Pre-Built Desktop Buyer's Guide: Holiday 2011 Editionby Dustin Sklavos on November 30, 2011 12:00 AM EST
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!