.

    The smart people that dont want to spend alot, buy the previous CPU gen right before a new gen. Thats where the biggest jump in price per dollar comes from when upgrading. Im on a Venice 3000+. If money matters to me and am low on it, im not going to jump to i7, im going to jump to a 45nm DuelCore2 and OC it like a bitch because they are cheap as hell on the lowend.

    C2D does not have a bleak future. It will last even longer than the AMD 64s in terms of before-next-upgrade. They are some of the best CPUs the industy has ever mad. Its a perfect time to build a system around them. Let the teh same people that tossed 1,500 at a CPU 2 years ago do the same again. I'll be at 90% of their performance for 110$
    Reply
  • JohnMD1022 - Friday, December 19, 2008 - link

    One has to realize that the On-site service is viewed by Dell as a VERY last resort.

    A friend's Dell had a bad hard drive. "Well", he said "Ive got a 2-year on-site service policy. They'll send someone out to fix it."

    My reply was a bit cynical. "Lotsa luck on that one." But I was wrong, for...

    Sure enough, they did... After seven months and several traumatic (for him) re-formats performed at Dell's urging via phone support.
    Reply
  • takumsawsherman - Friday, December 19, 2008 - link

    There are two aspects to Dell's support. If you bought the system as a "home user", they will think nothing of wasting hours of your time diagnosing with them. Even if you have already diagnosed the HD with a much more respected tool than their own, and have found not only lots of bad sectors, but lost files as a result. I have had customers with obviously bad hard drives told to reinstall from the Dell image, often without being told that this will destroy all data on the drive. Then, 2 weeks later, they are calling me because the problem is back.

    In contrast, even if you tell them you have a small business that you are buying the machine for, they will have you do about 5 minutes of grunt work before sending someone out or sending a part.

    They have acknowledged to me that their standards are different when dealing with consumers vs. business. But it is bad business to abuse customers with 4 hour phone calls, especially when I am calling in for a warranty part and they try to waste my time.

    Dell's problems cannot all be blamed on Vista. Most of their wounds are self-inflicted, after years of customer abuse have finally caught up with them. It is wrong to support them with further purchases.
    Reply
  • Matt Campbell - Friday, December 19, 2008 - link

    Everyone's experience is of course different, but I happen to have had one very recently that I was pleasantly surprised with. Just 3 weeks ago my father's V200 Slim had a BSOD and then failed to boot. I was cynical as well, the on-site guys usually take care of everything, but getting to that point means going through the customer service rep. and their massive "try this" spreadsheet. I decided to try Live Chat online, and it took 11 minutes from start to finish with an open ticket for a site visit. This was a Friday, and sure enough they called next Monday and showed up Tuesday with parts in-hand. I liked the Live Chat as well since it was pretty low-key and they can retain a record, in my own words, of the problem so there's nothing lost in translation.

    This can get lodged in the "for what its worth" pile, but I was surprised how easy it was.
    Reply
  • tacoburrito - Friday, December 19, 2008 - link

    You might want to double-check the ease of replacing Dell's weak PSU with a more powerful one. Dell uses a propietary motherboard with a propietary power connector that connects only to Dell's own PSU. Not sure about the Vostro model but that is the case for their XPS models. There are companies that manufacture Dell's motherboards-compatible PSUs, but the max. supply is about 450W. Reply

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