Desktop Buyer’s Guide: Back to School 2009

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Cameras | DESKTOPS | Notebooks | Phones | Printers | Software

Ah, fall.  The leaves on the trees turn orange and red, the muggy summer nights transition to crisp autumn evenings and most importantly, school starts again.  For many, a new school year will mean a brand new computer. Wondering what to buy? Wander no more: whether you’re looking to spend $500 or $2500, we’ve got you covered. Check out our most recent look at what to buy for Back to School 2009.

Back to school

We’ve built a list of our most highly rated desktops in every price range, meaning there’s a system on this list for you. And as always, if you need additional help deciding on the perfect desktop, head on over to our discussion forums to post questions and get advice on choosing a system for yourself or someone else.

Under $600 | $600-$1000 | $1000-$1500 | Over $1500

arrow Under $600

Gateway SX2800-01

Gateway SX2800-01


Gateway has been playing a subtlety game ever since being acquired by Acer. They may not always have the same kind of big name brand recognition that Dell and HPhave, but it’s not for want of quality. Their recent summer desktop launch shows that Gateway still has a point to make and a product to show.
Apple Mac Mini

Apple Mac Mini


As the most affordable Mac ever, the Mac Mini may not be as powerful as its big brother, but it’s still got some very attractive features. Aside from being one of the most stylish on our list, the Mini offers outstanding power savings; it idles at only 15 watts. It uses what are essentially Macbook parts in a desktop to achieve its unique form factor; the Mac Mini is only 6.5 inches on a side. Paired with Apple’s Mac OS X operating system, and this little desktop’s a winner. If you’re interested in the Mac Mini, be sure to check out our upgrade guide!
Dell Studio Slim

Dell Studio Slim


Dell has made an effort in recent months to really turn around their product offerings with regards to style and design. No doubt due to the redoubling sales of Apple computers, computer manufacturers are finally making an effort to court the style-conscious consumer, and we should all be thankful. The Dell Studio Slim is a compact, thin desktop with aspirations of a home theater bent. With a quad core processor, hybrid TV tuner, 64-bit operating system and its sleek design, this system would be a great buy for any home office or dorm.

arrow $600-$1,000

HP Pavilion Elite e9120f

HP Pavilion Elite e9120f


HP recently refreshed their desktop lines, in order to better prepare for the upcoming fall buying season. The Pavilion Elite e9120f is another high tech desktop with a number of strong features. Paired with a fresh new design, this computer might be just the thing for your home office.
HP Pavilion Slimline s5160f

HP Pavilion Slimline s5160f


HP recently introduced this year’s fall line of desktops, trying to stake their claim in the oncoming rush of buyers caught between graduation and heading off to a new year of college. With a multitude of features packed into a small package, is the HP Pavilion Slimline s5160f headed for a dorm room near you?

arrow A Corps of Cores: How many do you need?

Cores

Now that manufacturers have decided that it isn’t just about speed, we’ve seen a rapid increase in multicore processors. Processors with more than one core are sometimes capable of doing many times the work of a computer that offers only one CPU. Depending on your needs, you can choose a computer suited for you, and that includes the right number of cores. At the low-end of computing, we have single-core processors. These computers are often low-power machines running on Intel’s Atom CPU. Sometimes, they’re called “nettops”. These nettops are good for surfing the internet, playing solitaire, sending email, and typing up a report or recipe. Anything more extravagant would probably run pretty slow. Next in line are dual-core computers. Most computers sold today have two cores. These are good for everything a single-core computer can do, plus things like simple photo editing, ripping music off of a CD, browsing the internet while burning a DVD and more. Often, dual-core processors will run faster than their quad-core counterparts, meaning that these two core chips can be great choices for a gaming PC when paired with a strong video card. There are a few triple-core computers out there; all of these run one of AMD’s tri-core processors. Intel and AMD both make quad-core CPUs used in millions of computers. Past two cores, the real reason to buy a multi-core chip is when you have software to take advantage of it. People who would benefit from three and four core computers are those who do heavy photo editing with big programs like Photoshop, users who like to edit big audio and video files, as well as those who enjoy content creation. When it comes down to it, if you need a quad-core computer, you probably know it, and if you don’t, then congratulations, you can save some cash!

Dell Studio One 19

Dell Studio One 19


Manufacturers have been expanding and improving on the idea of the desktop computer, and Dell has no plans to get left behind. The Studio One 19 is Dell’s newest take on the idea of the all-in-one computer, and it’s certainly memorable. As the cheapest multitouch-capable computer on the market, this one is a must-see.

arrow $1,000-$1,500

Lenovo IdeaCentre A600

Lenovo IdeaCentre A600


Much like Dell until recently, Lenovo hasn’t been known for being a forward thinking company in terms of aesthetic design. They did a couple of things well, and that was good enough; while the Thinkpads as a line might not always win a beauty contest, they have functional, conservative design that stands up heavy use. Lately, though, the OEM has been trying to reinvent some of their products to take a bite out of the consumer market, and the new all-in-one Lenovo IdeaCentre A600 is definitely a departure from the norm.
HP Pavilion Elite m9600t

HP Pavilion Elite m9600t


It took HP a while to update their desktop lines with HP’s newest CPUs, the staggeringly-quick Core i7 series. They may have taken their time, but the design makes up for it. With an elegant case, mobile charging bay and high specs, this could be just the computer you need to tear through processor-intensive applications and games.
HP TouchSmart IQ506

HP TouchSmart IQ506


HP’s TouchSmart line has seen a few months since their last update, but that doesn’t matter; the experience they offer is still second to none. A high-resolution, multitouch screen dominates the front of the sleek, gorgeous design, and the included wireless keyboard and mouse set are a joy to use. The TouchSmart’s real draw comes in the form of the customized user interface that sits on top of Windows Vista. These machines are a must-see.

arrow Over $1,500

HP xw4600

HP xw4600


Most consumers are familiar with HP’s laptops and desktops, but that isn’t where the story ends. They also supply businesses around the world with workstations, which are desktops intended to be used in high performance situations such as 3D rendering, heavy graphic design and more. The HP xw4600 Workstation is just such a beast.
Alienware Area-51 x58

Alienware Area-51 x58


Alienware is known throughout the tech community for their extravagant systems. While they’ve tried to tone it down in recent years, so as to appeal to a wider range of consumers, the boutique PC maker hasn’t let that stop them from continuing to create computers where no expense is spared. The Alienware Area-51 x58 is just such a system, and with a price tag of a few thousand dollars, you can bet that this isn’t just a boring grey box. If anything, the Area-51 is an experience.
Alienware Area-51 790i

Alienware Area-51 790i


Alienware has always had a reputation for catering to the enthusiast end of the PCmarket. They try to differentiate themselves from other computer manufacturers by offering high-end components and unique aesthetics — when you buy an Alienware desktop, you know it’s an Alienware desktop. With futuristic case designs, extravagant lighting systems and the omnipresent alien head logo, it’s hard to mistake it for anything else.

arrow Looking for more?

Moms, Dads, and Grads

Whether you’re shopping for your student or just looking to land a great deal, back to school season is a great time to check out what’s next in tech. Let the editors of the TechnologyGuide.com network help you pick the right camera, smartphone, printer, desktop, or notebook, with our Back to School Buyer’s Guide.

To see our top tech picks in all categories visit our main buyer’s guide page on TechnologyGuide.com.


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