Engadget's back to school guide 2011: desktops

Welcome to Engadget's Back to School guide! We know that this time of year can be pretty annoying and stressful for everyone, so we're here to help out with the heartbreaking process of gadget buying for the school-aged crowd. Today, we're settling down with desktops -- and you can head to the Back to School hub to see the rest of the product guides as they're added throughout the month. Be sure to keep checking back -- at the end of the month we'll be giving away a ton of the gear featured in our guides -- and hit up the hub page right here!

Engadget's back to school guide 2011 desktops

Truth be told, if you only have the money to swing one computer, it should probably be a laptop. Better, we think, to have the option of relocating to the library when your hallmates launch an impromptu game of beer pong as you're trying to wrap up that 10-pager on Othello. And yet, we can still appreciate why some of you might want to kick it old-school and opt for a desktop instead. Maybe you're planning on using a netbook or tablet as your day computer, and can afford to leave a desktop parked in the dorm. Or perhaps you're a gamer, and have long since sworn off mobile GPUs. Whatever your reasons for bucking the trend, we found a selection of towers and all-in-ones aimed at game fanatics, power users and folks trying their darndest to save money and space. Oh, and you haven't forgotten about all of the other gear you need for the semester, have you? We're giving away $3,000 worth of stuff to 15 lucky readers, and you can enter to win simply by leaving a comment below. So what are you waiting for, folks? Follow us past the break and see what made the cut.

On the cheap

HP Pavilion Slimline S5


Though it measures half the size of a traditional tower, the Slimline s5 still manages to cram in up to 2TB of storage and 8GB of RAM, along with an optical drive, six USB ports, an optional TV tuner and, if you like, an AMD or NVIDIA discrete graphics card. And while that $329.99 starting price will get you a modest dual-core AMD E350 APU, a speedy 7,200RPM hard drive still comes standard. Need more oomph? Processor options go all the way up to a quad-core Core i7-2600S, with the lowest-end Sandy Bridge system starting at a reasonable $479.99. For the money, it also comes with a keyboard and mouse, though you'll have to bring your own monitor (as of this writing, HP is offering a promotional 30 percent discount on displays).

Key specs: Measures 15.9 x 12.2 x 4.4 inches, can be configured with up to 2TB of storage, 8GB of RAM, a quad-core Core i7 CPU, Blu-ray burner, TV tuner and an AMD or NVIDIA discrete graphics card.

Price: $329.99 and up on HP

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Mac Mini

If you're looking for a Mac, the Mini is your cheapest option. Although the price hasn't budged since last year, Apple recently gave its pint-size desktop a much-needed boost, adding Core i5 and i7 processors, optional AMD Radeon HD graphics and a Thunderbolt port. The Mini is compact, gorgeous and fast, and there's nothing quite like it in its price range. The catch: it forgoes an optical drive, so you best be ready to ditch DVDs, or at least spring for Apple's $79 SuperDrive.

Price: $568.95+ on Amazon


Gateway ZX One

One of the more compact touchscreen all-in-ones we've seen, the Gateway One ZX has a tilting 21.5-inch or 23-inch display, along with native finger-friendly apps for organizing your media. Even at the starting $600 price, it has a 500GB 7,200RPM hard drive and the standard 10 USB ports, though you'll have to spring for a higher-end model to get a Blu-ray player, 1TB of storage and a Core i3 CPU. Even then, prices peak at $1,000.

Price: $599.99+ from Best Buy


HP TouchSmart 610


The TouchSmart 610 is blessed with a stunning 23-inch 1080p display, and just happens to be coupled with our favorite suite of touch apps. Even if you think its swiveling touchscreen is a gimmick, the 610 is a solid performer in its own right. In our review, this beast blew us away with its brisk speeds, rich audio quality and handsome design. Just make sure you make enough room on your desk -- this monster eats up more space than other all-in-ones, largely thanks to that unique hinge that allows the display to lie at a nearly flat 60-degree angle.

Key specs: Can be configured with a quad-core Core i7 processor, discrete NVIDIA or AMD graphics, and up to 2TB of storage and 16GB of RAM. All models have four USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports, and HDMI-in.

Price: $899.99+ on HP

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Lenovo ThinkCentre 91z

Like ThinkPads? Then you're going to love the ThinkCentre 91z, a 21.5-inch all-in-one whose optional, spill-proof keyboard mimics the tactile buttons that helped put the company's laptops on the map. Though it starts at $699, you can trick it out with a quad-core Core i7 CPU, discrete AMD graphics and either a 1TB 7,200RPM hard drive or an 80GB SSD.

Price: $896.10 on Provantage


Toshiba DX1215

The 21.5-inch DX1210 is Toshiba's first all-in-one for the US market, and man, it isn't pulling any punches. Even at the lower end, you get a 1TB 7,200RPM hard drive, though for an extra hundred bucks you can step up to a quad-core Core i7 CPU. Either way, you get a 1080p touchscreen, HDMI-in, a TV tuner, four USB 2.0 ports and two of the 3.0 variety.

Price: $899+ on Toshiba

Money's no object

Apple iMac


Though it's gotten quite the makeover since the days of its fruity, see-through back covers, the iMac remains the most striking all-in-one on the market. Like the rest of Apple's lineup, the newest model is fashioned out of a single piece of aluminum -- a formula that's left many of its plastic-clad competitors looking chintzy by comparison. In our review, we were wowed by its speed -- courtesy of the 7,200RPM drive, discrete AMD graphics and Core i7 processor -- but the quad-core Core i5 offered at the low end promises robust performance as well. Apple is offering a choice in screen size, though with few exceptions the specs remain the same. All in all, the iMac is a beautiful piece of machinery and a strong performer, and we'd recommend it to anyone who can afford it -- with the exception of people with sizable Blu-ray collections. The only optical drive offered is a DVD burner.

Key specs: 21.5-inch (1080p) or 27-inch (2560 x 1440) display, quad-core Core i5 or i7 processor options, up to 1TB of storage and 8GB of RAM, AMD Radeon HD 6970M graphics, four USB 2.0 ports, Thunderbolt.

Price: $1,134+ on Amazon

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Alienware Aurora

Something tells us a good chunk of the college kids looking at desktops are gamers, and, well, it's hard to talk about gaming without mentioning Alienware. The brand's as renowned for its sky-high prices as its performance, so we'll spare you the $4,000 Aurora ALX and focus on the entry-level Aurora, which Dell recently refreshed. For starters, you'll get a quad-core Intel Core i5 processor and a 1TB 7,200RPM drive, though you can upgrade to various Core i7 options and a Blu-ray drive. Either way, it comes with dual NVIDIA GeForce GTS 450 graphics cards with 1.5GB of video memory apiece.

Price: $1,199+ on Dell


Gateway FX series

Listen up, because while the FX's red-accented design is a given, its specs differ for NVIDIA and AMD fans. If you opt for GeForce GT440 graphics, you'll get 4GB of RAM and 1TB of storage. Go with the AMD Radeon HD 6750 graphics and you'll end up with a larger 1.5TB drive and a whopping 8GB of RAM. Either way, the FX commands $999.99 without a monitor, and leaves you with a beastly quad-core 3.4GHz Core i7-2600 CPU to keep you afloat when you're not playing CoD: Black Ops.

Price: $939.99 on Amazon

Engadget's Back to School Giveaway
Official Rules
No Purchase Required to Enter or Win

Eligibility: Engadget's Back to School Giveaway (the "Giveaway") is open only to individuals who are legal residents of the fifty (50) United States (including the District of Columbia) and Canada (excluding Quebec) who are 18 years of age or older. Employees of Weblogs Inc. LLC, AOL Inc., their advertising or promotion agencies, those involved in the production, development, implementation or handling of Giveaways, any agents acting for, or on behalf of the above entities, their respective parent companies, officers, directors, subsidiaries, affiliates, licensees, service providers, prize suppliers any other person or entity associated with the Giveaways (collectively "Giveaway Entities") and/or the immediate family (spouse, parents, siblings and children) and household members (whether related or not) of each such employee, are not eligible. All U.S., federal, state and local and Canadian federal, provincial, and municipal laws and regulations apply. Void in Quebec, Puerto Rico and where prohibited by law.

Sponsor: The Giveaway is sponsored by Weblogs Inc. LLC, 770 Broadway, New York, NY 10003 ("Sponsor").

Agreement to Official Rules: Participation in the Giveaway constitutes entrant's full and unconditional agreement to and acceptance of these Official Rules and the decisions of the Sponsor, which are final and binding. Winning a prize is contingent upon fulfilling all requirements set forth herein.

Giveaway Period: The Giveaway begins at 12PM ET on August 2, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011 (the "Giveaway Period"). The Giveaway Period shall be divided into fifteen (15) separate Entry Periods:

Entry Period 1 begins at 12PM ET on August 2, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 2 begins at 12PM ET on August 2, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 3 begins at 12PM ET on August 3, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 4 begins at 12PM ET on August 5, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 5 begins at 12PM ET on August 8, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 6 begins at 12PM ET on August 10, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 7 begins at 12PM ET on August 12, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 8 begins at 12PM ET on August 15, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 9 begins at 12PM ET on August 17, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 10 begins at 12PM ET on August 19, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 11 begins at 12PM ET on August 22, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 12 begins at 12PM ET on August 24, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 13 begins at 12PM ET on August 26, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 14 begins at 12PM ET on August 29, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 15 begins at 12PM ET on August 31, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.

Entry: During the Giveaway Period, go to and add a comment to submit your entry. The use of any agencies or automated software to submit entries will void all entries submitted by that person.

Drawing: At the conclusion of the Giveaway Period, Sponsor will select the name of one (1) Grand Prize Winner from each of the fifteen (15) Entry Periods in a random drawing of all eligible entries received during each Entry Period. The odds of being selected as a potential winner depend on the number of eligible entries received during the applicable Entry Period. Potential Winners will be contacted via email and asked to provide their full name, age and mailing address within a specified time period. If a potential winner does not respond within the timeframe stated in the notification email, the Sponsor may select an alternate potential winner in his/her place at random from all entries received during the Entry Period. Non-winning entries from one Entry Period do not carry over into subsequent Entry Periods.

Requirements of the Potential Winners: Except where prohibited, the potential winners will be required to complete and return an affidavit of eligibility and liability/publicity release (the "Affidavit/Release") and IRS W-9 form within seven (7) days of being notified. If a potential winner fails to sign and return the Affidavit/Release and W-9 form within the required time period, an alternate entrant may be selected in his/her place in a random drawing of all entries received. Acceptance of a prize constitutes consent to use winner's name and likeness for editorial, advertising and publicity purposes without additional compensation, except where prohibited by law. In the event the potential winner of any prize is a Canadian resident, he/she will also be required to correctly answer a time-limited mathematical question to be administered by email, mail or phone to receive the prize. Limit one (1) prize per household.

Prizes: Fifteen (15) Grand Prize Winners will each receive a Back to School Prize Pack containing the following items: HP Pavilion dm1z laptop, Sony NEX-C3 digital camera, Samsung 7" Galaxy Tab, Motorola Photon 4G (Sprint) smartphone, Altec Lansing Octiv 650 speaker doc, Bowers & Wilkins C5 headphones, Nook E-reader, Timbuk2 Command Messenger bag, Elgato HDHomeRun TV tuner, Kingston Wi-Drive, 1-year Premium Spotify subscription, Scosche: goBAT II, iMainGo: X, G-Form 11" Extreme Sleeve, Canon X Mark I Mouse Lite, 1-year Premium Skype subscription, Sonic Bomb Alarm Clock, Red Swingline Stapler, Toddy Smart Cloth and Pogo Sketch. Approximate Retail Value of each Prize Pack is $3,151. Subscriptions are subject to issuer's terms and conditions. Activation fees and monthly service fees not included with any smartphone/digital devices. No cash or other substitution may be made, except by the Sponsor, who reserves the right to substitute a prize or portion of a prize with another prize of equal or greater value if the prize is not available for any reason as determined by the Sponsor in its sole discretion. Winners are responsible for any taxes and fees associated with receipt or use of a prize.

General Conditions: In the event that the operation, security, or administration of the Giveaway is impaired in any way for any reason, including, but not limited to fraud, virus, or other technical problem, the Sponsor may, in its sole discretion, either: (a) suspend the Giveaway to address the impairment and then resume the Giveaway in a manner that best conforms to the spirit of these Official Rules; or (b) award the prizes at random from among the eligible entries received up to the time of the impairment. The Sponsor reserves the right in its sole discretion to disqualify any individual it finds to be tampering with the entry process or the operation of the Giveaway or to be acting in violation of these Official Rules or in an unsportsmanlike or disruptive manner. Any attempt by any person to undermine the legitimate operation of the Giveaway may be a violation of criminal and civil law, and, should such an attempt be made, the Sponsor reserves the right to seek damages from any such person to the fullest extent permitted by law. The Sponsor's failure to enforce any term of these Official Rules shall not constitute a waiver of that provision. In case of a dispute as to the owner of an entry, entry will be deemed to have been submitted by the authorized account holder of the screen name from which the entry is made. The authorized account holder is defined as the natural person who is assigned to an e-mail address by an Internet access provider, online service provider, or other organization responsible for assigning e-mail addresses for the domain associated with the submitted e-mail address.

Release and Limitations of Liability: By participating in the Giveaway, entrants agree to release, defend indemnify and hold harmless the Giveaway Entities from and against any claim or cause of action, including without limitation, any third party claim, arising out of participation in the Giveaway or receipt, use or misuse of any prize, including, but not limited to: (a) unauthorized human intervention in the Giveaway; (b) technical errors related to computers, servers, providers, or telephone or network lines; (c) printing errors; (d) lost, late, postage-due, misdirected, or undeliverable mail; (e) errors in the administration of the Giveaway or the processing of entries; or (f) injury or damage to persons or property which may be caused, directly or indirectly, in whole or in part, from entrant's participation in the Giveaway or receipt, use or misuse of any prize. Entrant further agrees that in any cause of action, the Giveaway Entities' liability will be limited to the cost of entering and participating in the Giveaway, and in no event shall the Giveaway Entities be liable for attorney's fees. Entrant waives the right to claim any damages whatsoever, including, but not limited to, punitive, consequential, direct, or indirect damages.


Disputes: Except where prohibited, entrant agrees that any and all disputes, claims and causes of action arising out of, or connected with, the Giveaway or any prize awarded shall be resolved individually, without resort to any form of class action, and exclusively by the appropriate court located in the Commonwealth of Virginia. All issues and questions concerning the construction, validity, interpretation and enforceability of these Official Rules, entrant's rights and obligations, or the rights and obligations of the Sponsor in connection with the Giveaway, shall be governed by, and construed in accordance with, the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia, without giving effect to any choice of law or conflict of law rules (whether of the Commonwealth of Virginia or any other jurisdiction), which would cause the application of the laws of any jurisdiction other than the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Giveaway Results: To request the names of the winners, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to Engadget Back to School Giveaway Winners, Zach Honig, 770 Broadway, New York, NY 10003. Requests must be received by September 30, 2011.