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iBuyPower Back to School review: iBuyPower Back to School

iBuyPower Back to School

Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Rick Broida
4 min read
The student PC is no longer the button-down, no-frills, gray box of yesteryear. Witness iBuyPower's Back to School PC, which packs enough horsepower for schoolwork and study breaks alike into a snazzy, envy-inspiring silver tower. The Back to School PC may be an average performer, and certain components cry out for an upgrade, but for $899, this PC is a hard deal to pass up.
Price aside, image-conscious students will love the Back to School PC's see-through side panel, neon-lit interior, and space-age front bezel. However, style comes at the price of convenience. Bucking the near-ubiquitous trend of tool-free cases, this one requires you to remove two screws to get inside. Worse, although it's adorned with cool-looking LEDs, the hinged front door hides the power button, meaning you have to open the door just to turn the machine on. The door also constantly swings shut because of the wire that connects the LEDs to the motherboard, so unless you hold the door open, it subsequently blocks the CD tray.
If you're willing to overlook these annoying design flaws, you'll find the Back to School PC a solid study aid. iBuyPower stocks it with a 3.0EGHz Pentium 4 processor, 512MB of DDR SDRAM, an 80GB hard drive, a DVD/CD-RW combo drive, a 6-in-1 media reader, and an Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 graphics card. The latter is a weak link for game fans. It's powerful enough for a just barely acceptable 42.2 frames per second (fps) on our relatively forgiving 1,024x768 resolution Unreal Tournament 2003 test (60fps is the goal for ideal playability), so you can forget about playing games, new titles especially, at higher resolutions. iBuyPower offers more than a dozen video upgrade options, so it's easy to move up to a more powerful card at the time of purchase.
If you're a student, you should find the ViewSonic E90 19-inch monitor more than adequate for your needs. It delivers crisp, legible text (as long as you don't push past 1,024x768 resolution), consistent images, and sufficient overall color, making it equally well suited to word processing, games, and movies.
Sadly, the same can't be said for the iBuyPower Back to School PC's speakers, a no-brand, three-piece set that only the most accommodating listeners would call acceptable. You can upgrade to the Logitech Z-640 5.1 surround-sound system for $57--money well spent if, like most students, you want your PC to double as an entertainment center. The Microsoft ball mouse disappointed us, too, not least because, unlike its optical brethren, the ball is destined to gunk up with dorm-room detritus after a few months. Likewise, the keyboard is a stiff, generic model that feels about as cheap as they come. Unsurprisingly, iBuyPower offers upgrades for both items.
As for software, iBuyPower supplies only CyberLink PowerDVD 4.0 for watching movies and Ahead Software Nero 5.5 for CD authoring. The Back to School PC lacks antivirus software (a must for students, especially those heading to college), though you can add Norton AntiVirus for just $15. At the same time, consider adding Microsoft Works Suite 2004 ($69), as this system doesn't come with productivity software, either.
Based on the meager support features, it appears that this is one of the areas from which iBuyPower is able to pass savings on to customers. Like other iBuyPower systems we've reviewed, the Back to School PC comes with manuals for a few components but no setup or system documentation. Its warranty covers labor for three years but parts for just one, a fact not plainly stated on the company's Web site. Fortunately, iBuyPower now includes as standard what used to be a $39 option: onsite service and 24/7 phone support for the first year. When that expires, toll-free phone support is available only during business hours, Monday through Friday. At press time, the company's technical support site had been down for at least six weeks (it wasn't working when we reviewed the Gamer Extreme, either), so for all intents and purposes, no support is available online.
Application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating  
SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation rating  
SysMark 2004 office-productivity rating  

3D gaming performance (in fps)  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby-Antalus 1,024x768  

System configurations:
HP Compaq Business Desktop dc7100
Windows XP Professional; 3.2EGHz Intel P4; Intel 915G chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 128MB (shared) integrated Intel 915G; 80GB Seagate ST380013AS 7,200rpm Serial ATA
iBuyPower Back to School PC
Windows XP Home; 3.0EGHz Intel P4; Intel 865PE chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 128MB Nvidia GeForce FX 5200; 80GB Maxtor 6Y080L0 7,200rpm Serial ATA
IBM A50 Ultrasmall
Windows XP Professional; 3.0GHz Intel P4; Intel 865G; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 64MB (shared) integrated Intel 865G; 40GB WDC WD400BB-23FJA0 7,200rpm
MPC ClientPro 545
Windows XP Professional; 3.2GHz Intel P4; Intel 875P chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce FX 5700; two 120GB Seagate ST3120026AS 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Intel 82801ER SATA RAID controller
Systemax Ascent 64-A30
Windows XP Home; 2.0GHz AMD Athlon 64 3000+; VIA K8T800 chipset; 256MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; 64MB ATI Radeon 7000; 120GB Samsung SP1203N 7,200rpm