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Back-to-school 2009 retail desktop wrap-up

What we learned from this year's batch of back-to-school desktops

We still have a few laptop reviews to knock out, but the desktop portion of our back-to-school retail PC roundup was completed as of yesterday. Our overall winner is the Gateway SX2800-01, an overachieving, quad-core slim tower you can find for less than $500.

Need a back-to-school desktop? Meet the Gateway SX2800-01. CNET/Sarah Tew

On the higher-end, Asus comes out ahead with strong bang-for-the-buck on both its $750 and its $1,200 PCs, but we're hesitant to award the category to either system because of questions about Asus' customer service. We need to see, if not 24-7 phone support, at least some after hours and weekend availability before we're willing to give our full endorsement. Asus' online support needs help, too. At the moment, you can't find its Essentio retail desktop brand mentioned anywhere on Asus' Web site, including via its own search tool.

Before we get back to our regularly scheduled review programming, we thought we'd present some of the more general findings from our retail desktop overview, in the time-honored, eternally ripped-off style of the Atlantic.

Features

  • Desktops in our back-to-school round-up: 13
  • Desktops with 64-bit Windows Vista Home Premium: 13
  • Desktops eligible for free Windows 7 upgrade:13
  • Intel CPUs: 9
  • AMD CPUs: 4
  • Quad core CPUs: 8 (Intel: 5, AMD: 3)
  • Discrete 3D cards: 6
  • Active HDMI ports: 6
  • Integrated HDMI ports overridden by a 3D card with no HDMI port: 1 (Asus, pick up your prize)
  • Wi-Fi adapters: 6
  • Blu-ray drives: 1 (this HP)
  • Second PCI Express graphics card slots: 0

Performance and power

  • Fastest desktop: Asus Essentio CG5290-BP007
  • Highest price tag: Asus Essentio CG5290-BP007 ($1,200)
  • Highest annual power cost: Asus Essentio CG5290-BP007 ($52.90/year)
  • Slowest: Dell Inspiron 537s
  • Least expensive: HP Pavilion Slimline s5120y ($450, also second slowest)
  • Lowest annual power cost: Dell Inspiron 537s ($20.56/year)
  • Lowest annual power cost with highest performance: Gateway SX2800-01 ($21.66/year)

As we said in the beginning, this roundup is far from an exhaustive list of back-to-school desktops. We have no all-in-one PCs, no Nettops, no desktops under $450, no iMacs or Mac Minis, and no online-only vendors. Instead, we tried to capture all of the PCs we hadn't reviewed yet that we know will be available at retailers nationwide. If, during the course of your shopping, you see a system we haven't reviewed, let us know and we'll see if we can get our hands on it.