Holiday Gift Guide 2010: Desktop computers

Holiday Gift Guide 2010: Desktop computers

Summary: Much of the world may be going mobile, but the desktop PC is still going strong. The reason is simple: A desktop still gives you a lot more per dollar. Here are holiday picks that cost $1,000 or less.

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TOPICS: Hardware, Processors
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2010 ZDNet Holiday Gift Guide

Much of the world may be going mobile, but the desktop PC is still going strong. The reason is simple: A desktop still gives you a lot more per dollar.

Features such as quad-core processors, 6- or 8GB of memory, discrete graphics and Blu-ray drives—all rarities in laptops other than pricey desktop replacements—can be easily found in desktops that cost $1,000 or less.

Like laptops, desktops come in all shapes and sizes. So-called small form-factor desktops take up less space in a home office, but they can also be used as home theater PCs in a living room. Nearly all major computer makers now offer clutter-free all-in-one PCs—including several models with touchscreens—but Apple’s iMac remains the one to beat in this growing category.

The Mini Tower, which no longer looks so mini, is still a great choice for a performance or gaming PC because it offers lots of features and makes it easy to expand the memory, upgrade a graphics card or add new drives.

Whichever type you chose, you’ll be surprised at just how far your desktop dollar will go this holiday season.

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2010 ZDNet Holiday Gift Guide

Apple iMac The latest iMac looks exactly the same from the outside. It has the same iconic aluminum shell, a glossy LED backlit display and the same ports (with a minor update to the SD card slot to support higher-capacity cards).

But inside it’s a different story as Apple has upgraded the CPU, memory and graphics, resulting in on the fastest all-in-ones available. The 21.5-inch version starts at $1,199 with a 1920x1080 resolution display, 3.06GHz Intel Core i3 dual-core processor, 4GB of memory, Radeon HD 4670 graphics with 256MB, a 500GB hard drive, and a slot-loading SuperDrive.

The $1,499 configuration has faster graphics and a 1TB hard drive. Its big brother is still the only all-in-one with a 27-inch display featuring a resolution of 2,560x1,440 pixels; Windows-based all-in-ones top out at 24 inches. The 27-inch iMac starts at $1,699 with a 3.20GHz Intel Core i3, 4GB of memory, Radeon HD 5670 graphics with 512MB, a 1TB drive and slot-loading SuperDrive.

As with the 21.5-inch, that configuration delivers very good performance, but Apple also offers a $1,999 version with a quad-core processor (the 2.8GHz Core i5) and Radeon HD 5750 graphics with 1GB. All of the iMacs also come with an Apple Wireless Keyboard and Magic Mouse, Mac OS X 10.6.2 Snow Leopard and the recently-announced iLife 11 suite.

Other computer makers continue to evolve their all-in-one designs—with some good results—but they are still no match for the iMac.

[read review][check prices]

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2010 ZDNet Holiday Gift Guide

Gateway SX series Gateway’s SX series is equal parts small form-factor desktop, budget desktop, and with the latest version home-theater PC. Whatever you choose to do with it, the SX series is a great little desktop.

The SX is a mini-tower that is less than four inches and sits 10.5 inches tall. There are numerous configurations to choose from ranging from $500 to $600 with both Intel and AMD processors. CNET recently tested a $550 configuration, the SX2850-33, with a 3.2GHz Core i3-550 dual-core processor, 4GB of memory, 640GB hard drive, DVD SuperMulti drive and 802.11b/g/n wireless.

The integrated WiFi is a nice touch because it makes it easier to use the SX series in a living room without having to install an Ethernet jack or purchase a separate USB adapter. The other features depend on the configuration you choose, but Gateway offers configurations with 5.1-channel audio, HDMI, IEEE 1394 FireWire, eSATA, and of course USB 2.0 and VGA out.

Best of all, the Gateway SX series performs like a much bigger desktop.

[read review][check prices]

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2010 ZDNet Holiday Gift Guide

HP Pavilion p6500 series The basic design of HP’s mainstream Pavilion desktop remain unchanged, though some Magnesium Edition configurations now come with a metallic gray case.

The Pavilion p6500 series comes in either Intel- or AMD-based versions with a wide range of models and configurations. As a result, this mainstream system really spans several categories from budget configs with under-powered AMD Sempron and Intel Celeron processors starting around $300 all the way up to models with Intel Core i7 quad-core processors and discrete graphics that cost more than $1,000.

In between are some nice mainstream configurations. For example, the p6640f Magnesium Edition is currently $700 with an AMD Phenom II 925 quad-core processor, 8GB of memory, Radeon HD 4200 integrated graphics, a 1TB hard drive, SuperMulti DVD Burner with LightScribe and 802.11b/g/n wireless.

For the same price, you can pick up the p6680t with a 3.2GHz Intel Core i5-650 dual-core processor, 6GB of memory, Radeon HD 5450 discrete graphics with 512MB, 640GB hard drive, and SuperMulti DVD burner.

Of these two, I would recommend the Intel-based system with discrete graphics for most mainstream users, but either way you’ll be getting a very solid desktop for $700.

[read review][check prices]

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2010 ZDNet Holiday Gift Guide

Gateway FX series Gateway’s top-of-the-line FX series is making a repeat appearance on our annual Holiday Gift Guide thanks to its blend of awesome hardware at a nice price. In a crowded retail market, Gateway has chosen to offer lots of memory, discrete graphics and beefy power supplies as a way to stand out from the crowd.

There are several FX configuration to choose from, but the Gateway FX6803-35, one of the newer configurations, is a good example. This $1,500 configuration includes a 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-930 processor, 9GB of memory, Radeon HD 5850 discrete graphics with 1GB, a 1.5TB hard drive and a Blu-ray drive.

You can easily build more powerful gaming PC by working with a boutique vendor such as Falcon Northwest, Maingear or Velocity Micro, but these systems can easily cost hundreds or even thousands more. And let’s face it, if you are looking for a $4,000 gaming rig, you don’t need a Holiday Gift Guide to help out.

Back here in the real world, the Gateway X series pack plenty of power for even the most demanding games at very competitive prices.

[read review][check prices]

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Topics: Hardware, Processors

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