HotHardware's 2012 Back To School Shopping Guide

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Powerful Desktops

Maingear SHIFT Super Stock X79

One of Merriam-Webster's definitions for the word obscene is "so excessive as to be offensive." That sort of defines this beast of a machine. This is most certainly not the one to aim for if you're a college kid on a budget, but those willing to trade decent housing for a tried-and-true gaming rig need look no further. SHIFT desktops start at $1,849 for systems built around AMD's 990FX platform, $1,849 for Intel Z68 configurations, and $2,449 for Intel X79 setups. They're gorgeous, packed to the brim with cutting-edge components and have a great support team behind 'em.

If you need more convincing, we recently took a long, hard look at this machine in a review. What Maingear brings to the table is an impeccable attention to detail and a luxury buying experience. Think white glove treatment. For starters, all Maingear systems ship with zero bloatware and the wiring jobs are as clean as can be. How can you argue with that?

CyberPowerPC Zeus Thunder 2500 SE

Right smack dab in the middle of the Zeus family price ladder is the Zeus Thunder 2500 SE, a $1,899 rig that performed very well in our tests. Once we fired up the unit the first time, it was smooth sailing all the way through to the last benchmark. CyberPowerPC should be commended for achieving that level of stability, and for anyone worried about the long-term effects of that monster CPU overclock, the company offers a 3 years labor/1 year parts warranty to back up its work.

The company also did a great job selecting the NZXT Switch 810 case in our opinion, which offers attractive looks without the added expense of a heavily altered or full custom chassis, and actually contributes something to the system’s overall performance, as well. You could scarcely find a better price-for-performance ratio than $1,899 for the Zeus Thunder 2500 SE, although if you’re not in love with the price, CyberPowerPC has eight other Zeus Thunder gaming rigs available, starting at $1,125. Our review can be seen here.


With the Erebus GT, iBUYPOWER set out to make a slightly smaller and less expensive line of systems to complement its Erebus custom gaming series, which is now renamed the Erebus XL series. There are actually three Erebus GTs in the new line, with configurations based on the AMD FX platform starting as low as $899, but the one iBUYPOWER sent us to test is an Intel Sandy Bridge-based version that costs $2499. You can find our full review here.

The Erebus GT is an extremely powerful gaming system. It blasted through all of our standard benchmarks and, more importantly, rocked our gaming tests. iBUYPOWER clearly did a nice job of choosing components, as the SSD/HDD combo and Radeon 7970 graphics card showed their strength in the tests that pushed them. Even when pitted against systems far beyond its price range, the Erebus GT held its own, and you really can’t ask any more than that from a system. Similar (or better) performance for less cash? Yes, please.
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