HotHardware's 2015 Back To School Tech Gear Shopping Guide

Systems / Desktops

Intel NUC5i5RYK Broadwell-U Mini-PC: Starting at $399

Intel recently released its latest generation of NUC small form factor systems, based on the company’s low-power Broadwell-U series processors. The primary advantages of Intel’s 5th Generation Core Series Broadwell-U-based processors are better performance-per-watt, stronger integrated graphics, and a smaller footprint, all things that are perfectly suited to the NUC (Next Unit of Computing) products. The NUC5i5RYK’s specifications read like a cutting-edge mobile PC. There’s a 5th-gen CPU inside the box, support for dual-channel memory, M.2 SSDs, 802.1ac and Gigabit networking, USB 3.0, and various other connectivity options, including Bluetooth.

The Intel NUC5i5RYK didn’t light up the benchmarks, but when loaded up with 8GB of RAM and a fast SSD, overall performance is still quite good. With its low-power dual-core processor and on-die HD 6000-series graphics engine, the NUC5i5RYK won’t offer the same kind of performance as systems equipped with higher-powered processors or graphics cards, but for common computing tasks, it should appease most users looking for a mainstream PC, whether it be for desktop use or something more specialized like an HTPC.

Lenovo B50 all-in-one PC
: Starting at $600

All in one systems are all about balance.  Attempting to cram an entire PC’s worth of components into the back of what amounts to a slightly wider-than-normal display can be an iffy proposition. Pare down the specifications too much and you wind up with a limp machine that’s obsolete by the time you get it. Jam in too many high-performance components and the price skyrockets to a point that you wonder if a different form factor might have been a better option, not to mention the additional thermal and acoustic concerns.

From a performance perspective, this is a good all-purpose machine. Like so many others in its class, it doesn’t quite have the GPU horsepower for the high graphics settings in complex games. But for all general tasks and a bit of fun on the side, the B50 is a solid setup at a fair price that won’t trigger any buyer’s remorse.

Alienware Area 51
: Starting at $1,699

To say the Alienware Area 51 is decked out and poised to offer a beating in the benchmarks, would be an understatement. However, it's how all those killer components are configured inside this wild-looking chassis, that makes Alienware's new out-of-this-world gaming PC so special. Obviously, a system of this caliber is best suited to high-flying students that share a penchant for gaming alongside school projects, but rest assured there's power to handle both at the same time.

We have no problem recommending this system to any gamer or performance enthusiasts looking for something special. The Alienware Area-51 has striking good looks, a break-out chassis design that delivers tangible benefits for thermals and accessibility, along with warp-speed performance to match its alien angles.

Xotic PC Executioner Stage 4 Gaming PC
: Starting at $1,099

Obviously a higher end Executioner build isn't for the faint of wallet and Xotic PC makes no apology for that, nor should it. As configured, the Executioner is an intimidating beast for those who can afford to splurge on a gaming PC. More specifically, it's armed with an eight-core Intel Core i7-5960X processor, dual EVGA GeForce GTX 980 SuperClocked graphics cards, 16GB of DDR4 memory, and a 480GB solid state drive for primary OS activities along with a 2TB hard drive for storage duties.

Xotic PC's Executioner is both beastly and beautiful. It also demands attention, as it will instantly become the centerpiece of wherever it ends up, whether it's in the living room, dedicated computer room, or man/woman-cave. You can turn off the interior lighting (or opt out of them altogether), but with so much high-end hardware neatly packed inside, why not err on the side of gaudiness? This is one place where it works, and the giant window on the side of the Corsair Carbide Series Air 540 case gives you full view of the craftsmanship that went into building the Executioner. 

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