Off-the-shelf desktop roundup

Reviews of 10 desktops on sale at Best Buy.

With the dire news about Circuit City this week, our roundup of off-the-shelf desktops seems even more apt. We put our hands on 10 mainstream PCs earlier this month, between a few different price and product categories. All are fixed configurations, which makes buying and reviewing them easier, as accounting for various configurable options falls to the wayside. We were also happily surprised to find 64-bit Vista in all but the two lowest-end systems. (sorry Mac fans, apparently Apple doesn't know how to make "junk." ) Of them all, we found four you'll want to check out first.

$400 to $500

Dell's Inspiron 530S slim tower desktop is on the more expensive end of the scale. CNET

Of the three systems in this price range, we liked Dell's $499 Inspiron 530s best. It's on the more expensive end of the scale, but it's also faster than PCs that cost $50 to $100 more. On top of its speed, we also liked its large 320GB hard drive. Unlike the eMachines and HP Compaq PCs (each $399), the Dell also includes 64-bit Vista, which, combined with its 4GB of RAM (the 32-bit PCs only have 3GB), will have a noticeable positive impact on multitasking and switching between applications. We hope to see wireless networking come to slim towers in this price range soon, but alas, this Dell does not include it.

eMachines ET1161-03

HP Compaq Presario SR5610F

Dell Inspiron I530S-114B

$500 to $648

Gateway's DX4720-03 was our favorite mid-priced budget desktop. CNET

Gateway's DX4720-03 earns our admiration in this category. For $509 it's the least expensive, and it also has the largest hard drive at 640GB. Its fast 2.5GHz Intel Dual Core E5200 processor will handle all but the most demanding games and digital media editing tasks, and you can even drag it into the living room and connect it to your television with its HDMI video output.

Acer Aspire AX3200-U3600A

Dell Inspiron 530-115B

Gateway DX 4720-03

HP Pavilion A6620f

$649 to $820

The Dell Studio MT is the strongest of these more expensive budget PCs. CNET

We didn't like the configurable version of the Dell Studio Desktop a few months ago, but this off-the-shelf Dell Studio MT outshines its competition easily. For $20 less than HP, Dell offers a faster processor, a larger hard drive (750GB to 640GB, and a dedicated graphics card, making it the only desktop in this entire roundup without an integrated 3D chip). This system is the fastest, best-equipped PC in the roundup, and as such earned our Editors' Choice award.

Asus Essentio

Dell Studio MT

HP Pavilion Elite m9402f

Slim towers

The Asus Essentio is our favorite budget-priced slim tower PC. CNET

Finally, among the 10 budget PCs in this roundup, three of them are slim tower desktops. It probably merits picking a favorite of these smaller PCs, too. eMachines also has a slim tower on shelves, and you can expect to see that review soon. Of the three we've covered so far, the Asus Essentio earned our admiration because it stuck with things that PCs do well: playing music, video, and photos either wirelessly across a network, or connected directly to one of several possible audio/video outputs. At the same time, it has no TV tuner, freeing you from both paying for and struggling with using this system as an ad hoc DVR device. The Essentio also includes a handy wireless keyboard with an embedded trackball, perfect for controlling this PC from your couch. Kudos to Asus for keeping it simple and smart.

Acer Aspire AX3200-U3600A

Asus Essentio

Dell Inspiron I530S-114B

 

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