HotHardware 2016 Back-to-School Tech Shopping Guide

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Desktop PC Systems

Are you looking for a powerful but efficient computer for your dorm room or home office? Then a desktop PC may be in order. Desktop computers generally have faster processors, more storage capacity, and room for personalization and upgrades that mobile devices do not. Desktops are also the better option for hardcore gamers or technical/engineering and mathematics majors who need to frequently run complex programs and software tools. If you have been eyeing a new desktop, check out our options below.

Intel NUC Mini PC: Starting at $127.99 USD

If you are extremely limited on space in your dorm room or home office, the latest version of Intel’s NUC mini PC’s are a good option for you. The Core i3-6100U version comes with Intel’s HD 520 graphics, while the Core i5-6260U brings a bit more punch to the table with Iris Graphics 540. The latest Skylake generation also packs in Speed Shift  and native support for NVMe PCI Express Solid State Drives. If space is at a premium, as it often is the case with dorm rooms, definitely consider an Intel NUC. NUCs are generally barebones configurations, however. So be sure to consider options for components to complete the build, like Samsung's speed NVMe M.2 sticks and good SODIMM RAM. You are going to need a bit of education if you have not built a PC system before; so to get started check out this HH review with a video tour of a NUC build that Marco pulled together, to give you a sense of what you're working with. 

Intel Skylake NUC


Dell’s Alienware Alpha R2: Starting at $499 USD

Are you looking to game from the sofa or dorm room bed, but do not want to be tied down to a console? Look no further than Dell’s Alienware Alpha R2. This mini desktop can include potent combinations like a 6th Gen Intel Core i7-6700T processor, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960 w/ 4GB GDDR5, and 1 TB of storage. The Alpha R2 only weighs four pounds and therefore will not crush the rickety furniture that often accompanies dorm rooms. Dell’s Alienware Alpha R2 is a solid option if you want to LAN with your new college friends on the big screen.  

alienware alpha r2 angled2


Dell’s Alienware Aurora R5: Starting at $799


Dell’s Alienware Aurora R5 is small but is accompanied by uncompromising specs and lots of horsepower for its footprint. This desktop is larger than the above systems here, obviously, but is easily the most impressive. The Aurora we tested boasts a Intel Core i7-6700K CPU, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Founder's Edition 8GB GDDR5X graphics card, and 2TB of storage along with a snappy NVMe SSD for its OS drive. The price tag can be heftier than comparable desktops, but this one comes ready-made. Dell's Alienware Aurora R5 is an excellent machine for anyone who wants to jump into gaming and have a powerful desktop PC for heavier duty productivity and content creation workloads.

alienware aurora r5 rear three quarters psu open


Next, let's look at a few other odds and ends that can get you through a tough semester with proper work/life balance...

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