Systems for Secret Santas
Alienware Aurora R5 - Find it at Dell.com starting at $799
Dell has done a great job amping up Alienware in the past year, even in the face of a declining PC market. It has three lines: the small form factor Alpha, the very high-end Area 51, and in the middle is the Auror line, although it's anything but middling. The Auror R5 is designed to power VR experiences (among other gaming and creative efforts). With our upgraded R5, we found it more than capable of high-end gaming and heavy duty workloads in content creation. The case design handled cooling well and it's really easy to service and upgrade. Our only real quibble was the lack of a transparent side panel so you can see all that tech muscle and well-planned industrial design. Read our review here.
Maingear Rush - Find it at Maingear starting at $1779
Maingear is a veteran boutique custom PC builder that has been around since 2002 and over the years has made quite a name for itself. The RUSH SuperStock that we reviewed has insides that look like something out of Star Trek but it's also the fastest PC we've ever tested thanks to a top-end Intel processor and three NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Ti cards in SLI mode. Maingear of course offers NVIDIA's GeForce 10 line now in systems as well. This machine uses top-flight liquid cooling and has one of the best internal setups we've ever seen. The attention to detail is astonishing. Of course that comes at a price of nearly $10,000, but if you recently won the lottery, the config we tested would make a great gift for yourself or favorite gamer. Base systems start at a much more attainable price point. Read our review here.
Alienware Alpha R2 - Buy it at Dell.com starting at $449
As we noted earlier, Alienware has the Alpha line of compact designs, and we do mean compact. The R2 looks like a sleek cable box but packs a Skylake processor and Nvidia GTX 960 GPU into its small form factor, along with 8GB of DDR4-2133 RAM and 1TB of storage. It allows for 1080p gaming and is upgradeable if you want even more horsepower, within its power limits. Even without an SSD it's a nimble small form factor system for tight spaces and where you might need a pleasing aesthetic that blends in with a living room scene. Read our review here.
Gigabyte Brix S - Buy it at Amazon starting at $249
Gigabyte's Brix is another example of Intel's NUC platform done right. In the space of a box that's smaller than most desktop PC power supplies, Gigabyte has managed to cram a Skylake-based Intel Core i5-6200U processor, dual DDR4 memory channels, built-in 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Gigabit Ethernet, an M.2 SSD slot, Thunderbolt connectivity, USB 3 and more. With the M.2 SSD and good RAM it's a performer at the price (around $550) and is everything the Mac Mini tried to be but no longer is since Apple abandoned it. Read our review here.