While we at AnandTech recognize that a good portion of our readership prefers to roll their own as far as desktops go, not everyone is that way. Sometimes there are also situations where we'd be better off just recommending a pre-built desktop to family than damning ourselves to being tech support at all hours for the next few years. So whether you want to kick back for a change, send something to family or a friend, or whatever your reason for going with a pre-built system is, we have a recommendation for you this holiday season.

I hope you'll indulge me for a moment. Even working on this guide I can already see a lot of the comments that are going to pop up for it. The fact is, I'm at the point where I sometimes wish I'd been able to just recommend a desktop to family members rather than building one and shipping it, or building one and then having to move away, or whatever the case may be. So for those of you that are able to build a machine on your own, I've no doubt that you can build a lot of these cheaper/better than the manufacturer or boutique can, but that's not really the point. There are myriad situations where a pre-built system is going to be a better choice, so many corner cases that it's not realistic to just say, "Well I could build it or you should find a friend that can." Trust me, if you're of that inclination, this guide simply isn't for you. If you're interested in our DIY recommendations, our Holiday 2011 Budget Guide is already posted, and we'll be following up with midrange and high-end guides in the near future.

However, if you're looking for a good recommendation for a pre-built desktop for this holiday season, you've come to the right place. While recommending notebooks has been pretty easy for us, the notebook market isn't quite as fluid as desktops can be. It's easy to target one thing or another, but the desktop market can be very gray. How do you really define midrange? What's overkill for a high end system? How low do you go on a budget system before it just isn't worth buying anymore? Trying to even target a certain price point can be nigh impossible; all of these machines can be configured within a massive range of prices from the manufacturer or boutique.

I've broken down desktop solutions into six categories: All-in-One, Budget, Budget Gaming, Midrange, High End, and LAN Machine. There's bound to be some overlap, but with these I've tried very hard to only recommend systems or at least boutiques I've reviewed and have experience with, and made an effort to recommend what I think is the most sensible configuration. If you have any other recommendations, by all means, that's what the comments are here for. I've also elected against including an HTPC recommendation; this is something that feels a bit hazy sometimes as even a PlayStation 3 can oftentimes handle HTPC duties for less demanding users. While I've built my own HTPC, my needs there are fairly rudimentary and I'd be doing our HTPC and media streaming enthusiasts a disservice by making some kind of recommendation.

Now, with all that rigamarole out of the way, on with the show!

All-in-One and Budget Desktops
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  • just4U - Friday, December 2, 2011 - link

    While we all learn this lesson (earlier or later..) I still find it's better to build a system for family or friends. Most of mine last 5+ years and if they have a problem they send it to me. Why? Well, waiting waiting weeks to get it fixed for starters.. or having to take it into local shops where they will charge you 1-300+.placing you into the que.

    I put my foot down long ago and am firm with them. None ever blame me any more (even tho I know .. and likely some of you do as well..) that occasionally it's something we did or didn't do that caused the problem.

    I do however think we get the shaft on the OS. Microsoft should be offering better on OEM. We drive the industry as much as others do even if it's not on the same scale. Not that it matters though.. SInce we can't get into building little smart phones and are pretty much locked out of the lap top section we are a dieing breed.
  • Samoht - Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - link

    "even in their high end desktop machines, to say nothing of anything south of a large."
    Just out of curiosity, what does that mean? I have never heard that expression before, but then again I do not have english as a first language.
  • Draconian - Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - link

    South of a large = less than $1,000
  • Draconian - Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - link

    If you're going to go with a pre-built gaming desktop and you're on a budget, you gotta go with either Cyberpower or IBUYPOWER.

    Newegg was selling this PC for $459 this past weekend, even though the price jumped back up to $600.

    You can get a decent $700 gaming PC on Newegg, or get one pre-built from either company and get a 3 year warranty.
  • jigglywiggly - Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - link

    horrible list
    midrange 1200$?
    Are you guys out of your minds?

    I cud find a better prebuilt anywhere.
  • KoolAidMan1 - Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - link

    yu cud also lern 2 spel
  • bruf - Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - link

    Great idea and I agree with previous posts, for friends & family it's definitely the way to go especially when you have dozen of "clients". ;)

    I'd like to see a similar guide (with different budget/profile) for notebooks, especially in the crowded 500$ market. Is it something you've started working on or that we could expect in the next few weeks/months?
  • Lunyone - Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - link

    Your ideas of Budget & Midrange systems seem a bit too high! I would opt for a budget system at or about the $300-500 range, depending on needs and budget of coarse. Midrange should be around the $600-800 price range, but that is just my opinion.

    When building for most people (friends/family) I can't beat Dell, HP, Gateway, Acer, etc for the budget low end. If I could get Windows for about $20-30 (without using a student discount) than I could be close to their prices (if I don't charge for any of my work/time). This would be nice, but it isn't the case. The OEM's get the best pricing, so I can't/won't ever get to the really low end of the market.
  • Grandpa - Thursday, December 1, 2011 - link

    If you're not building a gaming system, why not use linux and save all that money.
  • piroroadkill - Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - link

    Buy an ex-business SFF desktop like an Optiplex. mostly well built, quiet, small, cheap, and plentiful.

    I got a core 2 duo optiplex sff for about $100 delivered. threw in some spare ddr2 I had, and installed windows 7. it came with a radeon x1300 with dual display capability even.

    this is still more than enough than most people need unless they game or are a power user. unbeatable ..

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