HH Holiday Gift Guide: Notebooks & Desktops

Desktops: From SFF To Behemoth

Maingear Potenza Super Stock ($899+)

Built around the mini-ITX form factor, the Potenza SS is a small form factor (SFF) system that rises above moderate expectations of what a comparatively itty-bitty PC can truly deliver. As it turns out, a mini-ITX rig can pack quite the payload. Of course, it's really easy to surpass $2,000 with this thing, so only the most generous of gift givers need apply.

From our review: "Maingear's Potenza proved without a shadow of a doubt that you can build a luxury game system in a compact case and still enjoy high end luxuries, like gaming at 2560x1600 and overclocking. Small form factor (SFF) systems are first and foremost about saving space. While the Potenza is small in stature, it's big on performance. Time and again, it pushed playable framerates on our 30-inch monitor, including DirectX 11 titles like Aliens vs Predator and Batman: Arkham City. It's a perfect example of shrinking the desktop without compromising performance."

CyberPowerPC Zeus Thunder 2500 SE ($1,895+)

If size and space aren't an issue, you'll enjoy the expandability and cooling performance of the ZEUS. It starts at around $1,899, but you get tons of room in there to build things out beyond the already impressive base configuration. Just make sure you save a few bucks to load it up with software -- wouldn't want all of that power to go to waste!

From our review: "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. If you’re looking for just a little more performance than this system offers, however, there are pricier versions with slightly more beefed-up specs too, all the way up to the $3,735 Zeus Thunder Max. As we saw with the other systems in our test bank, however, at some point ponying up more money for features offers diminishing returns. This system, as configured, will likely do most users just fine."

ASRock Vision 3D 252B HTPC ($900+)
Is it an HTPC? Perfect for an apartment dweller or college student? Or is it a portable LAN party rig? Honestly, this machine can be any and all of the above, and it won't break the bank in the process. And, guess what? It might actually fit in an actual stocking. Fancy that!

From our review: "The ASRock Vision 3D’s use of mobile components results in relatively low power consumption and its active cooling solution is never loud or annoying. The components used in the system also offer strong performance and allowed ASRock to design a small chassis that we think looks great. The system also offers a host of connectivity options and since there's an Intel CPU and NVIDIA GPU on board, it’s compatible with a wide range of operating systems, HTPC front-ends, and can playback virtually any file type with the correct software."

Dell Alienware X51 (699+)
It's not cheap, but The Alienware X51 is flashy and powerful for its size. It's a unique mix of small and powerful, and as with anything made by Alienware, you're bound to gift a lot of smiles if someone you know cracks open one of these. It's tiny enough to be used in tight spaces, but powerful enough to satisfy all but the most demanding gamer in your life. Talk about multifaceted.

From our review: "When some consider the size of a small form factor system, they tend to set their expectations in performance directly proportional to that size, for the most part.  To say we were impressed with the numbers this little machine put out would be an understatement.  We'll stop just short of "blown-away" but we're a bit jaded around these parts anyway.  In terms of general compute performance, the X51 performed about where we expected for its midrange Core i5 quad-core CPU.  It's not a workstation number cruncher but it gets the job done for gaming and multimedia tasks especially, where GPU performance is more critical.  In that regard, gaming performance of the X51 was, for all intents and purposes, the fastest of the bunch among the other full-sized systems we tested.  We gave the X51 a high watermark to hit, pitting it up against full-ATX and mid-ATX systems, and the little alien invaded and cleaned house."

Dell XPS One 27 All-in-One ($1,299+)


While all-in-one PCs may not perfectly suit the gamer in your life, they're ideal for those who just need to accomplish less taxing chores. Dell's latest is amongst the most beautiful to ship in 2012, and it's as much a decoration as it is a computer.

From our review: "Sitting behind the gorgeous panel is a well rounded collection of hardware, including an Intel Core i7 3770S processor and NVIDIA GeForce GT 640M graphics. It's a combination that might be wasted on some mainstream users, which is probably why these parts don't come standard. As configured, the setup Dell sent us runs $1,999, though cost of entry starts at $1,399 for a Core i5 3450S and Intel HD 4000 graphics foundation. At that price, you'll also have to forgo the 32GB mSATA solid state drive, which acts as a giant cache buffer for the 1TB or 2TB (in this case, 2TB) 7200RPM hard drive, and give up the Blu-ray drive as well.  It all depends on your specific needs and budget."

Stay tuned to HotHardware for more holiday gift guides in the days ahead...

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