Holiday Guide: Our Picks for Best Gaming Desktop

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As the holidays come near, and more importantly, the end-of-year Steam sale approaches, it becomes harder and harder to pick out which PC you’ll need to play the games you love.

This one looks cooler! That one has an SSD RAID array. That one ships with 64GB of RAM! Does it have the right GPU?

We took a look at some of the systems we’ve handled over the past year and put together a list of some of our favorite gaming desktops that span the gamut, from affordable to extraordinary. Some have the best graphics cards out there and some don’t, though all welcome the end user tinkering around with upgrades and expansions.

Having a hard time picking out which one you want? Want to ask which desktop will play your game at the resolution you use? The knowledgeable users in our ‘What Desktop Should I Buy?‘ forum have your back, and will walk you through your next big purchase.

#1 Alienware x51

Alienware x51

Despite being the littlest Alienware that could, the X51 offers customers all the right design cues that mark a machine of the Alien persuasion. A silvery alien head marks the front of the machine, and it swivels to stay upright regardless of whether the machine is oriented horizontally or vertically. Clear plastic wedges on the sides let the multicolored AlienFX lighting system shine through, a popular feature of the Alienware lineup.

Going inside the machine, you’ll find there’s enough room for all the components present, and precious little else. Alienware managed to pack in a full-sized graphics card, which is impressive in a machine so small.

Moreover, Alienware promises that everything in the system, from the CPU to the RAM to the storage drives to the video card, everything is upgradeable by the end user. More importantly, Alienware also understands that the people who buy their machines are perhaps more likely to want to open them up than the typical PC user, and so performing these upgrades in no way voids the company’s warranty – unless you manage to do some serious damage.

Rating Average: 10 out of 10

Read the Alienware x51 Review

#2 Alienware Aurora R4

Alienware Aurora

Alienware takes our number two spot as well, though this time it isn’t for the slimmest gaming desktop, it’s for the Alienware Aurora. The Aurora is now Alienware’s only full-sized gaming desktop, but it doesn’t carry the full-sized starting price that it did when we reviewed it a while back.

Despite the more affordable price, Alienware didn’t cut back on some of the features that make an Alienware desktop an Alienware desktop. Like wall Alienware machines, the Aurora comes with the customizable AlienFX LED lighting system, industrial Alienware styling, optional liquid cooling systems, and factory-overclocked Intel Core i7 CPUs.

Unlike the x51, the Aurora can support any graphics card you could want, and add a second one, besides. This machine exemplifies a gaming desktop.

Rating Average: 8 out of 10

#3 HP HPE-h9 Phoenix

HP PhoenixFor the longest time, HP hasn’t much cared for the gamer and enthusiast segments of the market, refusing to stock or equip their Pavilion Elite line of desktops with the best and brightest of AMD’s or NVIDIA’s GPU lineup. That attitude slowly seems to be changing with the Phoenix desktop, which comes with sleek red case lighting and watercooled CPUs.

The HPE-h9 desktop, which HP is calling the ‘Phoenix’, is the most powerful desktop to hit their consumer lineup yet, and for good reason. Not only can you configure this system with some of Intel’s latest six-core ‘Extreme Edition’ CPUs, but you can also snag a reasonably good graphics card (finally).

While HP isn’t calling the Phoenix a gaming desktop, it’s pretty obvious which segment of the market they aim to go after – it comes with a Knight Rider-esque illuminated red strip on the front of the case, and aggressive red lighting on the inside that peeks out through the sheer venting holes on the unit’s right side.

Rating Average: 8 out of 10

Read more about the the HP HPE-h9 Phoenix

#4 Lenovo IdeaCentre K430

Lenovo IdeaCentre K430What? Seriously? A Lenovo on the top list of gaming desktops? Yeah, seriously. Lenovo recently become the world’s top PC maker, and for a very good reason – they make computers that appeal to lots of different people, and the IdeaCentre K430 represents another try to break into the enthusiast segment of the market.

The K430 might not have the same high-end graphics card as a few of our other options, but when the desktop starts at such a low price, you take what you can get. It comes with a customizable LED light at the bottom, offers a number of easily accessible ports, and even Blu-ray, if you need it.

Just as importantly, it looks pretty great. Lenovo is known for building awesome, industrial PCs, but the newer IdeaCentre all-in-ones and desktops show that they can make a really nice gaming machine, too.

Rating Average: 7 out of 10

Read more about the Lenovo IdeaCentre K430



If you’re looking for more out of your gaming desktop than some of the others on this page, the Maingear SHIFT might just be what you’re looking for. It takes everything that other manufacturers make, and turns them all to eleven.

You want overclocking? They’ve got it. Two or three GPUs? More? They’ve got that, too. Colors? All the good ones. Ports, inputs, hard drives, SSDs, boatloads of memory – up to 64GB! MAINGEAR has everything  you need to play the games you want in the way you want to play them.

Of course, you pay for that capability. These machines do not come cheap, with the CEO telling DesktopReview that a surprising percentage of these configurations ship at over $5000 – and they weigh 60 pounds a piece. But if you’re looking for one of the best systems that money can buy, the MAINGEAR SHIFT might be just what you need.

Rating Average: 8 out of 10

Read more about the MAINGEAR SHIFT


Back to DesktopRevoew Holiday Guide 2012

Want to know which desktops are tops in the minds of DesktopReview‘s readers?  Check out our Most Popular Desktops lists, based on traffic across our site!



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